Mitch Perry, Author at Florida Politics

Mitch Perry

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

In letter, Gus Bilirakis demands justice for American attacked by Turkish security detail

Like most Americans, Gus Bilirakis was repulsed after seeing footage last week of bodyguards for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan beating up peaceful protesters in Washington D.C.

State Department officials expressed “concern to the Turkish government in the strongest possible terms” and summoned the Turkish Ambassador for a visit.

That was pretty much it.

Now, Bilirakis is joining 39 other members of Congress in a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson demanding that those Turkish officials based in the U.S. or Turkey involved in the attacks be expelled immediately. The latter also calls for them to be barred from entering the U.S. in the future.

“I was outraged to see remorseless acts of violence carried out by the Erdogan government against individuals exercising their First Amendment rights on American soil. This is unacceptable in any situation, but even more so when Turkish leaders visit our nation and claim to be faithful allies. We must uphold the law and demand accountability from all who are responsible,” said Bilirakis, who serves as Co-Chair of the Congressional Hellenic Caucus and the Congressional Hellenic-Israel Alliance.

Overall, 11 people were injured in the melee, including a police officer and two Secret Service agents.

Washington police said they arrested two people who in the D.C. Area. However, Erdogan’s security forces enjoy diplomatic immunity, which means none can be held accountable for their actions.

The House of Representatives passed a resolution Thursday condemning the violence that took place at the Turkish Ambassador’s residence on May 16. It was backed by Speaker Paul Ryan, who said: “[T]he violent crackdown on peaceful protesters by Turkish security forces was completely indefensible, and the Erdogan government’s response was wholly inadequate.”

For many, Tampa’s 2021 Super Bowl is unexpected ‘big win.’ Others remain skeptical.

Members of Tampa’s political, business, media and activist communities weighed in Wednesday on the surprising news that Tampa will host the Super Bowl in February 2021.

The announcement was unexpected, particularly after the NFL snubbed a local bid last year to host the big game in either 2019, 2020 and 2021.

But major rainstorms in Southern California throughout the past year delayed construction of a new stadium for the L.A. Rams and Chargers, forcing the NFL to choose a new town for the 2o21 spectacle.

“The construction delays in L.A. are not uncommon for projects of their size, so it’s kind of lucky for us,” said Tampa International Airport CEO Joe Lopano. “But I think this is more than luck. We’ve done this before.”

Lopano was still working in Dallas when Tampa last hosted the Super Bowl in 2009.

In addition to being shut out last year, Tampa also lost out to Minneapolis, New Orleans and Indianapolis as one of three finalists in fall 2013 to bid for the following year’s Super Bowl.

Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan said that unlike sports commissions, the Tampa Bay Sports Commission has always seen the value in bidding for major events even when it appears that other cities are going to win.

Hagan believes that philosophy allowed the city to be better positioned when the next opportunity to bid a major event occurs and that’s what led Tampa to get the chance to host the third national college football playoff championship this past January.

“We knew for sure that college football that Dallas was getting the first one,” he said, “but yet we put our best package forward, and although we didn’t get that one, we ended up getting the third, mainly because of the strong bid that we made on the initial game.”

“Most cities don’t do that,” Hagan added. “They don’t go through the effort.”

Tampa hosted four previous Super Bowls, but this is the first in 12 years. Former Hillsborough County Commissioner Ed Turanchik said the controversial Community Investment Tax that passed in 1996 for the $169 million to finance Raymond James Stadium had proved the test of time.

“Taxpayers are getting a good return on the investment that they decided to make 20 years ago,” he said.

They are still paying for it, however.

Last month, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers announced details of the third phase of over $150-million renovation project to Raymond James Stadium. Enhancements include an 18,700 square-foot home locker room — three times the size of the current one — more than 60,000 square feet of total lounge space in the West Stadium Club, 178 new 4K video monitors in the West Stadium Club and a 10,000 square-foot retail team shop to sell exclusive merchandise.

