Danny McAuliffe, Author at Florida Politics - Page 7 of 29

Danny McAuliffe

Facebook removes ‘violent page’ following Matt Gaetz’ testimony

Congressman Matt Gaetz prompted a swift response from Facebook on Wednesday after grilling the tech giant’s head of policy, Monika Bickert, about the company’s lack of action toward a page that had prompted its followers to shoot Republicans.

Gaetz confronted Bickert during a U.S. House Judiciary Committee meeting titled “Facebook, Google and Twitter: Examining the Content Filtering Practices of Social Media Giants.” The CD 1 Republican presented Bickert with two posts from the page, Milkshakes Against the Republican Party.

Bickert describes the first post: “It has a picture, and it says ‘parents in the waiting area for today’s school shooting in Florida’ and then it says, ‘You remember the shooting at the Republican baseball game? One of those should happen every week until those NRA’ — and then there are unpleasant words.”

Gaetz then prompted Bickert to read aloud another post.

“It says, ‘Dear crazed shooters, the GOP has frequent baseball practice. You really want to be remembered that’s how you do it. Signed, Americans tired of our politicians bathing in the blood of our innocent for a few million dollars from the terrorist organization NRA,’” Bickert said.

Gaetz then asked Bickert whether the posts violate Facebook rules.

“Any call for violence violates our terms of service,” Bickert answered.

Gaetz said a member of his staff provided the posts, who then contacted Facebook. He was told they did not violate the community standards set forth by the tech giant. According to Gaetz, executives at Facebook later removed the posts but did not delete the page itself.

Bickert told Gaetz that Facebook removes pages or groups after a “certain threshold of violations” has been met.

“If somebody posts an image of child sexual abuse imagery, their account will come down right away,” Bickert explained. “But there are different thresholds, depending on different violations.”

Responded Gaetz: “How many times does a page have to encourage violence against Republican members of Congress at baseball practice before you will ban the page?”

Bickert told Gaetz she would follow up with the post. The page is no longer active.

It’s unclear what other content had been published by Milkshakes Against the Republican Party. A preview available on Google suggests the page had 27,000 ‘likes’ before Facebook removed it from its platform.

“I am glad Facebook swiftly removed this offensive page; while I unconditionally support the First Amendment, inciting violence against others due to their political affiliation is not Constitutionally-protected speech,” Gaetz said in a prepared statement after the page had been removed. 

Still, Gaetz isn’t completely satisfied. He feels the hearing opens doors for future questions on Facebook’s operation.

He added: “While removing this page was a small step forward to making Facebook a safer place, bigger questions remain. Is Facebook a content publisher, or is it a neutral forum? This distinction is not merely academic, as they are governed by different laws and different rules. If Facebook claims to be a neutral forum, it cannot continue to limit conservative content; if Facebook claims to be a publisher, it will lose its legal ‘immunity’ under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. They simply cannot have it both ways. My colleagues and I on the Judiciary Committee look forward to exploring this important distinction in the future.”

FSU will relocate statue of slave owner, seek to rename law school

Florida State University President John Thrasher is opting to relocate a statue commemorating the late Francis Eppes, a former slave owner who has been credited with the university’s formation, and is seeking legislative action to rename the law school building currently displaying former state Supreme Court Chief Justice B.K. Roberts’ name.

Thrasher’s Tuesday announcement follows an advisory panel’s request that he rename the main law school building, remove and curate a statue commemorating Eppes, and rename a building honoring Eppes.

Thrasher received the panel’s report on Friday. He had the option to accept, modify or decline the recommendations. He chose to decline to change the name of Eppes Hall, the fifth building erected at the university that currently houses the school’s College of Criminology. Instead, a contextualized “marker” will be placed in or near the building and will include details of “his slave ownership and role as justice of the peace, and to place his contribution to the founding of this institution in proper context,” reads Thrasher’s letter.  

Eppes, a grandson to Thomas Jefferson, was a “prominent citizen, community leader, four-time (intendant) mayor of Tallahassee,” the 15-member advisory panel found.

