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 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.

Mitch Perry Report for 6.1.16 – Let the 2018 GOP gubernatorial chatter begin

My colleague Jim Rosica has a piece up this morning entitled, “Did Adam Putnam just launch the first ad of the 2018 gubernatorial campaign.”

Check it out and decide for yourself whether indeed that’s the case. What’s truly not in dispute is that the 41-year-old Agriculture Commissioner has been the guy referred to by seemingly everyone in Florida politics as the likely 2018 GOP gubernatorial candidate.

Such a premise almost assumes that he wouldn’t face any intra-party competition, which, the more you think about it, is just plain silly.

Look at Carlos Beruff. Or Rick Scott. These were folks that nobody was talking about a year before their respective election dates. So we can assume that a potential unknown could challenge Putnam. But how about a “known” Republican, like Will Weatherford?

“I tell people I’m not running towards it, but I’m not running away from it,” Weatherford tells the Tampa Bay Times Steve Bosquet. “I’m really focused on our company and our business. My guess is sometime after the election, I’ll have to make a decision internally.”

So we’ve got at least five more months before Weatherford decides. And let’s face it, the presidential/U.S. Senate/various house and state senate races in Florida will have everybody pretty busy until the fall election.

But if you’re serious about running for governor in a huge state like Florida, you almost have to start plotting things out before this November.

That’s why it wouldn’t be surprising at all to hear that Philip Levine, the very ambitious  Miami Beach Mayor, seems like he’s angling for such a run.

Weatherford is only 36, so it might natural for some folks to say that he’s got plenty of time for his political ambitions. But that’s a fallacy. The longer one is out of the political arena, frankly, unless said candidate is a political superstar, their shelf live expires, as Weatherford notes in his interview.

Jeb Bush was supposed to be such a superstar. It’s easy to say this now, but really, wasn’t 2012 going to be the best year, if any, for the former Florida Governor to run? At that point he would have been out of office for six years, sort of a lifetime. Take four more years, and the dude was seriously rusty on the trail.

However, political realities also interfered. Bush couldn’t have ran in 2012, because his last name was still way too toxic in American culture. Not necessarily fair, but a fact.

Weatherford calls himself a man of ideas – if so, it’d be great to hear him flesh that out and challenge Putnam’s vision for Florida on the Republican side. Then again, we don’t really know what Putnam’s overall governing philosophy might be like as a gubernatorial nominee.

But with this new ad, we might start leaning a little more.

In other news..

Nine months after Mayor Bob Buckhorn and Hillsborough County business officials visited South Dublin on an economic development trip, the mayor of that Ireland town as well as the island nation’s Consul General are paying a return visit this week.

Tampa and St. Petersburg make the top ten list of the best cities in the nation to enjoy a “staycation,” according to

Even though most of our congressional districts favor one party strongly over another, thank goodness for the loyal opposition. In Kathy Castor’s strongly Democratic Party leaning 14th Congressional District, Republicans Eddie Adams, Jr. and Christine Quinn are vying to face the incumbent in the fall.

Kevin Beckner gets a labor endorsement in his race for the Hillsborough County Clerk of the Courts.

Bob Buckhorn says “something is better than nothing,” and will reluctantly support a sales tax referendum of a much shorter duration than he prefers, it County Commissioners put it on the November ballot next week.

George P. Bush to visit Tampa April 12 for fundraising luncheon

Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush will be in Tampa this month at a fundraising luncheon hosted by former Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford.

Bush, son of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, will appear Tuesday, April 12, at the Oxford Exchange in Tampa. Co-hosting the event, which begins at noon, is A-list lobbyist Slater Bayliss of Cardenas Partners.

Although his father recently ended a presidential bid, the grandson of George H.W. Bush and the nephew of George W. Bush is expected to continue making his mark on both the Lone Star and national political landscapes. Before his election in 2014 as Texas Land Commissioner, George P. made the most of his political pedigree, starting with a major address for his uncle at the 2000 Republican National Convention.

