Sunday, March 29, 2020

Energy Exploration Resurfaces as an Issue in Florida

The issue of offshore drilling and energy exploration off the coasts of Florida is making the rounds again.

Explore Offshore, a bipartisan national coalition led by the American Petroleum Institute, has been holding events in Florida, promoting responsible access to domestic offshore natural gas and oil resources which, they say, will help supply Floridians with affordable energy.

The groups is led by former U.S. VA. Sec. Jim Nicholson, who served in President George W. Bush’s administration, and former U.S. Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va.,  In Florida, the effort is led by state co-chairs, Dr. Miriam Ramirez, who served in the Puerto Rican Senate, and former Lt. Gov. Jeff Kottkamp.

”Our American way of life and the freedoms we enjoy are undoubtedly linked to access to affordable, reliable energy,” Nicholson said.

Nicholson also says 94 percent of America’s offshore energy resources are completely off-limits to natural gas and oil development, preventing hundreds of thousands of American jobs and abundant domestic energy supply and keeping the nation reliant on foreign sources.

The group says they are focusing on several areas with key supporters from Virginia to Florida, insisting that an important part of their promotion is to show how access to offshore energy resources is a key part of the nation’s economic future and national security.

Trying to build momentum for his cause, Kottkamp said they are speaking with local leaders throughout Florida. Kottkamp said looking for oil and natural gas off the coast of Florida could help meet the energy needs of our growing population of more than 20 million residents and 110 million annual visitors.

Ramirez insisted energy exploration and tourism can coexist in the Sunshine State. “We cannot take access to reliable, affordable energy for granted,” said Ramirez.

Florida Petroleum Council Director David Mica, who has advocated for offshore exploration for several years, said that Florida has all options available for boosting job creation and its economic and energy future.

Mica’s group noted Florida is the nation’s third largest consumer of motor fuels and third largest consumer of electricity. It also pointed two-thirds of Florida’s net electricity generation is fueled by natural gas – almost all of which is imported from other states.

Oil and gas experts tell Florida Daily that the industry supports 10.3 million U.S. jobs and nearly 8 percent of the U.S. economy.

For Florida, offshore development in the federal waters could create more than 56,000 jobs by 2035 and could result in more than $2.6 billion annually in state revenues.

 

Contact Ed at Ed.Dean@FloridaDaily.com

Florida Continues to Boast a Strong Economy

On Friday, Gov. Rick Scott and the Department of Economic Opportunity released the monthly jobs report the Sunshine State as the unemployment rate dropped to 3.7 percent in July, down .1 percent from June.

This is the lowest the state unemployment rate has been in more than a decade. The last time the rate was this low was back in April 2007.

Florida also received some more good news when it was compared to other states. In a new study from GOBankingRates listing the best and worst states for middle-class Americans, Florida placed third. South Dakota was ranked as the best state.

Researchers said Florida cracked the top three for several reasons including the lack of a state income tax which, they noted, is great for the middle class.

The report also showed that, as of 2014, the average resident considered to be a part of the middle class was earning about $70,100.

Another winning ticket for Florida was the cost of higher education. The study noted that in-state college tuition costs $6,360, on average, down 4 percent over the past five years.

Over the summer, Florida Atlantic University (FAU) released a poll where voters said the top issue in Florida was the economy which could benefit Scott. When Scott took over in Tallahassee at the start of 2011, the unemployment rate in Florida was well over 10 percent.

Two out of three voters said Florida is moving in the right direction, while about 37 percent said the state is on the wrong track. Republicans and voters outside the major parties were more likely to say the state was on the right track. However, the poll showed that 51 percent of Florida Democrats said the state was moving in the wrong direction.

 

Contact Ed at Ed.Dean@FloridaDaily.com

Gas Prices Drop in Florida But AAA Warns of Potential Rise for Labor Day

With summer nearing its end, gas prices in the nation and across the Sunshine State are starting to drop though they are still 50 cents more per gallon than this time last year.

AAA released a study on Monday morning showing gas prices have dropped overt the past week. In Florida on Sunday, the average gallon of gas cost $2.77, down five cents from the week before. At this time last year, the average gallon of gas in Florida cost $2.25.

Florida is under the national average of $2.84 per gallon, down two cents from the start of last week. At this time last year, the national average for a gallon of cost $2.31.

