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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.

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).

Florida prison chief: State losing corrections staff to ‘Wal-Mart,’ creating insecurity in system

More than three-quarters of Florida’s corrections officers have less than two years’ experience. In some state prisons, a single CO will be left alone to supervise 150-200 inmates in a jail block.

Contraband has become so bad, one random search of (just half) a Dade facility turned up $15,000 in street value of cocaine, seven knives, 46 cellphones and an array of other drugs and illicit materials, said Department of Corrections Secretary Julie Jones Thursday.

The state’s prisons chief was in front of the Senate Appropriations Committee, having to explain just how bad the situation was, even though the state’s inmate population dropped by 3,000 from the year before.

Three main problems, she said, were safety, recidivism, and operational deficiencies — all due to a lack of funding. Corrections officers are paid so little, and have such a high stress in a dangerous job, she can’t keep them on the payroll.

“I’m losing state and local officers to state and local businesses — even to Wal-Mart,” she told the committee. “We hire thousands of new corrections officers every year. We’re a hiring machine. The problem is we can’t keep them.”

She said turnover for COs has increased 95 percent since 2009.

Entry-level base pay for a corrections officer before completion of on-the-job training hovers around $29,000. It goes up, slightly, when a combination of certifications and on-the-job training are completed, but for working 12 hour shifts — sometimes doubles due to the lack of staffing, especially at correctional facilities specializing in mental health issues, Jones said — it’s no wonder why she can’t keep anyone on for more than a year or so.

That tempts some COs to earn a little extra money on the side.

Jones said, unfortunately, some of the ones securing the facility are the ones bringing in the contraband or are looking the other way in exchange for bribes. And with career field numbers so low — with a current vacancy rate of 13 percent statewide, she said — security issues become a factor. Drugs and weapons are stashed in trash cans or simply tossed over fences by friends or loved ones working in cahoots with inmates.

When a random search of a prison, or part of a prison, takes place, inmates caught with illegal materials, products or drugs face more charges, leading to high recidivism rates.

Since 2009, the introduction of contraband into the prisons system has increased more than 400 percent.

Inmate on inmate attacked have increased 68 percent during the same period, she cited.

To boot, she admitted, when questioned by Sen. Jeff Brandes, facilities are falling apart. Fencing at some prisons is so old, or dilapidated, the department doesn’t have a way to mend it without tearing it all down and rebuilding or renovating, and there simply isn’t the money to do that, she said.

Without a new and increased pay package, she said she doesn’t any change for the better coming. She’s requested more money and according to the chair of the appropriations committee, Jack Latvala, the cavalry is coming.

“I am pleased to report, in consultation with Sen. [Joe] Negron … help is on the way from the Florida Senate,” he said. “Our budget will include some substantial help on this issue. … Let’s go to work and make it happen.”

Bill regulating ridesharing in Florida advances in Senate Committee

Legislation to provide statewide regulations for transportation network companies (TNC’s) advanced in its latest committee stop in the Florida Senate Tuesday.

St. Petersburg Republican Jeff Brandes‘ bill (SB 340) received only two votes in opposition in clearing the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee, though there were substantial concerns expressed about funding for paratransit that animated the debate.

Noting that there is a hole in disability transportation, Parkland Democrat Gary Farmer offered an amendment that would assess ride-sharing companies one-half of one percent of TNC gross revenues go to the state and then be redistributed to the counties that would pay for disability transportation.

Farmer said that in 14 states, ride-sharing companies had been assessed fees “for one thing or another,” and thus it wasn’t outside the mainstream to do so in Florida.

Miami Republican Rene Garcia called Farmer’s amendment “well-intentioned,” but said the real answer was to address the needs of the state’s Transportation Disadvantaged program.

Garcia said he intended to present a bill or add as an amendment during the session that would allow for operators in the program to cross county lines.

