A month after Gov. Rick Scott took a secret hunting trip to the King Ranch in Texas last year, he faced a big decision.
A seat had come open on the board that oversees Florida's efforts on the multibillion-dollar project to repair damage to the Everglades caused by agriculture. To fill that position, Scott picked a corporate executive named Mitchel A. "Mitch" Hutchcraft.
Hutchcraft's major qualification for a seat on the board of South Florida Water Management District: He is the vice president in charge of the King Ranch's Florida agricultural acreage.
"That's astounding," said David Guest of the Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund, which has repeatedly sued the agency over its protection of Lake Okeechobee and other water-related issues.
Scott's announcement of Hutchcraft's appointment in March 2013 made no mention of what the governor's staff called a fundraising trip the month before. Scott's trip wasn't listed anywhere on his official calendar, nor is there any mention of King Ranch donations from that period in his campaign finance reports.
George Sheldon has spent nine months and raised nearly $300,000 to become Florida's next attorney general.
But now his candidacy is in some doubt because of questions over where he has lived.
"For him to stay in the race, he has to satisfy the legal requirement of being a resident," said his opponent in the Aug. 26 primary, House Democratic Leader Rep. Perry Thurston of Fort Lauderdale. "The residency issue is an issue, based on my reading of the Constitution. I think it raises some serious questions."
According to the Florida Constitution, those running for attorney general must reside in the state the preceding seven years.
From 2011 to October 2013, Sheldon held a $179,000 job at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that required him to live, at least part time, out of state.
Sheldon says there's no problem because he claimed Florida's $50,000 homestead tax exemption for one of his two Tallahassee homes. He said he didn't rent out the home and would visit it periodically. And he kept his voter registration in Tallahassee.
"I was clearly a resident," Sheldon said. "As long as I maintained my residence in Florida, I think I qualify."
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder's letter to Gov. Rick Scott
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder sent a scathing letter to Gov. Rick Scott over voting changes in Florida and issued a warning that the Justice Department is “carefully monitoring” the state.
“Whenever warranted by the facts and the law, we will not hesitate to use all tools and legal authorities at our disposal to fight against racial discrimination, to stand against disenfranchisement and to safeguard the right of every eligible American to cast a ballot,” Holder wrote.
Scott’s office dismissed it as a “bizarre attempt to help Charlie Crist.”
The letter, dotted with pointed language and examples of changes that have been enacted under Scott, comes months before the Republican governor faces off in an expected showdown with Democrat Crist.
“I am deeply disturbed that during your tenure your state has repeatedly added barriers to voting and restricted access to the polls,” Holder wrote, citing a 2011 decision to narrow early voting “that had previously enabled thousands of Floridians to cast ballots.” Holder said it was “widely recognized as a disaster.” …
The legislatively-dominated committee assigned to nominate six candidates to the Public Service Commission narrowed its list of candidates from 32 to 16 on Thursday, preserving the chance for a term-limited legislator who runs a Panama City restaurant to get the high-profile job.
The PSC Nominating Council will interview the 16 candidates and then decide who to select to send to the governor to fill a post vacated by outgoing PSC Commissioner Eduardo Balbis and the post held by Commissioner Julie Imanuel Brown, who is seeking a second term. Gov. Rick Scott will then choose from the list.
Balbis surprised observers when he announced in May he would not seek a second term after being appointed to the post by former Gov. Charlie Crist. The vacancy occurred after legislators sided with electric companies in 2010 to oust two of Crist's appointees who rejected controversial rate increases sought by Florida Power & Light and Progress Energy, now known as Duke Energy Florida. Download Balbis Nominating Council Letter
The PSC is an agency that reports to and is funded by the Legislature. The five commissioners are appointed by the governor and serve four-year staggered term.
The final list includes Rep. Jimmy Patronis, a Republican from Panama City who runs the popular Captain Anderson's restaurant in Panama City which is owned by his family. Patronis holds a degree in political science and communication from Florida State University and lists no utility-related experience in his resume. He did, however, surprise some observers when he announced earlier this year that he was dropping out of the 2016 state Senate race to replace Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, leaving Gaetz's son, Matt Gaetz, the frontrunner in the race.