However, “Historical records also documented other aspects of Eppes’ life, including his ownership of slaves at both of his Florida plantation,” according to the panel. He also served as Justice of the Peace in Tallahassee “for which his duties would have included establishing ‘frontier’ law and order for the area and patrols for escaped slaves.”

A statue honoring Eppes can be seen at FSU’s Westcott Plaza, one of the most iconic locations of the campus. The nearby Westcott building houses Thrasher’s office.

“To keep a statue located at the front gates of campus is to give Eppes a level of prominence that is simply not appropriate,” reads Thrasher’s letter.

Eppes has been credited with founding the university, although the panel argued, “Additional information shed a different light on the role Francis Eppes played in the founding of our University and brings into question the justification for his recognition.”

Thrasher found those discoveries agreeable and now plans to relocate the statue with an accompanying marker that more accurately describes Eppes’ efforts that led to the university’s formation.

Roberts wrote the state Supreme Court’s 1957 majority opinion to deny law school admission to an African-American student, Virgil Hawkins. This action is considered a pro-segregation opinion that defines a “more troublesome legacy” than his “instrumental role” in spawning the university’s law school, writes Thrasher. 

“To keep the name of B.K. Roberts on the law school building would continue to honor someone whose decisions and actions do not reflect Florida State University’s values or the rule of law,” continues Thrasher.

The university will now seek legislative action to change the name of the law school building. Approval of a repealer bill is needed to formally remove the Legislature’s 1973 designation.

Thrasher spawned the panel in October after the racially charged, violent riots in Charlottesville, Virginia. Then, Thrasher condemned the white supremacist movement behind the riots. The panel met nine times throughout the academic year.

Americans for Prosperity targets Bill Nelson over SCOTUS confirmation

Americans For Prosperity-Florida is launching a digital and direct mail effort to encourage U.S. Senate confirmation of Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh.

Their target: Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson.

Announced Tuesday, the Florida chapter of the Koch-funded think tank will be backing the campaign with a six-figure sum. Trump announced last week that Kavanaugh is his pick to replace retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy.

“Judge Brett Kavanaugh is renowned for his demonstrated commitment to defending the Constitution and interpreting the law as written,” AFP-FL state director Chris Hudson said. “President Trump succeeded in nominating a jurist who exercises judicial restraint and doesn’t legislate from the bench, and that is exactly why Senator Nelson should confirm this nominee to replace Justice Kennedy.”

The campaign isn’t exclusive to Florida. AFP called it a “multi-million dollar” effort across various states. Direct mail pieces will be sent to voters in Florida, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and North Dakota — all of which are states where President Donald Trump won in 2016 and have at least one Democratic sitting U.S. Senator. 

As well, a new thirty-second digital ad and website were unveiled.

From the voice over in the digital ad: “We are a country of laws, freedom and justice. For the second time in recent years, our country has a historic opportunity to see another defender of the constitution appointed to the Supreme Court.

“Judge Kavanaugh will interpret the law as it is written. Judge Kavanaugh has the integrity and character to serve on our highest court of justice and will respect our constitution and the rule of law.”

The ad ends with a prompt for watchers to contact their Senator (Nelson, in Florida’s case) in support of Judge Kavanaugh.

Hudson said the direct mail and digital efforts will be complemented by canvassing and phone banking across the state.

Nelson is undoubtedly expected to vote against Kavanaugh, but he hasn’t been as critical of the judge as his Democratic colleagues have. In fact, he’s remained relatively quiet and noncommittal.

“I look forward to meeting with Judge Kavanaugh to discuss his views on several issues such as protecting women’s rights, guaranteeing access to health care for those with pre-existing conditions & protecting the right to vote, just to name a few,” Nelson tweeted after Trump announced Kavanaugh as his pick. “I’ll make my decision after that.”

Watch the digital ad here or below:

Official Florida House photo

AG candidate Frank White declines interview with Tampa Bay Times editorial board

Republican Attorney General hopeful Frank White is declining an invitation to sit before the Tampa Bay Times editorial board.

In a letter addressed to Tampa Bay Times editor of editorials Tim Nickens, White makes it clear that he believes the opinion branch of the newspaper is one-sided and unfair to conservatives.

