Thursday, June 28, 2018

BACKROOM BRIEFING: Weekly Florida Political Notes

Dara Kam & Jim Turner News Service of Florida June 28, 2018

TALLAHASSEE --- As Congressman Ron DeSantis and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam prepared for their first gubernatorial debate Thursday night, DeSantis snagged a major endorsement from state Rep. José Oliva, a Miami Lakes Republican who's soon to be one of the three most powerful people in the Capitol.

DeSantis, a Palm Coast Republican who's also nailed the support of President Donald Trump, is trailing Putnam in fundraising and in polls. Putnam is widely viewed as more of an “establishment” candidate and has racked up a ton of endorsements.

But the backing of Oliva, who is slated to become House speaker after the November election, is a coup for DeSantis. Along with Oliva’s power in the Capitol, his family emigrated to the U.S. from Cuba, and DeSantis is an immigration hardliner running for governor in a state with a significant Hispanic voting bloc considered crucial for a November victory.

"Ron's commitment to this country and the values that made it great are second to none," Oliva said in a news release Thursday that praised DeSantis’ military service.

DeSantis is a Yale grad who got his law degree from Harvard and served in Iraq alongside a Navy SEAL team. 

DeSantis "always puts America first," Oliva said in the release.

"He's a tax cutter, budget hawk, education reformer, and the rarest of elected officials in Washington, a demonstrated conservative," Oliva said. "Florida has consistently shown what conservative governance can do for our schools, economy, job creation and quality of life. We must continue that legacy of conservative leadership and we can trust Ron DeSantis to do that."

DeSantis and Putnam, who has been endorsed by outgoing House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’ Lakes, will square off Thursday night in a Fox News debate from the Republican Party of Florida’s “Sunshine Summit.”

MARIJUANA CAMPAIGN, PART 2?

Orlando attorney John Morgan apparently wants to put more money into getting Floridians to vote on marijuana.

The lawyer, who spent about $7 million backing a successful 2016 constitutional amendment that broadly legalized medical marijuana, is now suggesting the creation of a fund that would support putting “full marijuana legalization on the ballot in 2020.”

Morgan sent out a series of tweets on the issue after an appeals court on Tuesday rejected a request to quickly send a major medical-marijuana case to the Florida Supreme Court.

The case focuses on arguments about whether a 2017 law improperly bars patients from smoking medical marijuana.

Leon County Circuit Judge Karen Gievers last month ruled that the smoking ban violated the Morgan-backed 2016 constitutional amendment. Attorneys for the state appealed Gievers’ ruling to the 1st District Court of Appeal.

Plaintiffs in the case, including the group People United for Medical Marijuana, filed a motion June 8 asking that the case be “certified” to the Supreme Court --- a move that would effectively lead to bypassing the 1st District Court of Appeal. But the appeals court rejected that request Tuesday.

“Maybe it’s just time for full legalization,” Morgan tweeted. “It would pass with flying colors! Guys like @FLGovScott would vote no, but #%!& him.”

The comic-strip version of profanity was Morgan’s.

“I'm going to look at starting a fund where we all can donate to get full marijuana legalization on the ballot in 2020,” Morgan continued. “When you mess with the will of the people there are unintended consequences!! The cannabis industry is well funded now. Money won’t be a problem.”

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Philip Levine, a former Miami Beach mayor not shy about using his own money for political purposes, lent support to Morgan.

“If the Legislature won’t do it --- we’ll get it done, John!” Levine tweeted.

Morgan maintains that “the politics of pot” will be a deciding factor in this year’s U.S. Senate race between incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson and Republican Gov. Rick Scott.

WHITE CRITICIZES MOODY ON PUBLIC FUNDING

Attorney General candidate Frank White, a state lawmaker from Pensacola whose campaign is buoyed by personal money, is calling out his Republican primary opponent for requesting matching public dollars for her campaign.

But White’s rival, former Hillsborough County judge Ashley Moody, is fighting back by saying the public matching-dollar program was established to combat “self-funding” by inexperienced candidates.

In a flyer from White’s campaign proclaiming “judgement matters,” paperwork filed by Moody seeking matching funds is featured next to a comment attributed to her saying she stands for reducing government waste.

The ad says that Moody, “in reality: requests hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxpayer money from government for political ads.”

The request by Moody is similar to ones by Republican gubernatorial candidates Adam Putnam and U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis. Candidates are eligible to receive matches of individual contributions of $250 or less.

No public money is dispensed until candidates for Cabinet positions reach $100,000 in such relatively small-dollar contributions received since last September. For gubernatorial candidates, the threshold is $150,000.

Moody campaign spokeswoman Christina Johnson said the matching-funds program is intended to help “combat” candidates running for statewide office who have no experience or qualifications for the jobs.

“Frank White has never stood in a courtroom to try a case to put a criminal behind bars, but that is not stopping him from funding his campaign to be Florida’s top prosecutor with nearly $3 million of (supposedly) his own money,” Johnson said in an email. “Matching funds allow for an opportunity for Florida voters to hear the truth about candidates. In this case, Ashley Moody, a former prosecutor and judge, is the only candidate running to be Florida’s top prosecutor who has prosecuted a case. Of course, those not eligible for this program hoping to buy the AG race with no experience would not support it.”

Of the $3.77 million White had raised through May for his campaign account and the political committee United Conservatives, $36,237 had come in contributions of $250 or less from a little more than 230 people.

White has put $2.7 million of his own money into the contest and has received at least $204,000 from the Sansing auto dealerships, which are owned by his employer and in-laws.

White’s campaign called the comment from the Moody camp “sad” because she is “dipping into a $33 million taxpayer funded welfare-for-politicians slush fund that a majority of Floridians voted against in 2010.”

A constitutional amendment put before voters in 2010 to repeal the public-funding program received 52.5 percent support, but that fell below a required 60 percent threshold.

“We look forward to highlighting the stark contrast between Frank White’s lifelong commitment to conservative values and Ashley Moody’s liberal record --- and we won’t be doing it with taxpayer money,” White spokeswoman Erin Isaac said in an email.

Moody, who has raised $2.64 million through May for her campaign account and the political committee Friends of Ashley Moody, had received $69,017 in contributions of $250 or less to her campaign account since last September. 

Others who have asked for the public funding include Republican Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis and Sen. Denise Grimsley, a Republican running for agriculture commissioner. Among Democratic candidates seeking matching dollars, attorney-general candidate Ryan Torrens is celebrating what he expects will be his ability to soon dip into the public pool.

“This is perhaps the most important moment of this campaign,” Torrens said in fundraising emails Tuesday and Wednesday that counted down his effort to qualify for public funding. “If we meet our goal by noon, this Friday, June 29th, we will receive our distribution of over $200,000 on July 27th!”

TWEET OF THE WEEK: “President Trump is in the house. Starts off asking for prayers for @karringtonsc, then rips on @MarkSanford by referencing his affair when governor, mentioning ‘The Tallahassee Trail.’ It was actually the Appalachian Trail but the crowd went along with it.” --- Associated Press reporter Meg Kinnard‏ (@MegKinnardAP).