Monday, December 18, 2017
Politics

Senate president scolds lobbyists who opposed his candidates

TALLAHASSEE — It is the talk of Tallahassee: Incoming Senate President Don Gaetz arrived in Orlando to accept an award from a business lobbying group and then banned two lobbyists from his office for orchestrating attacks on his candidates in the Republican primary.

Gaetz's scolding of the Associated Industries of Florida also included chastising them for not contributing enough money to his slate of candidates in the primary.

The admonition, in a town where legislative access is currency, hardball politics is routine and presiding officers are as close to royalty as it gets, also sent shivers through the lobbying corps. Few want to talk about it.

Gaetz, an amiable senior senator from the Panhandle town of Niceville, told the Times/Herald he wanted to send a message.

"I don't have a problem with hard-hitting campaigns, but families are off limits,'' Gaetz said in recounting the story this week.

He was referring to a mailer targeting former Senate President Tom Lee, R-Brandon, who was seeking a return to the Senate and was backed by Gaetz.

The mailer, which featured a fractured wedding photo and mentioned Lee's 2001 divorce, also claimed Lee had an affair, an allegation he has denied.

The piece was produced by the political committee run by Kenya Cory, an AIF lobbyist, and her husband, lobbyist Jack Cory. The Corys had supported Lee's opponent, state Rep. Rachel Burgin of Brandon, as well as two other unsuccessful candidates whom Gaetz opposed, Reps. Mike Weinstein of Jacksonville and Jim Frishe of St. Petersburg.

Gaetz addressed the annual AIF conference at the Rosen Single Creek in Orlando on Sept. 14 by first making a joke. He suggested that the AIF might prefer to be talking to "Sen. Weinstein" and "Sen. Frishe."

After light laughter, Gaetz next suggested that he was happy to see the Corys in the audience because he didn't plan to see them for the next two years while he was Senate president. The statement was greeted with silence.

"I understand people take opposing points of view on any given subject. That's just politics,'' Gaetz said this week. "What I object to is the way these two lobbyists went far beyond that and took it upon themselves to create a political committee which had at its purpose personal smears."

The Corys were among several veteran lobbyists who supported Burgin in the primary because of hard feelings over Lee. As Senate president, Lee pushed to implement a lobbyist gift ban and a requirement that they disclose some of their fees.

At the same time, AIF members have often antagonized Gaetz and others party leaders for its practice of contributing directly to candidates, rather than going through the Republican Party.

Gaetz said his comments were intended to "repair relations."

"I said I came not with whipping post but with an olive branch,'' he recalled. "I appealed to AIF to help our Republican candidates as best as they could."

Neither of the Corys nor anyone affiliated with the AIF would comment.

Keyna Cory said in an email: "I am sorry but I am not allowed to comment on anything that happens during an AIF conference or meeting.''

Ron Book, a veteran lobbyist who has represented Gaetz's businesses in the past, chalks it up to "raw politics."

"Don Gaetz is a blunt, brawling elected official who will fight tenaciously,'' he said. "They took it to a place they shouldn't have taken it," he said.

Correction: A lobbyist for AIF endorsed Reps. Rachel Burgin, Mike Weinstein and Jim Frishe. An earlier version of this story was incorrect.

Comments
National security strategy plan paints China, Russia as U.S. competitors

National security strategy plan paints China, Russia as U.S. competitors

WASHINGTON — A new U.S. national security strategy plan presents China and Russia as competitors that want to realign global power in their interests, potentially threatening the United States, Trump administration officials said Sunday.President Don...
Updated: 8 minutes ago
Trump says he isn’t considering firing Mueller

Trump says he isn’t considering firing Mueller

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump said Sunday that he is not considering firing special counsel Robert Mueller even as his administration was again forced to grapple with the growing Russia inquiry that has shadowed the White House for much of his ...
Updated: 10 hours ago
Trump defends tax plan, proclaims economy set ‘to rock’

Trump defends tax plan, proclaims economy set ‘to rock’

WASHINGTON — Closing in on the first major legislative achievement of his term, President Donald Trump on Saturday defended the Republican tax cut as a good deal for the middle class while boldly suggesting it could lead to explosive economic growth....
Published: 12/16/17
Romano: Some bullies survive beyond the schoolyard

Romano: Some bullies survive beyond the schoolyard

Sometime soon, members of the Florida House will be asked to consider a solution for bullying in public schools. It’s a dubious idea based on the premise that students should flee their tormenters, and use voucher funds to attend a private school of ...
Published: 12/16/17
CDC gets list of forbidden words: ‘fetus,’ ‘transgender,’ ‘evidence-based’

CDC gets list of forbidden words: ‘fetus,’ ‘transgender,’ ‘evidence-based’

Trump administration officials are forbidding officials at the nation’s top public health agency from using a list of seven words or phrases - including "fetus" and "transgender" - in any official documents being prepared for next year’s budget.Polic...
Published: 12/16/17
Female congressional candidate leaves race after sexual harassment allegations resurface

Female congressional candidate leaves race after sexual harassment allegations resurface

A Democratic candidate hoping to flip a hotly contested congressional seat in Kansas has dropped out of the race after allegations that she sexually harassed a male subordinate resurfaced amid her campaign.Andrea Ramsey, 57, who was running to unseat...
Published: 12/16/17
Highlights of GOP compromise bill to overhaul tax code

Highlights of GOP compromise bill to overhaul tax code

WASHINGTON — Republicans in Congress have blended separate tax bills passed by the House and Senate into compromise legislation that seeks to achieve a sweeping overhaul of the nation’s tax code. GOP leaders are looking toward passage of the final pa...
Published: 12/15/17
Updated: 12/16/17
With Rubio, Corker back on board, GOP speeds ahead with tax plan

With Rubio, Corker back on board, GOP speeds ahead with tax plan

WASHINGTON — Republican lawmakers on Friday secured enough votes to pass the most sweeping tax overhaul in decades, putting them on the cusp of their first significant legislative victory this year as party leaders geared up to pass a $1.5 trillion t...
Published: 12/15/17
Experts chart path for Hillsborough to grow smarter before sprawl takes over

Experts chart path for Hillsborough to grow smarter before sprawl takes over

TAMPA — Nearly 600,000 more people will live in Hillsborough County by 2040, and if elected officials and county planners don’t take bold steps now, the population boom will turn the county into the soulless sprawl of Anywhere, U.S.A.That’s the messa...
Published: 12/15/17
Tillerson retreats on offer of unconditional N. Korea talks

Tillerson retreats on offer of unconditional N. Korea talks

WASHINGTON — America’s top diplomat stepped back Friday from his offer of unconditional talks with North Korea, telling world powers that the nuclear-armed nation must earn the right to negotiate with the United States. Secretary of State Rex Tillers...
Published: 12/15/17