“While I appreciate your invitation to sit before the Times Editorial Board to have my conservative views mocked and ridiculed, I respectfully decline,” the letter reads. “Just as I would not seek an endorsement from Emily’s List or the ACLU, I do not wish to receive yours.” 

White, a state Representative from Pensacola, cites a Times editorial from February in which the paper accuses Republican state lawmakers of valuing guns over children’s lives. The piece was a response to the state House’s refusal to consider an assault weapons ban in the wake of the Feb. 14 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that left 17 dead.

“Voters in November should hold accountable legislators who value assault rifles more than children,” reads the editorial.

“I have three sons whom I love dearly. It is BECAUSE of them that the Second Amendment is such a non-negotiable for me,” writes White. “This is not a binary choice, and that you refuse to see that is a tremendous demonstration of the liberal intolerance for those who resist giving into that type of attack.” 

Continues White, “On so many of the biggest issues facing our state, the editorial page of the Tampa Bay Times and I simply disagree.” He gives as examples editorials titled “The folly of defunding Planned Parenthood,” “How Florida and the Trump administration are tampering with your health care,” and “Tell the Legislature’s Immoral Minority to expand Medicaid in Florida.” 

Although White criticizes the editorial team, he draws a contrast between them and the Times’ news operation.

“While I have an incredible amount of respect for hardworking journalists who produce well-researched and accurate news, I am not inclined to seek the support of their colleagues on the other side of the newsroom,” reads the first part of the letter.

Ultimately, he frames his decision to skip an interview with the editorial board as avoiding a waste of time.

“You are fundamentally biased against the values I hold, so hanging out in your office for an afternoon seems like a waste of valuable time I can spend talking to voters,” reads the letter. 

White is facing off against former Hillsborough Circuit Court Judge Ashley Moody for the Republican nod in the statewide Attorney General race.

Firm linked to Ukrainian accused of hiring contract killers pays Debbie Mucarsel-Powell’s husband $700K

Ihor Kolomoisky, a Ukrainian oligarch accused of contract killings and fraudulent billion-dollar schemes, is closely linked to Debbie Mucarsel-Powell’s husband, attorney Robert Powell.

The nexus was first reported by the Daily Beast, which discovered one firm connected to Kolomoisky paid Powell at least $700,000 over two years and that Powell has served as general counsel on a U.S. investment company set up by Kolomoisky and his longtime associate, Gennady Bogolyubov.

Daily Beast writer Betsy Woodruff reports, “Anders Aslund, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council who focuses on Russia and Ukraine, said the link is concerning, citing accusations that Kolomoisky has been involved in billion-dollar criminal schemes and contract killings. He called the ties ‘highly suspicious.'”

Mucarsel-Powell’s campaign dismissed the link as an absurd attack.

“Debbie is running for Congress because she believes change is urgently needed in South Florida,” campaign spox Melvin Félix told Woodruff. “She has spent her career expanding access to quality health care in our community, giving low-income students the opportunity to go to college and protecting our coast. The absurdity of Debbie being attacked over an indirect shareholder to her husband’s former employer, a job he no longer even holds, is exactly why people are tired of politics.”

Mucarsel-Powell is a Democratic candidate vying to replace Republican U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo, who is considered a vulnerable incumbent in CD 26.

Powell’s documented income stems from his work in 2016 and 2017 for Felman Trading, reportedly the “marketing arm” of Felman Production, a subsidiary of Georgian American Alloys, which is controlled by Kolomoisy and Bogolyubov. Powell also worked for Georgian American Alloys from January of 2008 through December 2017. He became the company’s chief legal officer in 2012. Kolomoisky and Bogolyubov reportedly have control over Georgia American Alloys, reports Woodruff. 

Powell also appears to have represented PrivatBank, which Woodruff describes as “a troubled Ukrainian Bank that the country’s regulators nationalized in 2016.”

Per Woodruff: “In a court order filed Aug. 19, 2010, in the Southern District of West Virginia, federal Judge Mary Stanley described Powell as a Privat representative and wrote that he, along with others, appeared to answer to Kolomoisky and Privat Bank shareholder Alexey Martynov.”

