Donald Trump’s big Iowa question

While Donald Trump boycotted Thursday night's debate in Des Moines, this truck outside the debate hall posed the question of whether God is backing the part-time Palm Beacher.
While Donald Trump boycotted Thursday night’s debate in Des Moines, this truck outside the debate hall posed the question of whether God is backing the part-time Palm Beacher.

COUNCIL BLUFFS, Iowa — Everything about part-time Palm Beacher Donald Trump’s presidential campaign has upset conventional political wisdom.

In Iowa, with its caucus system that requires voters to commit a couple hours on a Monday night to support their candidate, conventional wisdom holds that retail politicking and grass-roots organization are the key to victory.

Trump has campaigned here mainly through large rallies. He leads the polls — including the latest Des Moines Register survey — and gets the biggest crowds.

Outside Trump's rally at Drake University on Thursday in Des Moines.
Outside Trump’s rally at Drake University on Thursday in Des Moines.

But will his supporters commit to show up for the caucuses on Monday?

With Trump set to appear at a rally in Council Bluffs today, check out our coverage from Iowa at, and on Twitter @gbennettpost.

Trump’s campaigning “is completely different than the type of campaigning that we’re used to,” says Craig Robinson, editor of the conservative news and opinion site “But I think Iowans are smart enough to realize that someone like him is not going to campaign like Rick Santorum.”

Santorum, narrow winner of the 2012 caucuses, is one of the candidates who has done a “Full Grassley” by campaigning in all of Iowa’s 99 counties. Longtime Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley is known for his constituent contact. Grassley hasn’t endorsed, but has made appearances with several presidential candidates.

Read about Floridians Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush and their Iowa campaigning by clicking here.

“The general expectation is that you put forth enough of an effort to see them (voters) where they’re at,” Robinson said. “Trump is an exception to that.”

Iowa: Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush go one-on-one with voters (and spend big on TV)

Jeb Bush presses the flesh in Sioux City (top) and Marco Rubio chats up voters in Council Bluffs.
Jeb Bush presses the flesh in Sioux City (top) and Marco Rubio chats up voters in Council Bluffs.

SIOUX CITY, Iowa — In a state where voters expect to size up presidential candidates in person, Florida frenemies Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio are using their retail politicking skills in preparation for Monday’s Iowa caucuses.

But campaigning in the Hawkeye State isn’t only about handshakes and eye contact and one-on-one chats.

Bush, Rubio and other candidates and their allies have spent a combined $70 million on TV ads in the state.

Find out what Bush and Rubio are doing on the campaign trail — and on the airwaves — by reading



Jeb Bush in Iowa: Trump’s Muslim ban would show U.S. is ‘retreating in the world’

jeb in iowa
Jeb Bush spoke to a crowd of potential voters at the Greasewood Flats Ranch in Carroll, Iowa, on Friday. (George Bennett / The Palm Beach Post)

Jeb Bush took time on his campaign stop Friday in Carroll, Iowa, to talk Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton and his economic record.

Speaking inside a packed room at the Greasewood Flats Ranch with snow covering the ground outside, the former Florida governor said if the U.S. accepts Donald Trump’s proposed ban on Muslim immigration, it would “send a signal that the U.S. is retreating in the world.”

Citing Benghazi, Bush said Clinton is smart and sincere but “I can’t give her credit for honesty and trustworthiness.” He added that he has the economic record to “take it to Hillary Clinton.”

For more updates from the campaign trail in Iowa, follow me on Twitter, @gbennettpost.

Murphy gets another union nod in U.S. Senate race

Democrat Patrick Murphy gets another union nod
Democrat Patrick Murphy gets another union nod

Jupiter U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy was endorsed Friday by a construction industry union in his campaign for the Democratic U.S. Senate nomination to fill the seat being vacated by Republican presidential contender Marco Rubio.

Murphy, squaring off against U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Orlando, who is a favorite of the Democrats’ progressive wing, is building up union backing with the Laborers’ International Union of North America the latest to come on board.

“LIUNA is proud to endorse Patrick because he supports our working families and we believe that his commonsense approach to leadership is exactly what Florida needs right now,” said Glenn Farner, business manager of the union’s southeast district council.