While the city will look dramatically different from when the Pittsburgh Steelers defeated the Arizona Cardinals in 2009, in 2021, it should look different from how it does now.

“You’re going to have, obviously, a lot more residential in the heart of the city,” Turanchik said. “It’ll be exciting to see what comes out of Channelside. St Petersburg is booming. We’ll have a water ferry system that connects some of these points together. It’ll be a very different place.”

Tampa attorney and 2016 County Commission candidate Brian Willis agrees that taxpayer investment, along with local leadership, is the reason Tampa is getting the game.

“With another big event, transit and bike and pedestrian safety will be keys for visitors and locals,” he says. “That’s why we should work right now to make sure all of our neighborhoods get a permanent boost by preparing for 2020 with leadership and real taxpayer investment focused on our neighborhoods.  This is another win for Tampa Bay. It will have a lasting impact if we use it as a catalyst to work together on the bigger picture.”

For East Tampa community activist Dianne Hart, the first thing going through her mind after reading Wednesday of the Super Bowl return to Tampa is how the African-American population will get an opportunity to take advantage of the economic impact coming to the region.

“I’m out in the community, and the community was not that happy the last time that we had a Super Bowl in our city,” she says of what happened in 2009. “A lot of people did not know how to get involved early enough. There’s opportunities for everybody to make money, so I just want to try to follow it a little closer this time to ensure that we have people in the right places.”

City Councilman Frank Reddick agrees with Hart, saying that while the jobs will only be short-term, he hopes that “this is an invitation for minorities to participate in the process and be rewarded with some jobs and opportunities that will bring in millions of dollars into this economy.”

La Gaceta editor and publisher Patrick Manteiga pointed out that there were definitely winners and losers economically who emerged from the 2012 Republican National Convention.

“There was a party atmosphere with the attendees of the RNC, but some parts of the city didn’t share in that partying,” he said.

Security concerns will undoubtedly be a primary concern, as they are at all major events held in the U.S.

Referring to this week’s terrorist attack at the Manchester Arena in England, Manteiga said: “You hope that things don’t devolve over the next few years to where hosting these things start to look like the RNC, where you’ve got empty blocks that surround the stadium because of security concerns.”

Tampa City Councilman Mike Suarez remembers the security that permeated Tampa during the second Super Bowl held here in January of 1991, shortly after the Gulf War had begun, America’s first serious military intervention since the Vietnam War. “Sometimes I think these big events are the safest places you can be at, ” he said.

Tampa International Airport will look different in 2021. The current interior construction that has been going on over the past year will be done, with new restaurants and shops up and running. And the new rental car facility will be up and running (the entire master plan for the airport won’t be completed until 2026).

Food Not Bombs activist Dezeray Lyn was detained by Tampa Police for attempting to feed the homeless the weekend before last January’s NCAA college football championship.

Lyn called the event another “priority crisis for the city.”

“One being that in advance of these high-profile events, the city launches into erasure mode and enacts processes of city beautification which mean the issues of houselessness and hunger are invisibilized by displacement,” she said. “The second being that the city then profits multimillions and fund appropriation doesn’t divert in any meaningful way typically to programs that change or better the circumstances of those most struggling in our community. In short, the red carpet will roll out for tourists, while the impoverished community will either remain the same or be worse off for it.”

Former County Commissioner Mark Sharpe said: “The direct economic value is probably a wash — but the branding & opportunity to promote our economic hubs — from Vinikville to Innovation Place & Westshore is invaluable. “

USF journalism professor Wayne Garcia called the Super Bowl an event for the “one percent,” but conceded that it’s fun and will bring the community together. But Garcia doesn’t want to hear about what an economic boom it will bring to the Tampa Bay area.

“True economic development comes from real investment: in targeted and supported public education, in infrastructure and in focusing on new industries to develop. A Super Bowl doesn’t help any of those things. This state and its lawmakers have consistently turned solely to tourism and real estate as the engines of our Florida economy,” he said.

