Primary elections did little to unscramble House Speaker race

August’s primary elections did not produce a breakthrough for any of the contenders in the behind-the-scenes, internecine scrum to one day lead the Florida House of Representatives.

Instead, the race to be House Speaker in 2022-24 has settled in for a long slog which may not be decided until, at the earliest, 2018. And, according to a handful of the insiders who truly understand how a leadership race works, the eventual winner may not even be one of the current leading contenders.

Adding more drama to the situation is how the next two Republican House leaders — Speaker-designate Richard Corcoran and Speaker-to-be Jose Oliva — have explicitly articulated their disdain for the current tradition of electing a future House Speaker, the second-most powerful position in state government, so early in a lawmaker’s career.

Each class of House members selects a leader from among its ranks to serve as Speaker during their fourth and final terms. Depending on next month’s election results, the incoming class of Republicans should number about 28.

Paul Renner of Northeast Florida, Randy Fine of Melbourne Beach, and James W. “Jamie” Grant of Tampa are widely considered to be eyeing the top spot in the Florida House. These ambitions are based, in part, on the assumption that Republicans will still be in the majority six years from now.

Of course, there’s no paperwork to fill out that declares one’s candidacy for the speakership. In fact, Fine is not yet even a member of the Legislature. But there’s no disputing the three men have ambitions to lead their colleagues.

Presiding officers are selected by members of each class of lawmakers, often many years in advance of when they will serve. Members elected to complete part of a term — so-called redshirt freshmen — are able to serve longer than the rest of their class and typically have an advantage in leadership races over the rest of their class. Past Speakers Tom FeeneyMarco Rubio, and even Oliva himself benefited from that advantage.

Both Renner and Grant are considered redshirt freshmen, although Grant may be in a class by himself because he was elected in a special election after a protracted legal struggle involving a write-in candidate. Some might argue — in fact, we’re sure the Florida Democratic Party will strenuously argue if Grant one day becomes the Speaker-designate — that he should not be able to serve in the House for as long as he has.

•     •     •

If there’s any such thing as a front-runner in this race, Renner may be it. He’s more of a known quantity in Tallahassee than Fine and his legal standing is not in jeopardy like Grant’s (again, more on that later). His bid to be Speaker has been written up by the Florida Times-Union and Florida Trend.

However, as the fate of state Rep. Eric Eisnaugle has demonstrated, today’s frontrunner for the speakership can be tomorrow’s also-ran.

Eisnaugle, a Republican who represents the Orlando area, was long thought to be the front-runner until reports emerged that some of his colleagues said he became aloof and disconnected from the membership after winning a majority of pledges. Chris Sprowls appeared to clinch the 2020-22 speakership race when two Republicans — Renner and Orlando Rep. Mike Miller — switched their support from Eisnaugle to Sprowls.

More than one political consultant, most with at least part of a horse in this race, have suggested Renner abandoned Eisnaugle to keep alive his own bid for the Speaker’s office.

But one of the legs of Renner’s platform was knocked out from underneath him during the primary elections.

Regional leaders had made electing a Speaker from northeast Florida a priority.

“We believe that Jacksonville is poised to present a candidate for Speaker, and we recognize how important that is for our economy,” lobbyist Deno Hicks told Florida Trend’s Jason Garcia in May of 2015.

At the beginning of the 2016 election cycle, many thought Renner would be able to bring to the table as many as six pledges from northeast Florida. But this is no longer the case.

In House District 11, Renner’s horse, Sherri Treadwell, lost to Cord Byrd, who some suggest will back Grant because they share many of the same political allies. And in House District 16, Renner was perceived to be playing all sides by having his surrogates back Dick Kravitz against eventual winner Jason Fischer.

And, as blogger Brian Burgess first pointed out on his site The Capitolist, Renner also hurt himself with two of his most prominent Jacksonville allies by endorsing Angela Corey‘s losing re-election bid.

Yet, the Speaker’s race is not a zero-sum game. Although Renner’s position is no longer as strong, neither Fine nor Grant have been able to improve their hand much.

Some of this is due to the fact that Corcoran and Oliva, working in conjunction at an unprecedented level, have made it clear that overt campaigning for the House’s top spot is bad form.