“Time and again, Patrick has proven that he will fight to protect our workers’ rights, fight for their hard-earned, high-quality union health benefits, and fight to raise the minimum wage.”

Murphy has already been endorsed by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), Florida Teamsters and the Florida Association of Retired Americans, a labor-backed retiree organization.

Murphy said, ““Our middle class was built by strong unions, and they remain the most committed supporters of working families across Florida and across our country.”

Murphy’s union scoop-up emerges even though the congressman’s roots are in the construction industry’s management side. His father is the millionaire owner of Coastal Construction, a prominent building firm, and the lawmaker is a former Republican whose voting record is moderate to conservative on many labor issues.

Grayson dismisses him as an “errand boy for Wall Street.”

Leading Republicans in the race are Pinellas County U.S. Rep. David Jolly, Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis of Ponte Vedra Beach and Todd Wilcox of Orlando.

State looks poised to top record school funding mark, with House following Scott, Senate’s lead

School funding plans emerge in House, Senate.
School funding plans emerge in House, Senate.

A record-level of per-pupil school funding looks more likely assured in this election-year Legislature, with the House releasing its proposed budget Friday that meets high levels sought by Gov. Rick Scott and the Senate.

Local taxpayers, however, continue to shoulder most of the increase. With property values rising, homeowners and businesses are paying more school taxes — and that’s where lawmakers are finding the extra cash.

The House proposal would bring average per-pupil funding up $124.24 over this year, to $7,232 for each of Florida’s 2.8 million school kids. That’s a 1.75 percent boost.

Scott called for public school funding allowing for an average $7,221 per-pupil spending That would top by $95 the previous, pre-recession record reached during 2007-08 when then-Republican Charlie Crist was governor.

Scott vowed to top the record during his 2014 re-election campaign against Crist. But Scott and lawmakers fell short last spring, renewing efforts to hit that target before lawmakers go before voters again this fall.

The Senate is to release its full spending plan later Friday. But the chamber’s proposal released earlier this week by Education Budget Chief Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, beats both Scott and the House’s plans by bringing per-pupil dollars to $7,249.

But an emerging and potentially divisive emerging issue is the Senate’s attempt to put more state dollars into the combined school funding mix, making it a little easier on property taxpayers.

In its budget, the House follows Scott’s lead.

The House’s $601 million schools increase is powered almost completely by local taxpayers — who would finance $503.6 million of the boost, with state dollars adding $95.4 million.

In his recommendation, Scott pulls almost his entire $507.3 million increase in school funding from property taxpayers across Florida. Only $80 million is from the state treasury.

The Senate plan calls for a $650.6 million school funding increase. Like Scott, $507.5 million of the Senate plan comes from property taxes, but the remaining $143. million is state dollars.

The balancing act will play into a lot of budget dealing between the House and Senate — and Scott — in the session’s remaining weeks.

Scott’s $1 billion tax-cut proposal, mostly aimed at businesses, could either thrive, or get pared back, based on where the school funding lands.

Packing heat: Open carry headed toward House floor amid questions about why it’s needed

Open carry clears a House committee
Open carry clears a House committee

More than 1.4 million Floridians with concealed weapons permits could openly carry their guns under legislation that moved forward Thursday in the House, amid emotional testimony from both sides.

The Florida Sheriffs Association opposes the legislation. But a handful of sheriffs broke with the group and testified in support of the bill (CS/HB 163) before the Judiciary Committee.

The panel approved the measure 12-4, setting the stage for a full House vote.  Similar legislation, however, likely faces a tougher challenge in the Florida Senate.

The National Rifle Association earlier pushed for the bill claiming that Floridians with weapons permits were being arrested for accidently exposing a firearm.

But Rep. Dave Kerner, D-Lake Worth, was beaten back by the Republican-controlled panel when he proposed a sheriffs’ backed alternative that prohibited such arrests.

Rep. Matt Gaetz, sponsor of the bill, said he wasn’t interested in the change.

“I truly want to make it the right of Floridians to openly carry,” said Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, sponsor of the House measure. His father, Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, is sponsoring the Senate version.

