Friday, June 22, 2018
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
Carlton: Could anything be more partisan than going nonpartisan?

Carlton: Could anything be more partisan than going nonpartisan?

So Hillsborough County commissioners — most of them, anyway — want voters to consider dropping political parties from certain elections, making those races nonpartisan instead.This would mean when you go to vote in those elections, you won’t know if ...
Published: 06/22/18
Hotel renovator approved by council to restore New Port Richey’s Hacienda Hotel

Hotel renovator approved by council to restore New Port Richey’s Hacienda Hotel

NEW PORT RICHEY — A seasoned historic hotel renovator and operator is going to take a crack at getting New Port Richey’s city-owned Hacienda Hotel back into action. New Port Richey City Council members, acting as the Community Redevelopment Agency, u...
Published: 06/20/18
Pope Francis criticizes Trump’s family-separation policy on migrants, says ‘populism is not the solution’

Pope Francis criticizes Trump’s family-separation policy on migrants, says ‘populism is not the solution’

VATICAN CITY - Pope Francis stepped into a growing controversy over President Donald Trump’s immigration policies, criticizing the separation of migrant families at the U.S.-Mexican border and saying that "populism" and "creating psychosis" are not t...
Published: 06/20/18
Raburn out in State House 57 race. Now who’s in?

Raburn out in State House 57 race. Now who’s in?

Well, that didn’t last long.U.S. Army veteran Michael Sean McCoy filed to run as the Republican candidate in the State House, District 57 race just hours after incumbent State Rep. Jake Raburn, R-Lithia, announced he was stepping down.McCoy, who live...
Published: 06/19/18
Updated: 06/21/18
Romano: A Tampa Bay ‘superstar’ caught in the crosshairs of Trump’s border policy

Romano: A Tampa Bay ‘superstar’ caught in the crosshairs of Trump’s border policy

At this moment, she is Tampa Bay’s most influential export. A smart, accomplished and powerful attorney making life-altering decisions on an international stage.But what of tomorrow? And the day after?When the story of President Donald Trump’s border...
Published: 06/19/18
‘Don’t leave me, Mom’: Detainee tells of separation from son

‘Don’t leave me, Mom’: Detainee tells of separation from son

SEATTLE — The call came at mealtime — an anonymous threat demanding $5,000 or her son’s life. So Blanca Orantes-Lopez, her 8-year-old boy and his father packed up and left the Pacific surfing town of Puerto La Libertad in El Salvador and headed for t...
Published: 06/19/18
Trump defiant as border crisis escalates, prepares to lobby House GOP on immigration bills

Trump defiant as border crisis escalates, prepares to lobby House GOP on immigration bills

WASHINGTON - As he prepared to visit Capitol Hill, President Donald Trump on Tuesday continued to insist that Congress produce comprehensive immigration legislation, while anxious Republicans explored a narrower fix to the administration policy of se...
Published: 06/19/18
Trump, GOP to huddle as outrage builds over border policy

Trump, GOP to huddle as outrage builds over border policy

WASHINGTON (AP) — Calls are mounting on Capitol Hill for the Trump administration to end the separation of families at the southern border ahead of a visit from President Donald Trump to discuss legislation.Trump’s meeting late Tuesday afternoon with...
Published: 06/19/18
Another detention center for immigrant children planned for Houston

Another detention center for immigrant children planned for Houston

Another facility intended for detaining undocumented children is reportedly in the works for Houston as the number of children separated from their parents at the border continues to swell.Southwest Key Programs, the same contractor that operates the...
Published: 06/19/18
Muralist working with huge St. Pete ‘canvas’ to create neighborhood eye-grabber

Muralist working with huge St. Pete ‘canvas’ to create neighborhood eye-grabber

ST. PETERSBURG — They appear to rise out of nowhere — two enormous, reclaimed-water tanks with an artist’s white clouds scudding across a blue background.A closer view reveals silhouettes of a lone coyote howling at the sky, mangrove islands, oak, cy...
Published: 06/19/18