Sunshine State News Blogs
Prominent Flagler County businessman Donald O’Brien became the first candidate to file in the special election to replace state Rep. Travis Hutson, R-Palm Coast, submitting his paperwork to Tallahassee this week. Hutson is running for the Senate seat vacated by former Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine.
O’Brien has been in Palm Coast since 1990. Currently with Hayward Brown, O’Brien has long been active in the area, working with Barnett Bank in Volusia and Flagler counties before serving as a senior VP and CFO with Cypress Bank which was based out of Palm Coast. O’Brien also was a co-owner of Coast Title Insurance Agency. Still active with the Flagler County Chamber of Commerce, O’Brien is a previous chairman of the group.
While he is the first candidate to file for the seat, O’Brien could soon have company. Retired Navy Cpt. Dave Sullivan, the chairman of the Flagler County Republican Executive Committee, has expressed interest in running for the seat which represents all of Flagler County and parts of St. Johns and Volusia counties. The special primary has been set for Jan. 27, 2015, with the special election to be held April 7.
As he readies to take the gavel this month, incoming Florida House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, continues to build his team.
On Wednesday, Crisafulli named Rep. Jim Boyd, R-Bradenton, as deputy majority leader and whip, serving under incoming House Majority Leader Dana Young, R-Tampa.
“With a new Republican supermajority in the Florida House of Representatives, the deputy majority leader/whip will have a critical leadership role in the Florida House,” Crisafulli said on Wednesday. “I can think of no better person to fill this important position than Rep. Jim Boyd.
“Rep. Boyd has earned the respect of Republican and Democrat members alike,” Crisafulli continued. “He has proven himself as a great leader and someone who can effectively communicate the conservative principles and beliefs we both share. He is someone I trust and someone that I rely on for counsel. I firmly believe there is no one better suited to serve as whip and I look forward to working with him over the next two years.”
A writer for one of the leading conservative outlets insists U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., ranks as the GOP’s best hope to pick up the White House in 2016.
Cliff Smith over at the American Spectator argues Rubio matches up well against former U.S. Sec. of State Hillary Clinton, noting his youth and experience on foreign policy match up well against her.
The word is that Florida Senator Marco Rubio will decide “within weeks” whether or not to seek the presidency. The dynamic young senator has been talked up as a potential presidential candidate ever since Florida voters sent him to Washington. However, if prominent pundits are to be believed, his White House prospects have been on a roller coaster: down when he voted for an immigration reform bill that angered some conservatives, up when he outlined an innovative new approach to dealing with poverty, and so on. Yet Rubio remains what he always has been: a top-tier candidate with a few vulnerabilities but numerous strengths that could make him the best candidate in 2016.
Rubio’s pluses are fairly obvious. He’s young — only 45 by election day — not to mention handsome. He hails from one of the largest swing-states in the country. As a Hispanic, he’s part of the fastest growing ethnic group in America. He is also one of the most dynamic speakers in politics today in either party, and he has an inspiring rags-to-riches story, as the son of immigrants who made their living as a bartender and a maid. This sort of optimistic, positive, everyman demeanor has great appeal to swing-voters, as Senator-elect Cory Gardner demonstrated quite clearly in his nearly perfect takedown of soon-to-be ex-Senator Mark Udall.
The article can be read here.
After placing second behind U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., in the battle for the Republican presidential nomination, former Gov. Mike Huckabee, R-Ark., moved to the Florida Panhandle. Now that he is looking to run again in 2016, Huckabee intends to keep his operations based out of Arkansas but Florida will be playing a role in his efforts.
The Washington Post reported on Wednesday that Huckabee’s team is looking at office space in Little Rock. Huckabee and close advisers will be hunkering down for strategy meetings in both Arkansas and Destin in the weeks to come as they look ahead to 2016.
On Wednesday, Florida TaxWatch released a report showcasing data from the Tax Foundation's 2015 Business Tax Climate Index which showed Florida had the fifth best business climate in the country, ahead of other large states.