“Unfortunately right now we don’t have that system that’s fully integrated that crosses county lines and so forth,” Garcia said, adding that work has been going on behind the scenes to put that into legislation into place. He also said some local boards aren’t administrating federal and state paratransit funds in the most efficient way.

Farmer’s amendment ultimately went down to defeat.

Along with Farmer, the only other dissenting vote for the entire legislation in the committee came from Panama City Republican George Gainer, who said he didn’t understand why ride-sharing companies needed to be regulated by the state when that wasn’t the case with taxicabs.

“The goal here is to establish the statewide standard in both insurance and background checks, so that both business travelers, residents and tourists, understand that they have seamless transportation options as it relates to this technology,” Brandes told Gainer.

The Florida League of Cities also continues to oppose the legislation, specifying criticizing the background check policy that will require TNC drivers to get background checks only every three years, “which could result in drivers who committed criminal acts still driving for these companies within that window,” said Megan Sirjane-Samples.

The committee did approve two amendments that Brandes added to the legislation, including authorizing seaports to impose pickup fees on rideshare drivers when picking up or dropping riders from ports, as long as they do not exceed what that particular port is charging taxicab companies to pay.

In the original bill, only airports were allowed to charge pickup fees.

The amendment also requires ride-sharing companies to contract with the state’s Department of Financial Services (DFS) to review their insurance and background check process. Specifically, the DFS can impose civil penalties Uber or Lyft if they are noncompliant.

The first violation would result in a $250 penalty for each incidence of noncompliance within a review, and $500 per any repeated noncompliance issues within a report.

The legislation requires Uber and Lyft to carry $100,000 of insurance for bodily injury or death and $25,000 for property damage while a driver is logged onto their app but hasn’t secured a passenger.

While driving a rider, they’re required to have $1 million worth of coverage. The bill also requires transportation network companies to have third parties conduct local and national criminal background checks on drivers.

“The bipartisan vote in the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee is another step toward ensuring Florida doesn’t fall behind the transportation innovation curve,” said Stephanie Smith, senior manager of public policy with Uber.

“We are grateful for Sen. Brandes’ advocacy on this important issue and applaud the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee for approving this legislation,” said Lyft’s Chelsea Harrison, senior policy communications manager for Lyft. “This is a significant step toward a uniform, statewide framework for modern options like Lyft and we look forward to continuing to advocate for expanded consumer choice that keeps public safety first.”

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

Jeff Brandes amends ridesharing bill in Florida Senate

St. Petersburg Republican Jeff Brandes has amended his ridesharing bill (SB 340) that has been moving its way through the Florida Senate.

Among those changes include authorizing seaports to impose pickup fees on rideshare drivers when picking up or dropping riders from seaports, as long as they do not exceed what that particular port is charging taxicab companies to pay.

In the original bill, only airports were allowed to charge pickup fees.

The amendment also requires ridesharing companies to contract with the state’s Department of Financial Services (DFS) to review their insurance and background check process. Specifically, the DFS can impose civil penalties Uber or Lyft if they are noncompliant. The first violation would result in a $250 penalty for each incidence of noncompliance within a review, and $500 per any repeated noncompliance issues within a report.

The DFS would have authorization “to shut down bad actors” and prohibit specific drivers from operating on platforms if they are noncompliant.

The legislation requires Uber and Lyft to carry $100,000 of insurance for bodily injury or death and $25,000 for property damage while a driver is logged onto their app but hasn’t secured a passenger. While driving a rider, they’re required to have $1 million worth of coverage. The bill also requires transportation network companies to have third parties conduct local and national criminal background checks on drivers.

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

This fundraising invitation from Ed Hooper has me worried

Late last month, former state Sen. John Legg announced that he would not attempt to return to the Legislature in 2018. Had he run, Legg’s best path to victory was thought to be through north Pinellas’ Senate District 16, where incumbent Jack Latvala is term-limited from running again.

The person who benefits the most from Legg not running is former state Rep. Ed Hooper who, even if Legg was in the race, is the early front-runner to replace Latvala.

