Tuesday, June 19, 2018
News Roundup

Rising Florida GOP leader skips convention, lukewarm on Trump

TALLAHASSEE — At least one Florida Republican rising star wasn't planning to be in attendance when the GOP convention opened its national convention in Cleveland on Monday.

State Rep. Jose Oliva, the Miami Lakes Republican who is designated to be Florida House speaker in 2018, gave up his delegate spot and is heading to Nicaragua this week to tend to his tobacco company.

"I'm not going to Cleveland," said the CEO of Miami-based Oliva Cigar of the expected coronation of Donald Trump as Republican nominee. "At this point it's just a formality and I'm not much for ceremony."

Oliva says he will vote for Trump since he can't agree with the alternatives but it's not a decision that pleases him.

"I think Donald Trump gets my support by default and that is not great," he said. "A country of this size should have two better choices but I simply can't support something so ideologically opposed to me as the Hillary platform."

Oliva, however, has more pressing concerns on his mind. His family-owned company just closed on the sale of Oliva Cigar to a Belgian cigar maker, J. Cortès, effective July 1, for an undisclosed price. The multimillion dollar deal leaves Oliva as co-CEO while his siblings have been bought out.

It was a negotiation that was in the works for the last year, Oliva said, and took with it "a pound of flesh." The transition now leaves him more time to focus on his upcoming duties as House speaker and GOP re-elections in two years.

"The hope is that in two years when more responsibilities come on, I will have been able to properly establish everything I need to be able to do both things," Oliva told the Herald/Times. If Republicans retain the majority as expected in the state House, Oliva is expected to be named House speaker for the 2018-20 term.

Under the cigar deal, J. Cortès diversifies its product portfolio to include the hand-rolled premium brands that won the Oliva family national awards and further establish its position in the worldwide market. Oliva Cigar has operations in Miami and Nicaragua.

"Oliva Cigars is a fantastic, well-run business with strong brands and plenty of future opportunities," Fred Vandermarliere, CEO of J. Cortès, said in a statement. "This acquisition allows us to further strengthen both businesses' strategy and to stay focused on brands, people and dedication to great products for cigar lovers."

Oliva said selling the business his family began in 1995 to the Belgian family-run enterprise was "a good fit" by combining two family-run companies with a long history in a way that will build on both operations.

Three days after the sale took effect, Vandermarliere tweeted that he was "strongly" committed "to maintain @OlivaCigar as a business, including the brands it currently runs and its current management team."

For Oliva, it's an American dream come true that he says his cousins — who remain in Cuba but who also descended from previous generations of Cuban tobacco growers — can only imagine.

"It really can only happen here," Oliva said. "There's one difference between me and my cousins who didn't get out of Cuba and that's that I was born in America."

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