Rumors abound that the ambitious young Bush will one day run for president.

“Viva George P! Speculation is already growing that Jeb Bush’s eldest son may make a bid for the White House,” The Independent wrote in 2012. That same year, The Atlantic referred to him as “a political dynasty’s young hope.”

Most recently, Bush and his brother, Jeb Bush Jr., co-chaired “Mission: Next,” a committee that tailors events toward Republicans under age 40 with fundraising skills. The group was formed to support their father’s presidential bid.

The Oxford Exchange is at 420 W. Kennedy Blvd. RSVPs with Lavana Harvey at, Ann Herberger at or (305) 772-4311.

Mitch Perry Report for 3.16.16 – How does Bernie Sanders move on from here?

We’ll save you our post-mortems about Marco Rubio‘s failed candidacy for the presidency, since you can find them all over the web this morning. We wrote last week how startled we were about the lack of support in his own state, and that was before Alex Leary‘s devastating portrayal in Sunday’s Tampa Bay Times

A notable thing about Rubio – his inability to raise a lot of money. Though it’s become chic this year to say that money doesn’t matter as much as it used to (referring to how poorly Jeb Bush did compared to Donald Trump), but Rubio is no Bernie Sanders in raising money. And oh yeah, he wasn’t too good at having a basic ground game to gather up votes.

Now, what about the Dems?

Boy, it was a rough night for Bernie Sanders supporters here in Florida. The polls were modest, actually, in comparison to what actually happened last night, as Sanders lost to Hillary Clinton by 32 percentage points.

So is Bernie So Over Now?

His strategists say that the calendar looks more favorable to him.

“We’re now entering a period where we think we’ll win most if not all of the contests before the April 19 primary in New York,” said Tad Devine, a senior adviser to Sanders. “Regardless of how much momentum we have after Tuesday, the calendar is shifting in our favor. Now we just have to win some major showdowns, like in New York and New Jersey, to raise questions about whether she can really win the presidency.”

That’s extremely optimistic.

Will Bernie go negative? Probably not. He’s already had a significant influence on how Clinton is running this race. Can he continue to do so, while still needling her? He’s got the money to stay on the trail for awhile. How does he do it? He’s got to win upcoming states.

Oh, by the way. I’ll never be called a “pundit,” because those folks make sh*t up to fill airtime. I couldn’t believe how some folks were saying yesterday afternoon on cable news how Marco Rubio could still take his delegates with him and continue to campaign, even if he were to lose last night.

WTF? There is a thing called dignity. There is no way that Rubio was going to continue to go out on the stump today in Utah and say … well, what? “We’re going on to Cleveland with little chance of winning, but we’ve got our delegates to maintain to stave off Donald Trump!”

Too many people are being paid too much money to pontificate on TV because of the demands of the medium.

In other news …

Political pros Adam Goodman and Steve Schale break down the election results today at the Suncoast Tiger Bay Club.

Over half a million dollars was spent by a super PAC on Marco Rubio’s behalf over the next couple of weeks.

Donald Trump Florida Chair Joe Gruters says the RPOF will come together in support of Trump later this year.

Former House Speaker Will Weatherford isn’t so sure.

Congresswoman Kathy Castor will be joining Barack and Michelle Obama when they travel to Cuba this weekend.

Joe Gruters confident Florida GOP will come together to back Donald Trump

Joe Gruters‘ association with the Donald Trump campaign is controversial, because, well, Donald Trump is controversial.

Gruters was named last fall to be the campaign chair for Trump in Florida. That’s in addition to his other public duties, which include being the vice-chair of the Republican Party of Florida, the chair of the Sarasota County Republican Executive Committee, and a member of the board of trustees of Florida State University.

Those conflicting roles have led some of his critics to say that he should step down from one of those public positions. Gruters has rebuffed the critics, and is feeling more confident than ever that his candidate will be the nominee this fall. And he has no qualms about the party coming together in November.