The Ukranian government nationalized the bank in 2016 and alleged Kolomoisky and Bogolyubov participated in a fraud scheme that cost the bank $5.5 billion over ten years, according to Euromoney.

In addition to his troubled past in private business, Kolomoisky has been accused of funding contract killings.

It’s unclear how these new revelations will change the pace of the campaign for CD 26. But Edward Chow, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told Woodruff that Powell should have had some understanding of the people who were paying him.

“You know where the wealth came from,” Chow told Woodruff. “There should be no reason not to know, because everyone knows.”

Jay Beyrouti appointed to Pinellas County Commission

Jay Beyrouti will fill the vacant Pinellas County Commission District 6 post effective Friday, according to Gov. Rick Scott‘s office.

Scott appointed Beyrouti to the commission to fill the empty seat created by Commissioner John Morroni‘s passing on May 20.

A Reddington Shores resident, Beyrouti, 66, is a small business owner. He received his bachelor’s degree in accounting and international business from Sacred Heart Business School.

Beyrouti sits on the boards of both Space Florida and Enterprise Florida, the state’s public-private job creation agency.

A former Pinellas GOP chair, Beyrouti is active in Tampa Bay politics and has appeared at area fundraisers for recent elections.

“It’s such a great honor to be chosen by Gov. Scott to serve for the remainder of the term for my friend, Commissioner John Morroni,” Beyrouti said in a statement. “I am looking forward to joining the county commission and working alongside such a strong group of leaders.”

The District 6 seat encompasses Pinellas Park, Seminole and the bulk of the county’s southwestern shoreline, including Madeira Beach, Treasure Island and St. Pete Beach.

Four candidates qualified to run for the District 6 seat in the upcoming Nov. 6 election. Registered Republicans will pick the candidate of their choice during the Aug. 28 primary. The winner will compete for the seat in the Nov. 6 general election.

The Republican candidates are Larry Ahern and Kathleen Peters, who both have served in the Legislature, and political newcomer Barb Haselden. The only Democrat who qualified is Amy Kedron, another newcomer to the political arena.

Material from Tampa Bay Newspapers was used in this report.

Gwen Graham

Panama City mayor backs Gwen Graham

Panama City Mayor Greg Brudnicki is supporting Gwen Graham’s quest for the Governor’s Mansion.

Brudnicki endorsed the lone female Democratic gubernatorial candidate on Friday, citing her congressional service as his rationale for support. Graham was elected to the 2nd Congressional District in 2014 and served two years before opting out of a re-election bid after the area’s redistricting. CD 2 encompasses Panama City.

“Representing Panama City in Congress, Gwen Graham always put people first. She worked on behalf of Florida’s men and women serving in uniform. Gwen fought to ban oil drilling off our beaches. And she brought more than $2.5 million dollars back to veterans, seniors and families,” Brudnicki said. “Her service to our state has earned my support and I’m excited to vote for her this August and November.”

This isn’t the first time Brudnicki has waded into Graham’s politics. He supported her opponent, then-incumbent Steve Southerland, during Graham’s 2014 congressional bid.

Brudnicki credited Graham’s victory to her ability to appeal to both sides of the political aisle.

“Despite running in a Republican-leaning district in a Republican wave year, Graham won her first campaign for public office in 2014 by turning out voters in traditionally Democratic areas like Leon County and being competitive in more Republican areas like Bay County,” Brudnicki said.  

News of Brudnicki’s endorsement comes just two days after  NARAL, one of the nation’s largest pro-choice political action committees, endorsed Graham.

The Graham campaign highlighted other endorsements from North Florida, the bulk of which are composed of local leaders in Tallahassee, Leon County, Duval County and Jacksonville.

In accepting Brudnicki’s endorsement, Graham said she “will end Tallahassee’s attacks on local control, and work with elected officials from both parties from Pensacola to Key West to move Florida forward.”

Graham is among four other candidates — Philip Levine, Jeff Greene, Chris King and Andrew Gillum — who will compete for the Democratic nod in the Aug. 28 primary.