Hooper was in Tallahassee last Monday for a fundraiser hosted by Latvala, the next two Senate Presidents — Bill Galvano and Wilton Simpson — as well as almost all of Republicans who comprise Tampa Bay’s legislative delegation.

In other words, with Legg out and the establishment behind him, Hooper should cruise in 2018, or at least through the Republican primary.

But something, admittedly trivial, has me just a tad bit worried. It’s this dang invitation (pictured below) for a fundraiser on March 29.

To look at, the invitation is hideous. And whoever filled up the invite with those throwaway puns should have their keyboard taken away.

Seriously, this invitation looks like a dog’s breakfast.

Maybe it was designed by an earnest volunteer. And maybe a campaign intern was in charge of the writing.

But you know what this invite reminds me of?

Jim Frishe.

It’s a big serving of Jim Frishe Velveeta cheese.

Frishe, of course, is the former state Representative who wanted a seat in the Florida Senate but was defeated by Jeff Brandes in a 2012 primary. The tech-savvy Brandes campaign exposed the well-meaning Frishe as a career politician and out-of-date. The final result was not even close.

Ed Hooper’s situation is not the same as Jim Frishe’s. There isn’t a Senate leadership fight shaping the primary in Senate District 16 (at least not yet). Hooper’s not on the opposite side of the Brandes-Nick Hansen wing of the Pinellas GOP which, in 2016, beat Frishe a second time in the Pinellas Property Appraiser contest.

Hooper should not have to endure a primary.

But cheesy stuff like this coming out of the Hooper camp might give some self-financing, unknown conservative — basically a Jeff Brandes of Palm Harbor — the idea that Hooper is, like Frishe was shown to be, a career pol and out-of-date.

And remember, Hooper’s coming off a loss to Democrat Pat Gerard for a County Commission seat. Many observers say that was Hooper’s race to win, but his campaign failed to execute a winning plan.

Sending out invitations designed like the one below may indicate Hooper did not learn from that loss.

Hooper can and should do better than this.

Joe Henderson: After Enterprise Florida fight, Rick Scott has little political capital left

Rick Scott went to Tallahassee in 2011 as an outsider. He often has operated like one as well, and not always in a good way.

In a private company, stubborn employees can get fired for standing up to the boss. In politics, though, defiance can be considered a virtue. Eventually, people who vow to run government like a business learn you can’t just issue orders and expect things to get done.

Real democracy can be a free-for-all.

That brings us to the current state of affairs in the capitol city, a time that has the seen the governor behaving less like a CEO and more like a politician trying to win friends and influence people.

To save his most-favored Enterprise Florida agency, the governor put a public campaign that included visits, robo-calls, videos and a public mocking of House Speaker Richard Corcoran.

It didn’t work, at least not yet.

The House dealt the governor a stinging rebuke last week with by passing HB 7005 – or what Scott calls “job-killing legislation” – by an overwhelming 87-28 vote.

Scott responded with a statement reading in part, “Many politicians who voted for these bills say they are for jobs and tourism. But, I want to be very clear – a vote for these bills was a vote to kill tourism and jobs in Florida.”

Everyone waits now to see what happens in the Senate, where Jeff Brandes has a bill that would keep Enterprise Florida but with much greater state oversight. Scott, meanwhile, is keeping up the pressure.

His office sent out eight news releases Monday within 19 minutes touting job gains in cities around the state. He made sure to credit the embattled jobs agency.

It was easy for Scott to get his way when he arrived in Tallahassee on a populist wave, promising to produce jobs and get Florida out of the Great Recession. He certainly wasn’t the only political leader in the land who favored subsidies to jump-start the economy.

Now that those jobs have been created – Scott claims more than 1.3 million overall so far – the mood in Tallahassee has shifted away from what Corcoran calls “corporate welfare.”

That has forced the governor into a defensive posture that he clearly isn’t used to and hasn’t shown evidence yet of mastering.

