Saturday, February 24, 2018
Politics

GOP wooed by Putnam, Latvala at midsummer gathering

ORLANDO — Gubernatorial candidates Adam Putnam and Jack Latvala displayed distinct styles this weekend as they schmoozed with Republican activists at the state party's midsummer gathering.

Putnam, the agriculture commissioner from Bartow, hosted breakfast Saturday for about 200 county GOP leaders at the Rosen Shingle Creek, where his 20-minute stump speech was partly biographical, partly his "conservative, positive vision" of Florida's future and partly a call to arms for the faithful to get worked up about the 2018 cycle.

"The left is coming for us," Putnam told the crowd, warning of how out-of-state liberals like George Soros and Tom Steyer will push for the "Californization" of Florida.

"Floridians are hungry for someone who knows this state like the back of his hand," Putnam said. He spoke proudly of Florida's crime rate being at a "46-year-low" and the state being No. 1 in the number of concealed weapons. "I think there's a connection," he said.

At one point, as Putnam stressed the need for the state to find better jobs for young people, he sounded like a Rand McNally atlas, as he rattled off "Clewiston, Pahokee, Wausau, Bagdad, Milton, DeFuniak, Bartow, Wauchula, where they ought not have to leave our state to find a great career," a line that brought applause from the crowd.

Latvala, the Senate appropriations chairman from Clearwater, hosted a well-attended ice cream social at the hotel Friday night, where he gave a four-minute speech and spoke of his own role in building a party that was mired deep in the wilderness when he began his career in 1975. "A lot of my colleagues think that we just woke up one day and we were a majority in Tallahassee. That's not the way it happened," he said.

As the GOP reaches its 20th year of being in control of Tallahassee (and after a session marked by brutal infighting), "We've got to take a look at what we've accomplished, how we're acting, how we're working together," he said. He added he's "upset" at the state GOP's weak fundraising in the quarter that ended June 30, which he attributed to the spread of political committees controlled by individuals.

In a jab at other GOP candidates, including Putnam and House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes, a prospective candidate, Latvala said: "I see people who've been in government their entire life, that have never made a payroll. ... I just think that's an important dimension for the party that nominated Donald Trump."

Latvala will formally kick off his candidacy Wednesday with events in Hialeah, Clearwater and Panama City. The Tampa Bay stop is planned for 1 p.m. at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium.

Spreading the wealth

If money is the mother's milk of politics, then Florida Gov. Rick Scott's political committee is providing lots of nourishment to operatives outside of Florida.

Of the $6.5 million his political committee, Let's Get to Work, has spent since his 2014 re-election, $4.5 million of it went to consultants and services outside of Florida, according to a Times/Herald review of the committee's expenditures since January 2015.

The bulk of the out-of-state money — $3.9 million — was delivered to his political consultant, OnMessage, based in Annapolis, Md.

In addition to consulting expenses, the political committee's website service is based in Alexandria, Va.

When Scott needed some robocall assistance — as he fended off an attempt to gut his economic development agency — his committee spent $12,000 on an Arlington, Va.,-based company.

His most recent hire appears to be Taylor Teepell, a Louisiana native who ran former Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal's brief campaign for president in 2015. Scott hired him to be finance director of the New Republican super PAC, of which he now serves as chair. Melissa Sellers Stone, Scott's former chief of staff and campaign manager, serves as the director of the PAC. She also came to Florida after working in Louisiana, where she served on Jindal's staff.

Stone has been paid $188,800 in the last year from LGTW, including $18,800 in reimbursement for travel and other expenses.

There are some exceptions to the out-of-state link. LGTW's biggest Florida hire appears to be Debbie Aleksander, a Tallahassee-based fundraiser who has been paid $363,000.

In 2015, Scott's committee had Tony Fabrizio of Broward County on retainer and paid him $43,000. He has paid Miami political consultant Ana M. Carbonell and her company, the Factor, $249,000 since his re-election. Much of Scott's Florida operation is run out of the offices of Tallahassee consultant Brecht Heuchan. Heuchen has been paid $116,000 for consulting and $80,000 for database services since 2015, the reports show.

Adam C. Smith and Mary Ellen Klas contributed to this week's Buzz.

 
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