Hurricane politics will play a big role in campaigns’ final month
As Hurricane Michael approaches the Florida Panhandle, residents and visitors are making plans and hopefully following the instructions of state and local leaders. The personal stakes for residents are high as are the political stakes for top-of-the-ticket candidates such as Gov. Rick Scott and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, who hopes to succeed Scott.
(NOTE: To be clear, there is nothing more important than the personal safety of those in the storm’s path. This is a political publication, which reports on and speculates about the political ramifications of real-life events.)
Successfully navigating through a storm of Michael’s magnitude will not necessarily win the Senate election for Scott or the Governor election for Gillum. On the other hand, a botched response or a fundamental blunder can lose it. Both passed the first test by quickly leaving the campaign trail.
Scott generally received high marks for his performance during Hermine in 2016. He also earned praise for his efforts before and after Hurricane Irma last year, but was also attacked by Democrats for the deaths of 12 residents of a Hollywood nursing home.
Democratic Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schulz and others blasted Scott for the pace of debris cleanup following Irma, but Scott has been comfortable enough with his legacy to run a campaign ad for his U.S. Senate run highlighting his actions taken as Governor at the time.
During Hermine, Scott got into a public battle with Gillum over the speed of Tallahassee’s city government in restoring power. The city owns the electric utility.
Fairly or unfairly, the mayor, with Scott’s help, faced scrutiny for not fully deploying resources from out of town who stood ready to help residents. A television ad currently running repeats those allegations.
The two are likely to have an encore performance and may be called upon to tango on behalf of their common constituents.
President Donald Trump, who was in Florida on Monday, will tell Floridians that FEMA will be there for them and pledge to give Scott everything he and North Florida needs.
Meanwhile, Scott’s opponent, Sen. Bill Nelson is doing what Senators do by sharing information, offering assistance, and encouraging constituents to follow the guidance of local authorities. He and Republican Sen. Marco Rubio know they will be taking a back seat to Scott and will more than likely be standing behind him during briefings but demanding quick federal action once the storm passes.
Gillum’s opponent, Rep. Ron DeSantis, has no official role after resigning from Congress in September. He will have to be satisfied with loading and unloading supplies during visits to affected areas, most likely with his former GOP House colleagues Matt Gaetz and Neal Dunn.
A picture with Gaetz helping distressed citizens would help change the story following the controversial remarks from Saturday’s joint rally (see below).
The hurricane politics will start after the storm passes, but for now, everyone is a nonpartisan Floridian.
Delegation reacts strongly to Kavanaugh
The saying that “it’s all over except for the shouting” applies somewhat to the confirmation of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court. The narrow 50-48 vote in the Senate led to even more shouting and a pledge by New York Rep. Jerrold Nadler to investigate Kavanaugh for perjury if Democrats win control of the House.
Democratic Rep. Ted Deutch of Boca Raton agreed, saying “If we take back the House, the judiciary committee (of which Nadler would become chairman) I serve on is going to be busy doing all the things we should have been doing for the past two years, which is to provide oversight of (the Trump) administration.”
Some members of the Florida delegation offered their views, while some remained in the background. Rubio, who was one of the 50 votes for Kavanaugh on Saturday, spoke for many on the Republican side who were pleased with the outcome but offered sorrow for the status of today’s politics.
“Just terrible for America,” he tweeted.
Nelson, who is in a tight race for re-election with Scott and one of the 48 “no” votes, remained quiet after Kavanaugh was confirmed. His sole official utterance was a tweet earlier in the week that simply said, “I will vote no on Judge Kavanaugh.”
Scott called the Kavanaugh nomination “a complete mockery” of the process and cited the need for term limits and called out Nelson for allowing “partisan politics to take precedence over the U.S. Supreme Court …”
Democratic Rep. Lois Frankel of West Palm Beach, co-chair of the Bipartisan Women’s Caucus, said the vote “sends a horrible message to survivors of sexual violence that their experiences and voices don’t matter.” She also described Kavanaugh’s testimony as “raging partisan conspiratorial accusations at Democrats …”
Wasserman Schultz claimed Kavanaugh “repeatedly obfuscated or lied about his past behavior and revealed himself to be the unabashed partisan that so many had feared him to be.”
Justice Kavanaugh’s first day on the court was Tuesday.