Meanwhile, the Commerce and Tourism Committee is set to consider a bill from Republican Sen. Tom Lee of Thonotosassa to repeal a program designed to make it easier for pro sports franchises to get state money for stadium projects.

Scott signed that bill in 2014, although an aide was quick to correct me recently when I called it a “pet project” of the governor’s. But, the governor obviously supported the measure and in a statement at the time said, “This sports development program will allow franchises to expand in Florida, and create more jobs and opportunities for Florida families.”

Times have changed, though, so I doubt the governor will spend any political capital now to save that pot of state money for professional sports franchises.

With all his chips in the middle of the table for Enterprise Florida, he likely won’t have much of an appetite to fight for sports teams. Judging from the way things are going, lawmakers probably wouldn’t listen anyway.

In Tampa, potential CFO candidate Jeremy Ring tells his story

Broward Democrat Jeremy Ring isn’t officially a candidate for Chief Financial Officer, but he talked the part during a stop in Tampa on Friday.

Speaking at the Oxford Exchange as part of the Cafe Con Tampa weekly event, the former Yahoo executive introduced himself to the audience by humble-bragging about his private sector background, describing himself as the first salesman for the internet search engine company when he started there as a 24-year-old (he’s 46 now).

As proud as he was of his private sector career, Ring was self-deprecating when it came to his knowledge about politics when he decided to first run for the state Senate in 2006.

“I had never been to Tallahassee,” he says. “I barely knew that Jeb Bush was Governor of Florida. When I lived in Silicon Valley, Nancy Pelosi was my Congresswoman – I never heard of her (actually, Pelosi represents San Francisco, an hour north of Silicon Valley, which is located in Santa Clara County). All true. I was the least experienced candidate in the history of the state of Florida.”

The meat of his message is on making Florida an innovative economy, a theme he campaigned on during his first run for office a decade ago. And he’s produced results.

In 2008, he helped create theFlorida Growth Fund, which invests in state and local pension funds involving technology and high-growth businesses with a significant presence in the state, and the Florida Opportunity Fund, a multimillion-dollar program that directs investments to high-performing funds committed to seed early stage businesses.

Ring says that Florida has one of the most complete innovation “ecosystems” in the country, not that it’s something that many lawmakers know or understand.

“Most elected officials in Tallahassee will inspire you instead of becoming the next Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg, they’ll inspire you to be the next homebuilder or land use attorneys,” he said. “The biggest thing that we’re lacking in this state to build an innovation economy is not the pieces. The pieces exist. It’s the culture. We don’t have the culture.”

Ring’s legislative record shows that he is definitely unorthodox compared to his Tallahassee colleagues. Last year he sponsored a bill that would make computer coding a foreign language option, an idea he received from his 14-year-old son. The bill failed, though St. Petersburg Republican Jeff Brandes is sponsoring it again this year (Brandes and Tampa Republican Representative Jamie Grant were singled out by Ring as understanding innovation).

Ring is adamant that the worst thing the state could do was to “starve our universities,” and he was critical of House Speaker Richard Corcoran’s new offensive scrutinizing state university foundations. And he said that Florida cannot afford to freeze college tuition.

He tends to think that lawmakers (and the press) are in a bubble in regards to the general public’s attention span. In describing the uproar over former House Speaker Steve Crisafulli pulling the House out of Session days before it was scheduled to end (only to have to come back in a special session), he says ,”Not a single person called my office caring about that. It just wasn’t relevant to their lives.”

Acknowledging that it’s like a cliche, but Ring describes himself as a fiscal conservative and a social liberal. And he is coldly realistic about his chances of success in capturing the CFO seat next year.

It would require raising an “incredible amount of money,” having a solid campaign team and essentially ignoring the Florida Democratic Party. The bigger challenge, he said, is that most Floridians don’t give a hoot about the CFO race, and that part of the campaign will be out of his control.

“What’s the Governor’s race going to look like?” he asked. “Is Donald Trump at one percent or 99 percent?”

