Florida’s most influential gun-rights lobbyist says don’t move --- at least for now --- the state’s concealed-weapons licensing program from the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
But in a thin olive branch to Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, National Rifle Association lobbyist Marion Hammer in a letter posted online Tuesday also made clear she and the other concealed-carry permit holders in the state --- there were 1.95 million as of Jan. 15 --- will be watching how Fried handles the high-profile program.
“We believe the program should stay where it is and it’ll be up to Commissioner Fried to keep her campaign promise to correct any problems a legitimate investigation reveals,” Hammer wrote. “And if she really wants to be a workhorse and not a show horse, we’ll be happy to hold her coat or help if she wants our help.”
Hammer and Fried have verbally dueled since last year’s election campaign over the licensing program and the lobbyist’s access to the agency under former Republican Commissioner Adam Putnam, who became embroiled in allegations of mismanagement of the program.
Fried, a Fort Lauderdale Democrat who has said “Hammer no longer runs this department,” at one time tweeted that the agriculture department was the wrong place for the concealed-carry program and supported a move to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
Since then, Fried has downplayed a bill (SB 108) by Sen. Lauren Book, D-Plantation, to relocate the program to the FDLE. Fried has also repeated that her priority is to take a “deep dive” into recommendations about the program from an internal report and a separate inspector general’s report.
“From all the reports we saw there, this was mismanaged by the office, a climate that showed pushing the applications out as fast as possible without the double checks,” Fried said last week.
Fried has also named former Miami-Dade County Circuit Judge Mary Barzee Flores, a gun-control advocate, as her department’s deputy commissioner for consumer affairs, with one duty being to oversee concealed-weapons licensing.
Hammer in November said the program needed to remain under a statewide elected official, with a preference going to Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, a Panama City Republican.
However, Republican legislative leaders haven’t publicly endorsed such a move.
And while Hammer maintained in this week’s letter that the program should remain with a statewide elected official, “who must swear to uphold the Constitution and the law and can be held accountable by the people,” she also retained her opposition to moving the program to law enforcement.
In her letter, Hammer advised her organization’s members that Fried and Barzee Flores “can’t use their personal political philosophies to re-tool or dismantle a program governed by the Constitution and the law.”
“Fried campaigned on a pledge to fix problems with the program, not destroy it,” Hammer continued. “We actually welcome efforts to fix any real problems --- but they have to be actual problems, not imagined or manufactured problems like those in the media.
“We’re willing to let Commissioner Fried show Floridians that she can be fair and properly administer the program. If she’s afraid to keep the Licensing program, we’ll find out soon enough.”
CORCORAN’S LATEST ENTERPRISE
With his recent appointment as state education commissioner, former House Speaker Richard Corcoran became a member of the board at Enterprise Florida, an agency he once sought to abolish.
On Monday, Gov. Ron DeSantis reiterated that Enterprise Florida still has “a role” as a business-recruitment agency.
But while in Jacksonville with Corcoran to make an education announcement, DeSantis added, “It’s just going to be different than what it (Enterprise Florida) had been doing two or three years ago.”
In 2016 and 2017, Corcoran repeatedly opposed then-Gov. Rick Scott’s requests for money --- at one time asking for $250 million a year --- that could help the public-private Enterprise Florida lure businesses to the state. At the same time, Corcoran also questioned the need for tourism-marketer Visit Florida to even exist.
"We kind of went downstairs in the kitchen at about 3 in the morning and we turned on the lights," Corcoran, a Land O' Lakes Republican, told members of the media in 2017 at the Associated Press' annual pre-legislative session gathering in the Capitol.
"And I don't mean this in a disparaging way to anybody, but there's cockroaches everywhere and I think you're seeing that,” Corcoran said at the time. “You turn on the lights, and there's Enterprise Florida and you say, ‘Let's take a closer look to it.’ "
Corcoran also hammered business incentives as "corporate welfare" and "de facto socialism.”
The product of all that posturing by Corcoran was the creation of the Job Growth Grant Fund, which gave Scott $85 million to dole out for regional infrastructure projects and workforce training programs. DeSantis is asking lawmakers to keep the fund alive. Scott depleted the current fiscal year’s money in the fund before heading off to the U.S. Senate last month.
NEW SHINY OBJECTS
Florida has a new medal out of the governor’s mansion.
First Lady Casey DeSantis has her own award, the “First Lady’s Medal for Courage, Commitment, and Service,” which according to a release from the governor’s office will honor Floridians who create positive change in their communities.
The program was announced Monday during an appearance with her husband at the North Florida School of Special Education.
“The Sunshine State has many heroes who dedicate their lives to serving our children, families and communities,” Casey DeSantis tweeted Monday. “Today I was honored to recognize two of those heroes, First Coast residents Carmen Townsend and Judi Zitiello at @NFSSE_jax for their courage, commitment and service.”
TWEET OF THE WEEK: “Justice 2 Jesus lobbyist Brian Pitts, missing from legislative action for a while, gets ovation from fellow lobbyists when he approaches the podium for first time at Sen Health Policy Cttee. (something tells me, some will regret that).” --- GateHouse Media capital reporter John Kennedy (@JKennedyReport).