"Florida's tax structure is one of the many factors that makes Florida a good place to do business," said Dominic Calabro, the president and CEO of Florida TaxWatch, on Monday. "However, there is always room for improvement. Instead of focusing on Florida's fifth-place ranking, policymakers should look at where they can make needed reforms to help welcome additional capital, more jobs, and further economic growth to the Sunshine State."
Florida’s high ranking comes in part due to not having a state income tax but Florida TaxWatch staff insist the Sunshine State can do more by cutting sales, excise, communications and other taxes.
"Other states are taking significant steps to improve their business tax climate," said Kurt Wenner, the vice president of tax research for Florida TaxWatch. "Florida lawmakers have an opportunity to use the tax ranking information to address real tax reform in our state, such as reducing or eliminating the sales tax on commercial leases, reducing the communications services tax, eliminating the tangible personal property tax, and collecting lawfully owed sales and use taxes on Internet purchases."
The Florida TaxWatch report can be read here.
The Associated Industries of Florida (AIF) came out against President Barack Obama’s call for Internet neutrality on Tuesday.
“AIF believes the action by President Obama to call on the Federal Communications Commission to aggressively regulate Internet services is not in the best interest of Florida businesses and the economy,” said former U.S. Rep. Tom Feeney, the president and CEO of AIF, on Tuesday. “While we share the same beliefs in terms of an open and transparent Internet, AIF believes the Internet has flourished with little regulation to date and believes the federal government should not try to micromanage Internet access.
“AIF encourages the FCC not to make massive unilateral changes to Internet regulation that would disrupt the free-market benefits, including increasing investments and furthering technological advances,” Feeney added.
Roll Call released its list of the best congressional campaigns of the 2014 elections on Monday and gave high marks to Democrat Gwen Graham who defeated U.S. Rep. Steve Southerland, R-Fla., last week.
Roll Call wrote the following about Graham's campaign:
She was House Democrats’ best recruit of the cycle -- a fundraising machine who went on television 20 weeks before Election Day in the 2nd District. Even more to her credit, Graham won the Florida Panhandle in a wave year for Republicans.
Graham had help from her father, former Sen. Bob Graham, in her underdog bid to unseat Republican Rep. Steve Southerland II. But she also had a formidable lieutenant running her campaign, Julia Gill Woodward.
For example, ahead of an early fall debate, the event organizer denied Woodward’s request for reserved seating on the front row. So she asked 28 staffers and volunteers to arrive 3 hours before the debate doors opened. At the debate, Southerland was forced to stare at an entire front row of Graham loyalists, including Bob Graham and former first lady Adele Graham.
The entire list can be read here.
On Monday, the day before Veterans Day, U.S. VA Secretary Bob McDonald announced plans for a massive reorganization of the department as it tries to restore confidence after reports emerged that VA hospitals across the nation altered wait lists. In Phoenix, where VA medical centers altered wait lists to show less of a backlog for treatment, 40 veterans died waiting for medical care.
McDonald told CNN on Monday that the department had already disciplined 5,600 employees and some of them would be fired. McDonald also promised more attention to customer service and plans to cut down on wait times.
"This is going to be the largest reorganization of the Department of Veterans Affairs since its establishment," McDonald told CNN on Monday.
U.S. Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., the chairman of the U.S. House Veterans Affairs Committee, sounded a skeptical note on Monday.
“New plans, initiatives and organizational structures are all well and good, but they will not produce their intended results until VA rids itself of the employees who have shaken veterans’ trust in the system,” Miller said. “So far VA hasn’t done that – as evidenced by the fact that the majority of those who caused the VA scandal are still on the department payroll. I’m disappointed that instead of fully embracing the new firing authorities Congress and President Obama gave VA as part of the Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act, the department has shied away from them and even added more bureaucratic red tape such as additional appeals and interminable stints on paid leave. No one doubts that reforming VA is a tough job, but getting rid of failed executives should be the easiest part – not the most difficult.”
From his perch on the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., came out swinging at President Barack Obama’s call for Internet neutrality on Monday.