Mark Jenkins, a spokesman for AAA and the Auto Club Group, weighed in Monday over the drop in gas prices over the past week.

“Prices declined last week after crude inventories grew and gasoline supplies remained stable, despite strong demand,”Jenkins said. “Although demand was higher than the week before, it remains below most of July. Summer driving season is winding down, yet many Americans will take one final road trip during Labor Day weekend. The sudden jump in gasoline demand, could cause one final bump in prices at the pump.”

As usual, the West Palm Beach – Boca Raton market and cities on the Panhandle had the most expensive gas in the Sunshine State. In both Panama City and the West Palm Beach – Boca Raton area, the average gallon of gas cost $2.86 followed by the Crestview-Fort Walton Beach market where prices averaged $2.84 per gallon.

The Fort Myers-Cape Coral area had the least expensive gas in Florida with prices averaging $2.69 per gallon followed by Punta Gorda with an average of $2.72 per gallon and Orlando with prices at $2.73 per gallon on average.

 

Kevin Derby can be reached at Kevin.Derby@floridadaily.com.

Bernie Sanders Tries to Rally Florida Democrats Behind Andrew Gillum

Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum showed off his biggest endorsement in the race to be the Democratic nominee for governor, bringing U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. to the University of Cental Florida to rev up crowds as early voting continues in the Sunshine State.

The crowd was not huge as an estimated 400 showed up to hear Gillum and Sanders speak but enthusiasm was high. Several high profile Democrats spoke to the crowd, which was divided almost evenly between students and other supporters, including Orlando Commissioner Regina Hill, Orange County Commissioner Emily Bonilla and state Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, D-Winter Park, fresh out of the hospital after having surgery for appendicitis.

State Attorney Aramis Ayala was greeted with huge cheers and she told this crowd exactly what they wanted to hear.

“For us to have progressive things, we must put progressive candidates forward,” she said.

Gillum took the stage to hip hop music, a clear indication of his status as a younger Democrat. He also made it clear he is the only non-millionaire running for the Democratic nomination for governor.

“I’m not intimidated by it because people vote, money doesn’t. If you vote, we can win,” he said.

The Tallahassee mayor got roars from the crowd when he called UCF the national champions, a reference to their undefeated football season last year, and when he talked about how important the youth vote would be to him in the Democratic primary.

“Some of my opponents believe you won’t show up to vote,” Gillum said. “I believe there will be a surge of voters across the state who say ‘enough is enough.’”

Gillum called the algae blooms plaguing South Florida guacamole and blamed the problem on allowing companies to run roughshod over the state. He also rattled off a list of things that would be different once he became governor, including allowing felons to vote once they had served their sentences and returned to society. Gillum added felons should also be able to make a wage high enough to support themselves and their families once they were free.

The Tallahassee mayor called health-care a human right and said he supported lower prices for medicine. Gillum got a large round of applause when he said that Florida would never be a “show me your papers” state, a reference to the fight against illegal immigration and the tough stance Republicans running for governor have taken on the matter. As he wrapped up the litany of things progressives support, including a $15 per hour minimum wage and allowing women to make their own reproductive decisions, Gillum had kind words for Sanders.

“I’m glad to have Bernie Sanders here because Lord knows he can draw a crowd,” Gillum said. “I’m honored to have his support because he’s been fighting this progressive fight across the country for decades.”

The loudest cheers of the day were saved for when Sanders took the stage and the former presidential candidate immediately tore into the existing conditions in the Sunshine State.

“I’ve only been in Florida for 16 hours, but I already know that this state needs a political revolution and you’ve got a candidate in Andrew Gillum who is going to lead that revolution,” Sanders said.

The Vermont senator touched on many of the themes he embraced when he ran on for president, including free college tuition for all, citing New York University’s Medical School for recently adopting that idea. Sanders also focused on health-care, specifically calling for Medicare for everyone in the United States, calling it “insane” that we have the highest drug prices in the world.

“We have got to end the international embarrassment of being the only country not to guarantee health-care as a right,” Sanders said. “Insurance companies and drug companies are nervous about Andrew Gillum because he knows health-care is a right, not a privilege. It is insane to live in a country with 30 million people with no health insurance and many millions more who are underinsured.”

