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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.

Mitch Perry Report for 9.14.16 — Steve Crisafulli goes there

Outgoing Florida Speaker of the House Steve Crisafulli penned an opinion piece yesterday slamming Hillary Clinton‘s now-infamous “basket of deplorables” phrase to describe half of Donald Trump‘s supporters.

“By calling so many of our nation’s citizens ‘deplorable’ haters and racists and the other half too stupid to make their own decisions about who should be our next president, Hillary once again revealed how the elitist Clintons really view Americans,” Crisafulli wrote.

Similar Trump surrogates echoes similar statements last weekend, but not that many House Republicans.

As the New York Times reports this morning, GOP vice presidential nominee Mike Pence pretty much struck out in a visit to Capitol Hill in getting his former colleagues to join in deploring Clinton for her “basket of deplorables” remark.

In separate news conferences, House and Senate Republican leaders declined to join Mr. Pence, the Indiana governor and vice-presidential nominee, in rebuking Mrs. Clinton over her remark.

Mr. Pence wound up raising the subject only when pressed by a reporter — and then gave a halting answer in which he would not call David Duke, a white supremacist and onetime Ku Klux Klan leader, “deplorable.” He insisted instead that Mrs. Clinton did not have “that bad man” in mind when she assailed Mr. Trump’s supporters.

You might have seen Pence on Monday night, when he refused to take the bait from CNN’s Wolf Blitzer when asked if Duke could be considered “deplorable.”

“The simple fact is that I am not in the name-calling business,” Pence said, which he again repeated yesterday in D.C.

“Is the factory worker looking for a job that Hillary helped send overseas deplorable?” Crisafulli wrote yesterday. “Are the families whose sons and daughters fight for our country deplorable? Are the millions of Americans who simply want her to tell the truth deplorable? If asking these questions is reason for Hillary to put someone in a basket — she can throw me in too.”

Needless to say, Crisafulli is all in when it comes to supporting Trump for president. Obviously, the rest of his party isn’t nearly that unified.

Meanwhile, the Real Clear Politics average has Trump up by .01 percent over Clinton in Florida, and down only two points nationally.

In other news…

Patrick Murphy used the opportunity of getting endorsed by a political action committee formed after the Pulse nightclub shooting to blast Marco Rubio’s votes on gun safety.

Tampa millennials gathered Monday night in Ybor City to talk transportation and how Hillary Clinton’s plan for infrastructure improvements could help the area if she’s elected.

Dana Young and a host of other (mostly Republican) state lawmakers from the Tampa Bay area are warning the Hillsborough PTC not to pass rules that could prompt Uber and Lyft to leave Tampa.

The AFL-CIO is dropping more than 50,000 mailers to union families in Florida this week touting their support for Hillary Clinton.

CD 15’s Dennis Ross has signed on to a House bill that would prohibit any further payments to Iran from the U.S. government.

Personnel note: Kathy Mears heading to FSU

mears-kathy-largeKathy Mears, who served as chief of staff to two consecutive Florida House speakers, will become the new top in-house lobbyist for Florida State University.

Mears, who confirmed her hiring Monday, said she will take the new role of chief legislative affairs officer. She starts Sept. 19.

Mears was chief of staff to Republican House Speakers Will Weatherford (2012-14) and Steve Crisafulli (2014-16).

At FSU, she will report to President John Thrasher, another former state lawmaker.

It’s a homecoming for Mears, who got both her undergraduate degree and master’s in public administration from FSU.

Mears also has been a top advisor to former Senate Presidents Ken Pruitt and Tom Lee, and was deputy chief of staff to former Republican Gov. Charlie Crist. 

She also served as campaign communications director to Congressman Daniel Webster and was a vice president at On 3 Public Relations in Tallahassee.

“Kathy’s passion for public policy and academia makes her the perfect choice for President Thrasher and FSU,” said Christina Johnson, the firm’s president. “I am thrilled for her as she continues to achieve incredible milestones throughout her professional career.”

Donald Trump to hold fundraiser in Tampa days after RNC

Donald Trump will be in Tampa on Tuesday, July 26, to appear at a fundraiser on his behalf.

The event will be hosted by Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Preibus. 

Governor Rick Scott will also be in attendance, along with Florida House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, St. Pete business magnate Bill Edwards, Tampa Bay area philanthropist Les Muma, Hillsborough County Aviation Authority Chairman Robert Watkins, Outback Steakhouse founder Chris T. Sullivan, Port Tampa Bay Chairman  Steve Swindal and developer Joe Williams.

