TALLAHASSEE — Slinging possums, eating corn dogs and navigating putrid waters — all in the dog days of summer — are just a few of the extremes Florida candidates are going to as they try to emerge victorious at the ballot box.
The weeks leading up to elections are sometimes known as the “silly season,” but on numerous fronts in the Sunshine State, “the nasty season” seems a more fitting label.
In their final debate before the Aug. 28 Republican gubernatorial primary, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis jabbed early and often in an hour-long exchange Wednesday.
Putnam, the “establishment candidate” whose ascension to the governor’s office not long ago was considered inevitable, pulled out a pocketful of one-liners during the debate, often tweaking DeSantis for President Donald Trump’s endorsement of the Northeast Florida congressman.
“You’re running on an endorsement,” scoffed Putnam, who also derided DeSantis as “the Seinfeld candidate.” DeSantis, who has ridden Trump’s endorsement to a commanding lead in the race, accused Putnam of being “the errand boy for U.S. Sugar,” among other barbs.
Things got even uglier this week in the matchup between U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, a Democrat, and supporters of Gov. Rick Scott, the Republican trying to oust the long-serving senator.
In a news release titled “Bill Nelson Tragically Forced to Admit His Memory Is Failing,” the Senate Leadership Fund, a Republican super PAC, on Wednesday attacked Nelson for saying a day earlier that he couldn’t recall a 2010 letter he wrote about delaying the implementation of water-quality standards.
“It’s time for Bill Nelson’s caretakers to keep better tabs on the Senator’s whereabouts and public statements so that he is not embarrassed into admitting he’s no longer dealing from a full deck,” Senate Leadership Fund spokesman Chris Pack said in a news release.
Nelson’s campaign didn’t directly respond to the accusations about senility but instead blamed Scott for toxic algae blooms spreading on both sides of the Florida peninsula, calling the news release “a desperate attempt to distract from Rick Scott’s record of cuts and deregulation that helped create this toxic algae crisis.”
A day earlier, the 75-year-old Nelson bowed up when asked about the not-so-subtle inferences from his 65-year-old opponent’s campaign that the senator is past his sell-by date.
“Any time he wants to have a contest about push-ups or pull-ups, and we’ll see who is not up to it,” Nelson challenged Scott.
Down ticket on the Democratic side, relations for the most part had been relatively cordial, until the advent of Palm Beach billionaire Jeff Greene. Greene, who made his fortune as a developer, is spewing venom at former Congresswoman Gwen Graham over her family’s involvement in the “American Dream” mega-mall project, which is opposed by environmentalists, in South Florida.
Graham’s father, Bob Graham, earned the admiration of enviros and Floridians during his tenures as governor and U.S. senator for his work to protect Florida’s natural resources.
Gwen Graham, the frontrunner in the Democratic gubernatorial primary, released an ad accusing an unnamed “billionaire opponent” of “attacking me personally, even falsely attacking my dad, Bob Graham.”
Responding to the ad, Greene retorted: “Gwen Graham is no Bob Graham.”
Then, late Thursday, CBS Miami’s Jim DeFede dropped what some considered a bombshell. DeFede reported that Greene once slapped a former waitress on the arm because the music was playing too loud at Greene’s Omphoy Beach Resort, now called Tideline Ocean Resort and Spa.
According to a police report filed a few weeks after the Dec. 28, 2012, incident, waitress Lisa Ann Thomas complained that Greene “smacked me on the arm” and asked her to turn down the music. She told police she was “very offended” by Greene’s behavior and subsequently quit her job, but Thomas didn’t press charges.
“As can be read in the police report, this is simply a case of an employee having a bad day,” Greene spokeswoman Claire VanSusteren said in a press release.
The news of the 5-year-old incident — and Greene’s response — quickly sparked outrage among some supporters of Graham, the only woman in the crowded Democratic field. The National Organization for Women, which hasn’t endorsed Graham, issued a statement demanding that Greene step out of the race.
“This type of assault is rooted in power imbalance, and so it’s unfortunately not surprising that a billionaire like Jeff Greene victimized a female employee. It was incredibly brave of her to report the assault, and we stand with her,” NOW Florida president Terry Sanders said.
VanSusteren blasted back with a statement accusing NOW of choosing to “play politics with the critically important #MeToo movement” and accusing Sanders of retaliating against Greene for criticizing Graham’s environmental record.
WHO WOULD KRAMER SUPPORT?
Putnam, a two-term Cabinet member and former member of Congress, accused DeSantis, a three-term member of Congress, of running a campaign light on Florida issues.
Putnam mocked DeSantis — who has appeared frequently on Fox News — for relying heavily on his endorsement from Trump, likening the congressman’s campaign to the “Seinfeld” sit-com.
“The campaign is being run out of studio. They have a smattering of celebrity guest appearances. And at the end of the day, it’s all about nothing. But unlike Seinfeld, it’s not funny,” Putnam said. “Floridians deserved better than a candidate who makes it all about himself and not about the future of Florida.”
But DeSantis struck back at Putnam, noting the agriculture commissioner has spent his entire adulthood in political office and had accused Trump of being “vile” and “obscene” for sexual comments reported during the 2016 presidential campaign. He also noted Putnam did not campaign for Trump.
“No one knew where he was during the campaign. Now he acts like he is this big supporter?” DeSantis said. “This is inauthentic. This is a career politician trying to tell you what you want to see, not coming from the heart. He’s already proven he will say and do anything in terms of millions of dollars in fake ads to get elected. It’s not working. But that’s what he’s willing to do.”
Putnam shot back that DeSantis has run for three offices — an abandoned U.S. Senate bid, a congressional election and governor — since 2015.
“He’s run for three offices in three years. That’s a career politician with ADD,” Putnam said.
NO MORE REEFER MADNESS
There’ve been plenty of developments on the pot front recently, including the announcement that William “Beau” Wrigley, the heir to the chewing gum dynasty, led a $65 million investment in Surterra Wellness, one of Florida’s 14 licensed medical marijuana operators.
Meanwhile, a Tallahassee judge found a law limiting the number of medical marijuana operators in Florida runs afoul of a constitutional amendment approved by voters two years ago.
A cap on the number of “medical marijuana treatment centers,” as they are known in Florida law, “directly contradicts the amendment,” Leon County Circuit Judge Charles Dodson ruled in an eight-page order.
“Such limits directly undermine the clear intent of the amendment, which by its language seeks to prevent arbitrary restriction on the number of MMTCs authorized to conduct business in the state. The amendment mandates the availability and safe use of medical marijuana by qualifying patients,” Dodson wrote.
Dodson’s ruling, however, isn’t likely to have an immediate impact on the state’s medical marijuana industry as health officials move forward with a planned workshop Aug. 17 to take input on the process to award five new licenses.
In a separate blow to state health officials, an administrative law judge sided with an orchid grower that wants to get into the medical-marijuana business, rejecting a proposed state rule that was designed to help award up to two potentially lucrative marijuana licenses.
STORY OF THE WEEK: U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, Republicans vying to succeed Gov. Rick Scott, faced off in their second and final debate before the Aug. 28 primary election.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “We know that it wasn’t an amazing year. We know that it wasn’t the best year for Broward schools.” — April Schentrup, whose 16-year-old daughter, Carmen, was among the 14 students and 3 faculty members slain at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland on Feb. 14. Schentrup was responding to Broward County School Board member Donna Korn, who called the 2017-2018 academic year “one of the best for the county.”