While Donald Trump has been the main topic in the Republican gubernatorial primary, his name was hardly mentioned by Sanders. To a chorus of boos, Sanders painted Trump as someone who is trying to divide the nation on the basis of skin color, country of origin, and sexual orientation.

Gillum is running in a crowded Democratic primary with former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, D-Fla., businessmen Chris King and Jeff Greene, and former Miami Beach Mayor Phillip Levine. The primary will be held on August 28.

 

Reach Mike Synan at Mike.Synan@floridadaily.com.

 

Questions About Indian River County School Board Candidate are Raising Some Red Flags

Indian River County District 2 School Board candidate Jackie Rosario’s present and past causing concern among local voters.

Rosario’s website notes that one of her top priorities is to be fiscally responsible when it comes to setting policies and procedures.

Rosario, a former teacher and assistant principal says she has school building budgets experience that none of her opponents have.

“I’ve created initiatives in schools, and has had oversight, in part, with million-dollar school budgets,” says Rosario.

But, when asked at local candidate forums, Rosario didn’t get into specifics about her budget initiatives. Her website also doesn’t list any specifics about past budget experience.

Critics claim Rosario just looking for a paycheck. A school board member in Indian River County gets an annual salary of $33,333 for their part time responsibilities. Benefits also include 96 percent of health insurance premiums paid by the school district plus being included in the Florida Retirement System. The total each year is around $40,000 from the local taxpayers. On her Form 6 candidate financial disclosure paperwork, Rosario didn’t list any income.

Rosario has made her experience as an Assistant Principal in New York, St. Lucie, and Indian River County, a focal point in her campaign. At the Indian River County Tax Payer’s Association candidate forum on August 15, Rosario told the audience she left Storm Grove Middle School for health reasons. But Public Records Requests made to Indian River and Saint Lucie Public School districts yield some different information.

Rosario failed to mention on May 15, 2013 she was notified that her contract would not be renewed. On March 11, 2013, a breach in security at Storm Grove Middle School was reported to the principal. According to the findings, students were given possession of sensitive testing documents by Rosario who tasked them with doing her work.

Rosario was warned that “students cannot be in possession of testing materials at any time,” by the school principal Jennifer Idlette-Williams.

Rosario was in violation of a rule that met requirement of the Test Security Statute, s. 1008.24,F.S.

The rule prohibits activities that may threaten the integrity of the test. This action could result in student or classroom invalidations and even loss of teaching certification.

Because of Rosario’s action, she was reprimanded by the school principal.

That same year, a job performance evaluation issued gave Rosario a final score of 2 out of 4 possible points. The Rating Rubric indicates that an employee with this score “Needs Improvement.” In a write-up she was referred to as “incompetent”. Later, the principal and school district issued a letter of non-renewal. Rosario would not be allowed another year as assistant principal at Storm Grove Middle School (SGMS).

One teacher told Florida Daily that when a school employee takes medical leave, the understanding is that they may return to the job after the leave is complete. However, Rosario only took her leave after being reprimanded for a catastrophic mishandling of secure testing documents.

At a recent Communication Workers of America (CWA) Union meeting, Rosario was asked about her time at SGMS. She indicated that she was “bullied” by her supervisor.

On social media, some local teachers and principals state Rosario would be disastrous for the school district.

Teacher Shana Price Nathaniel said on her Facebook page that “Rosario use to work at SGMS, and anyone who has worked with this lady knows her character. If this lady gets this position we are going to be in more of a mess than what we are in now. I am asking all teachers to please not support this lady. She was reported to District Office on many occasions. As well as other things she has done.”

Cheryl Denham Conley, a former elementary assistant principal in Indian River County and Florida’s teacher of the year in 2011, was on the same page. “ No, no, no! This (Rosario) would be bad for the district, teachers, and most importantly, students! No way!”

Florida Daily reached out to Rosario and she did not respond.

 

Contact Ed at Ed.Dean@FloridaDaily.com

Marco Rubio Tries to Rally Republicans for November

marco rubio

Despite losing to Donald Trump in the Republican presidential primaries in 2016, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., continues to remain active at the national level trying to help Republican candidates across the nation as they ready for November.