“The Internet is one of the greatest economic stories in all of history, one whose openness has given people unprecedented opportunities to innovate and create jobs,” Rubio said on Monday. “President Obama’s announced support for more government regulation of the Internet threatens to restrict Internet growth and increase costs on Internet users. Furthermore, applying heavy-handed Title II classification to Internet service sends the wrong message to international stakeholders that look to the United States for leadership in Internet governance, and undermines our support for an open Internet, free of government intervention.
“Instead of reclassifying Internet service under Title II of the Telecommunications Act, the FCC should allow Congress to update this law,” Rubio added. “I believe it should be a top priority of the new Congress to provide clarity on the FCC’s role in the modern communications landscape.”
Florida Senate President-designate Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, today appointed Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, as chair of the Senate Committee on Rules.
“David is a loyal adviser, a trusted confidante and good friend,” Gardiner said in a written statement. “With over three decades of experience practicing law and 10 years of service in the state Legislature, he is well-qualified to assume this critical leadership position. Throughout his years of public service, David has exhibited sound judgment and a fair-minded, reasonable and thoughtful approach to decision making that, I am confident, will be a great benefit to the Senate over the next two years.”
Simmons represents state Senate District 10, which includes all of Seminole County and portions of Volusia County. He served in the Florida House of Representatives from 2000-2008 and was elected to the Senate in 2010 and re-elected subsequently. Simmons earned his law degree at Vanderbilt University and has practiced law in Florida for more than 30 years. He has two daughters, Krysia and Alicya.
With the exception of the Skyway Fishing Pier, Florida State Parks will be open for free on Tuesday in honor of Veterans Day.
“This Veterans Day, I encourage all Florida families to get out and enjoy Florida’s natural treasures at our wonderful state parks,” said Gov. Rick Scott. “We also honor our veterans and thank them for their service and sacrifice they gave to protect our state and nation.”
“Veterans Day is a perfect opportunity to visit Florida’s award-winning state parks,” said Donald Forgione, the director of the Florida Park Service. “Spend the day hiking, biking or picnicking with a veteran – and most importantly, thank them for their service.”
The Florida Park Service noted that the Orman House Historic State Park in Apalachicola has a replica of the Three Servicemen Statue honoring Vietnam veterans in the Mall in Washington, D.C., but there are plenty of other state parks to pay homage to American veterans, including Olustee right off I-10 where the largest Civil War battle in Florida took place and the Dade Battlefield off I-75 which marked the start of the Second Seminole War.
A prominent Republican congresswoman insisted the GOP will not accept a “weak deal” with Iran over its nuclear program.
U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., the chairwoman of the U.S. House Middle East and North Africa Subcommittee, said on Friday representatives from the P5+1 meeting in Vienna at the end of last week should note the GOP would put American security first in any deal with Iran.
“As the P5+1 representatives meet today in Vienna to discuss the looming deadline for the Iran nuclear negotiations, it is imperative that they recognize that a Republican-controlled Congress will not accept a weak deal that threatens U.S. national security interests,” Ros-Lehtinen said. “As the author of the toughest set of Iran sanctions currently codified into U.S. law, my objective has always been, and will continue to be, Iran’s complete cessation of uranium enrichment and the dismantlement of its nuclear weapons program infrastructure, and that includes its ballistic missile program. If Iran continues to stall and balk on its enrichment program, the P5+1 needs to recognize Iran isn’t serious about giving up its nuclear weapons pursuit and should have the courage to walk away from the negotiations and work with the U.S. on implementing even tougher sanctions that will ultimately compel the regime to abandon its pursuit of the bomb.”
Former Gov. Jeb Bush’s presidential prospects are increasingly the focus of the national media and he clearly has a big supporter in his brother, former President George W. Bush.
With a book on his father, former President George H.W. Bush, coming out on Tuesday, George W. Bush is in the national spotlight. Appearing on CBS News’ “Face the Nation” on Sunday, he said his brother was considering running and it was a “50-50” at the moment.
