Jacksonville Bold for 5.1.24: VP in Jax, again

Gun Rights

It’s no accident that Vice President Kamala Harris is in Jacksonville today at the Prime Osborn Center.

It’s not just because Florida’s “Heartbeat Protection Act,” which bans abortions past the sixth week of pregnancy except in the case of rape, incest or danger to the mother, takes effect today.

Kamala Harris is in Jacksonville again to shine a spotlight on Florida’s six-week abortion ban. Image via AP

It’s also part of a larger strategy by the President’s re-election campaign to mobilize Northeast Florida support for the administration in what most impartial observers would agree is a tough state for them to win.

In 2021, she visited the city to survey local COVID-19 response, accompanied by then-Mayor Lenny Curry, a former Chair of the Republican Party of Florida.

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Last year, she came to the city to link the state’s treatment of Black history to “powerful forces” efforts to “distort history,” including to “minimize or even deny the Holocaust” and obscure the history of Japanese internment camps or the treatment of native peoples.

This time around, she’s prosecuting the case not against Gov. Ron DeSantis so much as former President Donald Trump. Her central argument will be that the Supreme Court overturning Roe V. Wade in the 2022 term’s Dobbs decision laid the groundwork for restrictive abortion laws in Florida and far beyond.

Democrats are betting heavily on reproductive rights as an issue that could win the election this year.

DeSantis isn’t sold, he said Tuesday in Tampa, as he dared Democrats to pour resources into the state in vain.

“I welcome Biden-Harris to spend a lot of money in Florida. Light up the airwaves, do it, light it on fire. We are fine with you doing that here. But I can confidently predict that you’ll see Republican victories not just at the top of the ticket, but up and down the ballot.”

Time will tell who is right, but with Amendment 4 on the ballot to restore the right to abortion until the fetus is viable, it’s a strong bet among shakier propositions amid turmoil on so many other fronts for this White House.

Susie in the spotlight

A Jacksonville political consultant who has been part of Trump’s inner circle for years got her turn in the spotlight in an excellent POLITICO article at the end of last month.

it’s Susie Wiles’ moment to shine. Image via AP.

Michael Kruse’s take on Susie Wiles leaves no stone unturned in a long-form biographical treatment of the person lauded by no less an authority than Sam Mousa as the most intelligent person he’d ever worked with.

It’s all here: from her upbringing with legendary football star-turned-commentator Pat Summerall to her falling out with Gov. DeSantis … along with plenty of esoterica about her work with former Mayors John Delaney and John Peyton.

There are too many great quotes to highlight here — including her thoughts on the riots of Jan. 6, 2021. But it’s worth a read for sure and should be considered by today’s flaks, consultants and other political hangers-on still learning the ropes. It probably wouldn’t hurt Joe Biden’s inner circle to read it before November either.

Speakerboxx

Heavy hitters from Ballard Partners are helming a fundraiser for Reps. Danny Perez and Sam Garrison, who are the two next Speakers of the Florida House.

Managing Partner Jordan Elsbury and Curry head a host committee that includes City Council President Ron Salem, City Council member Kevin Carrico, and former Democratic City Council member Reggie Gaffney, Sr.

The event will be at the Dalton Agency, Sidebar May 23 at 9 a.m., and checks will be made out to the House Majority Committee.

Cammack’s competition

U.S. Rep. Kat Cammack got more than 85% of the vote when she faced a Primary challenger in 2022. Yet in 2024, a Realtor from Dunnellon hopes to at least run a more competitive race.

Kat Cammack is facing another Primary threat.

Alec Stevens qualified for the Republican Primary in Florida’s 3rd Congressional District this week. While he did not immediately return Florida Politics’ request for comment on Friday morning, he told a local television station back in February that it was his God-given duty to run.

Stevens will need more than a divine imprimatur against Cammack, a former U.S. Rep. Ted Yoho aide with a master’s degree in national defense and strategic studies from the United States Naval War College. Federal Election Commission records show that she closed March with more than $763,000 cash on hand.

Stevens has yet to record financial activity.

The winner of this Primary will face the sole Democrat who qualified, repeat candidate Tom Wells.

A physicist from Gainesville, Wells got roughly a third of the vote in his Primary contest in 2022 against eventual nominee Danielle Hawk. He got the same amount of support in three-way Primary battles in 2018 and 2020.

He has yet to record fundraising this cycle.

Florida’s 3rd Congressional District is built for the GOP. With more than 214,000 Republicans, it has a roughly 60,000-registrant advantage over Democrats.

Rutherford’s gauntlet

Jacksonville’s U.S. Rep. John Rutherford will face a Primary challenge.