Last week, Rubio took to the stump in Michigan to campaign for John James, a businessman and veteran who is the Republican nominee challenging U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., in November. Most experts consider Stabenow to be a very heavy favorite over James.

“Earlier this week, I was in Michigan campaigning with John James, our Republican nominee for US Senate there,” Rubio noted on Friday. “He’s got an amazing story and I was proud to endorse him early on in his campaign. His victory gives us a real shot at winning that seat this November – in a state that President Trump won.”

Earlier in the week, Rubio tried to rally Republicans for the November elections, ripping billionaire Tom Steyer’s latest effort to dislodge the GOP majority on Capitol Hill.

“I hate to be an alarmist, but we have a real problem on our hands,” Rubio insisted on Tuesday. “The election is less than 100 days away, and Democrats’ have a real shot at taking over the Senate. If it wasn’t enough that they’ve spent the last two years plotting and fundraising, I just learned that ultra-liberal activist and billionaire Tom Steyer is pitching in $10 million to help the Left decimate our GOP majorities.

“Democrats and their big money donors like Tom Steyer are prepared to spend whatever it takes to try and buy their way to the Senate majority,” Rubio added.  “If we lose our Senate majority Democrats will have the power to force their radical agenda on the Americans who overwhelmingly rejected it in 2016- Obamacare, open borders, tax hikes, and impeachment.

“We’ve made incredible progress implementing our conservative agenda, and this election will determine whether our agenda is amplified or obliterated,” Rubio continued. “Democrats have proven there’s no limit to how much they’re willing to spend to politically hinder and personally embarrass Republicans, and my vocal refusal to play their games has made me a target. The Left knows I can’t be bribed or bullied into supporting their political circus, and if they retake the Senate majority, they will do everything in their power to silence me and the conservative agenda I stand for.”

 

Kevin Derby can be reached at Kevin.Derby@floridadaily.com.

USDA Helps Welding Program in Hendry County Schools

Hendry County has the highest unemployment rate in Florida but the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) hopes to ensure public schools there can offer skills for the workplace.

Last week, the USDA awarded a $196,000 Rural Business Development Grant to help the Hendry County School District’s welding program.

“This Rural Development investment will be used to provide welding equipment to assist the Hendry County School District Workforce Development department in Clewiston, Fl. The welding program was created 7 years ago in an effort to assist individuals and rural small businesses with job creation and retention,” the USDA announced. “The welding program is in serious need for new equipment to further the program and to continue with economic development.”

From his seat on the U.S. House Appropriations Committee, U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., applauded the news and thanked U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue for his assistance.

“I am pleased the Hendry County School District was awarded this USDA grant that will provide new welding equipment for its Workforce Development department,” Diaz-Balart said on Thursday. Their welding program, which was created seven years ago, has been a key tool for both individuals seeking specialized training and the small businesses looking to employ workers of that trade. I thank Secretary Perdue for recognizing this need, helping to upgrade the school district’s outdated welding equipment. I look forward to continue supporting these grants that help our community, its entrepreneurs, and Southern Florida’s job market.”

In recent months, Hendry County has had the highest unemployment rate in the Sunshine State. On Friday, Gov. Rick Scott, R-Fla., announced the state had a 3.7 percent unemployment rate in July but Hendry County’s rate stood at 8.7 percent. That was easily the highest rate in the state with Hardee County next at 6.8 percent and Highlands County at 5.8 percent.

 

Kevin Derby can be reached at Kevin.Derby@floridadaily.com.

Rick Scott Reappoints Two Members of the PSC

Rick Scott

With only a few months left in his second and final term in Tallahassee, Gov. Rick Scott’s influence will be felt in the years to come as he decided to keep two members of the Public Service Commission (PSC).

On Friday, Scott reappointed PSC Commissioners Julie Brown and Gary Clark. The PSC regulates private utility companies–including electric, gas and water–across the Sunshine State.

Scott named Clark to the PSC last September, picking him to fill an unexpired term. Before working for the PSC, Clark was with West Florida Electric, rising to serve as VP of member services. Clark also worked in Tallahassee as Deputy Secretary of Land and Recreation for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. He also served on the Washington County School Board member and on the Northwest Florida Water Management District Governing Board. Clark’s new term will start on January 2 and he will serve until January 1, 2023.