The site has for the fundraiser has yet to be announced.

Later in the day, Trump will then travel to Miami for another fundraiser at 7 p.m. that evening.

Florida court sides against former Miami congressman David Rivera

A Florida court is refusing to block a recommendation that a former U.S. congressman and one-time ally of U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio should pay nearly $60,000 stemming from an ethics investigation.

The 1st District Court of Appeal on Wednesday rejected former U.S. Rep. David Rivera‘s contention that he was denied due process by the Florida Commission on Ethics. Rivera, a former state legislator from Miami, served one term in the U.S. House.

Rivera is accused of violating several state ethics laws. The commission recommended Rivera pay $16,500 in penalties and more than $41,000 in restitution.

It’s up to House Speaker Steve Crisafulli to decide whether to impose penalties.

Rivera’s attorney says Crisafulli has no authority over former House members, but the court said it couldn’t rule on that until the speaker acts on the case.

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

Joe Henderson: Richard Corcoran flexes muscles with $53K June fundraising

The latest example of Richard Corcoran’s expanding power in Tallahassee came in this little news nugget: He raised $53,000 last month, despite the fact he has already been re-elected to the Florida House without opposition.

As incoming House Speaker, Corcoran’s reach extends far beyond his campaign. One of the biggest ways is in serving as a magnet for contributions. He may not need the money himself, but he knows candidates and causes that might.

“For lack of a better word, it becomes a war chest of sorts,” Republican operative Mark Proctor said.

That war chest becomes a critical part of the legislative process.

Donors basically tell the recipient — in this case, Corcoran — here’s some money, dole it out where you see fit. So if you’re a Republican candidate a little short on funds in a tough race, the soon-to-be Speaker might direct a few bucks your way. It’s a common practice in politics.

Much of that money is funneled through Corcoran’s political committee Florida Roundtable, which according to state campaign documents has raised $2.041 million since it was founded in 2013. Since Jan. 1 of this year, it has raised $371,000.

That, of course, is a great way to consolidate power because nothing ensures loyalty for the Speaker’s agenda like a helping hand in the campaign.

And what might Speaker Corcoran’s agenda include?

He’ll hold the line on taxes. He’ll fight attempts at gun restrictions, like he just did when House Democrats tried to schedule a special session on guns following the massacre in Orlando. Any attempt to revive Medicaid expansion for the state’s estimated 800,000 people without health insurance will be met with a continued cold shoulder.

He also has set his sights on ending taxpayer support for Enterprise Florida on the grounds that it amounts to corporate welfare. That could lead to a showdown with Gov. Rick Scott, who wants to expand greatly the taxpayer contribution to the agency that was created in the early 1990s to attract businesses to the state.

During Corcoran’s rise to power, he was often considered the most powerful man in the House — even ahead of then-speaker Steve Crisafulli. As House budget chairman in the last session, Corcoran helped shepherd through an $82 billion spending blueprint.

Now as Speaker, Corcoran has a chance to shape the landscape in Florida for many years to come. Months like the one that just ended help provide the needed cash to do just that.

___

Joe Henderson has had a 45-year career in newspapers, including the last nearly 42 years at The Tampa Tribune. He has covered a large variety of things, primarily in sports but also hard news. The two intertwined in the decade-long search to bring Major League Baseball to the area. Henderson was also City Hall reporter for two years and covered all sides of the sales tax issue that ultimately led to the construction of Raymond James Stadium. He served as a full-time sports columnist for about 10 years before moving to the metro news columnist for the last 4 ½ years. Henderson has numerous local, state and national writing awards. He has been married to his wife, Elaine, for nearly 35 years and has two grown sons — Ben and Patrick.

Personnel note: Michael Williams to Core Message

Michael Williams is departing the Florida House Speaker’s office as communications director and heading to Tallahassee PR shop CoreMessage as managing director of media relations.

The firm announced the move Tuesday.

“CoreMessage is thrilled to add Michael to our team,” said Cory Tilley, the president of CoreMessage and former top communications aide to Gov. Jeb Bush.

“Bringing someone of Michael’s caliber and experience on board will have an immediate positive impact on our clients,” he added. “He will be an enormous asset as we continue to provide our clients with the best public relations services in Florida.”

Williams, 36, has been a spokesman for Speaker Steve Crisafulli, a Merritt Island Republican, since 2014.