Final forecast brings close to gloomy citrus season

The Florida citrus season is ending on a sour note, with growers on track to produce just under 45 million boxes of oranges.

The harvest numbers were posted to the United States Department of Agriculture’s website on Thursday, ending what’s come to be a tragic 2017-18 growing season.

Before Hurricane Irma’s landfall last September, Florida growers were on track to harvest 75 million boxes, according to private estimates. The final numbers reflect 30 million fewer boxes than those early estimates. Each box weighs 90 pounds.

The USDA released its first forecast for the past season in October as farmers and authorities were assessing the extent of the damage caused by the storm. The agency then estimated Florida growers would produce 54 million boxes of oranges, the most optimistic forecast of the season.

In November the USDA forecast dropped to 50 million boxes, and trended downward or remained the same each following month.

Meanwhile, authorities estimated the flooding and wind damage that came with Irma resulted in a $760 million blow to the industry. They described the storm’s path as one that could not have been “more lethal” to Florida citrus.

The latest numbers are a continuation from June and May forecasts, and mark only a slight dip from April. A spokesperson for the Florida Department of Citrus attributed July’s unchanged numbers to the fact that Florida growers likely wrapped up harvesting in June. 

“This brings a very difficult citrus season to a close,” Shannon Shepp, executive director of the Florida Department of Citrus, said in June. “We look forward to a quiet, resilient season in the fall.”

The state’s citrus industry also has been hit by the citrus greening epidemic. The so-far incurable disease attacks the fruit, causing it to turn green and bitter, and eventually killing the tree. The epidemic has waned citrus production in recent decades, though farmers were on track to bounce back — until Irma.

The losses have put a financial strain on growers, but remedy awaits them at the federal level.

The Wildfires and Hurricanes Indemnity Program will distribute $2.36 billion worth of disaster relief to growers affected by catastrophes across the country. The USDA expects to open a sign-up period for the program no later than July 16.

As well, the federal government announced in May a block grant totaling $340 million that will be made available to citrus growers in Florida to cover the buying and replanting of trees, grove rehabilitation, and repairs to irrigation systems.

The first forecast for the upcoming season will be posted at noon, October 11.

Bill Nelson loses voice when asked about Brett Kavanaugh; Republicans send care packages

Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson appears to be shying away from public questions regarding U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.

The Hill, a Washington, D.C.-based news outlet, reported earlier this week that Nelson, after being asked about his upcoming vote on Kavanaugh, “pleaded that he was losing his voice and urged one reporter for The New York Times to ‘look at my statement.’”

Nelson, who faces a tough re-election against Republican challenger Gov. Rick Scott, is expected to vote against Kavanaugh during the judge’s Senate confirmation hearing. But unlike other Democrats, Nelson can’t afford to come out swinging against the nominee in the interim if he plans to in November appeal to an electorate that voted for Donald Trump in 2016. So far he has withheld criticism of Kavanaugh in his present state as a nominee.

“I look forward to meeting with Judge Kavanaugh to discuss his views on several issues such as protecting women’s rights, guaranteeing access to health care for those with pre-existing conditions & protecting the right to vote, just to name a few,” Nelson tweeted after Trump announced Kavanaugh as his pick Monday night. “I’ll make my decision after that.”

Scott, ahead of Trump’s announcement, released a television ad attacking Nelson for “toeing the party line” on judicial confirmations. The ad was timely and set up a negative backdrop for which Nelson’s upcoming actions can be compared against.

Now Republicans are having a field day attacking the sitting Senator.

Both the Republican Party of Florida and the National Republican Senatorial Committee this week delivered care packages, complete with throat lozenges and honey, in an effort to mock Nelson’s reported claim that he was losing his voice.

The NRSC delivered the package to Nelson’s office in Washington, D.C.

“It’s important that Bill Nelson finds his voice so he no longer has to dodge reporters’ questions about the nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh, and the NRSC is here to help,” said Camille Gallo, NRSC spokesperson. “We hope these remedies will work and look forward to learning if Bill Nelson plans to obstruct a qualified nominee again or support a fully functioning Supreme Court.”