Earlier this year, the next two leaders of the House of Representatives urged Republican candidates in open House seats to not be “distracted” by the inside-baseball games of future House Speaker races. In fact, Corcoran and Oliva said it was premature for Republicans not even elected to the Legislature to be worried about who will lead them in the next decade.

“We are encouraging you in the strongest possible terms to postpone these conversations until after you are elected,” Corcoran and Oliva wrote in a memo to Republican House candidates.

Nevertheless, the off-the-grid campaigning by Renner and Fine continued unabated. Grant, thought to be the preferred choice of Corcoran, took a more laissez-faire approach to engaging in GOP House primaries.

“Picking a leader should not be about being fast or being pressured, it should be about being deliberate, having the opportunity to first serve together as a class, and ultimately getting it right,” Grant explained.

But make no mistake, Grant is working. It’s just that he seems to be doing it behind additional layers of plausible deniability than Renner or Fine.

Fine went so far as to hold a fundraising reception for several House candidates thought to be supportive of his bid to be Speaker, although the Brevard Republican denied that was what happened.

“(That fundraising reception) should not be construed as Team Fine, as there will never be a Team Fine,” he explained. “There will be a team that Randy Fine is a member of and seeks to serve, should I be so fortunate to be sent by the voters of southern Brevard County to Tallahassee.”

•     •     •

Examining the results from the GOP House primaries, it appears Fine very much still has a seat at the game, while Renner took one step forward and two steps back. That’s because, as one GOP strategist who has worked for a House Speaker explained, Renner is making the mistake of assuming he’s got a pledge simply because he financially supported a candidate.

So how did Renner, Fine, and Grant do in the primaries? Here’s a rundown.

HD 4: Renner’s pick, Mel Ponder, won the four-way primary to take over for exiting Rep. Matt Gaetz, and is the de facto winner of the general, with his only competition coming from a write-in candidate.

HD 21: Chuck Clemons won by 10 points over Wenda Lewis in the Republican Primary, though he received support from both Renner and Fine in the race to take over for Rep. Keith Perry. Several sources indicated Clemons is definitely a Renner pledge.

HD 52: This one is a wash. Neither Renner’s candidate, Brian Hodgers, or Fine’s candidate, Monique Miller, were able to come up with a win against Thad Altman, who is taking the rare step of returning to the House after hitting term limits in the Senate.

HD 54: Another bust for Renner, who invested heavily in Lange SykesErin Grall had a decisive win with about 42 percent of the vote compared to a little under 25 percent of the vote for Sykes in the four-way primary.

HD 60: A big win for Grant and Fine, who backed Jackie Toledo over Rebecca Smith. Toledo won by 2 points over Smith, largely seen as the establishment favorite. Renner didn’t deign to dip his toe into this race.

HD 72: Another split, or maybe even a bust. Both Fine and Renner backed Alex Miller, who won big over John Hill, though there’s still a possibility this longtime Republican seat ends up in the hands of Democrat Edward James III, despite his recently revealed scandal.

HD 73: Renner thinks he picked up a win here by backing Joe Gruters, who bested Steve Vernon by less than two points on Election Day, but Gruters is going to extract as much as he can before he pledges to anyone.

HD 106: Another split. Bob Rommel won the three-way primary for the seat with 51 percent of the vote compared to 33 percent for Lavigne Kirkpatrick and 15 percent for Nick Ballo. While Renner stepped in with support, Fine was there first.

Of course, financial support doesn’t translate 1-to-1 to votes for House Speaker, but looking at Renner’s main targets, he only has a couple races where he staked a claim early on the eventual winner. The same could be said for Fine, too.

In addition to these races, the two both backed Frank White in HD 2, Jayer Williamson in HD 3, Byron Donalds in HD 80, and John Couriel in HD 114, among many others, giving none of the candidates a distinct edge this far ahead of 2022.

•     •     •

The primary elections, then, did little to unscramble the current race to be Speaker. In fact, if you explore further the web of campaign finance connections, it appears both Renner and Fine played multiple sides in multiple GOP primaries.