If he prevails, he will face a Democrat and a write-in in November. Democrat Jay McGovern qualified Friday.

McGovern has run for office before. In 2016, he lost the Democratic Primary in the old Florida’s 6th Congressional District, where he would have challenged DeSantis if he had won that August. In 2020, he lost a Primary race for state House to a candidate who ended up losing to U.S. Rep. Wyman Duggan.

Repeat candidate Gary Koniz is also running, this time as a write-in.

The district is designed for a Republican win, with more than 250,000 GOP registrants and fewer than 145,000 Democrats.

Meanwhile, to get to the three-way General Election, the former Jacksonville Sheriff has to finish business in the August Primary against a familiar foe.

Mara Macie had filed last year to run again in the Primary in Florida’s 5th Congressional District, which includes Duval and part of St. Johns counties.

Mara Macie will take another shot at the Primary in Florida’s 5th Congressional District.

Macie was one of two Primary challengers to Rutherford in 2022. She was unsuccessful, getting 18% of the vote and finishing in a distant second place, with Rutherford taking 66% in that election. But she’s running again.

The former Sheriff and four-term legislator has every financial advantage along with his incumbency.

Earlier this month, Rutherford reported having raised $507,011 for the 2024 cycle so far, a number boosted by $143,080 brought in during Q1.

Despite having spent $78,443 this quarter and $293,307 thus far this cycle, he still had $504,113 on hand as of the report that covered activity through March 31.

Donors of interest this quarter include the following names and more: Palmer Luckey, the founder of Anduril Industries; defense contractors Boeing, Lockheed Martin and General Dynamics; the National Rifle Association Political Victory Fund; the American Israel Public Affairs Committee; the National Apartment Association; the National Propane Gas Association; and the National Shooting Sports Association.

Sheriff spending

Jacksonville Sheriff T.K. Waters benefited from Gov. DeSantis’ endorsement that cleared the GOP field for him in 2022’s Special Election to fill the unexpired term of a resigned predecessor.

Two years later, the Republican lawman is benefiting from freshly signed legislation giving him more leeway in moving money around his department’s nearly $600 million budget, a measure that gives him the same rights as sheriffs of non-consolidated governments throughout the state.

New legislation is giving a boost to T.K. Waters.

SB 1704, from GOP Sen. Clay Yarborough and GOP Rep. Duggan, would allow a Sheriff, including one of a consolidated city/county government, to move funds “between categories and code levels” without legislative approval after their budget is approved by the legislative body. This independence extends to procurement and personnel issues.

As the Senate made clear when the bill was passed, it is effectively a carve-out for Waters, affirming the intention of previous legislation giving Sheriffs inside consolidated governments the same authority as others. The measure affirms Waters’ authority to move funds without the approval of the City Council after the legislative body approves his budget (which is nearly $600 million this year).

“SB 1704 will significantly enhance our agency’s ability to adapt to the ever-evolving public safety needs of Jacksonville. Thank you to Rep. Duggan, Sen. Yarborough and Gov. DeSantis for their support of this important legislation,” Waters told Florida Politics.

Primrose picked

Speaking of law enforcement, one of the state’s most powerful police unions is backing an attorney for the Rick Scott and DeSantis administrations in his bid for the Florida House.

Tweet, Tweet:

John Kazanjian, President of the Florida Police Benevolent Association said Monday that “with this endorsement, the Florida PBA firmly believes that Nick Primrose’s platform and values align with our mission of protecting and serving the communities of our great state.”

“We will actively encourage our members, their families, friends, and all citizens within District 18 who value public safety and respect the sacrifices of our law enforcement officers to cast their votes in support of Nick Primrose’s candidacy,” Kazanjian added.

Primrose is “incredibly honored to receive the endorsement from the Florida Police Benevolent Association and to have the support of the people that keep our state safe.”

“I am committed to standing with the PBA and our brave law enforcement to ensure we’re delivering comprehensive benefits throughout and beyond their service and giving them the tools necessary to perform their duties in an effective manner. When our officers boldly commit all aspects of their life to the duty of serving their community, it is imperative that we provide safeguards not just for the officers but their families as well, including extending Marsy’s Law protections. I am committed to making change for these brave men and women and to fighting for a safer Florida.”

Third time’s the charm

Voters won’t get to weigh in on the fates of the leading lawyers in the 4th Judicial Circuit for at least four more years.

The qualifying deadline has come and gone, and no candidates have manifested to take on State Attorney Melissa Nelson or Public Defender Charles Cofer.

Charles Cofer and Melissa Nelson glide smoothly into re-election.

Thus, they are both going to serve their third term in office, running through 2028.