No Labels, a group trying to claim the political middle and calling for bipartisanship, pointed to U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy's, D-Fla., big win over former state Rep. Carl Domino as a sign of optimism. Murphy drew the notice of former Gov. Jon Huntsman, R-Utah, the co-chairman of No Labels.
"Problem solvers are going to set the tone in the 114th Congress,” Huntsman said on Wednesday. “With the end of the divisive nature of an election season comes a fresh start and real opportunities to solve some of the nation's most pressing problems. We're looking forward to working with members of Congress like Murphy as part of a growing, bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus to take on the issues that we know have consensus, like immigration and tax reform."
Huntsman worked for President Barack Obama as ambassador to China. In 2012, Huntsman ran for the Republican presidential nomination, taking third place in New Hampshire but generally failing to make a dent in the primaries.There has been speculation that Huntsman could run again in 2016, either as a Republican or independent, but he has downplayed the possibility.
Despite former Gov. Charlie Crist going down to defeat, none of her party’s other Florida Cabinets even coming close to beating Republicans and losing seats in the Florida House, Florida Democratic Party Chairwoman Allison Tant insisted her “bench is stronger” after the elections.
Tant sent out an email on Wednesday night to supporters admitting “last night's results weren’t what we’d hoped for” but they “will never stop fighting for the people of Florida.”
“Charlie Crist and Annette Taddeo ran a campaign of optimism and compassion for the people of Florida,” Tant wrote. “Against the most difficult challenges, for the most important reasons, Charlie and his team worked their hearts out. I'm so proud of them -- and so is every single Florida Democrat.
“But Florida Democrats aren’t resting,” Tant added. “Our bench is stronger today, with fresh faces to meet tomorrow’s challenges. We’re not giving up the fight, because the stakes are too high.”
Libertarian gubernatorial candidate Adrian Wyllie finished far behind Gov. Rick Scott and former Gov. Charlie Crist in Florida’s general election but he insisted his team did “something extraordinary” in the campaign.
By noon on Wednesday, the state Division of Elections noted Wyllie pulled in 222,660 votes, just less than 4 percent of the total votes cast. Some polls in October showed Wyllie polling in the high single digits but he was pleased with his showing.
“I want to thank the 220,000-plus Floridians who took a stand with me and cast their vote for liberty in this election,” Wyllie noted late on Tuesday. “And, I want to give my heartfelt thanks to the 3,000-plus dedicated campaign volunteers who achieved so much with so few resources. I am honored and humbled by your support.
“Though we didn't achieve our goal of victory, we accomplished something extraordinary,” Wyllie added. “We received more votes than any third-party candidate in Florida history, and we have laid the foundation that will eventually end the corruption of the two-party system.
“This is just the beginning of the Libertarian Party of Florida movement,” Wyllie insisted.
Wyllie is correct about his claim for winning the most third-party votes in Florida history. Ross Perot exceeded Wyllie’s take in Florida back in the 1992 and 1996 presidential races though both times he was an independent on the ballot, even as he championed the Reform Party’s cause in 1996. When he ran for the U.S. Senate in the 2010 general election, Crist had no party affiliation. Prohibition Party candidate Sidney Catts beat Democrat William Knott in the 1916 gubernatorial race but he only had 39,546 votes.
Wyllie far outpaced recent Libertarian candidates in Florida. Alex Snitker took just less than 0.5 percent in the 2010 Senate contest while former Gov. Gary Johnson, R-N.M., took 1 percent in the 2012 presidential race.
Tallahassee attorney Bill Wohlsifer was the Libertarian nominee in the attorney general race. He took 168,757 as of noon, just less than 3 percent of the total vote.
On Wednesday, incoming Florida Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, named Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, as Senate majority leader.
“Over years of serving together in the House, and now the Senate, I have witnessed Bill’s strong work ethic, innate intellect and willingness to tackle tough issues,” Gardiner said on Wednesday. “Bill has proven he has the support of our caucus and is ready to lead in this important role.”