Most insiders believe the race is on hold for now, if for no other reason than “NONE of them will buck Corcoran or Oliva anytime soon,” as one GOP pollster tracking the race pointed out.

A third dynamic is the personality of the class itself. There are members beyond Renner, Fine, and Grant who others suggest might make a good Speaker. The Panhandle’s Frank White and northeast Florida’s Jason Fischer are two of the names which come up with increasing frequency.

Also, when a legislative class possibly also includes veteran politicos like Gruters, the Sarasota GOP Chairman, and/or former U.S. Rep. David Rivera, the wheeling and dealing for pledges in exchange for plum committee assignments or responsibilities won’t really begin until all of the members are elected and can size each other up on the House floor.

What is almost certain about this otherwise nebulous situation is that this Speaker’s race, like the Eisnaugle vs. Sprowls contest before it, is increasingly complex and may take longer to decide than the four years it took for Allan Bense to lock in the leadership role.

Meanwhile, the days of when a future Speaker is recognized hours after Election Day — as was the case with Oliva in 2014 — are over.

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Personnel note: Crystal Sircy heads to Orlando EDC

Crystal Sircy, the chief operating officer of Enterprise Florida (EFI), the state’s public-private economic development agency, is leaving to join the Orlando Economic Development Commission as its new executive vice president.

Sircy, who has been with EFI since 1997, announced her resignation in an email to “stakeholders” last Thursday that was provided to on Monday.

“I am so proud of the work we have done together to expand and diversify the state’s economy through job creation,” she said. “I am honored to have been a part of this team and thank you for being great partners.”

Her move comes as lawmakers gird for a fight this upcoming session that could lead to the agency’s demise. It acts as a conduit for economic incentives to lure companies and jobs to the Sunshine State.

State Sen. Jack Latvala, in line to become Appropriations chairman under Senate President Joe Negron, said he will support money in the state budget for business incentives. This year, Latvala championed Gov. Rick Scott‘s request for a $250 million business incentive fund that ultimately died by session’s end.

On the other side is House Speaker-designate Richard Corcoran, a bitter opponent of business incentives, or what he calls “corporate welfare.” When recently asked whether he would back disbanding the organization, he said: “I think that’s definitely a discussion that’s going to take place this coming session.”

Sircy said she still believes in the agency’s mission.

“Like you, I believe economic development is vital to our state’s resilience and prosperity,” she said in her email. “I want to assure you that Enterprise Florida is in good hands. The organization has the support of the Governor and is led by a Board of Directors comprised of professionals highly respected across the state.”

Enterprise Florida has been without a leader since former CEO Bill Johnson stepped down in late June. The process to hire a new agency head was stalled by Hurricane Matthew.

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Richard Corcoran flails Florida Supreme Court’s death ruling

Florida House Speaker-designate Richard Corcoran denounced a Florida Supreme Court ruling Friday requiring unanimous jury votes to impose the death penalty.

“Today’s ruling in Hurst v. Florida is just the latest example of the Florida Supreme Court’s ongoing effort to subvert the will of the people as expressed by their elected representatives,” Corcoran said in a written statement.

“This decision is indicative of a court that comes to a conclusion, then seeks a judicial pathway, however tortured, to achieve its desired result. That is antithetical to the rule of law and dangerous for our state.”

The court voted, 5-2, to strike down a state law allowing death sentences on the recommendation of at least 10 members of a 12-person jury. In a separate ruling, the court opened the possibility of sentence reductions for other death row prisoners.

Gov. Rick Scott’s office said he was reviewing the ruling and had no immediate comment.

The Legislature passed the law in question in response to a January ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court, finding that Florida’s death sentencing law gave too much discretion to trial judges.

“With no regard to the Legislature’s constitutional duty to establish policy in this state, the Florida Supreme Court expanded the scope of its decision to issues that were not raised by the parties or considered by the U.S. Supreme Court,” Corcoran said.

“As Justice [Charles] Canady aptly argued in his dissent, the majority opinion unnecessarily disrupts the administration of the death penalty in Florida.”

He promised: “We will take a close look at today’s rulings and consider our options going forward.”

