Florida Government and Politics Weekly Update

19 October 2009 Publication
Authors: Robert H. Hosay Thomas J. Maida

Public Policy News Alert

Politics: Rep. Robert Wexler Announces His Resignation From the U.S. Congress, Creating Domino Effect Among Other Officeholders

On October 14, 2009, U.S. Rep. Robert Wexler (D-19th Congressional District) announced that he would resign from Congress effective in January 2010 to become president of the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Middle East Peace and Economic Cooperation. His announcement set off a scramble among other officeholders. The vacancy in the congressional seat will be filled by a special election to be held on a date set by Governor Charlie Crist.

The heavily Democratic 19th District includes most of southeastern Palm Beach County and a portion of northern Broward County.

The first officeholder to announce his candidacy for Rep. Wexler’s seat was state Sen. Ted Deutch (D-Delray Beach), who was first elected to the Senate in 2006. Most of his Senate district is included within Rep. Wexler’s congressional district. Several other Democratic officials have been mentioned as possible candidates, including West Palm Beach Mayor Lois Frankel, Broward County Mayor Stacy Ritter, and former Broward County Commissioner and state legislator Ben Graber.

Possible candidates to replace Sen. Deutch include state Rep. Maria Lorts Sachs (D-Delray Beach) and former state Rep. Irving Slosberg (D-Boca Raton).

Politics: Lt. Gov. Jeff Kottkamp May Face Primary Opposition in His Run for Attorney General
Republican Lt. Gov. Jeff Kottkamp, who entered the race for attorney general in July 2009, reported total campaign contributions of $175,419 during the quarter ending September 30. Many observers considered his fundraising performance weak in comparison to the two Democratic candidates for the office, state Sen. Dan Gelber (D-Miami Beach), who has raised $466,103, and state Sen. Dave Aronberg (D-Greenacres), who has raised $401,311.

Lt. Gov. Kottkamp’s performance lent some credence to the rumors that Florida Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA) Secretary Holly Benson would enter the Republican primary for attorney general. Secretary Benson served from 2000 – 2007 as a member of the state House from Pensacola. On October 15, 2009, a day after meeting with Gov. Crist, Secretary Benson announced her resignation. She did not immediately announce her candidacy, but in an email to AHCA staff she referred to “some opportunities that lie ahead.”

Press reports also have mentioned Rick Baker, the two-term mayor of St. Petersburg, as a potential candidate in a Republican primary.

Economy: Florida Unemployment Reaches 11 Percent in September 2009
The Florida Agency for Workforce Innovation (AWI) announced on October 16, 2009 that the state’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for September 2009 was 11 percent. The September rate was 0.2 percentage point higher than the revised August Florida unemployment rate of 10.8 percent, and 1.2 percentage points higher than the September national unemployment rate of 9.8 percent.

The September rate was the highest since October 1975, when the rate also was 11 percent.

According to the AWI, the industries that have lost the most jobs are: trade, transportation, and utilities; professional and business services; and construction. These three industries account for more than two-thirds of Florida’s job losses. Only the health care sector has seen job growth in Florida since the beginning of 2009.

Counties with the lowest unemployment rates were Liberty County (5.3 percent), Walton County (6.8 percent), Monroe County (7 percent), Alachua and Franklin counties (7.1 percent), and Holmes, Jackson, Lafayette, Leon, Okaloosa, and Wakulla counties (7.2 percent).

Counties with the highest unemployment rates were Hendry County (16.8 percent), Flagler County (16.2 percent), St. Lucie County (15.3 percent), Indian River County (15.2 percent), and Lee County (13.9 percent).

Public Corruption: Gov. Crist Requests Statewide Grand Jury on Crimes by Public Officials
On October 14, 2009, Gov. Charlie Crist requested the Florida Supreme Court to impanel a statewide grand jury on public corruption. If, as expected, the Supreme Court approves the governor’s petition, the grand jury would operate for the next year under the supervision of Statewide Prosecutor Bill Shepherd.

The governor’s action comes after a series of disclosures regarding alleged corruption among public officials and political fundraisers at the local and state levels, including a county commissioner, a school board member, and Alan Mendelsohn, Broward County city commissioner and prominent fundraiser.

Politics: Third-Quarter Campaign Finance Reports Point to Hotly Contested State Senate Races
According to campaign finance reports for the third quarter of 2009, candidates in some of the more hotly contested 2010 state Senate races have already amassed large war chests.

In the Senate, the most heavily funded race appears to be in Senate District 38, where state Reps. David Rivera (R-Miami) and Anitere Flores (R-Miami) are vying to succeed term-limited Sen. J. Alex Villalobos. Through September 30, 2009, Rep. Rivera had raised $732,729, and Rep. Flores had raised $321,765.

Another race that has generated high contribution totals is the Republican primary between state Rep. Kevin Ambler (R-Tampa) and Hillsborough County Commissioner Jim Norman, who seek to replace state Sen. Victor Crist (R-Tampa). Through the end of the quarter, Rep. Ambler had raised $227,925, and Commissioner Norman had raised $345,950.

In the contest to succeed Sen. Alex Diaz de la Portilla, state Rep. Julio Robaina (R-Miami) is opposed by Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, the brother of the outgoing senator and a former Miami-Dade County commissioner. Rep. Robaina has raised $134,635, and Mr. Diaz de la Portilla has raised $312,685.

In North Florida, the most hotly contested race is for Senate District 6, a Tallahassee-based district currently represented by term-limited Sen. Alfred (Al) Lawson, Jr. (D-Tallahassee). The leading candidates are three Democrats from Tallahassee: former state Rep. Loranne Ausley, former school superintendent and current lobbyist Bill Montford, and former state Rep. Curtis Richardson. Through September 30, Ms. Ausley had raised $220,653, Mr. Montford had raised $171,420, and Mr. Richardson had raised $39,925. 

Public Policy News Alert is part of our ongoing commitment to providing up-to-the-minute information about pressing concerns or industry issues affecting our clients and our colleagues. If you have any questions about this alert or would like to discuss these topics further, please contact your Foley attorney or any of the following individuals: 

Marnie George
Tallahassee, Florida

Michael P. Harrell
Tallahassee, Florida

Robert H. Hosay
Tallahassee, Florida

Jonathan P. Kilman
Orlando, Florida

Thomas J. Maida
Tallahassee, Florida

Leonard E. Schulte
Tallahassee, Florida

Marnie George of The George Group assists Foley on a variety of government and public policy matters as a consultant.

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