Don Gaetz Archives - SaintPetersBlog

After a seemingly rule-less meeting, constitution panel adopts rules

The Florida Constitution Revision Commission now has a set of rules for how it might go about writing major changes to Florida’s Constitution.

Those rules — addressing such matters as who will appoint committees, how proposals will move through committees, whether Florida’s Sunshine laws will cover everything — emerged from a sometimes chaotic debate in Orlando Tuesday morning at a meeting that Chair Carlos Beruff adjourned suddenly after he got what he apparently wanted.

By a 20-11 vote, the commission adopted a proposal from Gov. Rick Scott-appointee Brecht Heuchan that largely adopts, as a base, the rules used by the previous state Constitution Revision Commission in 1997-98, with a few changes Heuchan said were the desires of a rules work group that had met.

With that, Beruff closed down discussion or consideration of dozens of other proposals, including some amendments, and then adjourned the meeting. He promised that the other suggestions would be taken up at later meetings, but made contradictory statements about whether they would be considered by the full commission, or by a rules committee, which he would be able to appoint and control.

But the rules package adopted Tuesday didn’t address everything that everyone wanted, and opponents mounted challenges. Particular among them were assertions that the package did not create a “clawback” promise that Heuchan and others promised, which would allow committee majorities to force proposals to be considered. Nor did it offer explicit language to open meetings enough to satisfy the strongest proponents of open meetings for the commission’s business.

The victory came on the strength of Scott’s appointees: among them, including his hand-picked chairman Beruff, the package won 13-0, while the non-gubernatorial appointees, including Attorney General Pam Bondi, added seven yes votes and 11 no votes.

Left on the outside, state Sen. Tom Lee had been waiting for discussion and consideration of his own proposal, also based on the 1997-’98 rules, plus several proposed amendments waiting to be offered. He, and former state Sens. Don Gaetz and Arthenia Joyner among others had argued strenuously against Heuchan’s plan.

Their arguments included Gaetz point-of-order call early on, in which he charged that Heuchan’s proposal had been offered and submitted improperly, and couldn’t even be considered by the commission the way it was being handled.

Beruff struck down Gaetz’ objection as the kind of procedural question he was trying to avoid, and with a statement about rules that cut to the heart of concerns about a commission operating before it had adopted its own rules.

“There are no rules here. It is my understanding that without rules, there is no Germanic standard,” Beruff said. “And of course there always is: if you don’t like the amendment, you don’t have to vote for it.”

The matter came up again as Lee challenged the vote Beruff called on the rules package, arguing that the vote was being called improperly. When Beruff dismissed that charge, Bob Solari spoke out.

“We have rules when some people like them, but we don’t have rules when some people don’t like them,” Solari declared. “If I was watching this, the public, I would be incredibly depressed and dismayed. Because seeing the game here is played, the rules of this game today changed five or six times.”

Heuchan, however, tried hard to defend his package of rules against its critics’ points of concern about the package itself, arguing that it was a compromise, that he recognized that it wouldn’t please everyone, but that it was good enough for a start. And if he turns out to be wrong in his reassurances that clawback and Sunshine law provisions were strong, those could be addressed later. He promised he would lead the charge to make those changes.

“The amendment that was adopted does address those,” he said later. “I realize it may not be in the way that everybody wanted them but there was obvious support for the broader compromise.”

He also took issue with Lee’s contention that the adoption of rules was the most important thing the commission would do, because it would go a long ways to deciding which constitutional amendments would get through the commission, and which ones don’t.

“I meant what I said: when the emotion and the anxiety of the moment passes, which it will, it always does, people will not remember this day as being the day of disagreement,” Heuchan said. “They will remember this day as a day that charted us on a course for planning for the next 20 years for the state and its future and how we can do better by people. I believe that.”

All of which was complicated when Beruff first said all such proposed changes would be taken up by the rules committee. That confirmed the fears that Joyner and others had raised. But then Beruff later said such changes would be taken up by the full commission. That confirmed what supporters such as Heuchan and Frank Kruppenbacher, said they wanted.

Kruppenbacher, who actually introduced Heuchan’s package in a resolution, insisted later that he would demand that proposed rules amendments that had been on the table Tuesday be heard by the full committee. That was what his resolution had called for, and he said he would make sure it was followed.