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Some Florida Republicans AWOL on talking about Amendment 2

Florida Republican leaders have been conspicuously quiet about where they stand on Amendment 2, the ballot initiative that would legalize medical marijuana.

“I think a lot of people are being quiet about it because they assume it’s going to pass and they don’t want to be on the wrong side,” incoming Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Jack Latvala said last week about the relative scarcity of GOP leaders opposed to the measure.

After speaking with Latvala, reached out last week to four leading Republicans in Florida to determine where they stand on the issue, but five days later, only incoming House Speaker Richard Corcoran responded to our entreaty.

“In 2014, the Florida House passed the Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act that eventually became law,” Corcoran emailed Florida Politics. “The law created a strict regime for dispensing non-smoked low-THC cannabis to patients who had run out of traditional pain management options. I believe that Amendment 2 is both unnecessary and is merely a steppingstone in the full legalization playbook. The law in place strikes a balance between compassion and control and poses no danger to our kids and grandkids.”

In addition to Corcoran, this reporter also reached out to incoming Senate President Joe Negron, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, and Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater.

This is the second consecutive statewide election with the issue of medical marijuana on the ballot.

In 2014, the measure received over 57 percent support at the polls, short of the 60 percent required for a citizen’s led initiative to pass. Nearly every respected poll published this year shows the measure getting over the required threshold, though the polls were also favorable at this time two years ago.

Latvala took a beating on his Facebook page when he announced his opposition in September, but the Clearwater Republican said it actually demonstrated his political courage.

“To get involved in something’s that winning over 70 percent of the vote is not an easy thing to do,” he said. “It takes a little bit of courage to get involved in an issue where it looks like you’re losing.”

Many, if not most, Republicans opposed the measure in 2014, but some have come on board this year, including Tampa Bay area Republicans Jeff Brandes and Dana Young.

While some lawmakers like Corcoran says the law previously passed by the Legislature serves its purpose, critics note it also limits the growing and distribution of marijuana to just six nursery owners in the state.

“The Legislature screwed up the opportunity in the medical marijuana law,” says Brandes. “What you’ve seen them do is create a situation where only a handful of families can get wealthy.”

The measure also is getting more buy-in from the editorial boards of some of the state’s biggest newspapers. In the past two days, three newspapers — the Florida Times-Union, the News Herald of Panama City, and the Ft. Myers News-Press — have all urged their readers to vote “yes” on the proposal. All three papers’ editorial boards had opposed Amendment 2 in 2014.

The Orlando Sentinel came out with an editorial opposing the measure, saying: “It’s the right policy, but the constitution is the wrong place to do it.”

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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.

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What to make of House candidate Jackie Toledo?

jackie toledo 1Jackie Toledo, the oft-controversial Republican running for Florida House District 60, has a major fundraiser planned for Tuesday.

And while the invitation for the event is studded with dozens of local Republican heavyweights, I’m still not sure what to make of Toledo.

Is she, as I want to believe, the latest in a line of Hillsborough Republican female pols who were initially underestimated by their critics and the media (think Sandy Murman during her stint in the Florida House)?

Or is Toledo, as La Gaceta’s Patrick Manteiga will tell you, a Tampa Bay version of Michele Bachmann (I guess that would make Toledo the second coming of Ronda Storms)?

Toledo had a rocky entry into electoral politics, making a series of errors (forced and unforced) during her 2015 bid for the Tampa City Council.

During that campaign, the Tampa Bay Times reported her campaign was using an image photography experts said consisted of her photo superimposed on Mayor Bob Buckhorn‘s official portrait and that she used video shot without permission on a Florida Department of Transportation construction site in a campaign commercial.

Those miscues barely rose to the level of a misdemeanor, but when a political action committee that attacked her opponents appeared to have connections to her campaign consultant, Anthony Pedicini, the first-time candidate would not be given a second chance to make a first impression.

“The ugliness wasn’t just in the mail,” wrote Manteiga in March 2015. “The campaign was rotten in every aspect … You name it; it happened in this race.”

When Toledo announced she was running for House District 60, most of the state and local Republican establishment lined up behind her primary opponent, Rebecca Smith.

Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam announced support for Smith in August, three days after she met with the two at a speech Putnam gave in South Tampa.