“I know Bill will fight tirelessly to further the success of the Senate’s priorities, as well as those of our Republican caucus and Republican senators,” Gardiner added. “Together with our Democrat leader, Senator Joyner, Bill will work to ensure a smooth operation on the Senate floor where all Senators will have the opportunity to have their voices heard.”
With Republicans taking over the U.S. Senate in Tuesday’s elections, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., a potential presidential hopeful for the GOP in 2016, called for backing a “reform agenda” he was pushing.
“Voters across the country have sent a clear message that they are not ready to give up on the American dream,” Rubio said on Wednesday. “The American people have elected a new crop of reformers to go to Washington, end the dysfunction and achieve real solutions to the many obstacles standing in the way of all people who are trying to achieve a better life.
“I hope President Obama will listen carefully to the message the American people sent him in this election, and work with Congress to solve the pressing issues facing all Americans. The American people deserve it,” Rubio added. “In the coming months, I look forward to working in a Senate Republican majority to advance the reform agenda I’ve presented this year to promote job creation and higher education, help people save for retirement, improve our anti-poverty programs, and rebuild and modernize our military to meet the challenges we’ll face throughout this century.”
Will Abberger, campaign manager for Florida's Water and Land Legacy, released a statement Tuesday night thanking voters for their resounding approval of Amendment 1.
The amendment that will provide a third of the state's doc stamp revenues to buy conservation land for the next 20 years needed 60 percent of the vote but received 74.72 percent, or 4,218,651 votes.
"This should send a clear message to the governor and Legislature that Florida voters overwhelmingly support increased state funding for water and land conservation, management, and restoration," said Abberger.
“On behalf of our campaign, we especially want to thank each of the citizen volunteers from across the state who volunteered countless hours to raise awareness about the need to conserve Florida’s water and land."
His statement also made the following points:
- Winning Amendment 1 would not have been possible without the support of millions of Floridians.
- More than 4,000 volunteers worked to gather signatures for our petition and to educate voters about Amendment 1.
- Over 400 diverse nonprofit and civic organizations and businesses endorsed Amendment 1, joining the campaign, endorsing Amendment 1.
- Nearly 1 million Florida voters signed petitions to place Amendment 1 on the ballot.
- More than 50,000 Floridians signed up to get involved in our Vote Yes on 1 campaign.
- More than 20 editorial endorsements from Florida's leading newspapers endorsing Amendment 1.
- "Over 50 respected elected officials at every level of government, Republican and Democrat alike, endorsed Amendment 1.
- Over 4,500 individuals contributed to our campaign.
Former Gov. Jeb Bush cheered Gov. Rick Scott who defeated former Gov. Charlie Crist in Tuesday’s election.
“Floridians made the right choice,” Bush said. “Congratulations to my friend Rick Scott on a well-deserved victory! Rick Scott delivered on the promises he made when he campaigned for his first term, and I know he will continue to work hard for our state every single day. Under four more years of Rick Scott’s leadership, Florida will remain the best place in the nation to live, work, start a business, raise a family and retire.”
In his role as chairman of the Republican Governors Association (RGA), Gov. Chris Christie, R-N.J., was a constant presence on the campaign trail with Gov. Rick Scott in Florida in the final days of his battle with former Gov. Charlie Crist, the Democratic candidate despite spending most of his political life in the GOP.
On Tuesday night, after Scott beat Crist, when the smoke cleared, Christie was quick to congratulate the Florida governor.
“Gov. Rick Scott’s leadership in his first term brought Florida back from the brink, and with four more years to enact his low-tax, pro-jobs, pro-growth agenda, the Sunshine State’s future just gets brighter from here,” said Christie. “Gov. Scott’s message in this campaign was one of true progress, and his victory is a testament to the real results he has achieved for Florida. The Republican Governors Association congratulates Gov. Rick Scott on his re-election.”
Christie is a possible candidate for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016.
Miami-Dade School Board member Carlos Curbelo flipped a congressional seat over to the Republicans as he defeated U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia, D-Fla., on Tuesday. Reports from South Florida note that Garcia has conceded to Curbelo.