Taryn Fenske, Republican National Committee spokesperson, said the items will be delivered to each of Nelson’s regional locations on behalf of RPOF. 

In a statement, she highlighted Nelson’s recent flip on a judicial nomination and said Nelson has never opposed a Democratic President’s pick for a judge.  

“We hope this care package will work because Floridians deserve a decisive leader not one that cowers to party-line politics,” added Fenske.

Democratic legislators weigh in on #AbolishICE

At least one Democrat between the state House and Senate is calling for the abolishment of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, or ICE. Other Democrats, meanwhile, are hesitant to say ‘abolish,’ but seem to agree that the scope of the agency’s work should be revisited and narrowed.

Calls to stop the agency began as a distant battle cry of the far left, but amid recent turmoil sparked by reports of the Trump administration’s embrace of the practice of separating detained immigrants from their children and fueled by reports of ICE raids across the country, pushes to disband the agency have gained somewhat-mainstream traction among staunch opponents of the country’s immigration laws.

Florida Politics reached out to several Democrats in the state Legislature, including both minority offices, for their takes.

Orlando Democratic state Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith said he supports “the abolishment and restructuring of ICE in its current form” — the strongest statement against the agency provided to Florida Politics.

He said ICE and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) have “become police and child separation agencies, known for terrorizing our communities and tearing families apart.” That’s a departure and a deterrent from what Smith claims even the employees acknowledge as their primary responsibilities: tracking down “drug cartel leaders, child pornographers and human traffickers.”

“Border security and compassion are not mutually exclusive, which is why I support the abolishment and restructuring of ICE in its current form,” concluded Smith.

Smith’s statement echoed that of Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum’s notice earlier this week that he supports a “comprehensive immigration overhaul that includes abolishment of ICE in its current form to be replaced with a more compassionate and focused agency that actually keeps us safer.”

Gillum, a Democratic candidate for governor, has attempted to stake claim to being the progressive option for primary Democratic voters. Smith, who helped found and led the first-ever Progressive Legislative Caucus, has backed Gillum in his quest for the governor’s mansion.

So as it stands, progressive leaders in the state seem to have no problem throwing the term ‘abolish’ around. Other Democrats, however, have had more hesitation.

House Minority Leader Janet Cruz, who’s competing against incumbent Republican state Sen. Dana Young for the District 18 seat, said, “ICE, under [Donald] Trump‘s direction, has been an absolute disaster — separating children from their parents and criminalizing personhood. This needs to be fixed immediately through reforms at ICE or by other means that keep our borders both secure and humane.”

While not stated outright, the aforementioned “other means” could include abolishing the agency.

State Sen. Linda Stewart, also of Orlando, criticized the agency’s current state, but stopped short of calling for its abolishment.

“[ICE] needs to confiscate drugs, arrest drug traffickers, identify human trafficking and gang members,” Stewart said. She added that the current mission “has been redefined” and claimed agents “should not be involved with legal asylum seekers.”

In the House, Rep. Nicholas Duran, a Miami Democrat, also stopped short of calling to abolish the agency. He instead suggested Congress suspend ICE’s non-essential activities — like its widely-criticized raids — “until ICE’s policies are reviewed and a new framework can be put in place.”

“ICE should focus on actual, imminent threats – drug dealers, gangs, terrorist cells – not the father and grandfather with a misdemeanor from a decade ago, not the mom who calls the cops when her husband’s been beating her, only to be threatened with deportation, not rounding up DREAMers around college campuses,” Duran explained.

He pointed to President Donald Trump as the reason for the agency going awry.

“ICE is a government agency and like all government agencies, it takes its cues from the top,” Duran said. “And at the top, we have a demagogue who is using immigrant families to distract from his failure of a presidency.”

Both Duran’s and Stewart’s comments reflect what some higher-ticket Florida Democrats have been saying.

Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, who faces tough reelection this year against Republican Gov. Rick Scott, wouldn’t support the abolition of the agency when asked by a Tampa Bay Times reporter. And in a statement, Democratic Congresswoman Stephanie Murphy shied away from calling for an end to ICE as well. Murphy, like Nelson, faces a tough reelection in her Orlando district.

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