But, by almost all accounts of what happened in the HD 60 primary, Toledo feverishly outworked her opponent. Like the other pols mentioned above — Murman, Storms, etc. — Toledo put together a campaign team of dedicated volunteers, pounded on doors, and just out-hustled her opponent.

Toledo also has done her best to avoid talking to the local media, which her camp believes is predisposed against her. She skipped a Tiger Bay appearance. She does not respond to inquiries from this website’s reporters.

“Jackie is too busy being a mother, wife, volunteer, small-business owner, and community advocate to play … childish games,” Toledo spokesperson Ryan Wiggins told in September. “Her focus is on serving the people of District 60 and winning an election, not winning headlines in a political blog.”

Like I said, it’s unclear what to make of Toledo.

My impression is that she’s smart and sharp, but insular and slightly paranoid of outside political forces.

The best thing she probably has going for her campaign is that winning the HD 60 seat is a priority of Speaker-designate Richard Corcoran.

Corcoran, along with state Sens. Jeff Brandes and Jack Latvala, and Reps. Danny Burgess, James Grant, Chris Latvala, and Chris Sprowls, among others, are hosting a high-profile fundraiser supporting Toledo this Tuesday at the Columbia Café in Tampa.

The Democrats have recruited an excellent candidate in David Singer, although Singer can sometimes sound a tad aloof, as if he has better things to do than raise money for his campaign.

Singer has raised just over $115,000 through Sept. 16, spending more than $40,000, while Toledo has banked over $155,000 during the same period, not including a $25,000 loan, and spent nearly $167,000.

With Corcoran and the Florida GOP machine behind her — and Pedicini, who is on a hot streak, probably helping from afar (perhaps through an outside vehicle) — it’s likely Toledo will hold HD 60 for the Republicans.

I just don’t know what kind of lawmaker Toledo will make.

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Here’s where sh*t stands in Tampa Bay politics — the ‘it’s October’ edition

Hello, October.

This is the final full month of the 2016 campaign cycle. In five weeks, we will know so much more about the future of the country, the state and our communities. But, no matter what, life will go on.

For those in “The Process” — Florida Politics’ term for the unending legislative campaign/legislative session system — it’s just two months before committee meetings begin.

In fact, like many people I talk to who are in “The Process,” we’re planning for the 2017 Legislative Session as they are monitoring the final weeks of the campaign season.

Of course, we all are fascinated by the presidential campaign, while the U.S. Senate race between Republican Marco Rubio and his Democratic challenger, Patrick Murphy, seems uninspiring. It’s like one of those Hollywood blockbusters with a big budget and exciting trailer, yet fails to deliver at the box office.

Fortunately for Tampa Bay politicos, there are several races which are not only competitive but are getting more interesting as Election Day approaches.

Here’s where sh*t stands in Tampa Bay politics …

When I left the Palladium Theater after the debate between David Jolly and Charlie Crist, I could have made a case for either candidate having won the showdown. Jolly landed several sharp jabs, while Crist probably delivered the hardest punch with his “invitation to lead” remark.

In retrospect, I think Jolly needed to have won the debate to be the winner, whereas the expectations for Crist were low enough that he just had to not make a gaffe and he won. That’s not only how the debate went, but how the campaign seems to be proceeding. An elected official who is one of Crist’s loudest detractors recently admitted he was surprised how well Crist did at the debate.

The demographics are just not on Jolly’s side. He has to win independents by a large enough margin to overcome the Democratic performance advantage in a presidential year. And I don’t know that he has the resources to make enough of a case. He’s releasing digital ads because he doesn’t have the money to go up on television. He’s hoping the super PAC funded mostly by money committed to him while he was a U.S. Senate candidate can keep him on par with Crist’s fundraising advantage.

I just don’t know if there is enough gas in the tank. Crist’s latest ad — the one in which he says “I’m a fan of fans” — is much improved on previous efforts. And there’s even this proof of how hard Crist is working:


That’s right, that’s Crist himself putting out signs on a Sunday morning. I haven’t seen that since he was running for state Senate.