Joe Henderson: Sunshine law should remind leaders that people of Florida are citizens, not serfs

The irony of the state Constitutional Revision Commission trying to avoid sunshine laws is almost too rich to describe.

If allowed to happen, that would be a dark day indeed.

But that’s exactly what CRC Chair Carlos Beruff is proposing, even as the commission continues a series of town hall meetings designed to take public input into the process.

Beruff, who ran a bare-knuckles campaign for the Republican nomination in the 2016 U.S. Senate race but ultimately crashed when Marco Rubio decided to get back in the game, proposes to allow two or more members to discuss the commission’s official business in private.

Not only that, Beruff — appointed by Gov. Rick Scott to chair the committee — is pushing for authority to be the sole decision-maker about what measures the 37-member board puts on the ballot in 2018.

That would gut a requirement that a supermajority of 22 members approves all ballot initiatives.

The commission has been frosty to his proposals.

“What is called for is a presider — not a decider,” Commission member and former Senate President Don Gaetz told the Miami Herald.

So, let’s review: Florida has been noted for its landmark Sunshine Law that requires all government and related meetings to be open and with adequate advance public notice. The head of the Constitutional Revision Commission wants to ignore a bedrock principle of Florida law.

Good start, eh?

It’s worth noting that Beruff was a controversial choice to lead the commission.

A little over a year ago, he drew wide criticism last year for remarks at St. John’s County Republican Executive Committee, where he said of President Barack Obama: “Unfortunately, for seven and a half years this animal we call president — because he’s an animal, OK? … has surgically and with thought and very smart, intelligent manner, destroyed this country and dismantled the military under not one, not two, but three secretaries of defenses.”

That doesn’t exactly have the ring of someone interested in building consensus.

Beruff’s current ploy is just continuing an assault on openness that has been taking place for years. There are more than 1,000 exemptions to the law as legislators find increasingly inventive ways to avoid the annoying public scrutiny.

Three members of the South Florida Water Management District were criticized for discussing official business in Facebook chats. Barbara Petersen, head of the nonprofit First Amendment Foundation in Tallahassee, told TCPalm.com “this definitely appears to be a violation.”

Yes, it’s much easier to govern in secret, but that’s not how we do it here. You can’t just work things out in private and then inform the masses (maybe) what you have planned for them before you break for lunch. The people of Florida are citizens, not serfs. They have a right to know how decisions affecting their lives are being made. They have a right for input.

What part of that escapes Carlos Beruff?

Then again, why should anyone be surprised? He doesn’t seem like someone much interested in what other people think.

Gaetz Smith

Don Gaetz, Chris Smith among Joe Negron’s constitutional review panel picks

Former Florida Senate President Don Gaetz and former Senate Democratic Leader Chris Smith are among those tapped by current Senate President Joe Negron to sit on the state’s Constitution Revision Commission.

Negron, a Stuart Republican, announced his list Wednesday in a press release.

Gaetz, a Niceville Republican in the Senate 2006-16, and Smith, a Fort Lauderdale Democrat who served 2008-16, were selected along with seven others. Under the constitution, Negron gets nine picks as the president of the state Senate.

“Florida is fortunate to have so many private citizens willing to take time away from their families and careers to serve the public in this important capacity,” Negron said in a statement.

“My goal in selecting the nine Senate appointees was to choose individuals who represent a diverse cross-section of our state in terms of their personal, professional, and political life experiences,” he added. “The most serious and important issue for me, and a common thread among our Senate appointees, is a fervent commitment to individual liberty and personal freedom guaranteed by our state and federal constitutions.

“The Senate appointees are all women and men of good judgment.” Besides Gaetz and Smith, they are:

Anna Marie Hernandez Gamez, a Miami lawyer who practices real estate and commercial litigation, and a past president of the Cuban American Bar Association.

 Patricia Levesque, CEO of the Foundation for Excellence in Education (ExcelinEd), the school choice organization founded by former Gov. Jeb Bush.

 Sherry Plymale, a past chair of the State Board of Community Colleges, chief of staff to state Education Commissioner Frank Brogan, a trustee of Florida Atlantic University and St. Leo University.

 William “Bill” Schifino Jr., the 2016-17 president of The Florida Bar.

— Bob Solari, an Indian River County Commissioner, former Vero Beach City Council member and retired businessman.

— Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch, a former teacher “with years of classroom experience instructing middle and high school students” who also was mayor of Sewall’s Point.

— Carolyn Timmann, the Clerk of the Circuit Court and Comptroller for Martin County. She also has been a legislative assistant to former state Rep. Tom Warner, worked in the Governor’s Office, and was a judicial assistant.

They now join former Florida Bar president Hank Coxe of Jacksonville; former state Sen. Arthenia Joyner, a Tampa Democrat; and former federal prosecutor Roberto Martinez of Miami, who are Supreme Court Chief Justice Jorge Labarga‘s three picks to the commission.

The commission is supposed to hold its first meeting in the 30-day period before the start of the 2017 Legislative Session on March 7.

Representatives for Gov. Rick Scott and House Speaker Richard Corcoran have not yet announced their decisions.

As governor, Scott will choose 15 of the 37 commissioners, and he also selects its chairperson. Corcoran also gets nine picks. Republican Pam Bondi is automatically a member as the state’s Attorney General.

The commission has met twice before, in 1977-78 and 1997-98, but this will be the first to be selected by a majority of Republicans, virtually ensuring it will propose more conservative changes to the state’s governing document than previous panels.

Any changes the commission proposes would be in the form of constitutional amendments, which would have to be approved by 60 percent of voters on a statewide ballot.

Don Gaetz is ‘saving his Rolodex’ for Will Weatherford

Former Senate President Don Gaetz said he respects Will Weatherford’s decision not to run for governor in 2018, but is “disappointed for Florida.”

“I spoke with Will about his decision,” said Gaetz, who presided over the Senate in 2012-14 when Weatherford, a Wesley Chapel Republican, was House Speaker.

“One of the attributes of Will Weatherford is his devotion to his family,” Gaetz said. “I once deferred running for office until my children were older so I understand his decision.”

But, the Niceville Republican added, “I am disappointed for Florida. I still believe he would make a great governor—or senator.”

In late 2014, as both men were leaving their leadership roles, Gaetz told the Tampa Tribune that Weatherford “is the future of Florida.”

“I expect to host a fundraiser for Will Weatherford for governor or U.S. senator sometime in the next five years,” he said then. “He will be, if he wants to be, very significant on the Florida political landscape for the next 30 years.”

Gaetz hasn’t changed his mind, saying Weatherford’s “pragmatic conservatism solves problems.”

He used the example of the state budget under their leadership. In the previous two years under House Speaker Dean Cannon and Senate President Mike Haridopolos – “both good men,” Gaetz is quick to add – relations between the chambers were strained, at best.

“Will came from his home in the Tampa Bay area all the way to me in northwest Florida, sat down in my living room and asked if we could do a joint work plan,” Gaetz said. “He told me, ‘let that be the building block for a budget.’ ”

The Legislature passed two budgets in a row based on such work plans, he added.

“I give most of the credit to Will Weatherford,” Gaetz said. “He didn’t ‘give in’ to me, but he never wanted to leave the table till we did everything we possibly could to find a solution that was best for the people of Florida.

“We did not always agree but we were always agreeable,” he added. “His principles are rare in politics … I think the world of him.”

But Gaetz said Weatherford also carries the “obligation of such an immensely talented person.”

“I’m still saving my invitation cards and Rolodex for the next Will Weatherford fundraiser. If not for 2018, then maybe for 2020.”

Erin Gaetz launches her own digital content firm

Erin Gaetz is paving her own way, but don’t expect her to veer too far from the family business.

Gaetz, the 31-year-old daughter of former Senate President Don Gaetz and sister of Congressman-elect Matt Gaetz, recently launched her own digital content firm, Southpaw Content. The firm specializes in producing faster, more engaging and less expensive social media and digital content.

Or, as she puts it: No dopey ads of candidates standing around a factory and pointing.

“After the experience on the Jeb campaign, I thought a lot about video,” she said. “It’s great if you’re in a big presidential campaign or (statewide) race, and you have a ton of money and can hire (a team) for a shoot. But I started to think about the scalability of video. Can you make something just as professional without 20 sound guys and the consultant (costs)?”

That’s exactly what she’s trying to do.

