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Parrotheads and lawsuits: The week in Florida politics

August 18, 2018

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Florida’s 2018 midterm election is one of the most important in years. The governor’s office and all three Cabinet seats are on the ballot; Republican Gov. Rick Scott is challenging three-term Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson; several congressional seats will be competitive; and Floridians will vote on 13 proposed constitutional amendments, ranging from property tax cuts to banning greyhound racing. The following are items of political interest from the past week:

THE PARROTHEAD VOTE

Singer Jimmy Buffett is endorsing former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham for governor.

That shouldn’t be too surprising. The iconic Florida entertainer and businessman has had some history with the Graham family. He performed a concert for her during her 2014 run for Congress, and in 1985 he joined Graham’s father, then-Gov. Bob Graham, at the Capitol Press Corps’ annual skits, where they sang two songs.

Buffett will also perform a concert in South Florida next week, just ahead of the Aug. 28 primary.

SUE ME? I’LL SUE YOU!

The Democratic candidates for attorney general are getting in some warm ups in case they get elected — by suing each other.

State Rep. Sean Shaw filed a lawsuit last month in an effort to get primary opponent Ryan Torrens kicked off the ballot, claiming Torrens relied on an illegal contribution in order to have enough money to pay the $7,738 qualifying fee. The lawsuit asserts that Torrens improperly characterized a $4,000 check as a loan in order to bypass the $3,000 limit for statewide candidates.

Now this week Torrens countersued Shaw for libel.

“By erroneously raising these false claims, my opponent falsely and frivolously challenged my integrity, as a professional and as someone aspiring to public office,” Torrens said in a press release announcing the suit.

GONNA FLY NOW?

During a meeting with Democratic activists this week, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson was questioned about the heavy barrage of television ads that Gov. Rick Scott and his allies have already run this election year.

Nelson, citing the Rocky film franchise which began with the Oscar-winning film in 1976, acknowledged that he has been outspent dramatically so far.

“I almost feel like Rocky Balboa,” said Nelson. “Because remember he gets in the ring and he has to take punch after punch after punch.”

Nelson pointed out that Scott has more money than he does because he is a multimillionaire. But he countered that even with the ads it was still “a tight race.”

He added that he was recently filming his own television ads that would soon find their way to television screens.

“I of course am saving my nickels and dimes until I see the whites of their eyes,” Nelson said.

TAKING IT TO THE COURTS

The line of lawsuits challenging constitutional amendments keeps growing.

This past week former Florida Supreme Court Justice Harry Lee Anstead asked the state’s highest court to remove six amendments placed on the November ballot by the Constitution Revision Commission.

The lawsuit filed directly with the Supreme Court contends that the commission improperly combined separate items into one amendment in an attempt to get voters to support them. The lawsuit also asserts that three amendments are misleading as well.

Anstead’s lawsuit comes amid a flurry of other lawsuits challenging several amendments approved by the commission. The commission meets every 20 years and has the power to place amendments directly before voters. They must be approved by 60 percent of voters in order to pass.

On Friday, lawyers squared off in a Leon County courtroom over an education amendment that if approved would make it easier for charter schools to be approved without approval from local school boards.

Ron Meyer, an attorney representing the League of Women Voters, argued the measure is confusing and does not clearly tell voters how it would work. Blaine Winship, who represented state election officials, contended it was an easily understood “constitutional fix” that came in the wake of past lawsuits over who has the power to approve new charter schools.

Circuit Judge John Cooper said a ruling in the lawsuit over Amendment 8 could come by Monday.

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