“Listen, primaries are tough,” he said while standing outside the room used by Trump at the Tampa Convention Center on Monday afternoon. “A lot of things get said in primaries. People are unhappy. Their candidate loses, and just like me, there’ve been times before where I didn’t like who are nominee was going to be. But by the end of the day, I was one-hundred percent doing everything I could for the person, and I think the same will happen here.”

Members of the GOP establishment continue to maintain that the majority of Republicans don’t support Trump, referring to how his victories in previous primaries and caucuses rarely exceed forty percent of the total vote.

That’s among a scattered field, however, and Gruters says that Trump’s numbers are growing as candidates like Ben Carson and Chris Christie drop out of the race.

“Eventually, all will be forgiven, and the Republican Party will come together, stronger and united and bigger and better than before, and I think we’re going to win,” he maintains.


Earlier on Tuesday, former Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford, a former surrogate for Jeb Bush, who is now supporting Marco Rubio, says he has certain expectations of who the GOP’s standard bearer should be, and says Trump is lacking in those qualities at the moment.

“I expect the nominee of the Republican Party to be presidential,” he told MSNBC’s Morning Joe. “I expect them to care about the poor. I expect them to care about free markets and free enterprise. I expect them to care about life. This is not a person who has not embodied what I look for in a candidate for the Republican nomination, and somebody I can support in November.

Gruters says that Trump has ignited a movement, referring to the dramatic increase in Republicans turning out to vote in some of the nation’s first primaries and caucuses.  Democratic strategist Steve Schale told the Wall Street Journal that based on the early vote in 14 counties across Florida, more than half didn’t cast ballots in the 2012 GOP presidential primary.

“I think at the end of the day we have to win the general election, and I think that Donald Trump has the ability to expand our base, to increase the size of our tent,” says Gruters. “You’ve seen it in the primaries; I think that the energy and enthusiasm that’s been created will be transferred over to the general election, and I think it’s going to be a historic election with DT carrying states that we were never even considered to have a chance of winning before.”

Will Weatherford denounces Republicans for failing to define Donald Trump earlier

When Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio opted to both compete in the 2016 Republican presidential race last year, Florida Republicans had to make a decision about which Miami area candidate to support, both vocally and with their dollars.

In the majority of cases, those Republicans supported Bush. But after the former Florida Governor’s campaign flamed out in South Carolina last month, one might expect many of those same people to support the state’s other native son.

It hasn’t exactly worked out like that.

A notable exception is Will Weatherford, who joined Team Marco immediately after Bush’s exit. The former Florida House Speaker in 2013 & 2014 went on MSNBC’s Morning Joe on Tuesday to advocate for Rubio, but spent more time blasting the GOP for failing to knock down front-runner Donald Trump earlier in the race.

“I’ve just been shocked at the way that the Republican Party has just allowed this man to hijack what I believe are our principals and where we stand as a party,” Weatherford said. “The things he’s said and done are so offensive, I don’t know how he wins in November. ”

Jeb Bush was the first Republican presidential candidate to strongly criticize Trump, joking at one time that his colleagues were in the “witness protection program” when it came to speaking out against the surprise front-runner. Weatherford agrees.

“We had an opportunity back then to really define Donald Trump, and we lost it, and now here we are.”

Weatherford wouldn’t completely reject the idea of voting for Trump in the fall. But only if Trump changes what’s brought him so much success to date with Republicans.

“I expect the nominee of the Republican Party to be presidential,” he said. “I expect them to care about the poor. I expect them to care about free markets and free enterprise. I expect them to care about life. This is not a person who has not embodied what I look for in a candidate for the Republican nomination, and somebody I can support in November.”

“Now, is there an opportunity for him to earn that? Maybe, but he has not shown it thus far. And the divisiveness that he has created in this political environment and ecosystem is dangerous.”

Weatherford concluded that the only thing going well for Republicans is that the party will face either “a socialist” or a candidate “under criminal investigation” in November, a reference to Democrats Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton.