As the director of digital content for Jeb Bush’s 2016 presidential bid, she wrote, produced and created digital content for the campaign. That included those quirky “#JebNoFilter” videos and a 2-minute documentary-style video highlighting the former governor’s connection to a Charlotte County community devastated by Hurricane Charley.

When her brother ran in Florida’s 1st Congressional District earlier this year, she grabbed her camera and MacBook and started producing videos for his campaign. While there were more traditional political ads, she also produced several untraditional digital segments, like the “Open Gaetz” feature.

“I think you need hooks and you need more fun,” she said.

One of the benefits Southpaw Content can offer clients is the quick turnaround time, she said. Since she’s handling every step of the process, the firm can help clients quickly turn over a new ad, react to a hot issue, or send a message to supporters.

As for those clients, she’s already lining them up. She’s already doing work for Republican Reps. Neal Dunn and Dan Webster.

“I’m working with everyone from current governors to just elected members of the House to universities that really want to build out digital projects and do it in a way that’s cost effective and fun,” she said.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering where the name came from: She’s a lefty.

Nearly 40 apply to Joe Negron for Constitution Revision Commission

A former Senate President, Secretary of State, and state Supreme Court Justice have applied to Senate President Joe Negron for a seat on the panel that reviews the state’s constitution every 20 years.

At last tally, 39 people had applied for one of Negron’s nine picks to the Constitution Revision Commission, according to a list provided by his office. They include:

— Former Sen. Don Gaetz, a Niceville Republican who was term limited out of office this year. Gaetz also served as Senate President 2012-14.

— Lobbyist and former lawmaker Sandra Mortham, who also was the elected Secretary of State 1995-99. One of the changes from the last commission was making the position appointed by the governor.

— Retired Florida Supreme Court Justice Charles Wells, who was on the bench 1994-2009. Wells also was chief justice during the 2000 presidential election challenge and recount.

This will be the fourth commission to convene since 1966, and the first to be selected by mostly Republicans, suggesting it will propose more conservative changes to the state’s governing document than previous panels.  

Both Negron and House Speaker Richard Corcoran have said they want the commission to revisit redistricting, for instance, specifically, a rewrite of voter-endorsed amendments from 2012 that ban gerrymandering — the manipulation of political boundaries to favor one party.

As governor, Rick Scott will choose 15 of the 37 commissioners, and he also selects its chairperson.

Negron and Corcoran each get nine picks. Pam Bondi is automatically a member as attorney general, and Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Jorge Labarga gets three picks.

Under law, the next commission is scheduled to hold its first meeting in a 30-day period before the beginning of the Legislature’s 2017 regular session on March 7.

Any changes it proposes would be in the form of constitutional amendments, which would have to be approved by 60 percent of voters on a statewide ballot.

Others who applied to Negron are former state Sen. Dennis Jones, a Republican, and former Sens. Eleanor Sobel and Chris Smith, both Democrats.


Ed. note: This post was originally based on a list released Monday evening. The Senate provided a new list on Tuesday, in which the list has grown to 39 applicants, including new Sens. Dana Young and Gary Farmer, and Magdalena Fresen, sister of former state Rep. Erik Fresen. That list is below:

LAST NAME FIRST NAME COUNTY OF RESIDENCE
Berger Jason Martin
Boggs Glenn Leon
Christiansen Patrick Orange
Crotty Richard Orange
Cullen Lisa Brevard
Curtis Donald Taylor
Dawson Warren Hillsborough
Duckworth Richard Charlotte
Edwards Charles Lee
Farmer Gary Broward
Fresen Magdalena Dade
Gaetz Donald Okaloosa
Gentry WC Duval
Hackney Charles Manatee
Heyman Sally Dade
Hoch Rand Palm Beach
Hofstee Michael St. Lucie
Ingram Kasey Martin
Jackson John Holmes
Jazil Mohammad Leon
Jones Dennis Marion
Kilbride Robert Leon
McManus Shields Martin
Miller Mark Martin
Moriarty Mark Sarasota
Mortham Sandra Leon
Plymale Sherry Martin
Rowe Randell Volusia
Schifino William Hillsborough
Scott Anne Martin
Smith Chris Broward
Sobel Eleanor Broward
Specht Steven Escambia
Stargel John Polk
Thompson Geraldine Orange
Wadell Gene Indian River
Wells Charles Orange
Winik Tyler Brevard
Young Dana Hillsborough

Steve Crisafulli, Don Gaetz reminisce on politics, legislative successes in heartfelt farewells

In both life and politics, the only thing that’s constant is change. While elections give voters a view of the future, it also provides some retiring politicians a chance to look back.