Rubio bill on corrupt drug centers passes Congress
While the raging process of confirming Kavanaugh continued, the Senate managed to accomplish a significant achievement in bipartisan fashion. Last week, a bill offered by Rubio and co-sponsored by Nelson to combat opioid addiction passed the Senate by a 98-1 margin and heads to the President’s desk.
The House overwhelmingly passed the measure earlier.
Rubio’s bill is designed to crack down on companies who profit each time a concerned parent or loved one tries to help a patient find a drug treatment facility for an individual addicted to opioids. The bill would take away the incentives for call centers to make money and instead focus on helping individuals beat their addiction.
Working with advocates such as Palm Beach State Attorney Dave Aronberg, Rubio introduced the bill in July. The speed at which it moved through Congress was welcomed, but highly unusual.
“The way this place works, to get from an idea in June to a law in October is not common. I don’t think I’ll be saying this much,” Rubio said. “We were brainstorming what we could do at the federal level and came up with a federal law that goes after the middlemen who make all this money. They’re basically trapping people and they put them back into rehab.”
The bill was placed into a larger package that included measures from other members, including Longboat Key Republican Vern Buchanan, who sponsored a bill establishing a national database of pain medication providers.
“Opioid abuse impacts far too many of our friends and neighbors,” Nelson said. “I’m glad to see Congress finalize this bipartisan package to help combat this terrible epidemic.”
Nelson hails judge’s ruling on TPS deportations
Another federal judge has thwarted attempts by the Trump administration to send noncitizens back to the countries of their origin. By ending Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for an estimated 240,000 immigrants from El Salvador, Sudan, Nicaragua and Haiti.
The administration had declared situations in those four countries had improved enough to require them to return home, but lawsuits were filed to seek an injunction against the action. U.S. District Judge Edward Chen of the Northern District of California stopped any deportations, basing his decision on Trump’s “animus against nonwhite, non-European immigrants.”
Nelson hailed the ruling, specifically on behalf of Haitians with TPS living in the U.S.
“This lawsuit is good news for the more than 60,000 Haitians with Temporary Protected Status living in the US. They deserve more than fear and uncertainty about whether or not they will be forced to return to a country that can’t support them. This lawsuit is good news for the more than 60,000 Haitians with Temporary Protected Status living in the U.S.,” he tweeted. “They deserve more than fear and uncertainty about whether or not they will be forced to return to a country that can’t support them.”
The status of Haitians became even more dire with last week’s earthquake and subsequent aftershocks.
Nelson said he was “praying for all those affected by the earthquake in Haiti and our deepest sympathies are with the families who have lost loved ones.”
Gaetz attack draws strong reaction
DeSantis and Gaetz have campaigned together on occasion, but none generated the statewide attention as the one in Sarasota on Saturday. While making the case that Gillum leads a city with the state’s highest crime rate, Gaetz said: “I don’t know whether to call him Andrew Gillum or Andrew ‘Kill ‘em.”
“Ron DeSantis’ closest political ally, Matt Gaetz, today made a racist and despicable attack on Mayor Andrew Gillum,” said Florida Democratic Party Chairwoman Terri Rizzo. “Ron DeSantis must immediately condemn this racist attack on Andrew Gillum and stop weaponizing race.”
Gaetz fired back at a critic on Twitter who questioned why the veteran Congressman had not been banned from the social media site.
“This is the new left. They don’t like what you say? They can’t defend bad ideas? They get confronted with the bad results of their policies? They push for the suppression of your speech,” Gaetz responded. “Grow up.”
DeSantis did not respond to calls from Democrats to rebuke Gaetz.
Waltz keeping Trump at arm’s length, for now
As plans for a Monday rally with Trump and DeSantis were in the works, another Republican nominee said he would not be there if it came about. Michael Waltz, who is campaigning for the Congressional District 6 seat formerly held by DeSantis, said to count him out.
Plans for the rally fell through, but Trump was in Orlando on Monday for an official event. Scott, who is giving Sen. Nelson his toughest challenge ever, was with Trump at the International Association of Chiefs of Police convention in his capacity as governor, not as a candidate.
DeSantis did not attend the convention because he would not have an official function.
The Waltz campaign said that despite the appearance of shunning Trump, they are all in on his policies.