Brown has been on the PSC since 2011. Before that, she worked as a counsel for First American Title Insurance Company and was an assistant attorney in the city of Tampa Attorney’s Office. Like Clark, her new term will start on January 2 and will end January 1, 2023.

Assuming none of the current five members resign their spots, no spots on the PSC will be open until the start of 2021 when Donald Polmann’s term expires. The other two members of the PSC–Chairman Art Graham and Andrew Fay–will have their terms expire at the start of 2022.

Facing term limits, Scott is currently running for the Republican nomination to challenge U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., in November. Scott is expected to easily win the Republican primary later this month.

 

Kevin Derby can be reached at Kevin.Derby@floridadaily.com.

Republicans and Democrats Alike Act Like Ron DeSantis Will Win GOP Primary

With the Republican gubernatorial primary drawing close, U.S. Rep/ Ron DeSantis, R-Fla. who has President Donald Trump’s endorsement, increasingly looks like the favorite over state Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.

DeSantis continues to reel in the support of prominent Republicans across Florida with Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, who used to lead the state GOP, backing him. So is  state Senator Debbie Mayfield, one of the most prominent opponents of Common Core in Tallahassee. State Representative Randy Fine also endorsed DeSantis in recent days.

Praising the congressman as a “good conservative,” Curry threw his support behind DeSantis on Thursday, WJCT reported.

“I’ve been about disrupting the status quo locally, and I think that that’s what’s got to happen everywhere, and Ron’s going to disrupt the status quo as the governor of the state of Florida and I’m supporting him, voting for him and encouraging folks to get out and vote in the primary,” Curry said.

Another sign DeSantis is the favorite in the primary on August 28 comes from the other side of the aisle. Trying to catch former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, D-Fla., in the Democratic primary, former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine is calling out DeSantis in two new TV spots where he tries to connect the Republican congressman to Trump.

“More than 100 times Philip Levine has taken on Donald Trump,” the narrator of an ad Levine released on Thursday says. “To defend our environment from climate change, our schools from violence, and Floridians from the hatred Trump peddles for a living. Now the fight turns to Florida, where Trump and DeSantis know Philip Levine will take them on.  For better wages, safer schools, and to protect the state we love, Philip Levine has the strength and willpower to win this fight.”

In an ad released on Friday, Levine himself calls out DeSantis.

“Florida’s future is on the line. We cannot have drilling, because this can happen again,” Levine says in the ad. “Our schools need help and so do our teachers. If we don’t expand Medicaid, women and children will suffer. Florida needs stronger gun laws and we have to stop the hatred that’s tearing us apart. If Trump and DeSantis win, nothing will change. If we do—we take back our state.”

DeSantis leads Putnam in the polls with most of them showing him solidly in control.

 

Matt Caldwell Backed by Gold Star Mother, Author Karen Vaughn

This week, Karen Vaughn, the mother of fallen US Navy SEAL Aaron Carson Vaughn, backed state Rep. Matt Caldwell, R-Lehigh Acres, to be Florida’s next commissioner of agriculture.

Vaughn, a speaker and the author of the bestseller “World Changer: A Mother’s Story,” stressed Cadwell’s conservatism as she backed him. Vaughn’s son was killed in action in Afghanistan back in 2011.

“I am proud to endorse Matt Caldwell to serve as Florida’s next commissioner of agriculture,” Vaughn said on Thursday. “He is a constitutional conservative , a seventh generation Floridian, and has spent the last eight years as a member of the Florida house fighting for our conservative principles. His proven track record verifies he will continue to work to protect Florida agricultural jobs and grow our economy. I urge all Florida voters to cast their ballot for Matt Caldwell in August and November.”

“I am grateful for Karen’s endorsement,” Caldwell said. “Our country has become the great nation it is today thanks to the selfless sacrifice of our veterans and their families. As your agricultural commissioner, I promise to ensure the Florida Department of Agriculture will serve and protect our veterans. I will protect a veterans’ right to own and purchase a firearm, I will ensure veterans get the services they deserve, and I will fight for our freedoms.”

With the Republican primary looming in less than two weeks, Caldwell is facing state Sen. Denise Grimsley, R-Lake Placid, and former state Rep. Baxter Troutman. The primary will be held on Tuesday, August 28 and early voting has begun in many parts of the state.