Unconventional Green Party candidate Shawn Mathis Gilliam files for HD 58 race

As a member of an alternative third party, Shawn Gilliam’s worldview and ideology are not easily explained; it could make it hard to break through with voters in House District 58.

The 32-year-old Plant City resident recently filed to run for the seat currently held by Plant City Republican Dan Raulerson.

A recent convert to the Green Party, he does not agree with their stance in support of medical marijuana, saying its effects are too negative for the body.

While raised as a Christian, Gilliam converted to Islam “about three Ramadans ago.”

He says in some respects he’s quite conservative. He’s pro-life and anti-same-sex marriage.

“I would like to present a bill making the Islamic Nikah (marriage contract) a legally binding contract for marriage and any other religious marriage contract that is legally binding between the husband and wife if it pertains to religious affiliation,” he said in a follow-up email.

He is a passionate environmentalist and supports the need for more green energy.

He’s also anti-fluoride in the water, and in an email statement, said that he favors polygamy. ‘Islam recognizes Poligomy [sic], and I would like to get that legal in our state as well,” he writes.

Raulerson defeated Democrat Jose Vasquez by 16 points, 58 to 42 percent, in November.

HD 58 covers most Hillsborough County’s eastern suburbs.

 

Citing need for ‘new energy,’ Ryan Torrens becomes first Democrat in Attorney General race

For Ryan Torrens, the primary job of a state attorney general is consumer protection; it’s something the 32-year-old Odessa-based lawyer does every day.

That’s why Torrens, who specializes in foreclosure defense and consumer protection litigation, became the first Democrat to file for Florida’s Attorney General race in 2018.

“We have helped so many people, and so I believe that the office fits my background,” he said in a phone interview Tuesday morning. “I’ve been speaking about to local DEC’s and people just feel it, people are ready for a change, they’re ready for some new blood, they’re ready for somebody who has new energy. That’s what I offer.”

Torrens, whose family has Cuban roots, believes Floridians are first and foremost looking for an attorney general to protect them from criminals. If elected, that will be his first priority.

As a political novice, Torrens has never run for public office. But the fifth-generation Tampa native is very aware that mounting a year-and-a-half long statewide campaign means he’ll need to raise millions.

Nevertheless, Torrens is confident he will meet the challenge, and believes he can do it without Wall Street contributions.

While busy hiring campaign staff and volunteers, Torrens begins the task of introducing himself to Democrats statewide. He’s already spoken to a Largo Democratic group, and intends to meet with Broward and Miami-Dade Democrats later in the week.

Torrens’ aspirations began in 2001, when the events surrounding the 9/11 terrorist attacks exposed the then-16-year-old to a wider world of politics.

“I really started reading about Middle East politics and the threat of terrorism and domestic politics and policy,” he said, resulting in the decision of his major at the University of Tampa.

Torrens attended high school in Temple Terrace before earning a bachelor’s degree in government and world affairs from UT (graduating magna cum laude). He then migrated to George Washington University Law School in Washington D.C.

As opposed to other open Cabinet positions, not much clamor has surrounded the in 2018 Attorney General’s race.

Earlier this month, Jacksonville Representative Jay Fant became the first Republican to enter the race. Another Democratic name being suggested for a possible run is Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jack Seiler.

Adam Putnam weighs in on controversial education bill

Adam Putnam, the leading Republican candidate for governor in 2018weighed in on the state’s massive K-12 public schools bill, which affects everything from charter schools to school uniforms.

Gov. Rick Scott “ought to take a hard look at vetoing [HB 7069],” Putnam said Tuesday according to AP reporter Gary Fineout.

Florida’s Agriculture Commissioner made his remarks before the monthly Cabinet meeting in Tallahassee, talking about the controversial 278-page bill passed earlier this month on the second to last night of the Legislative Session.

(You can see his comment via the Florida Channel here).

The bill’s premiere feature is $140 million for a new “Schools of Hope” program, which creates incentives for specialized charter schools to set up in low-income areas, which critics say will compete with struggling traditional public schools.