“Michael Waltz proudly supports the many successes President Trump has achieved on behalf of the American people and has said EXACTLY THAT in dozens of interviews on FOX News, on the campaign trail and in campaign ads,” the campaign said in a written response to POLITICO. “Michael Waltz is determined to make his case directly to the voters of this district based on his own experience as a decorated combat veteran and small-business owner who’s dedicated his entire adult life to serving this country.”
Waltz, who supported Rubio for President in 2016, harshly disparaged Trump during the campaign, but is behind his agenda now. He is slightly favored to defeat Democrat Nancy Soderberg, but she is running a strong campaign to flip the district.
Murphy touts affordable housing grants from HUD
Affordable housing in the Orlando area got a big boost last week with the announcement of a significant grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Democratic Rep. Stephanie Murphy of Winter Park announced a $20 million in federal assistance is on the way to Central Florida.
According to Murphy, Orlando will receive $7.4 million of the HUD funds through the Community Development Block Grant, Emergency Solutions Grant, HOME Investment Partnerships and Housing Opportunities for Persons With AIDS programs. The remainder of the federal money will be split between Orange County ($9.7 million) and Seminole County ($2.8 million) through the CDBG, ESG, and HOME programs.
“Central Florida is among the fastest-growing regions in the country, but the supply of affordable housing has not kept pace,” Murphy said. “These targeted federal investments will not only help more families find affordable housing, but they will also make our community stronger for everyone by reducing crime, strengthening our economy, and enhancing our overall quality of life.”
CDBG funds help recipients construct quality housing, improve public infrastructure, and expand economic opportunities for working families; ESG grants are used to help families find permanent housing after they experience a housing crisis or homelessness; HOME grants fund housing costs for low-income families; and HOPWA program grants fund projects that benefit low-income individuals living with HIV/AIDS.
Murphy is running for a second term to represent District 7. She is being challenged by Republican state Rep. Mike Miller in November.
Crist’s FAA safety compliance bill passes Congress
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Reauthorization Act, which included an amendment by Democratic Rep. Charlie Crist, passed last week following a bipartisan compromise in the House and Senate. Crist offered the amendment following a seven-month investigation by 60 Minutes over safety issues plaguing Allegiant Air.
Under the Crist amendment, the U.S. Government Accountability Office will now investigate the effectiveness of the FAA’s “compliance philosophy” that prioritizes communication over enforcement concerning passenger safety.
“Our number one responsibility as members of Congress is to keep our constituents safe,” Crist said. “The Tampa Bay Times and 60 Minutes raised troubling questions over whether current FAA policy is working to do just that.”
The 60 Minutes investigation and Tampa Bay Times reporting found that AAR Aircraft Services, the company that performs maintenance for Allegiant, was not fined and no action was demanded after pilots nearly lost control over a plane taking off from Las Vegas in August of 2015. The plane had been flying for weeks with serious mechanical issues that could have caused it to crash.
Allegiant has been the subject of several safety incidents and investigations and the FAA has been criticized for taking any meaningful action.
Crist’s amendment had support from the Transport Workers Union, the Professional Aviation Safety Specialists, the AFL-CIO union, Travelers United and Consumers Union.
F. Rooney joins Climate Solutions Caucus
The Climate Solutions Caucus has two new members, including a conservative Republican from Southwest Florida. Rep. Francis Rooney of Naples is the latest to join the bipartisan group co-founded and co-chaired by Deutch and Kendall Republican Carlos Curbelo.
Rooney was added along with progressive Democrat Ro Khanna of California. Membership is expanded only when a member of one party is matched by the other.
“I joined the Climate Solutions Caucus because environmental issues are critical for our Southwest Florida community,” Rooney said. “To safeguard our future, proactive planning is necessary to mitigate effects of rising sea levels and increased intensity of flooding. I look forward to working with a bipartisan group of my colleagues on solving the problems of sea-level rise.”
Besides the two founders, there are five other members of the Florida delegation in the caucus: Republican Reps. Gaetz, Mast and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen along with Democratic Reps. Murphy and Crist.
Deutch, Democrats demand reversal of new LGBTQ diplomat policy
Last week, the Trump administration announced the U.S. would no longer issue visas to same-sex partners of diplomats unless they were legally married. Under the new guidelines, diplomats regardless of sexual orientation will need to be married by the end of the year for their partners to receive visas.