Two weeks ago, I concurred with St. Pete Polls’ survey that pegged Jolly the slight leader over Crist. I believe the race has shifted to Crist’s advantage.

Crist and Jolly will face off again this Thursday at a forum hosted by Suncoast Tiger Bay. The event is at the St. Petersburg Yacht Club and begins at noon. The deadline to RSVP is Oct. 3.

The Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections will mail more than 264,000 ballots to domestic voters Tuesday. You probably have seen the countless stories about how early voting is changing campaigns, but this point cannot be stressed enough: in one of, if not the, most crucial battleground states in the country, the real Election Day is this week as opposed to the one on the calendar in November.

It’s a story for a larger piece, but in case you haven’t been paying attention, Sen. Jack Latvala has a lot to say. That’s probably nothing new, but as the incoming chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, he’s never had the kind of platform he has now. As powerful as he has been, he’s never been this powerful before.

So when Sen. Latvala speaks, it’s more important than ever to listen.

Latvala has opinions on Amendment 2 (he’s against it and spending his own money to oppose it), funding for Enterprise Florida (he’s for it and thinks a compromise between Rick Scott and Richard Corcoran can be reached), raises for state employees (he’s making that his top priority next session) and a host of other issues.

In the run-up to the 2017 Session — and certainly beyond — it is probably more important than ever to listen to what Latvala has to say. After all, he has say on, oh, about $80 billion.

Speaking of the Latvala clan, state Rep. Chris Latvala handled himself very well at last week’s candidate forum sponsored by Suncoast Tiger Bay. Admittedly, he is a friend. And Chris is a partisan (he says he’s voting for Donald Trump), but his answers on a range of issues were not only smart, but they were also well-articulated and compassionate.

More than anything, Latvala demonstrated that he’s not just his father’s son (although there certainly would be nothing wrong with that).

Latvala’s Democratic opponent, David Vogel, told Tiger Bay organizers that he would not participate in the candidate forum because he objected to questions asked at a previous forum by the moderator. That moderator? Yours truly.

Creative Loafing’s Kate Bradshaw summarizes the situation:

Vogel said he didn’t like the questions Schorsch asked at another forum — namely two he posed to Joseph Bensmihen, a Republican running for a state House seat in St. Pete and a recent transplant. They were designed to show how well — or not well, actually — he knew the district, but his responses were memorable gaffes: his favorite restaurant on St. Pete’s 4th Street was a Chick-fil-A franchise, he said, and he couldn’t name the mayor who preceded current St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman.

“[Vogel] said that those questions are not serious,” Schorsch said.

First of all, Tiger Bay forums are not meant to be entirely serious. They promise to “carve up a politican for lunch,” which we all know/hope is an unserious motto.

But the kind of questions I asked Joe Bensmihen — and it should be noted that I asked each of the candidates a range of policy questions — are essential because they illuminate a candidate’s knowledge of the community he wants to represent.

Just like a question about “Aleppo” gives a voter a sense of a presidential aspirant’s grasp of geopolitics.

Vogel — far behind Latvala in polls and money — missed an opportunity to make his case to Tiger Bay members.

Republican state House candidate Jackie Toledo has a major fundraiser planned for this Wednesday. Here’s the invitation:


Newspaper endorsements probably matter less than they ever had, but at least one recommendation is worth noting.

Trilingual La Gaceta, which should be written in blue ink instead of black it leans that far to the Democratic left, endorsed Republican Shawn Harrison in House District 63 over Democrat Lisa Montelione.

“(N)ormally, we support Democrats, but lately we’ve noticed some Democrats aren’t acting like Democrats. Lisa Montelione is on that list” writes publisher Patrick Manteiga.

The endorsement notes that Montelione, Tampa’s District 7 City Councilwoman, “approved two consecutive tax increases in the City of Tampa that combined, are the largest in the city’s history.” She “also recently extended the city’s red light ticket program,” it said. “Democrats don’t privatize our policing to private, for-profit corporations. These programs hurt the poor. These tickets are hard to fight, and the system makes mistakes.” On the other hand, Harrison “is a moderate Republican. Democrats can work with him,” the paper said. … “He’s smart, compassionate, focused and does his homework. He can build coalitions.”