“This is not just a fix,” Rep. Gaetz said. “I have broader goals.”

Still, other supporters, including the NRA and Florida Carry, continued to cite examples of Floridians arrested under the current law – although they provided few specifics.

A case frequently cited involved Dale Norman of Fort Pierce, arrested in 2012 for what a Fourth District Court of Appeal ruling described as “ walking on the sidewalk with the firearm clearly visible on the outside of his clothing.”

But the ruling cited “no credible evidence” that Norman sought to properly conceal the weapon, defying the claim by gun advocates that he was subject to overzealous policing.

Norman’s conviction for violating the state’s concealed weapon’s law was upheld by the Fourth DCA.

Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush book heavy Iowa schedules before caucuses

Marco Rubio (left) and Jeb Bush will be barnstorming Iowa over the next few days.
Marco Rubio (left) and Jeb Bush will be barnstorming Iowa over the next few days.

DES MOINES — Florida’s Republican presidential frenemies — Sen. Marco Rubio and former Gov. Jeb Bush — will fill the time between tonight’s Fox News debate and Monday’s caucuses with a full slate of events in Iowa.

Iowa’s front runner, part-time Palm Beacher Donald Trump, is skipping tonight’s debate in favor of his own event at nearby Drake University, then jetting off to New Hampshire on Friday.

Rubio has been in the state since last Saturday. Most polls show him running third in the Hawkeye State behind Trump and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.

Rubio has scheduled four Iowa events Friday (Burlington, Muscatine, Clinton, Dubuque), four more on Saturday (Sioux City, Council Bluffs, Ames, Urbandale) and three on Sunday (Cedar Falls, Cedar Rapids, Davenport).

Follow and @gbennettpost on Twitter for coverage of Trump, Rubio and Bush in Iowa.

Bush has been in fifth or sixth place in many Iowa polls and is staking more hopes on the New Hampshire primary on Feb. 9.

Bush has three Iowa events on Friday (Carroll, Sioux City, Sioux Center), four on Saturday (Okoboji, Clear Lake, Cedar Falls, Dubuque) and three more Sunday (Cedar Rapids, Clinton, Davenport).

House’s $1 billion tax cut plan similar but not Gov. Rick Scott’s; Speaker says still ‘long way to go’

House puts $1 billion tax cut package in play that is similar -- but different -- from Gov. Rick Scott's
House puts $1 billion tax cut package in play that is similar — but different — from Gov. Rick Scott’s

The Florida House unveiled a $1 billion tax-cut package Wednesday — similar in size to what Gov. Rick Scott wants, but a lot less permanent.

The House steers clear of the centerpiece of the Republican governor’s plan — a $770 million reduction in the corporate income tax paid by manufacturers and retailers.

Instead, House Finance and Tax Chairman Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, packaged together a host of one-time reductions, including four different sales tax holidays.

But House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, also said that the initiative marked just the beginning of discussions on a tax-cut plan this election-year session. Crisafulli said there remains a “long way to go,” and some form of big corporate income tax cut is likely still to be discussed.

The House does go along with Scott’s proposed permanent elimination of the sales tax on equipment purchases by manufacturers. Scott’s call for cutting 1 percent from the 6 percent sales tax paid on commercial leases also was embraced by the House.

The Senate hasn’t said much so far about $1 billion in tax breaks. Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, has set aside $250 million for tax breaks in the chamber’s budgeting. But the legislative session’s closing weeks will likely include wheeling-and-dealing toward that $1 billion benchmark sought by Scott.

A coalition of business groups last week began airing 30-second TV spots touting the business rent tax cut on the heels of Scott’s own $1 million TV ad buy – through his Let’s Get to Work spending committee – that promoted the tax breaks statewide as he barnstormed several cities, including Boca Raton, on a bus tour.

The Cut My Rent 1 Percent coalition includes the National Federation of Independent Business, the Florida Retail Federation, Greater Boca Raton Chamber of Commerce and others.


Bid to remove Florida Confederate general from U.S. Capitol draws fire

Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith statue could be on the way out
Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith statue could be on the way out

A measure that would move the statue of Confederate Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith out of the U.S. Capitol’s National Statuary Hall collection continued to advance through legislative committees.

