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Backroom Briefing: Polk County Power

May 11, 2017 - 2:30pm
Bartow High School
Bartow High School

If Adam Putnam is successful in his bid for governor next year, he will become the fourth governor who can claim Polk County as his home.

It's a significant feat for a county that ranks ninth in population among Florida's 67 counties and doesn't include any of the state's major cities. But Polk has always punched above its political weight.

Its prior governors include Park Trammell, Spessard Holland and Lawton Chiles. All three also served as multi-term U.S. senators.

But there is an even more remarkable microcosm of nascent political talent hidden away in Polk, at least to outsiders. It's Bartow High School.

Putnam 42, on Wednesday announced his gubernatorial bid in front of the old Polk County Courthouse in downtown Bartow, a mile north of his high-school alma mater that has links to a half-dozen prominent Florida political players.

If elected next year, Putnam would be the school's second governor. The first was Holland, who graduated from Bartow High's predecessor, the Summerlin Institute, named after the 19th century cattle baron Jacob Summerlin.

Putnam, who is finishing his second term as state agriculture commissioner, might not be the only Bartow High graduate in next year's governor's race. He could be challenged in the Republican primary by Senate Appropriations Chairman Jack Latvala, a Clearwater Republican who is a 1969 graduate of Bartow High.

Another Bartow High graduate is former Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris, who also served in Congress and the state Senate and was the Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate in 2006. The class of 1975 claims her.

Putnam is the second agriculture commissioner produced by Bartow High. The first was Bob Crawford, who is also a former Florida Senate president.

One of Crawford's high school friends was former state Sen. John Laurent, a Bartow Republican who went on to become a circuit judge.

In his announcement speech Wednesday, Putnam gave a shout-out to his former high school principal, Ernest Cooper, who was in the hometown crowd of friends and supporters.

“Together we can really make great things happen, as our principal used to say on that intercom every single day,” Putnam said. “Thank you for imprinting that on my mind and imprinting that in my heart.”


Gov. Rick Scott, in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday and Thursday and expected to run for U.S. Senate in 2018, will be the new chairman of a “super PAC” seeking to “rebrand” the Republican Party.

Expanding on Scott's ties to President Donald Trump, the goal of is to “make the Republican Party Great Again,” according to a release from the super PAC.

On its website, New Republican says it is focused on cutting regulations, targeting young voters and winning Hispanic voters.

“We favor organic bottom-up solutions to problems, the Democrats favor top-down big government solutions to every problem,” Scott said in a prepared statement. “We favor empowering people at the local level, the Democrats favor federal government decisions made in Washington.”

Scott added that the nation needs to “get rid of all our tired old political jargon and cliches.”

Melissa Stone, Scott's former chief of staff and who ran his 2014 re-election campaign, was named executive director of New Republican, which was founded by Republican strategist Alex Castellanos.

Taylor Teepell, who served as a deputy chief of staff for former Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and who most recently was director of executive projects at the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, was named the super PAC's finance director.


Capitol insiders did a little better predicting Monday's end of the extended legislative session than they did the originally scheduled end of the session.

Of course, there was a much smaller window for predictions. Lawmakers met only one extra day, which was really less than 12 hours since the lawmakers didn't begin until 1 p.m. on Monday.

Tallahassee public-relations guru Kevin Cate held a pair of contests for those following the happenings in the Capitol. The first was to guess the time and date the 2017 regular session would end. The median prediction was 7:24 p.m. Friday.

When the budget required an extension of the session to Monday, Cate repeated the call under “#LateCateSineDie.” This time the median hanky-drop prediction was 7:41 p.m.

That was somewhat optimistic, as the session finally ended at 8:52 p.m. Monday.

Political consultant Jennifer Lux's prediction missed 8:52 p.m. by four minutes. The prize was a $100 donation to her charity of choice, the Hope Children's Home in Tampa.

TWEET OF THE WEEK: “Thank you @richardcorcoran for the faith you placed in me these past many years. It has been an honor to have been the yin to your yang.” --- Rep. Jose Felix Diaz (@josefelixdiaz), addressing House Speaker Richard Corcoran as Diaz prepares to run in a special election for a Miami-Dade County Senate seat.


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