Look for Harrison’s campaign to waste little time printing a direct mailer with Manteiga’s words in big, bold letters.

Perhaps the most despised governmental agency in Tampa Bay is the Hillsborough Public Transportation Commission. Beholden to the local taxi industry, the PTC has almost pushed ridesharing services Uber and Lyft out of the market. Yes, a deal has been reached that may keep them here, but it’s not a certainty.

Whichever way that deal breaks, the fate of the PTC will likely be decided by the Florida Legislature, of which several Tampa Bay lawmakers have their knives out for the PTC.

This makes this one of the most interesting lobbying battles shaping up in Tallahassee.

On one side, there is the PTC and its registered lobbyists at Corcoran & Johnston. That is the firm headed by Michael Corcoran, brother of incoming House Speaker Richard Corcoran. On the other side, there is Sen. Jeff Brandes and Reps. Larry Ahern, James Grant, and Dana Young, who would like to abolish the PTC.

Oh, also with Brandes, Young and Co. is Speaker Corcoran, who co-signed a pro-Uber letter to the PTC.

The very fact that the PTC is paying $120,000 to lobby the lawmakers who would like to see it abolished only serves to pour gasoline on this flammable situation.

Hillsborough County Property Appraiser Bob Henriquez has a grand opening for his campaign headquarters on Tuesday, Oct. 11. Here’s the invite:


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Jack Latvala backs business incentives, raises for state workers

State Sen. Jack Latvala told reporters Friday he would again support money in the state budget for business incentives and state worker pay raises.

“If we’re going to have economic development, and jobs are still the No. 1 thing on people’s minds, then we need to fund it,” he said after a medical marijuana press conference in Tallahassee. “I don’t know what the magic number is … we’ve got to see what we’ve got.”

The Clearwater Republican is in line to become Appropriations Committee chairman under Senate President Joe Negron. Last year, Latvala championed Gov. Rick Scott‘s request for a $250 million business incentive fund that ultimately died by session’s end.

This week, Scott said he would ask lawmakers for $85 million in 2016-17 for Enterprise Florida for business incentives. The governor also said he plans to push legislation to restructure the public-private economic development organization.

House Speaker-designate Richard Corcoran, however, nixed the idea quickly.

“The House’s position on this issue has been clear,” he said in a tweet this week. “The government engaging in social engineering to pick winners and losers that benefit the 1 percent is a bad deal for Florida taxpayers. There will not be any corporate welfare in the House budget.”

When asked about Corcoran’s opposition, Latvala said, “I’m just saying what I support.”

“I think the House’s objection is philosophical,” he added. “I would hate to have to go through the budget and look at everything that we do that benefits a corporation or an individual that might also be considered corporate welfare.”

Latvala also called it his “highest personal priority, as a senator and as chairman of the Senate Appropriations committee, to deliver some sort of pay raise for state employees.” State workers haven’t gotten an increase since 2006. 

“Now, I’m not going to get into how much, or how to do it, but I’ve had that conversation with (Negron, and he’s) well aware of where I’m coming from,” he said.

A stumbling block could be the latest financial outlook for 2017-18: Present income and outgo estimates leave Florida with a relatively scant $7.5 million left over out of about $32.2 billion in available revenue.

Further, chief legislative economist Amy Baker earlier this month told lawmakers the current forecast “could be the good news” and later outlooks “may not be this good.”

“Sen. Latvala has always looked after state employees, including state law enforcement and correctional officers,” said Matt Puckett, executive director of the Florida Police Benevolent Association, in a press release. “We appreciate him raising the awareness for this very important and much needed issue.”

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Florida House announces proposed committee structure

House Speaker Designate Richard Corcoran is making changes to the committee structure in his chamber.

The Land O’Lakes Republican released a proposed committee structure Friday. As proposed, there would be nine full committees, seven budget subcommittees, 17 policy subcommittees, and five joint committees.

Among the changes, Corcoran is proposing a Public Integrity and Ethics Committee, and a Rules and Policy Committee. Under the current structure, there is a combined Rules, Calendar and Ethics Committee.