With 88 percent of the vote in, Curbelo had 52 percent while Garcia had 48 percent. After two defeats running for Congress, Garcia beat U.S. Rep. David Rivera, R-Fla., to claim the seat in 2012. Curbelo beat Rivera and other candidates back in August in the Republican primary.
Amendment 2, a proposal to expand medical marijuana use in the Sunshine State, failed to meet the 60 percent threshold to be added to the Florida Constitution. The proposal came up short, reaching 57 percent at the polls.
Tom Angell, the chairman of the Marijuana Majority, said some of the blame falls on Amendment 2‘s campaign which showcased prominent trial lawyer John Morgan.
"While it's disappointing that patients in Florida won't be able to find legal relief with marijuana just yet, tonight's result does show that a clear majority of voters in the Sunshine State support a new direction,” Angell said on Tuesday night. “We didn't get the 60 percent needed to pass medical marijuana as a constitutional amendment, but patients and their supporters will keep pushing until the law reflects what most voters want. The campaign this year faced several key challenges, including that it took place during a midterm election in which turnout dynamics don't favor marijuana reform. Next time medical marijuana is on the ballot, organizers should put patients and medical professionals at the forefront of the campaign rather than relying on a well-meaning but much less sympathetic political donor as the chief spokesperson."
Democrat Gwen Graham was a rare bright spot for her party on Tuesday as she defeated U.S. Rep. Steve Southerland, R-Fla.
With 98 percent of the vote in, Graham, the daughter of former Gov. and U.S. Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla., took 51 percent of the vote while Southerland pulled in 49 percent. Southerland first won his congressional seat in 2010.
Gov. Rick Scott won a second term as governor of Florida on Tuesday, besting former Gov. Charlie Crist who, after spending most of his political life as a Republican, won the Democratic nomination in the primary.
With 97 percent of the vote in, Scott had 49 percent and Crist garnered 46 percent of the vote. Sunshine State News is calling the race for Scott. With a lead of more than 122,000 votes, Scott will win as Crist can only make up between 90,000-100,000 votes in South Florida counties where some of the vote is still outstanding.
Winning his seat in a special election earlier this year, U.S. Rep. David Jolly, R-Fla., is headed back to Washington after his win on Tuesday over Libertarian Lucas Overby. With 96 percent of the vote in, Jolly had 75.5 percent while Overby took 24.5 percent.
“I cannot express my gratitude enough for the support and confidence that you have continued to place in me to represent you, and the people of Pinellas, in the United States Congress,” said Jolly. “It is because of your support that we have been able to accomplish so much already for our Pinellas County community, and I look forward to continuing to advance policies in Congress that are right for the future of our nation and our district.”
“I pledge to honor your trust by working tirelessly with a commitment to serve everyone in our community, to advance common-sense constitutional principles and with a spirit of advocacy that every voter should expect of their representative,” Jolly added. “We are in this together. And, together, we can continue on this path of advancing and supporting our Pinellas County interests in Congress.”
Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater cruised to an easy victory in his re-election campaign on Tuesday.
Atwater clinched the win over Democrat William Rankin, taking 59 percent of the vote as of publishing time. Rankin took 40 percent.
Atwater’s win doesn’t come as a big surprise -- he was heavily favored in several polls to stay in Tallahassee as Florida’s CFO.
Rankin, a 54-year-old businessman from Delray Beach, switched from being a Republican to an independent in 2004 and eventually registered as a Democrat in 2012. Despite his party affiliation, Rankin didn’t enjoy much support from the Democratic Party -- he was repeatedly left out of many Democratic campaign events and failed to raise significant cash for his campaign.Atwater, on the other hand, has been a prominent figure in Florida politics for nearly 15 years. In 2000, he was elected to the Florida House of Representatives. In 2002, he ran for the Florida Senate against Democrat Bob Butterworth. Atwater eventually served as Senate president from 2008-2010. When former CFO Alex Sink decided to run for governor in 2010, Atwater made his first run to replace her, defeating state Rep. Loranne Ausley by a whopping 57 percent.