Before that, he was deputy communications director for the House Majority (Republicans) Office. He’s also worked at Xcel Energy and the Florida Manufactured Housing Association.

During the 2011 and 2012 legislative sessions, Williams was a consultant for Ramba Consulting Group, a governmental relations firm.

“Michael brings the perfect kind of experience to our firm,” said Jennifer Fennell, vice president of CoreMessage. “His extensive background in media relations, digital media, and public policy issues will only enhance our current team and our ability to deliver results for our diverse group of clients.”

Williams – who enjoys “golf, reading and playing with my kids” – starts with CoreMessage next month.

Personnel note: Kristen McDonald headed to Hill+Knowlton

Kristen McDonald, who’s been communications director for the Florida House Republicans, is heading to Hill+Knowlton Strategies‘ Tallahassee office.

The move was announced Wednesday.

She joins another House staffer now there: H+K vice president Ryan Duffy, who was chief spokesman for former House Speaker Will Weatherford in 2012-14.

McDonald
McDonald

McDonald was communications director for the Office of the Majority Leader in the Florida House of Representatives from 2012-16, serving under three different leaders: state Rep. Steve Precourt, current House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, and current Majority Leader Dana Young.

Before that, McDonald was press secretary for the Republican Party of Florida during the 2012 election cycle, including the Republican National Convention in Tampa.

“By bringing Kristen on board, we are further bolstering Hill+Knowlton’s strong presence in Florida,” said Harry Costello, H+K Florida general manager and executive vice president, in a statement.

“Kristen’s experience in the Florida Legislature and previous work with the Republican Party of Florida broadens our public affairs footprint in the state,” he added.

She has bachelor’s and master’s degrees in political science from Florida State University.

In 2014, McDonald was named a “30 Under 30 Rising Stars in Florida Politics” in SaintPetersblog.

McDonald joins a public affairs team led by Alia Faraj-Johnson, senior vice president and Florida Public Affairs practice leader.

She also will work with Ron Bartlett, deputy general manager and former public affairs leader; Susan Thurston, senior account executive; and Bob Lotane, senior consultant.

Other hires include Julie Borm, a former health industry communications director, who joins the H+K Florida Health and Corporate Communications practice.

Two new H+K fellows are Trip Farmer, based in Tallahassee, who’ll provide “support for research, media outreach, and legislative issue tracking for public affairs clients,” and Alison Spiegel, based in Tampa, who most recently worked as an intern at Bascom Communications & Consulting in Tallahassee.

Plaintiffs seek summary judgment in Amendment 1 suit

Advocacy groups suing the Legislature over environmental funding now are asking a judge to hand them the win.

Florida Wildlife Federation, Sierra Club and others filed a 57-page motion for summary judgment Wednesday. Granting such motions allows parties to win a case without a trial.

They filed suit last year over Amendment 1, the constitutional amendment approved by voters in 2014 that mandates state spending for land and water conservation.

The measure requires state officials to set aside 33 percent of the money from the real estate “documentary stamp” tax to protect Florida’s environmentally-sensitive areas for 20 years. This year, that number is expected to total more than $740 million.

But the suit and Wednesday’s motion allege House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, Senate President Andy Gardiner, and other state lawmakers aren’t following through. The Legislature opposes the motion and will file a response soon.

“Plaintiffs are entitled to summary judgment because Amendment One prohibits the Legislature from appropriating land acquisition and restoration funds for any other purpose, but the Legislature appropriated most Amendment One monies to salaries and ordinary expenses of four state agencies,” the motion says.

Those agencies are the Department of Environmental Protection, Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the Department of State and the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

The standard for summary judgment is “that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.”

The motion says: “That the Legislature appropriated funds for those purposes is not in dispute, and as a matter of law those appropriations are unconstitutional.”

The amendment, which needed a minimum of 60 percent to pass, got a landslide of nearly 75 percent, or more than 4.2 million “yes” votes.

“Florida voters did not vote for salaries and operating expenses … Amendment One allows only for acquisition and restoration of conservation lands,” the motion adds.

“State officials have misused these funds, plain and simple,” said David Guest, managing attorney for Earthjustice, the nonprofit environmental law firm representing the groups.

“Floridians put an amendment into the Constitution directing the state to use these tax dollars to buy and restore conservation land,” he added. “With this legal action, we are asking a judge to hold up the intent of Florida voters.”

The case is in Leon County Circuit Civil Court and assigned to Circuit Judge George Reynolds III.

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