Sanders describes himself as a “democratic socialist,” while there is a State Department inquiry and FBI investigation into Clinton’s private email server. There is also a separate State Department investigation into the Clinton Foundation and top Clinton aide Huma Abedin.


Mitch Perry Report for 3.10.16 – Why hasn’t the Florida GOP establishment rallied around Marco Rubio?

In what is being dubbed by critics as the “low-energy” summit, Jeb Bush is scheduled to meet today in Miami separately with John Kasich and Ted Cruz, after reportedly already meeting with Marco Rubio on Wednesday.

The idea being, I take it, is that Jeb might come out with an endorsement. If he’s going to do that, it should happen today, when it would have maximum impact, hours before tonight’s GOP presidential debate on the UM campus.

One would assume that Jeb won’t endorse Rubio. If he were to, what’s he been waiting for? What is remarkable is how many Florida Republicans who supported Bush (most of the Tallahassee establishment) have failed to lift a figure to help Rubio out once Jeb bowed out after his fourth-place performance in South Carolina last month.

Neither has former RPOF chair Al Cardenas, who allegedly is friendly with Marco and isn’t backing anyone in the race.

Richard Corcoran, Marco’s former chief-of-staff when he was House Speaker, notably endorsed Bush this year, as did Will Weatherford or many other former state legislators.

Has Marco become a creature against the Washington establishment that he castigates on a daily basis? The fact is that he does have a number of endorsements from Republicans – who he works with in Washington.

Not that it’s helped much.

An anecdote related by Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn earlier this week I believe says volumes about Rubio’s outreach to the state that he’s represented in Washington over the past five years.

Buckhorn told MSNBC that he’s never met the senator, despite the fact that they’ve both been in office for the past half-decade.

The fact is, Rubio has rarely shown his face in Tampa at all since he was elected. He was a frequent visitor to the Bay area during his 2009-2010 campaign for Senate, but has been a stranger to these parts since.

I don’t have the statistics, but I would dare say it may have been less than a handful of times. The only time I can recall observing Rubio here was when he spoke before the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce in 2011.

In other news..

There are SO many polls in Florida regarding next week’s primary, , but they all come to the same conclusion regarding the GOP race – Marco Rubio is in deep against Trump. Then again, another poll shows Rubio within six points.

Bernie Sanders is calling on Rick Scott to veto the most recent bill limiting abortion in Florida that will soon reach his desk.

According to Facebook “interactions” over the past 30 days, Floridians are most interested in Cuba, followed by immigration when it comes to national issues. That differs from the rest of the country, where it’s religion and the economy who are one-two (we’ll have an update on that in an upcoming story today).

Some Florida immigration activists say they intend to register more Latino voters than ever this spring and summer, all so they can vote against Donald Trump this fall.

Well, it’s certainly exciting for all of those who are participating in the Florida presidential primary. Unless you’re an independent, non-party-affiliated voter, in which your s*it out of luck.

Darden Rice tells Florida Democratic leaders, “thanks, but no thanks,” to the suggestion that she run against GOP incumbent state senator Jeff Brandes this fall.

Florida Chamber of Commerce launches 100th anniversary celebration

The Florida Chamber of Commerce is turning 100.

The annual Florida Chamber Capitol Days kicked off the year-long celebration of the Chamber of Commerce’s 100th anniversary. Founded in 1916, the organization has grown over the years along with the state.

“On hundred years ago, the biggest threat facing Florida’s economy was a parasite — the cattle tick,” said Mark Wilson, the president and CEO of the Florida Chamber of Commerce, in a news release. “While the threats to Florida’s economy have changed, the Florida Chamber’s mission to secure our state’s future, create jobs and economic opportunities, remain the same.”

The Florida Chamber kicked off the celebration Wednesday with three past legislative leaders: former House Speaker Will Weatherford; Florida State University President, former House Speaker, and former Sen. John Thrasher, and former Lt. Gov. and former Senate President Toni Jennings. Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam also spoke to the group Wednesday night.