HB 7069 also gives $234 million in teacher bonuses, through both the contentious “Best & Brightest” program and a mechanism where “highly effective” teachers would get $1,200 in guaranteed bonuses for each of the next three school years.

Teachers ranked “effective” would potentially earn up to $800 each year, depending on available money.

While teachers’ unions, school board members and (seemingly) the entire Democratic Party establishment is against the bill, charter school and voucher advocates are strongly behind it.

“I have concerns about the way that bill, along with much of the budget, was fashioned completely in the dark and behind closed doors,” Putnam told reporters after the Cabinet meeting.

Putnam also criticized the process leading to the bill’s passage, saying: “Not only the public didn’t know what was in it, but some of the people voting didn’t know.”

His comments come a day after the Florida Democratic Party took Putnam to task, saying he was missing-in-action regarding his stand on what has become one of the most provocative bills to soon reach Scott’s desk.

“Florida voters deserve more than a feel-good bus tour from someone who claims he’s qualified to be the governor,” said FDP communications director Johanna Cervone said Monday. “Adam Putnam has been a politician since he was 22. He knows better, and he knows that he owes Florida voters an answer on HB 7069.

“Putnam needs to break his silence and give voters a straight answer: do you support a veto of HB 7069 — yes or no?”

The FDP said they were “demanding” Putnam issue a public statement on the matter immediately.

Chris King, Andrew Gillum and Gwen Graham — three declared Democrats running for governor — have all publicly blasted HB 7069.

 

Three Tampa Bay Democratic lawmakers line up behind Gwen Graham for governor

Three prominent Tampa Bay-area Democrats are lining up behind Gwen Graham in her bid for Florida governor.

St. Petersburg-based state Sen. Darryl Rouson, St. Petersburg City Council Chair Darden Rice and Tampa City Councilman Mike Suarez are endorsing the former congresswoman, the Graham campaign announced Tuesday.

“I’m honored to have the support of these Tampa and St. Petersburg leaders who are working every day on issues Floridians care about,” Graham said in a statement. “As governor, I will work with them to protect our environment, create opportunities for all, and reform Florida’s criminal justice system.”

The 54-year-old former one-term Democratic Representative from Tallahassee announced her candidacy for governor earlier this month.

“Gwen understands criminal justice reform, protecting voting rights and creating jobs are paramount issues to our community,” State Senator Darryl Rouson said. “She’s sponsored legislation to protect voting rights and personally spent time learning more about rehabilitation with ex-offenders seeking jobs and a second shot at life. Gwen has the passion, experience, and fortitude to make our streets safer, reform our criminal justice system and restore voting rights to the 1.5 million Floridians currently disenfranchised.”

St. Petersburg City Council Chair and former Sierra Club activist Darden Rice calls Graham “a champion for Florida’s environment.”

“She’s fought to ban oil drilling off our beaches, and she understands the threat climate change poses to our entire state,” Rice said. “As governor, she’ll take on climate deniers and polluters to protect Florida from drilling, fracking, and rising tides.”

“Gwen Graham is the leader we need to fight back against Donald Trump’s anti-immigrant policies and create opportunities for every Floridian, regardless of where they come from or what language they speak,” Tampa City Councilman Mike Suarez said. “As governor, Gwen will build an economy that works for all by investing in technical education, supporting public transportation and raising the minimum wage.”

Suarez’s endorsement of Graham is not a surprise. He ran former U.S. Sen. Bob Graham’s office in central Florida for about four years.

Bob Graham is Gwen’s father. He served as Florida governor from 1979 to 1987, a senator from 1987 to 2005, and is something of a living legend among Florida Democrats.

Graham is one of three Democrats officially running for governor, along with Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum and Winter Park businessman Chris King.

New national website gives data on how justice is served in every Florida county

Floridians interested in crime and the criminal justice system in their own communities have a new tool at their disposal.

At 9 a.m. Tuesday, the nonprofit Measures for Justice (MFJ) launched a first-of-its-kind Data Portal seeking to bring transparency to the criminal justice process — from arrest to post-conviction at the county level — throughout Florida and other parts of the nation.