The two Republicans, who serve Duval, Nassau and Clay counties, were each elected in 2016. They won Primary races against embattled incumbents Angela Corey and Matt Shirk.

Polling conducted last year by the University of North Florida Public Opinion Research Lab found that Nelson is well above water in terms of popularity, even though the original hue and cry against Corey and various questionable moves that the previous State Attorney made in office has been forgotten by many as time passed. (Corey was so controversial that a number of Democrats switched parties to vote against her back in 2016.)

“Nelson’s job approval is also a net positive, with 31% approving and only 13% disapproving, while 56% either didn’t know or refused” to answer, the pollsters said in September 2023.

With Democrats in Duval, Nelson had 32% approval against 17% disapproval, with 52% not weighing in either way. With Republicans, the numbers were effectively the same: 34% approving, 12% disapproving and 55% not disposed to answering the question. Among no-party and third-party voters, Nelson had 27% approval and 10% disapproval, while 64% didn’t want to venture an opinion either way.

Some say this will be Nelson’s final term, but it’s worth remembering that the original claim was that she would serve just two terms.

Cofer has not been subject to any opinion polling, meanwhile, but his campaign finance suggests he wasn’t expecting any opposition. He lent himself $13,526 just in case but did not fundraise.

Downtown dilemma

Jacksonville’s Downtown has been on the cusp of revitalization for a half-century now, and local leaders are admitting that efforts thus far have not accomplished the desired end.

In a statement Monday, Mayor Donna Deegan affirmed her support for a City Council probe of these efforts, one to be accomplished via a special committee.

Jacksonville’s Downtown has been in redevelopment limbo for a half-century.

“Growing our downtown is a top priority. Since I was first sworn into office, my administration has been working closely with the Downtown Investment Authority to evaluate its current challenges while also celebrating its successes. It is certainly within the purview of the City Council to examine this matter as well. This is an important conversation we should have as a community, and as Mayor, I will continue to emphasize the importance of creating a vibrant downtown for all our citizens to enjoy.”

Council President Ron Salem issued a charge memo Monday for what is being called a Special Committee on the Future of Downtown. The Committee will probe what has happened since the formation of the Downtown Investment Authority in 2012 under the Alvin Brown administration.

The second-term at-large Republican says that some variables, “such as market forces, geopolitical shifts or Mother Nature herself,” are out of the city’s control, but that “the things that the city does have control over, such as Downtown-dedicated resources, time and funds, should be examined.”

Vogtle victory at last

From 6.5% to 13% with the flip of a switch.

That’s the ratio by which Jacksonville’s public utility JEA doubled its nuclear input to its Northeast Florida power grid.

It happened because a long-delayed project finally came online, well after its anticipated completion date in 2022.

Finally, Plant Vogtle trudges into life.

“JEA customers are now receiving carbon-free nuclear energy from Plant Vogtle’s Units 3 and 4 to help power our community. This marks a big step for nuclear energy in our country and a key milestone for JEA as we work toward our clean energy goals,” JEA Interim Managing Director and CEO Vickie Cavey said. “We will continue to diversify our portfolio to provide sustainable and reliable energy.”

Georgia Power, a Peach State utility consortium Jacksonville’s power company partnered with for this new input, is predictably celebratory as well.

“It’s an exciting time to be a Georgian as our state continues to grow and thrive, with new demand for more clean energy each year. The new Vogtle units are a key piece of our strategy to meet the energy needs of our customers not only tomorrow but 20 years from now,” said Kim Greene, CEO of Georgia Power.

“As we mark the completion of the Vogtle 3 & 4 expansion, we’re grateful for the leadership and foresight of the Georgia PSC, as well as the steadfast dedication from all of the project’s co-owners. I’m also so proud of the teams who have worked tirelessly to deliver the first newly constructed nuclear units in the U.S. in more than 30 years — representing a long-term investment that will benefit our customers and the state of Georgia for decades to come.”

Breathe freely

JAXPORT is bringing in the bucks via the Biden administration.

As reported by Jacksonville Today’s Dan Scanlan, the Talleyrand Marine Terminal will get more than $6 million to “replace diesel-powered trucks with electric rigs and high-powered DC fast chargers.”

JAXPORT is enjoying a wave of federal largesse.

The interest is air quality.

Scanlan wrote: “The money comes through the 2021 Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration.”

Pension predicament

What’s $3 billion between friends?

That’s the question posed by Nate Monroe in his recent explication (or should we say vivisection?) of Jacksonville’s unfunded obligations to former employees, one that looms over spending the City Council and Mayor would like to see.

The bills are coming due, the Times-Union columnist notes.

Nate Monroe says the Jacksonville pension bill is coming due.