The Chamber’s 2016 Capitol Days continue Thursday.

Despite intraparty tension, state Senators pony up cash to Florida GOP

The financial cold shoulder Republican state Senators had been giving to the Republican Party of Florida appears to be thawing.

As reported by several outlets after Monday’s campaign finance reporting deadline, the RPOF’s fundraising totals are their lowest in years. They even failed to double up the Florida Democratic Party, as was standard most years.

Observers blamed internecine conflict spurred by the defeat of Gov. Rick Scott‘s handpicked party chairman in favor of Rep. Blaise Ingoglia. Scott no longer raises money for the RPOF, while its Senate Victory arm moved out of the party’s headquarters, taking its campaign cash with it.

But campaign finance reports reveal that some state Senators are giving generously to the party.

The state party’s $2.29 million quarterly totals were bolstered by major checks from committees affiliated with leaders in the legislative upper chamber, including $8,400 from the Florida Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee.

President-to-be Sen. Joe Negron recently took the reins of the FRSCC, but that didn’t stop him from digging deeper to help the party.

Negron’s Treasure Coast Alliance PAC gave $50,000 on New Year’s Eve, surpassed only by Disney for the largest single check of the quarter.

Sen. Bill Galvano gave $25,000 to the cause in December through a committee, Sen. Wilton Simpson gave $25,000, and Sen. Jack Latvala‘s Florida Leadership Committee ponied up $20,000.

Other senators, such as Sen. David Simmons, chipped in smaller donations with their formal campaign accounts.

All told, contributions with senatorial origins exceeded $130,000 for the quarter.

Current and former House members also continued to give.

Former House Speaker Will Weatherford gave $5,000 and the Building on Your Dreams committee afiiliated with Bradenton Rep. Jim Boyd kicked in $10,000, among others.

Florida Chamber: Capitol Days focus on issues important to business community

Florida Chamber of Commerce members are taking over Tallahassee.

The 2016 Florida Chamber’s Capitol Days kicks off Wednesday. The two-day event is meant to give the business community a chance to interact with lawmakers and advocate for issues that are important to them.

Edie Ousley, the chamber’s vice president of public affairs, said the annual event offers the business community a chance “to talk about issues concerning job creators throughout Florida.”

“We’ll focus on business climate issues,” said Ousley, who said, among other things, the discussion will focus on target tax reform, small business issues and quality of life issues.

The event kicks off Wednesday at the Florida State University Turnbull Conference Center. Ousley said they can expect to hear from all of the Cabinet members, House and Senate leadership, and past legislative leaders.

On Wednesday, attendees will start the afternoon with a presentation called “The Florida Scorecard.” That 30-minute presentation will feature Cissy Proctor, the executive director of the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity.

In December, Gov. Rick Scott announced Proctor, the agency’s former chief of staff, would take over the helm, succeeding Jesse Panuccio. She took over on Jan. 9.

According to the agenda, Proctor will be joined by Tracy Duda Chapman, the senior vice president and general counsel for A. Duda & Sons, Inc., and Jerry Parrish, the chief economist and director of research for the Florida Chamber of Commerce Foundation. That presentation is scheduled for 1 p.m.

Ousley said other speakers include former House Speaker Will Weatherford; FSU President and former Sen. John Thrasher, and former Lt. Gov. Toni Jennings. Several current lawmakers, including Sen. Bill Galvano, Rep. Jay Trumbull and Sen. Joe Negron, are also expected to attend.

The annual event also marks the start of a yearlong celebration of the Chamber’s 100th anniversary. The Florida Chamber, Ousley said, was founded in 1916, when there was a population of about 900,000. Today, the state has about 20 million residents, and Ousley said the chamber expects the population will grow by another 6 million people by 2030.

“While we know things are fragile in Florida, because of political risk and uncertainty, the one thing we know is the Florida Chamber has a long-standing position to make Florida more competitive, and to be the voice of the Florida business community,” she said.