The portal contains criminal justice statistics from 300 county court systems in six different states. In addition to Florida, the site takes criminal justice information from Utah, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Washington. plans to expand up to 20 more states in the future.

MFJ plans to expand the portal for up to 20 more states.

Years in the making, the project was spurred on by MFJ’s executive director Amy Bach after the publication of “Ordinary Injustice,” her 2009 book which advocated for better measures across jurisdictions. Ordinary Injustice has won the Robert F. Kennedy Book Award.

“The idea was that you can’t change what you can’t see right now, so how are you know what’s going on?” Bach said Tuesday from her organization’s headquarters in Rochester, New York. “If I ask you where are the good public schools, you could absolutely tell me which neighborhood to live in, but what about the water supply? Or how’s the criminal justice system? We don’t know these things because we don’t have measures, we don’t put data against them.”

Statistics in the Florida portal covers 2009-2013. Bach said that the initial six states included those where court data was available in bulk.

The project is gathering support. Earlier this year, Google gave MFJ a $1.5 million grant, and Mark Zuckerberg‘s Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative announced Tuesday it will award the organization $6.5 million to expand into California.

MFJ compiles data on 32 distinct metrics that indicate how equitable a given county’s justice system might be (20 metrics used for Florida). While the website doesn’t tell you what to do, Bach said every metric goes toward one of three goals: public safety, fiscal responsibility, and fair process.

Among those filtered metrics include the number of nonviolent misdemeanor offenders the court’s sentence to jail time, and how many people are in jail because they failed to pay bail of less than $500.

It also filters statistics such as sex, age, race and court type, though in Florida it needs to be noted that Hispanics are not a separate category, and are listed along whites.

“The idea is that we believe in America based on the Constitution, that due process should be delivered equally across demographics, and that basic legal services should be delivered equally across demographics,” Bach said.

Bach and her team at MFJ gave a presentation of the portal to the Florida District Attorneys Association and to other practitioners across the state seeking their feedback. That included contacting state attorneys like Bill Cervone in Gainesville, Aramis Ayala in Orange/Osceola County, and Andrew Warren in Hillsborough County.

“This database will be an invaluable tool for advancing our criminal justice system here in Hillsborough County and across our great state,” Warren said on Tuesday. “Our mission at the State Attorney’s Office is to keep our communities safe, reduce recidivism, and fairly and impartially apply the law,” Warren continued. “We must use resources and taxpayer dollars wisely and understand what policies are most effective and where improvements are needed.”

“Having access to similar data for neighboring and other comparable districts through this database gives us insight into where we may be statistical outliers, helping us to identify problems so that we may focus on solutions and make the changes that best serve our community,” Warren said, adding that people can access the relevant information at the Hillsborough State Attorney’s website at sao13th.com under the “Community” tab or at measuresforjustice.org.

Bach said that there is a perception that prosecutors wouldn’t like the portal, but the initial reaction has been the complete opposite.

“Prosecutors love to be able to see how their counties are performing across jurisdictions because if there is something that they want to change, they can go to the prosecutors next door and say how are you doing it, or be relieved to see that they are succeeding.”

GOP mocks national Dems for ‘zero chance’ of beating Vern Buchanan in 2018

Though the 2018 congressional elections are still a year and a half away, the news headlines continue to make Democrats believe that 2018 will be a wave election that could see them take over the House of Representatives.

It won’t be easy, even if the daily revelations from Washington continue to chip away at President Donald Trump and the Republican Party’s ratings.

On Monday, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) announced 20 more congressional districts targeted for recruitment and potential investment, bringing the total to 79 GOP-held districts.

The new list includes Florida’s 16th Congressional District, held for the past decade by Sarasota Representative Vern Buchanan.

Buchanan narrowly defeated Democrat Christine Jennings in his first race by just 369 votes under disputed circumstances in 2006 (Jennings claimed that voting machine problems resulted in some 18,000 lost votes). Since then, however, he’s never been seriously challenged by a Democrat, and his supporters say that will remain the case in 2018.