As two influential Florida lawmakers say their goodbyes — former Senate President Don Gaetz and House Speaker Steve Crisafulli — they reflect on changes, and legislative successes, during their respective careers in Tallahassee.

Crisafulli — the first Speaker from Brevard County — gives his final thank you to Floridians in a Florida Today op-ed, talking about how the state rebounded from the Great Recession.

“The last eight years could be described as a tale of two Floridas,” the Merritt Island Republican writes. “From 2008 through 2011, the recession ravaged our economy, with unemployment over 12 percent, budget shortfalls, and the end of the space shuttle program.”

Getting through the recession, Crisafulli says, required difficult decisions, including the Legislature’s efforts to “cut taxes and red tape, balance the budget and shrink government” — all of which resulted in a financially and economically stronger Florida, with a budget surplus and an unemployment rate below the national average.

“We are a national leader in job creation, with over 1.1 million new private sector jobs,” he notes. “Tourism records have been smashed, with over 105 million visitors in 2015. Commercial space is on the rise. Port Canaveral is flourishing .… Taxes were slashed over $1 billion in the last two years .… Our schools have record funding.”

In addition, Florida has begun to address issues critical to the state’s water resources.

“We passed a comprehensive water policy bill this year that addresses our state’s water quality and supply challenges in a statewide manner through the use of scientifically sound, responsible solutions,” Crisafulli says.

As for his post-political career, Crisafulli looks forward to time with his family, and vows to continue engaging in the community.

“Florida is the state where not even the sky is the limit,” he says.

In his farewell, posted on Rick Outzen’s blog, Gaetz counters the comparison some make between politics and football: “You have to be smart enough to understand the game and dumb enough to think it’s important.”

“After four years of football and 22 years in politics,” he says. “I’m inclined to think the comparison is unfair to football. In football, you step out of bounds and the play is dead, targeting earns rejection, playing time depends on performance, coaches who don’t win get fired, and referees don’t wear the same color jerseys as your opponents. Well, mostly they don’t. In politics, it’s the alternate universe.”

Politics and football does have one similarity — “both are organized violence punctuated by committee meetings and ending with hugs.”

Looking back on his tenure in politics, Gaetz believes it was “way more good than bad.”

“I cherish the smash-mouth fights over matters of principle,” he says. “I richly earned my opponents, giving, I hope, as good as I got. Politics can be thrilling and noble, just as it can be base and disgusting. Contrary to the fashionable lament, there is good, useful work that gets done by people in public office, by leaders confident enough in themselves to reach across the boundaries of ego, party, and geography.”

Gaetz even jokes about the lessons learned along the way, and how not to take himself too seriously.

“After my first election,” he says, “at my first school board meeting, a reporter asked me, ‘Gaetz, so you’re the one not taking a salary?’ Before I could do my riff about selfless public service, one of the older board members said in a stage whisper, ‘One thing about Gaetz. He knows what he’s worth.’

“People who sniff at the gritty business of electioneering or moan that public service is a sacrifice haven’t lived my life,” he continues. “I love to campaign and I was grateful and thrilled every day I stepped onto the Senate floor or into a school board meeting. But I support term limits and wish Congress had them, too.”

Gaetz says he canceled his Governor’s Club membership, trading it for a membership to Sam’s Club.

“I want to come home and live under the laws I’ve passed and enjoy the elbow room created by the rules I repealed,” he adds.

Now that he is leaving Tallahassee, Gaetz promises to “walk and talk a little slower,” enjoying “unhurried friendships and love.”

But when he gets “riled up,” Gaetz intends to write “that new congressman” — his son, former state Rep. Matt Gaetz, who is likely to succeed Jeff Miller in Florida’s 1st Congressional District.

“I have it on good authority he’s smart enough both to understand the game and think it’s important,” he concludes.

Latest on the legislative staffing merry-go-round

With a tip of the hat to LobbyTools, here are the latest movements — both on and off — of the legislative merry-go-round.