The administration argued that it was making the change to bring policy in line with the 2015 Supreme Court decision that legalized same-sex marriage.
Democrats, led by Deutch and a few of his colleagues, blasted the action. In a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, 119 members argue that several diplomats would find it impossible to meet the requirement.
“Only 26 countries — a mere 13 percent of member states — allow same-sex couples to marry,” they wrote. “In reversing the State Department’s 2009 decision to provide visas to same-sex domestic partners, your department fails to acknowledge that in most of the world, same-sex domestic partners do not enjoy the possibility of marriage — and your decision undermines the validity of these diplomats’ relationship.”
Deutch did not hold back in his criticism of the administration’s action.
“This Administration has an offensive record when it comes to equal rights for the American LGBTQ community, and now it appears they’re set to endanger the lives of LGBTQ foreign diplomats and U.N. employees working in the United States,” said the Boca Raton Democrat.
Joining Deutch in signing the letter was Frankel, Wasserman Schultz, Crist, Darren Soto, Kathy Castor, Alcee Hastings, and Frederica Wilson.
The new policy would also include employees of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.
GOP blames Shalala for Hurricanes’ football decline
As Hurricane Michael bears down on Florida, the University of Miami football program is factoring into the race for Congressional District 27. According to a new ad from the American Opportunity PAC, the university’s former President, Donna Shalala, is the reason the Miami Hurricanes suffered through a down period on the field.
The Democratic nominee for the seat currently held by the retiring Ileana Ros-Lehtinen is attacked in the ad for actions that “wrecked” football program, which is only now coming back into prominence. The Hurricanes were riding high with multiple national championships until 2002.
“Then Donna Shalala came to town,” the narrator says. It blames her for taking $500,000 from “Ponzi schemer Nevin Shapiro,” which led to the program suffering through sanctions imposed by the NCAA. Shapiro had also provided impermissible benefits to athletes in prior years.
The PAC’s executive director, Christian Camara, also criticized Shalala for the decision to move home games to Hard Rock Stadium north of Miami and away from the Orange Bowl that is much closer to the university’s campus in Coral Gables.
“Republicans never allow facts to get in the way of a false narrative,” responded Mike Hernandez, a spokesman for the Shalala campaign. “The city of Miami forced the University of Miami football program out of its lease at the Orange Bowl, not President Shalala.”
Whether the move was ultimately inevitable, records show the City of Miami offered funding to renovate the Orange Bowl and keep the Hurricanes there. In announcing the move to the north, Shalala said the city’s effort “wasn’t enough.”
Perhaps the good times are returning after Miami broke a long home losing streak to Florida State on Saturday with a 28-27 come-from-behind victory.
Shalala is running against Republican Maria Elvira Salazar.
On this day in the headlines
October 9, 1981 — With three former Presidents by his side, President Ronald Reagan said the American people stand with the people of Egypt in mourning Anwar Sadat and “in redirecting ourselves to the cause for which he gave his life.” Sadat was assassinated on October 6 while reviewing a military parade.
In a brief ceremony at the White House, Reagan bade farewell to the American delegation consisting of former Presidents Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, and Richard Nixon. The gathering was the first in this century, perhaps ever, that four U.S. Presidents met. Reagan was advised not to attend due to security concerns.
October 9, 2001 — In a windowless space 10 paces from the Oval Office, former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge reported for duty Monday at the new Office of Homeland Security. His assignment: figure out where America is vulnerable to terrorist attack and try to ensure it doesn’t happen again.
In an executive order, President George W. Bush instructed Ridge to bring all federal, state and local agencies together in drawing up a plan to “detect, prepare for, prevent, protect against, respond to, and recover from terrorist attacks within the United States.” Commenting on the enormity of his mission, Ridge quoted the motto of the Army Corps of Engineers: “The difficult we do immediately; the impossible takes a little longer
Tampa Bay Times appoints new D.C. Bureau Chief
The Tampa Bay Times has named Steve Contorno as their Washington, D.C. Bureau Chief. He replaces Alex Leary.
He formerly covered Hillsborough County government for the Times and spent time with PolitiFact. Contorno also covered Congress and Virginia politics for the Washington Examiner as well as state and local government for the Green Bay Press and Gazette.