The proposed committee structure also adds a Government Accountability Committee. That committee has four subcommittees — Local, Federal and Veterans Affairs; Natural Resources and Public Lands; Oversight, Transparency and Administration; and Transportation and Infrastructure.

The Government Accountability Committee replaces the State Affairs Committee, which had Agriculture and Natural Resources, and Government Operations subcommittees; and the Local and Federal Affairs Committee, which had Local Government Affairs, and Veteran and Military Affairs subcommittees.

The proposed structure gets rid or the Finance and Tax Committees, but adds a Ways and Means Committee.

Under the umbrella of the newly created Commerce Committee are the Agriculture and Property Rights; Careers and Competition; Energy and Utilities; Insurance and Banking; and Tourism and Gaming Control subcommittees.

The Education Committee has three subcommittees — one looking at Post-Secondary Education, as well as PreK-12 Innovation and PreK-12 Quality subcommittees.

The proposed Appropriation Committee will have seven subcommittees, up from six under the current structure. The proposed appropriations subcommittees are: Agriculture and Natural Resources; Government Operations and Technology; Health Care; Higher Education; Justice; PreK-12; and Transportation and Tourism.

Under Corcoran’s plan, the education appropriations subcommittee would be split in two. Under the current House committee structure, the education appropriations subcommittee handles both the higher education and PreK-12 budgets.

The Health & Human Services Committee will have three subcommittees —  Children, Families and Seniors; Health Innovation; and Health Quality; while the Judiciary Committee will have two subcommittees — Civil Justice and Claims, and Criminal Justice.

The organizational session is scheduled for Nov. 22. Corcoran said he plans to announce the House leadership team, including full committee chairs, by Nov. 9.

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Rick Scott says he ‘can’t imagine anyone voting against’ $85M economic incentive proposal

Gov. Rick Scott will once again ask the Florida Legislature to set aside millions to help lure companies to the Sunshine State.

But the proposal could face significant pushback in the Florida House, which has staunchly opposed cash incentives in recent years.

On Thursday, Scott announced he planned to include $85 million in his 2016-17 budget for Enterprise Florida for economic incentives. The governor also said he plans to push legislation to restructure the public-private jobs organization.

“We’ve had a lot of success in the last five years and eight months, but we’ve got to really focus on job creation,” said Scott.  “We have to be part of the game. We have to get a good return for taxpayers but we have to be part of the game.”

The announcement puts him at odds with House leadership, which blocked a 2016 attempt to set aside $250 million for economic incentives. In June, House Speaker Designate Richard Corcoran said he would lead the charge to end taxpayer funding to the state organization.

And it is unlikely Corcoran’s position will change. In a statement, Corcoran said the “House’s position on this issue has been clear.”

“The government engaging in social engineering to pick winners and losers that benefit the 1 percent is a bad deal for Florida taxpayers,” he said. “There will not be any corporate welfare in the House budget.”

When asked by reporters Thursday whether he spoke to Corcoran about his proposal, Scott didn’t respond. Instead, he repeatedly said he calls on “House and Senate members all the time.”

He may have better luck in the Senate, which supported his proposal during the 2016 legislative session. In a statement, Senate President Designate Joe Negron said the Senate “takes every priority of the governor very seriously.”

“In the coming months, our Senate committees will have the chance to review his proposed budget in its entirety,” said Negron. “It is still very early in the budget process, and we look forward to the opportunity to learn more about this and other priorities of the governor as we get closer to our interim committee weeks and session.”

Scott remained optimistic, saying he “couldn’t imagine anyone is going to vote against it.”

“What everyone has heard is that economic incentives are important,” he said. “We have site selectors all across the country that know to compete, we have to have an economic incentive plan. We have to have a good return.”

The Enterprise Florida board of directors held its meeting in conjunction with the Florida Chamber Foundation’s 2016 Future of Florida Forum.

The board was expected to pick a new CEO during the meeting. However, the selection committee did not make a recommendation since Scott could not meet with the final candidates Wednesday because he was monitoring the possible impact of Tropical Storm Matthew.

“We’ll have a normal process,” he said. “But I will continue to work on the process.”

Tallahassee correspondent Jim Rosica contributed to this report.

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