“The only thing more egregious than Hillary not campaigning in Wisconsin would be if the DCCC spent even just $1 attempting to defeat Vern Buchanan,” scoffs Sarasota County Republican Committeeman Christian Ziegler, who worked as a congressional aide for Buchanan for several years in Washington and Sarasota. “Locally, the Democrat Party lacks grassroots & donor excitement, the party registration isn’t there for them and most importantly, they do not have one credible individual on the bench that would be able to serve as anything more than a ‘paper candidate.”

“The Democrats have zero chance at winning this seat,” adds Sarasota Republican Party Chairman Joe Gruters, noting his high re-election margins.

New College of Sarasota political science professor (and Democrat) Keith Fitzgerald says this is the time when the DCCC begins recruiting candidates for the next election cycle. He sees the new list as a sign that they are casting for candidates beyond districts where performance histories would usually suggest they would succeed.

“They want qualified candidates in place in advance of a possible wave election,” he says. “It is too early to say that a wave election is coming, but the early indicators are stronger than they were when the Republicans cleaned house in 2010.”

Fitzgerald is a former state representative who ran and lost a congressional bid to Buchanan in 2012. He says that the new list of DCCC targets (which also includes Ron DeSantis in Florida’s 6th Congressional District) are mostly incumbents who normally would be considered safe politically, including Buchanan.

But after a cacophonous two weeks of political news, even some Republicans have invoked the word “impeachment” about Trump’s problems, which led the Justice Dept. to select former FBI Director Robert Mueller last week as a special counsel to oversee the investigation into ties between the campaign and Russian officials.

“Rep. Buchanan, supported legislation that would devastate many of his constituents,” says Fitzgerald. If the tsunami comes, there is no telling how far it will roll ashore,” he says. “Representatives who have placed extreme ideology ahead of the health and security of their voters could be swept away.”

Buchanan supported the American Health Care Act earlier this month, which remains extremely unpopular with the American public. The controversial bill, which would repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, is already being considered dead on arrival in the U.S. Senate, with a Quinnipiac poll showing only 21 percent support in the country.

The Democrats need to flip 24 seats to retake the House.

Florida CD 27 Republican incumbent Illeana Ros-Lehtinen announced earlier this month that after since serving in Congress representing her constituents in Miami-Dade County since 1988, she will not run for reelection next year. The DCCC is hoping to flip that seat, and are hoping that other Republican incumbents will follow suit.

Hillary Clinton defeated Trump in the CD 27 by nearly 20 percentage points in 2016.

Bob Buckhorn apologies for military conference joke

Over the course of six years as mayor, Bob Buckhorn has said things that have offended some people, but he has rarely (if ever) been forced to apologize.

Until now.

Unless you’ve been avoiding local (now national) press over the past couple of days, you know the mayor has been (metaphorically) under fire since the Tampa Bay Times’ Howard Altman reported Friday afternoon on a number of reporters who took offense with a crack Buckhorn made at a military conference last week at the Tampa Convention Center.

As Altman originally reported, Buckhorn told the crowd about his experience as a hostage during a demonstration of special operation rescue tactics:

The highlight, he said, was when he was aboard a Navy special warfare boat, firing blanks from 50-caliber machine guns. “And so, the first place I point that gun is at the media,” he told the crowd.

“I’ve never seen grown men cry like little girls, for when that gun goes off those media folks just hit the deck like no one’s business. It’s great payback. I love it.”

Altman reported that the audience — approximately 1,000 people — mostly laughed at the remark. But some in attendance, specifically military reporters who have had live guns pointed at them for real, found nothing humorous about the comment.

Initially, Buckhorn blew off the furor.

It was “a silly reaction,” he told the Times.

But after the story got legs in the national media over the weekend, Buckhorn spokesperson Ashley Bauman responded Monday afternoon.

“This was a story that he had told for three consecutive years,” she said in a statement to FloridaPolitics.com, “and at no time was it ever construed to be serious or an accurate portrayal of what occurred.”