“The pension debt for Jacksonville police and firefighter retirees is approaching a staggering $3 billion and will require taxpayers to put up about $178 million next year to cover City Hall’s obligations, according to the latest actuarial report provided in the fall to the Police and Fire Pension Fund, record levels of red ink at a time when city officials are nearing a deal to upgrade EverBank Stadium, considering the construction of a new jail and locked in collective bargaining talks with public safety unions over pay and other benefits.”

But what about the ½ cent sales tax that takes effect after Better Jacksonville Plan obligations from decades ago are paid off?

Glad you asked.

Per Monroe: “By 2030, the year the tax is set to begin, the unfunded liability is projected to grow to $3.5 billion and will require City Hall to put up $278 million for its annual contribution — an amount the sales tax is projected to cover only in part, about 37%. So even after the sales tax kicks in, City Hall will have to continue using well north of $100 million out of its general fund to meet its annual payment obligations.”

And the wishlist is long, as “projects on the table are also going to stretch city finances in the coming years: A new jail, for example, which the City Council and Sheriff are eager to move forward on, could cost up to $1 billion, and that would be on top of the hundreds of millions the city will have to commit to a large-scale renovation of EverBank Stadium, a proposal that could be made public in a few weeks. And the federal pandemic aid that left Jacksonville and other city governments around the country flush with cash is running out.”

While pundits and reporters are writing about this issue, it doesn’t seem to concern City Hall for whatever reason. Will the electeds figure it out before things get too dire?

Stay tuned.

Five on it

Cinco De Mayo is also a day for revelry under the Fuller Warren Bridge.

Tweet, tweet:

“Duval De Mayo is happening next Sunday, May 5 from noon until 10 p.m. under the Fuller Warren Bridge. 🙌 This one-day street festival will feature tasty tacos, memorable music and craft cocktails from your favorite local eateries,” per VisitJax.

The event runs from noon to 10 p.m.

The day shift includes live musicians, muralists and a tequila-tasting contest.

But pace yourself.

As the sun goes down, electronic music DJs start spinning their records or equivalents, turning the diurnal rave into a nocturnal rave.

More work for the Jaguars to do?

After a spending spree in free agency and a draft largely based on selecting players with outstanding traits, the Jaguars still have work to do to improve the roster.

Jacksonville entered the offseason with needs at wide receiver, interior offensive line, defensive line and cornerback. While each of those positions was addressed in some form, Jaguars’ general manager Trent Baalke should still look to find veteran contributors in the second phase of free agency.

Trent Baalke hopes to see at least a few new veterans on the roster. Image via USA Today.

Apparently, the Jaguars are not completely satisfied with the wide receiver position. Even after drafting Brian Thomas Jr., the team is reportedly bringing in veteran Jarvis Landry, 31, to take part in the rookie minicamp as a tryout player. Landy did not play in the NFL last season after ending the 2022 season with an ankle injury.

On Tuesday, the team announced the release of wide receiver Zay Jones, which will increase Thomas’ chances for extensive playing time and potentially open up a spot for Landry if he shows he still has the skills that made him a Pro Bowl selection five times.

Another option is former Cincinnati Bengals’ receiver Tyler Boyd who is currently unsigned.

Are the Jaguars set on the defensive line? With new defensive coordinator Ryan Nielsen’s scheme expected to utilize more four-man lines than in the past, the Jaguars figure to trot out a starting unit of Josh Allen and Travon Walker at end and Arik Armstead and DaVon Hamilton at tackle. As interior backups, the Jaguars drafted Maason Smith in the second round and fellow LSU Tiger Jordan Jefferson in the fourth round. Veterans Roy Robertson-Harris, Jeremiah Ledbetter, Adam Gotsis, and Tyler Lacy are also expected to compete for playing time.

The Jaguars have enough bodies on the defensive line, but it remains to be seen if the depth has quality as well. The best available free agent defensive lineman is former Jaguar Calais Campbell, 37, who wants to play another season in the NFL.

The situation is similar at cornerback where the Jaguars used a third-round pick on Florida State’s Jarrian Jones. Where he fits in with Tyson Campbell and free agent signing Ronald Darby remains to be seen. The team has talked about using former Green Bay Packer Darnell Savage, another free agent addition, as a nickel corner so Jones and Darby may wind up competing for playing time as the starting cornerback.

If the Jaguars want to add another veteran to the cornerback room, 33-year-old Stephon Gilmore and Xavien Howard, 30, both former five-time Pro Bowl picks, could bring some veteran savvy to the room.

The Jaguars have over $27 million in effective salary cap space to spend if they want to add a veteran (or two) to the roster. The question is about how Baalke and head coach Doug Pederson see the roster right now.

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