But the proposal drew its fiercest fire Wednesday in the Senate Rules Committee, which approved jettisoning Smith on a 10-3 vote, but with two former Senate presidents and a future chamber boss opposing it.

“I think, maybe, we can find someone who could represent our state better,” said Sen. John Legg, R-Trinity, sponsor of the bill (CS/SB 310).

History shows Smith was born in St. Augustine, but  spent little time in Florida. He commanded the last army of the Confederate States to surrender — more than a month after General Robert E. Lee gave up in April 1865.

Smith’s companion in the Capitol hall is John Gorrie, a doctor and early pioneer of air-conditioning, which has proved so vital to Florida’s development.

Gorrie looks secure. But the advancing legislation would authorize a panel within the Florida Department of State to choose another Floridian from history to be commemorated with a statue in the Capitol.

The push to remove Smith follows the Florida Senate’s rules change last fall that removed the Confederate flag from its official seal.

But Smith’s removal seems to gain added controversy with every committee stop.

On Wednesday, former Sens. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, and Tom Lee, R-Brandon, both former Senate presidents, voted against the change, joined by Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, who is in line to become Senate president in November.

Gaetz said Legg failed to explicitly lay out why Smith’s statue should be taken down.

“Maybe there are good reasons to take him out,” Gaetz said. “But we haven’t heard it.”

A handful of citizens, including representatives of the Museum of the South in Jacksonville, also came to Smith’s defense.

“I very much appreciate Kirby Smith and his contribution to Florida history,” said Mary Ellen Gwynes, an education specialist with the museum. “When his state left the union, he left the union, too.”

Florida and many other southern states have been looking to shed Confederate images since South Carolina removed a Confederate flag from its Capitol following the murder of nine black churchgoers in Charlestown.

The alleged shooter, Dylann Roof, is accused of maintaining a website that contained images of white supremacy and photos of the Confederate battle flag.



Bill boosting age of watercraft users — inspired by missing Tequesta teens — looks sunk for session

Bill to boost age for operating personal watercraft looks sunk
Bill to boost age for operating personal watercraft looks sunk

An effort to increase to 16 the minimum age for operating a personal watercraft in Florida looks sunk for this session.

Sen. Jeremy Ring, D-Margate, said Wednesday that the legislation (SB 644) was recommended to him by Broward County high school students alarmed by the disappearance last summer of two 14-year-old boaters from Tequesta, lost at sea after leaving Jupiter Inlet.

While the students initially proposed setting a first-time-ever minimum age for operating a boat, Ring said that was unlikely to gain support. But Ring said he did think he could build a case for boosting the age somebody can operate a personal watercraft.

“It’s certainly dangerous,” Ring said, of youngsters making their way through crowded South Florida canals and inlets on Jet Skis and similar craft.

“I think being just a little bit older gives you a little bit more maturity,” Ring said.

But the bill was swamped Wednesday in the Environmental Preservation and Conservation Committee. Following debate which clearly showed a majority of committee members opposing the bill, Ring postponed a vote — likely shelving the idea for this session.

“It’s an issue that probably needs more baking,” Ring conceded.

Ring had tried to soften the measure — by allowing 14-year-olds to operate a watercraft if they were accompanied by an adult. But several industry officials testified the legislation would hurt business, dull tourism, and basically amount to government interference.

Sen. Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, who said his children grew up driving vehicles on his farm beginning at age 7 or 8, didn’t think it was government’s role to set new watercraft limits.

“That’s why we have parents,” Simpson said.

Separate legislation aimed at encouraging boaters to buy locator beacons for themselves or their craft continues to advance in the House and Senate.

The legislation (HB 427, SB 746) has been portrayed as aimed at creating a legacy for Austin Stephanos, 14, and his friend Perry Cohen, 14, lost after leaving Jupiter Inlet on July 24 in their 19-foot SeaCraft boat.

Their capsized boat was found two days later, 67 miles off Daytona Beach. A U.S. Coast Guard search for the boys ended July 31, followed by a private search that continued into early August.