“It was merely a humorous tongue-in-cheek description. Clearly, that does not translate on Twitter and in light of the current rhetoric at the national level aimed at the media, inadvertently served to reinforce some of those sentiments. That was not his intention, in fact, as the son of a former wire service reporter he has nothing but the highest regard for the work of journalists and their profession and he apologizes to those he offended.”

The mayor also offended the sensibilities of some local residents when he typed, “whatever” on Twitter over the weekend in reaction to a tweet by Tampa Heights activist Rick Fernandez on his concerns with the Tampa Bay Express project.

AARP president predicts new GOP health care plan will score ‘somewhat’ worse than original

Among the loudest critics of U.S. House Republican plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act this year has been the AARP.

“That plan would repeal the expansion of Medicaid that was voluntarily adopted by 31 states, some Republican and some Democratic, so that they could cover millions of poor people with good health insurance, including children, for Pete’s sake,” said AARP’s national President  Eric Schneidewind in an interview last week at the organization’s St. Petersburg offices.

“So about 10 million of those people would ultimately lose their insurance under this AHCA (American Health Care Act).”

As an advocacy group for the rights of people 50 and older, the AARP specifically takes issue with a provision in the recently passed House bill that raises rates people above 50 would have to pay, to a level of five times what a younger person would pay for insurance.

They also oppose a part of the plan that would deleteriously affect Medicare’s solvency.

When the ACA was passed in 2010, the Medicare Part A trust fund was forecast to be unable to meet anticipated costs by 2017. But because of higher Medicare taxes and premiums on higher earners in the ACA, its solvency has been extended until 2028.

However, the AHCA would propose eliminating the Medicare payroll tax for high earners while raising Medicare spending, the Part A trust fund would be insolvent four years earlier, Scheidewind says.

After reviewing the first House Republican health care bill (ultimately pulled off the floor), the Congressional Budget Office reported that 21 million would lose insurance by 2020; 24 million by 2024. On Wednesday, the CBO expects to announce its score for the latest version of the AHCA.

“We think the score will be somewhat worse than the original version,” said Schneidewind, who is halfway through his term as AARP president (a volunteer position).

An AARP analysis found that about 454,000 Floridians age 50-64 enrolled and receiving tax credits in the ACA marketplace would see higher health coverage premiums than they were paying under the current law, more than in any other state.

While some observers note the intensity of the organization’s opposition to the AHCA, he says it’s not exactly new territory for the group, citing similar efforts to oppose President George W. Bush‘s attempt to privatize Social Security in 2005, as well as the 2009 attempt to change the COLA formula for Social Security.

“AARP was founded to make sure that older Americans had affordable good quality health care coverage,” Schneidewind said. “That was our reason for coming into being. We have always fought hard.”

For years, the organization has consistently argued that Medicare be allowed to negotiate drug prices for million of Americans.

While progressives continue to push for a “Medicare-for-all” single-payer system to supplant the current private insurance system in America, Scheidewind said that the AARP reviewed “a number of different solutions” but hasn’t singled out a single solution.

It’s obvious that the American health care system is characterized by “radically higher administrative costs” than other places in the world, Schneidewind said.

Livable communities” is another subject that the AARP has put a large number of resources into in recent years. It centers around the fact that many Americans, retirement needs to be made more affordable.

“It’s less expensive for somebody to age in their own dwelling and than to get the services than it is to go into an institution,  to a nursing home or something where the cost is typically three times what it would take to stay in your home,” Scheidewind said.

The issue is a critical one. Statistics show that, more than ever, elder Americans have less financial savings than previous generations heading into their golden years.

‘We need to find ways for them to stay in their communities and get the services they need and have the quality of life that they deserve,” Schneidewind said.

AARP lobbyists were busy in Tallahassee during the recently concluded regular Legislative Session. Although some health care related bills they supported did not pass during Session, they were exuberant over the failure of a bill allowing Florida Power & Light to charge customers for natural gas fracking activities in states outside Florida, like Oklahoma.

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