In 2010, the Senate narrowly voted to oust Crist's appointees David Klement, the former editorial page editor of the Bradenton Herald, and Benjamin "Steve" Stevens, the former accountant for the Escambia County sheriff. The primary reason given for rejecting the candidates was that they were not qualified because they did not have regulatory or utility backgrounds and were both white men. Full Story
School administrators at St. Petersburg High allowed Charlie Crist to film a campaign ad at their school in violation of School Board policy. Now the Republican Party of Florida would like superintendent Mike Grego to ask Crist to stop using the ad.
Juston Johnson, executive director of the RPOF, wrote a strongly worded letter to Grego in which he said the TV advertisement made it appear that the School Board endorsed Crist, who is running as a Democrat against Gov. Rick Scott.
Johnson wrote, "I write to respectfully request that you take immediate action to prevent the appearance of the School Board's endorsement of a political candidate by demanding that all stations currently airing this ad cease doing so."
He said that Grego needed to ensure that the integrity of the school system is maintained.
The Crist campaign started airing the TV spot last week. In it, Crist attacks Scott's record on education. Crist also references his own education at St. Petersburg High, where he was class president and quarterback of the football team. The name of the school is featured in the beginning of the ad. …
Sen. Marco Rubio is headed out of D.C. for the August recess -- but he's making a pit stop in Iowa.
The Des Moines Register reports that Rubio will be the special guest at a private fundraiser for Republican U.S. Senate candidate Joni Ernst, whom Rubio has endorsed.
From the Register:
Rubio, who endorsed Ernst during the five-way GOP primary for Iowa's open U.S. Senate seat and put significant resources behind her campaign, booked the Iowa trip months ago. This week, a second VIP political figure, Texas U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, made a last-minute RSVP and will attend both events as well. Cruz didn't offer support in any of Iowa's Republican primaries earlier this year.
This will be Rubio's third trip to Iowa since Mitt Romney lost the 2012 presidential election. He was the featured guest at the fundraiser for Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad's 66th birthday Nov. 17, 2012, and he flew in on the eve of the June 4 primary vote this year to stump for Ernst. …
Another conflicting ruling about residency requirements for write-in candidates means the issue is even more likely to be appealed and challenged all the way to the Florida Supreme Court.
Leon County Circuit Judge Angela Dempsey decided Thursday that Donald John Matthews is not eligible to run as a write-in candidate for the House District 64 seat in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties because he was not living inside the district at the time of qualifying.
Just last week, a different Leon County Circuit judge ruled the opposite on a similar case. Judge George Reynolds concluded that write-in candidates are only required to live in the district on the date of election and allowed one to remain in the race for House District 69 in Broward County.
Write in candidates have never won a Florida legislative race, but they can be a game-changer during primary elections. According to Florida law, if all of the candidates in a particular race are from the same political party then all voters, regardless of their political affiliation, can cast ballots in the primary since that will essentially be the only election to determine the winner of the seat. …
In a closed-door session, the Florida Commission on Ethics ruled in favor of Rep. James Grant, R-Tampa, after an investigation into whether he misused his position to benefit a company that allegedly funded a grant awarded to his personal business venture.
The nine-member panel also decided there was no probable cause concerning an allegation that Grant had a conflict when he voted on legislation that related to excise taxes on phosphate mining.
The decision was announced Wednesday after the commission's investigator spent more than a year examining a complicated case stemming from complaints filed by Henry Kuhlman, a retired military pilot from Hardee County.
"My reaction is that they missed the mark and politics are involved," Kuhlman said.
Kuhlman has been aggressively trying to get Grant and others to account for about $2.6 million Hardee County awarded to the representative's startup company, LifeSync, starting in 2011. The money is from a pot of $42 million the phosphate giant Mosaic gave the county in exchange for mining rights. Hardee officials handed out the money, expected to produce jobs, which didn't happen in the case of LifeSync. …
Six families -- and their powerful attorneys -- want to intervene in a lawsuit challenging a controversial new school choice law.
The families have asked a judge to help defend the law, which creates scholarships for children with profound special needs. The money can be used for private-school tuition, tutoring, educational materials and various types of therapy. The average award is expected to be about $10,000.
The scholarship program came into being as sweeping education bill that also expanded the school voucher program, created collegiate high schools, and addressed middle-school reform. It passed largely along party lines on the last day of session.
Earlier this month, the statewide teachers union challenged the constitutionality of the law, saying it violates a requirement that each pieces of legislation be limited to a single subject. The families want to join the existing defendants: Gov. Rick Scott, the Cabinet and Education Commissioner Pam Stewart.