Though he said he’s confident of raising substantial money both inside and outside of Florida and having a strong campaign team, “If Adam Putnam is leading the Governor’s race by 10 points, then no, but if John Morgan is leading the Governor’s race by 10 points, then a Democrat’s probably going to win.”

Could Pat Neal’s anti-Donald Trump hurt his chances of becoming CFO?

Not surprisingly, Donald Trump hasn’t been too keen on hiring those associated with the “Never Trump” movement of conservative policy who surfaced in last year’s presidential campaign.

The most glaring example of this is the case of former State Department official Elliott Abrams. A meeting between the two last month reportedly went well, according to CNN. Ultimately, though, Trump opted not to hire Abrams for the Deputy Secretary of State position once he learned that Abrams criticized him during his White House run.

With the in mind, might strong criticism of the President during the campaign turn off Rick Scott, a close ally of Trump’s, specifically when it comes to naming a new Chief Financial Officer?

While there have been a host of names floated as possible contenders (including state Senators Jack Latvala, Jeff Brandes, Tom Lee and Lizbeth Benacquisto, state Rep. Jim Boyd, former interim head of Citizens Property Insurance Tom Grady, Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, former Speaker of the House Will Weatherford, and Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera), Pat Neal, the Manatee County real estate developer and former state lawmaker, is being looked at by many as the top choice to succeed Jeff Atwater.

Atwater announced last month that he would step down as CFO to serve as Vice President for Strategic Initiatives and Chief Financial Officer at Florida Atlantic University at the end of the Florida Legislature’s regular session in May.

Neal announced last June that he would not be a candidate for the CFO position in 2018, telling the Sarasota Herald-Tribune that he was “dispirited with what I see every morning having to do with the Trump campaign.”

He went on to tell reporter Zac Anderson that he viewed Trump as an incredibly “vulgar” candidate  who “is leading our party off a cliff.”

Neal later told the Times’ Adam Smith: “I, Pat Neal, have never had a bankruptcy, never had a bank default. When you sign a note of bonds, or sell stock with investors the right thing to do is pay them back. Not only did he lose money for people he borrowed from, but for a period there he lost money for his investors, particularly in the casino deals. That isn’t the way you do it, and I would not say he is a credit to the real estate industry.”

When asked to comment, a spokesperson for Scott simply sent the same statement that Scott said when Atwater announced he would be leaving the CFO spot last month.  It was filled with effusive praise for the Palm Beach County Republican, with Scott adding, “The role of the CFO is incredibly important to our state, and I will begin the process to appoint someone to serve Florida families.”

It should be noted that not everyone who has had critical words for Trump has been banned from working with him in his new administration.

Take Rick Perry, Bush’s Secretary of Energy.

On the campaign trail, the former Texas Governor called Trump a “cancer on conservatism,” before ultimately endorsing Trump for president calling the the New York City real estate magnate “one of the most talented people who has ever run for the president I have ever seen.”

House committee passes military Occupational Opportunity Act

A House subcommittee unanimously passed a bill to help service members and spouses find and keep jobs when they relocate to Florida.

HB 615, known as Occupational Opportunity Act, sailed through the Florida Careers & Competition Subcommittee Tuesday with a bipartisan vote. Next stop for the bill is the full Commerce Committee.

Palm Beach Republican Paul Renner filed HB 615, with Jeff Brandes of St. Petersburg introducing the Senate version.

The Occupational Opportunity Act seeks to expand opportunities for the military community in Florida by lengthening the time an occupational license stays valid after a service member retires or a spouse moves into the state.

If passed, HB 615 would waive licensing fees for new in-state applicants among those in the military community.

Concerned Veterans for America Coalitions Director Diego Echeverri calls the bill a “huge step in ensuring Florida veterans and service members have a fair transition back into their civilian life after returning home from protecting American freedoms abroad.”

Echeverri says HB 615 paves the way “for greater economic opportunity” for millions in the state’s military community.

 

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