Off: Mary Kassabaum is no longer legislative assistant for Trilby Republican state Sen. Wilton Simpson.

Off: Caroline Crow is no longer district secretary for Rockledge Republican state Sen. Thad Altman.

On: Matthew Hunter is returning as legislative assistant for Fort Myers Republican state Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto.

Off: Sean Nixon is no longer legislative assistant for Cutler Bay Democratic state Sen. Dwight Bullard.

Off: Kyle Langan is no longer legislative assistant for Inverness Republican state Sen. Charlie Dean.

Off and on: Allison Hess Sitte is no longer legislative assistant for Niceville Republican state Sen. Don Gaetz. Sitte has moved to the president’s office to serve as director of scheduling for Senate President-designate Joe Negron, a Republican from Stuart.

Off: Nanci Cornwell and Anne-Marie Norman are no longer legislative assistants for Umatilla Republican state Sen. Alan Hays.

Off: Karol Molinares is no longer legislative assistant for North Miami Democratic state Sen. Gwen Margolis.

Off: Carolina Castillo and Alexandra Rueckner are no longer district secretaries for Miami Republican state Rep. Frank Artiles.

Off: Gabe Peters is no longer legislative assistant for Hialeah Republican state Rep. Bryan Avila.

Off and on: Lance Clemons is no longer district secretary for Monticello Republican state Rep. Halsey Beshears. He was replaced by Chris Kingry.

Off: Andrea Knowles is no longer legislative assistant for Deerfield Beach Democratic state Rep. Gwyndolen “Gwyn” Clarke-Reed.

On: Evelyn Haas is the new district secretary for Speaker-designate Richard Corcoran.

On: Beatriz Marte became district secretary for Kissimmee Democratic state Rep. John Cortes.

Off: Ashley Guinn is no longer legislative assistant for Speaker Steve Crisafulli.

Off: Christian Schultze is no longer district secretary for Tampa Democratic state Rep. Janet Cruz.

Off and on: Allison Hopkins is no longer district secretary for Eucheeanna Republican state Rep. Brad DrakeAnn McGraw, formerly with Baker Republican state Sen. Greg Evers, joins Rhonda Thomas as Drake’s legislative assistant.

On: Nathan Klein is a new district secretary for Cape Coral Republican state Rep. Dane Eagle.

On: Edward Metzger is a new legislative assistant for Fort Myers Republican state Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen.

Off and on: Karen Sweeney is no longer legislative assistant for Stuart Republican state Rep. Gayle HarrellCatherine Thomson is replacing Sweeney as Harrell’s district secretary.

Off and on: Derick Tabertshofer, former district secretary, replaced Jacob Gil as legislative assistant for Tampa Republican state Rep. Shawn HarrisonBenjamin Kelly is now Harrison’s new district secretary.

Off and on: Sue Berfield, former district secretary, joined Janine Kiray as legislative assistant to Clearwater Republican state Rep. Chris LatvalaKaren Flaherty is no longer Latvala’s district secretary.

Off and on: Amanda Geltz replaced Jennifer Wylie as district secretary for Yalaha Republican state Rep. Larry MetzSara Pennington is no longer Metz’s legislative assistant.

Off: Charkay Suiters is no longer district secretary for New Port Richey Democratic state Rep. Amanda Murphy.

On: Victoria Gagni became district secretary for Naples Republican state Rep. Kathleen Passidomo.

Off and on: Sarah Goldman is replacing Colleen Hartman as district secretary for South Pasadena Republican state Rep. Kathleen Peters.

Off: Lori Moran is no longer district secretary for Sarasota Republican state Rep. Ray Pilon.

On: Nitin (Sunny) Aggarwal became legislative assistant for Orlando Republican state Rep. Rene Plasencia.

On: Jannette Nunez is the new district secretary for Miami Beach Democratic state Rep. David Richardson.

On: Jason Holloway is the new legislative assistant for St. Petersburg Democratic state Rep. Darryl Rouson.

Off and on: Karen Foster replaced Teri Mitze as legislative assistant for Boca Raton Democratic state Rep. Irving “Irv” SlosbergLawrence Victoria is Slosberg’s new district secretary.

Off: Adam Miller is no longer legislative assistant for Melbourne beach Republican state Rep. John Tobia.

Off: Albie Kaminsky is no longer district secretary for Panama City Republican state Rep. Jay Trumbull.