The lawsuit is pending, but the plaintiffs have indicated they do not oppose allowing the families to join the case. …
Strolling toward the double doors of St. Petersburg High School, gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist says, "This isn't just a doorway to a school. It was my doorway, as a public school kid, to opportunity."
5 Months Ago
4 Months Ago
3 Months Ago
The 30-second television ad, which began airing last week, shows Crist walking through the halls of the historic school, his alma mater, where he was class president and quarterback of the football team.
There's just one problem. The political advertisement never should have been filmed.
The Pinellas County School District prohibits the use of school property for "advertising or otherwise promoting the interests of any commercial, political, or other nonschool agency or individual organization."
School administrators at St. Petersburg High violated the board's policy. A letter, written on the high school's letterhead, gave the Crist campaign permission to film on the campus. The letter states that there was no charge for use of the campus, and that administrators would offer the school to "any candidate regardless of political affiliation.
Five medical marijuana dispensaries will be allowed to sell their product statewide under a new rule proposed by state regulators, but to avoid litigation regulators will pick the nurseries that will operate the new industry by lottery, Florida officials said Wednesday.
The revised rule will be discussed at a workshop in Tallahassee on Friday as the state prepares to authorize five nurseries in each region of the state to cultivate and distribute marijuana for medical purposes.
Florida legislators passed the law last spring legalizing marijuana low in THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and high in CBD (cannabidiol) for patients with seizures, severe and persistent muscle spasms and cancer. The dispensaries must be in operation by Jan. 1 to start selling to patients who are put on a state-run “compassionate use registry.”
The first draft of the rule came under harsh criticism from members of the industry who want the state to focus on finding applicants that can produce the best quality, not those that can win because of chance.
Despite those concerns, however, state officials have refused to abandon the concept of choosing the five regional vendors based on a lottery, saying that they fear a lawsuit could stymie efforts to get the drug to patients.
Charlie Crist may be a newly minted Democrat, but he’s racking up union support as if he has always been a liberal shade of blue.
AFSCME, the union that bargains for most state employees, sent Crist’s political committee a $1 million check on Tuesday, the same day he announced that, if elected, he would use his executive powers to immediately raise the minimum wage for state contractors to $10.10 an hour — a top union priority.
The Florida Police Benevolent Association also endorsed Crist this month, and sent his campaign $50,000 — an amount matched by the Florida pipefitters’ union. The Dade County firefighters donated $25,000; AFSCME’s political committee, the Florida Workers’ Advocates, already gave Crist $50,000; and the Florida Education Association, which first endorsed Crist as an independent Senate candidate in 2010, this year endorsed him again.
The endorsements and contributions are more signs that Crist is now the candidate of the Democratic establishment, which has eschewed longtime liberal Democrat and former state Sen. Nan Rich, his opponent in the Aug. 26 primary. And they are proof that attempts by Gov. Rick Scott to mend fences with teachers and police unions, whose ranks provide boots-on-the-ground campaign support, have fallen short.
“We are backing [Crist] so aggressively because we feel we have given every governor in the governor’s seat a fair deal in treating public employees fairly, but that hasn’t happened with this governor,” said Jeannette Wynn, Florida president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.Full Story
Before he was governor, Rick Scott attacked another Florida politician for accepting campaign funds from U.S. Sugar. He even said Bill McCollum, his opponent in the 2010 Republican primary, had been "bought and paid for.''
Four years later, Scott has received at least $534,000 for his reelection campaign from the corporate giant, and went on a 2013 hunting trip to its hunting lodge at King Ranch in Texas.
"The governor enjoys hunting and doesn't get to go as often as he'd like," said campaign spokesman Greg Blair in a Tuesday night e-mail. "But he enjoyed the experience. He was even able to shoot a buck on the trip."
While Scott bagged a buck, his hosts may claim the bigger prize: access to the state's most powerful politicians.
For Florida political news today, the Buzz is your can't-miss-it source. Tampa Bay Times writers offer the latest in Florida politics, the Florida Legislature and the Rick Scott administration. Keep in mind: This is a public forum sponsored and maintained by the Tampa Bay Times. When you post comments here, what you say becomes public and could appear in the newspaper. You are not engaging in private communication with candidates or Times staffers.