Mitch Perry, Author at Florida Politics - Page 2 of 317

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.

Ted Deutch co-sponsors conflicts of interest bill, adresses Trump administration appointees

Congressman Ted Deutch is sponsoring legislation to close an ethics loophole in the appointment process for high-ranking government officials.

The Conflicts from Political Fundraising Act would require nominees to disclose whether they have solicited or contributed funds for political purposes to 527 political action committees, or tax-exempt groups formed under sections 501(c)(4) or 501(c)(6) of the tax code.

“The level of big money political activity by Trump cabinet nominees was outrageous, but somehow we weren’t allowed to see exactly who they were working for and how much money they were flooding our elections with,” said Deutch, a Boca Raton Democrat, on a conference call Thursday.

Deutch said the bill would put the onus on executive branch level appointees to provide information about their political activity, information that he says the Senate and the public should know in assessing such nominees.

“We need these disclosures to ensure that agency heads and others won’t put their political connections above the interests of the American people,” Deutch said.

Rhode Island Senator Sheldon Whitehouse has introduced a companion bill in the Senate. He brought up the case of EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, who on behalf of the Republican Attorney Generals Association, ran the Rule of Law Defense Fund.

” Though his entire advise-and-consent process, although we asked question after question about this, he never gave a candid answer, nor did our Republican friends make any effort to require him to give a candid answer,” Whitehouse said. “He knew perfectly well he was going to be jammed through, so we now have an EPA administrator in place who raised probably millions of dollars in dark money that ran through his Rule of Law Defense Fund enterprise. He knows who gave him that money. They know who gave him that money.  That is a hole that has to be closed in the system for reporting conflicts of interest of federal appointments.”

New Mexico Democratic Tom Udall is also a sponsor of the bill in the Senate. He says the only way to truly correct some of the vast problems with money in politics is to overturn the Citizens United Supreme Court decision.

Under current law, a presidential nominee must disclose their personal financial information to the Office of Government Ethics to highlight and address any potential conflicts of interest. However, the nominees are not required to release information about their political solicitations or contributions, which may also create risks or appearance of conflicts of interest. For example, if a nominee asked a corporation for a $1,000,000 contribution to a political action committee before his appointment, they should disclose that and be disqualified from participating in any decisions involving that corporation.

The legislation would apply to Senate confirmed nominees, special government employees, non-career senior executive service, and Schedule C political employees. It would require those people to disclose their campaign contributions and solicitations.

A fact sheet on the bill can be found here.

Sean Shaw bill for 2018 would stop raiding of Sadowski Housing Trust Fund

For the tenth year in a row, Florida lawmakers raided the Sadowski Housing Trust Fund to balance the budget that currently sits on Governor Rick Scott‘s desk. One state Representative says that needs to stop.

Democrat Sean Shaw says he will file legislation for the 2018 Legislative Session to block what has become an annual ritual of the Legislature, even if the likelihood of the bill’s passage is dubious.

“I’m willing to dedicate one of my six slots to that, just to have the discussion,” he says, referring to the rule that House members can only file six bills in a legislative session.

The Sadowski funds come from a locally collected doc stamp on real estate sales transactions that is sent to the state. Seventy percent of that is sent back via the State Housing Initiatives Partnership (SHIP) to all 67 counties, based on population, to primarily aid low-to-moderate-income residents with buying a home. The other 30 percent goes to the State Apartment Incentive Loan (SAIL), which the state uses as an incentive for developers to build affordable apartments.

Last year, lawmakers took $200 million out of the trust, cutting Scott’s original proposal of almost $240 million. The year before, the Legislature allocated $175 million of the $255 million that should have been spent on affordable housing.

“The Sadowski Fund isn’t the only one that gets swept,” Shaw told FloridaPolitics earlier this week. “It’s the one that means the most to me, but there are tons of funds that get swept into general revenue that are taken for specific amounts of money.”

Shaw says the Legislature  has its priorities out of order when it comes to issues such as affordable housing.

“For us to keep giving tax cut after tax cut, and then to make up for it with money from the Sadowski Fund, is ludicrous,” he says.

Chris King, the Winter Park businessman and Democratic gubernatorial candidate, is also making the raiding of the Sadowski Housing Trust Fund an issue in his campaign.

“It’s not fair that we have huge tax cuts to the biggest corporations in America while were raiding the affordable housing trust fund to the tune of $1.7 billion over the last 15 years, which has been an all-out attack on seniors, on law enforcement, on recent college graduates, anyone who wants to make a life here in Florida” he said earlier this week in Tampa.

Meanwhile, Shaw is slated to co-host a clinic on voting rights restoration this Saturday in Tampa.

The clinic is designed to help former felons regain rights they lost when convicted of crimes. Clinic participants will receive information and access to resources to help put them on the path to restoration of their rights. Co-sponsored with the Florida Rights Restoration Project, the clinic is scheduled for 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday (May 20) at Middleton High School, 4801 N 22nd St., Tampa.

