TALLAHASSEE — Florida continues to heat up, despite daily rains that have renewed discharges from polluted Lake Okeechobee into algae-filled waters on both coasts.
But the rising temperatures are more the verbal kind, as political candidates and organizations try to scorch their opponents.
A little more than a month remains until the Aug. 28 primary elections, but voters will begin casting mail-in ballots long before then, which is why candidates are ratcheting up efforts — at times with over-the-top disparaging hyperbole — to differentiate themselves from other, mostly like-minded candidates.
Democrats gubernatorial candidates once again took the stage this week for a debate, while one of President Donald Trump’s sons made an appearance on the campaign trail for Republican candidate Ron DeSantis.
Off the trail, state transportation officials, playing catch-up in processing tolls over the past month, have halted payments to a company upgrading the SunPass toll-collection system as they continue to address the problem-plagued $287 million project.
In the courts this week, a lawyer for Gov. Rick Scott asked a state appellate court to block a lawsuit seeking to force the governor to disclose more of his financial assets. Also, the League of Women Voters of Florida told a federal judge the state incorrectly blocked on-campus early voting sites, and a federal appeals court cleared the way for considering whether two teens can remain anonymous in a National Rifle Association challenge to a new Florida gun law.
Meanwhile, legislative leaders were back in Tallahassee adding dollars to the budget for election security, citrus-farmer hurricane relief, homeless programs and the Office of Medical Marijuana Use, all less than a month after the fiscal year got underway.
THE HUNT FOR THE GOVERNOR’S MANSION
Floridians are watching two competitive gubernatorial primaries that are being conducted in different manners.
On the Republican side, DeSantis is hoping to complete a Scott-2010-style upset of the establishment favorite, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam. That would be similar to what Scott did to former Attorney General Bill McCollum.
DeSantis has tried to paint his opponent as a career politician and has been aided as Putnam faces widespread scrutiny for his agency’s handling of the state’s concealed-weapons licensing process. However, potentially the biggest difference in the race was on display this week.
DeSantis held a campaign event and a fundraiser in the Orlando area with Donald Trump Jr., while avoiding a potential joint appearance with Putnam in the GOP stronghold of The Villages.
Putnam has fought back by slamming DeSantis, a frequent guest on Fox News, for campaigning from a TV studio in Washington. But momentum has appeared to swing toward DeSantis, who has already pocketed potentially the biggest get in the primary battle: the endorsement of Donald Trump Jr’s father.
Meanwhile, the Democratic candidates debated Wednesday at Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers and showcased few major policy differences. Instead, they relied on issues of gender, race and degrees of opposition to President Trump — oh, and for some, lots and lots of money — to ingratiate themselves to their party’s base.
Former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham appeared in a hot-pink blazer to offer a striking contrast to her dark-suited male opponents, called herself a “mom” who once worked for a school district and emphasized her strength as a mediator in a Republican-dominated Congress.
Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum used African-American icons Martin Luther King Jr. and former President Barack Obama to set the stage for a history-making victory that would make him Florida’s first black governor.
Former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine boasted of accomplishments as an elected official, where he dealt with climate change, passed an ordinance to raise the minimum wage, created inroads for the LGBTQ community and reformed the police department.
“I’m not somebody that just talks about things. I actually get them done,” Levine said.
And Orlando-area entrepreneur Chris King continued to portray himself as a progressive vying for a new generation of voters among candidates who “have to win the contest of ideas.”
One of the biggest differences from prior Democratic debates was that the event included Palm Beach billionaire Jeff Greene, who entered the contest after a second debate had already been set up last month.
Greene, who lives next door to Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort, made a point of noting he hasn’t been afraid to take on his island neighbor when asked how he would work with the president.
“The problem is we haven’t had anyone who can get the message out and to fight these Republicans dollar-for-dollar, toe-for-toe-for-toe,” Greene said. “I am committed to do that. I will put up my own money to get out there and fight these Republicans and I will back up the down-ticket races that will turn Florida blue.”
Greene in recent weeks has dumped at least $9.6 million of his own money into the contest.
Of course, Greene’s self-funding has a long way to reach the $13.5 million Scott has put up for his U.S. Senate campaign, which means the governor has spent nearly $100 million of his own money for three statewide contests starting in 2010.
ON THE MOVE AT FSU
Florida State University joined a number of communities across the state in revisiting its past and not liking all that it found.
On Tuesday, FSU President John Thrasher announced that a statue of Francis Eppes, a grandson of founding father Thomas Jefferson, would be relocated from the university’s Legacy Walk, where it has been since 2002. Thursday night, the move took place.
“Our history is not without its flaws, nor were some of the people who contributed to the growth of this pre-eminent institution,” Thrasher wrote in a letter to the FSU community. “How we choose to acknowledge that truth is important.”
Eppes has drawn criticism as a former slave owner and justice of the peace who helped capture escaped slaves. Thrasher’s decision came after a 15-member committee created last fall called for the statue’s relocation from its prominent position near the eastern entrance to the campus next to the main administration building.
The committee noted Eppes’ role in developing the institution that later became FSU. However, the committee said that describing him as the school’s “founder” was overstated.
However, Thrasher went against the committee’s recommendation to remove Eppes’ name from a century-old building that houses the College of Criminology and Criminal Justice.
Instead, Thrasher decided to add a marker at the building to more fully explain Eppes’ biography. The building was the fifth erected on the campus of the then-Florida State College of Women.
Thrasher also decided to ask the Legislature to remove former state Supreme Court Justice B.K. Roberts’ name from a law-school building.
Thrasher, a former House speaker and lawyer, cited Roberts’ role as a member of the Florida Supreme Court in backing pro-segregation opinions in the 1950s, including a decision defying a U.S. Supreme Court order to admit a black student to the University of Florida law school.
“To keep the name of B.K. Roberts on the law school building would continue to honor someone whose decisions and actions do not reflect Florida State University’s values or the rule of law,” Thrasher wrote.
The committee was created to review campus building names, statues and other memorials and to review the process of naming future buildings.
STORY OF THE WEEK: The five Democratic candidates for governor squared off in the next-to-last debate before the Aug. 28 primary election.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “I think many of us, on a bipartisan basis, are frustrated by the pace that the law has been implemented. The law itself works and is a solid piece of legislation. The implementation has not proceeded as quickly as many of us would like.” — Senate Appropriations Chairman Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, discussing problems in the state’s handling of the medical-marijuana industry.