Off: Emily Bleecker is no longer district secretary for Trilby Republican state Rep. Ritch Workman.

Personnel note: Eric Edwards moving to U.S. Sugar

Eric Edwards, the longtime Tallahassee-based legislative assistant to Republican state Sen. Don Gaetz, is joining U.S. Sugar Corporation’s in-house influence team, the company announced.

His title will be Assistant Vice President of Governmental Affairs.

“We have wanted to strengthen and expand our internal government relations operation for some time, and we have patiently searched for just the right combination of experience, personality, and potential,” said Robert Coker, Vice President of U.S. Sugar and its head lobbyist.

“We hit the trifecta with Eric Edwards,” he added. “All of us on the U.S. Sugar government relations team are very excited about having Eric on board.”

Gaetz, the term-limited Niceville Republican, said Edwards “has a better understanding of the legislative process and how things get done in Tallahassee than almost anyone I know. He has served the Senate with distinction.”

That’s not the only good news for Edwards: He also married Capital City Consulting lobbyist Jen Gaviria this past weekend.

She will be leaving the firm to relocate with him to the company’s headquarters in Clewiston, Hendry County.

“She’s a superstar, and we hate to lose her, but we wish her and Eric all the best,” firm co-founder Nick Iarossi said. He is actively recruiting to fill Gaviria’s position, he added. 

“This is an exciting new chapter in a new town, but will be equally challenging,” Gaviria wrote in an email sent to friends and clients Sunday night. “I thank the hardworking and incredibly talented members of Capital City Consulting for such an enriching experience. I am forever grateful for their friendship, and will always consider them family.”

Iarossi’s firm has built a reputation for being able to attract the very best of rising talent. It will be fascinating to see who CCC next draws to its roster.

The sugar company regularly employs dozens of lobbyists over the course of a year. As of Friday, lobbying registration records showed 23 on board, including Brian Ballard, Frank and Tracy Mayernick, and Mac Stipanovich, to name a few.  

U.S. Sugar, with over $1 billion in annual revenue, stokes envy among other agribusinesses and roils controversy among the state’s environmentalists.

It got its start in the early part of the 20th century, when businessman Charles Stewart Mott “invested millions of dollars of his own funds in a sugar cane farming operation and convinced others that the dream of growing in the rich muck soils around Lake Okeechobee was not only possible, but it could be profitable,” the company’s website says.

It now farms nearly 190,000 acres in Hendry, Glades and Palm Beach counties, creating jobs and contributing to America’s table. But it’s regularly been criticized, usually unfairly, for agricultural practices that cause runoff into the state’s “River of Grass.”

In 2013, the conglomerate got a measure passed by lawmakers and approved by Gov. Rick Scott that saved the industry millions of dollars on Everglades pollution cleanup.

U.S. Sugar’s political contributions average approximately $1.5 million per year. When you subtract dollars spent in years involving a constitutional amendment related to their industry, that average is significantly lower.

All of Florida’s major industries, including Disney, pay for the smartest and best lobbyists to help them navigate Florida’s crowded and confusing political process. Edwards, under Coker’s tutelage, will no doubt soon be on that list. 

Will Weatherford the latest Republican to join the #NeverTrump camp?

The league of Republicans against Donald Trump may have found another member in Will Weatherford.

The former Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives, a Wesley Chapel Republican, suggested in a text message today that the real estate tycoon-turned-reality TV star won’t get his vote.

“Sadly, I find both candidates to be unworthy of the office of President,” he wrote, also referring to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

When asked to clarify his position on the GOP’s presidential pick, Weatherford responded: “Would I vote for someone who is unworthy and unfit for the office?”

Weatherford, who now runs the Weatherford Partners venture capital group with his two brothers, didn’t immediately respond to a phone call.

He left the House in 2014 after serving his last two years as Speaker.

In a September 2014 interview with the Tampa Tribune, Weatherford said he would “definitely never rule out” a return to elected office but added he was going to “enjoy family life and focus on the private sector more.”

But his counterpart, then-Senate President Don Gaetz, called the 36-year-old “the future of Florida,” saying he expected “to host a fundraiser for Will Weatherford for governor or U.S. senator sometime in the next five years.”

Show Buttons
Hide Buttons