Citizens address gamut of issues at Tampa’s meeting of Constitutional Revision Commission

Florida’s vicennial Constitution Revision Commission made its first stop in the Tampa Bay area Wednesday.

Members of the public came before the 37-member council — organized to get together every 20 years — and were allowed only two minutes to discuss what amendments should, or should not, be placed on the 2018 ballot.

The first speaker, 18-year-old graduating high school senior John Alvarez, said one of the best ways to overcome income inequality in Florida would be to implement a state income tax, getting rid of the sales tax.

“We rank second for regressive and abuse of bottom income earners,” he said.

Andrew Vila didn’t want the Commission to make any changes, but if they did, he asked for them to ratify school choice into the state’s Constitution.

Mark Klutho blasted the Legislature for failing to implement recently passed constitutional amendments regarding solar power, the environment and medical marijuana that have been held back in part by the Legislature. “What are these amendments mean if the Legislature won’t do a damn thing when the taxpayer says this is what our vote is? ” he asked.

“The way I see it, this is just a big farce,” Klutho added, eliciting large cheers from the audience.

Hillsborough Clerk of the Court Pat Frank took an opportunity to (once again) complain about how the Legislature failed to abide by a 2004 constitutional amendment transferring responsibility of funding clerks offices from counties to the state of Florida.

Frank said that collectively, clerks took in nearly $777 million in 2016, yet only $409 million went back to their offices.

There was lots of talk about guns both from Second Amendment supporters and gun control advocates. Each side warned the commission not to allow changes to the constitution supporting the other side.

“Any changes are an abridgment to liberties of the citizens,” said Nicholas Malone.

Sarah Johnson, with the anti-gambling advocates at No Casinos, said gambling groups have violated the state constitution for years by no longer going through the people to expand gambling, going directly to state legislators instead.

“We believe this shift violates Article 10, Section 7 of Florida’s current constitution,” Johnson said, adding that the power to allow building casinos in a community should be left to the voters.

Johnson then called for support of the Voter Control of Gambling Amendment.

“Deciding whether Florida becomes the next Las Vegas or Atlantic City shouldn’t be up to the legislators, it should be up to the voters of Florida,” she said.

As was the case in several other CRC public meetings, members of the public called for open primaries, allowing independents to vote in Democratic and Republican primary elections.

“I’ve been a Republican for over 45 years,” said Penny Hunter, “and I can’t imagine why we closed our primaries.”

Hunter lamented about how phony write-in candidates prevent voters from a different party to run in the primaries.

Citizens at the meeting also advocated for ranked choice voting, public financing of campaigns and the automatic restoration of voting rights for ex-felons.

Several members of the League of Women Voters repeated similar talking points, each calling for the commission to act with full transparency in their meetings.

Mickey Castor was concerned that the Commission would change the Fair Districts Amendment voters passed in 2010.

Gerald White requested that the Commission place a measure on the ballot to make the Secretary of State an elected Cabinet position. A bill sponsored in the Senate by Fernandina Beach Republican Aaron Bean looking to do just that died on the last day of Session.

After most of the crowd repeatedly applauded statements made by progressives, Commission Chair Carlos Beruff castigated the audience, admonishing them to keep quiet.

Audience members then flashed green cards in support of statements, red cards in opposition.

The meeting was held at the Dale Mabry Campus of Hillsborough Community College.

Tallahassee

Constitutional panel agrees to follow state budget language

The Constitution Revision Commission met on Wednesday for the first time to to go over their controversial rules while meeting in Tampa.

A rules committee first met before a public hearing, scheduled for tonight, starting with a lengthy discussion kicked off by GOP former state Sen. Don Gaetz.

The 37-member board should abide by budget language pending before Gov. Rick Scott that the commission adopt a budget, and do it with a vote of two-thirds of the board, he said.

It would also require that commission Chair Carlos Beruff receive approval from a majority of the panel before hiring employees.

“I think it’s probably not a first good step to be a half-beat off from what the Legislature has developed,” Gaetz said.

Because the governor hasn’t signed the budget (and in fact could veto it), CRC member Tim Cerio questioned whether it was appropriate to support Gaetz’s motion.

The former Senate President (2012-14) countered that if the governor vetoed the budget, he would come back and strike the language out next month.

The committee also supported a motion from former Senate Democratic Leader Arthenia Joyner of Tampa to have Beruff select a vice chair to fill in for him when he is absent.

Joyner had raised that issue in an interview for the March 23 edition of Sixty Days, Florida Politics’ email that comes out during legislative sessions.

“I’m concerned about the fact that we don’t have a vice-chair,” she said. “So there’s no continuity in the event that (Beruff), for some reason, becomes incapacitated and can’t act. That affects how people feel about the integrity of the process if one person is controlling who presides and we don’t have a succession plan if he can’t function.”

In Tampa, Jay Fant says House ‘out of whack’ for zeroing out funding for Enterprise Florida

Jay Fant was back in Tampa Tuesday night, where he once again registered his disagreement with House Speaker Richard Corcoran over the House vote to zero out funding for Enterprise Florida.

The Jacksonville Republican state representative, speaking to the Hillsborough County Republican Executive Committee as he starts his campaign for attorney general, said he gets along very well with Corcoran, agreeing with him 90 percent of the time.

But Fant disagrees with the House’s “method of how they handled this budget in relation to the governor’s Enterprise Florida program.”

Enterprise Florida is the public-private state agency handling the state’s business recruitment efforts.

Gov. Rick Scott asked the Legislature for $85 million for Enterprise Florida before Session began earlier this year, but the budget passed by the House provides zero funding for the program.

The amount of money is less than 1/10th of one percent of the entire budget, Fant said, expressing amazement that the impasse could ultimately result in Scott vetoing the entire budget.

“If I sound critical of the House’s approach in this method, then I am,” Fant admitted. “We have education, health, transportation, many good programs that occur in our budget, and if we jeopardize it over a food fight over a meaningful smaller, legitimately debatable item, then I think we’re out of whack, and I think we need to come back and find a compromise, not jeopardize our funding from the state.”

Scott has not indicated if he will veto parts of the budget — or the entire thing. State lawmakers could override the governor’s vetoes in a special session. Republicans control both the House, where Republicans outnumber Democrats by 79-41, and the Senate, where the GOP is in control by a 24-15 margin.

Republicans control both the House, where Republicans outnumber Democrats 79-41, and the Senate, where the GOP is in control by a 24-15 margin.

Fant launched his candidacy for attorney general last week, and Tuesday’s appearance before the Hillsborough GOP group was his second visit in Tampa in the past week.

Also on Tuesday, Fant announced that he had asked retired U.S. Air Force Col. E.J. Otero to serve on his campaign as national security co-chair.

Ag. Commish candidate Denise Grimsley introduces herself to Tampa Republicans

Republican Agriculture Commissioner candidate Denise Grimsley made the first of what should be many visits to Tampa during the next year-and-a-half, introducing herself to local Republicans and speaking about her credentials as to why she’s the best candidate to succeed Adam Putnam.

Like Putnam, she’s a fifth-generation Floridian, but unlike him, she had an entire career outside of politics before being elected in 2004 to represent Highlands County in the Florida House.

Grimsley spent 17 years in the health care field. She also spent time as a citrus grower and rancher when she took over for her ailing father at the Grimsley Oil Company.

“When I did that, I started seeing how government impacted our day-to-day life,” Grimsley told the Hillsborough County Republican Executive Committee, which gathered at the River at Tampa Bay Church Tuesday night. Before that, she said, she had little interest in the workings of government.

“Up until then, even at my job at the hospital. I didn’t have a lot of involvement with state government or the federal government, but when I started running this company I saw how the Department of Transpiration oversaw our business, I saw how the Department of Agriculture oversaw our business, every single state agency had their  hand in our business in one way or another,” she said.

As chairwoman of the Florida Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Stores Association, Grimsley said that she spent an entire legislative session in Tallahassee and was met mostly with ignorance or indifference. That experience ultimately led to her decision to run for the state House in 2004, where she served until 2012.

She then won in Senate District 26 (representing eight different counties) in 2012, but said she didn’t seriously consider running for Ag. Commissioner until former House Speaker Steve Crisafulli announced in January that he would not be running for the position.

She says she’s concerned about citrus greening and other diseases that are wreaking havoc with Florida growers. She believes her public and private sector experience make the best candidate for the job.

Before the meeting began, an aide to Grimsley asked members of the audience to sign a petition to get Grimsley on the ballot. She says she would be the first statewide Republican candidate since the 1990s to qualify for the ballot by petition … She needs more than 118,000 signatures by next summer.

Other Republicans running for the position include Paul Paulson and North Fort Myers Representative Matt Caldwell, who has just released his first campaign video.

Ben Carson to keynote Hillsborough GOP’s Lincoln Day Dinner

Dr. Ben Carson, the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development in the Donald Trump administration, will be the keynote speaker for the Hillsborough County Republican Party’s Lincoln Day Dinner scheduled for June 9.

That announcement was made Tuesday night by Deborah Tamargo, the chair of the Hillsborough GOP, at the party’s monthly meeting in Tampa.

Congressmen Gus Bilirakis, Vern Buchanan and Dennis Ross will also appear at the dinner, as will House Speaker Richard Corcoran.

A native of Detroit, Carson grew up poor and was raised by his single mother, eventually graduating from Yale University and University of Michigan Medical School.

In 1984, Carson became the director of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins University. At age 33, he was the youngest doctor in America to rise to that position.

Carson earned worldwide recognition in 1987 when he led the team performing the first successful separation of conjoined twins, Benjamin and Patrick Binder, who were joined at the head. The procedure took five months of planning, and the surgery was over 22 hours using a 70-person team. He is also credited with discovering hemispherectomy, a procedure where half a brain is removed in a patient to cure certain brain diseases causing seizures.

Carson documented his life story in an autobiography, “Gifted Hands,” which made him a national hero, particularly among African-Americans. He has written several books since, including “One Nation,” which became a New York Times best-seller in 2014.

In 2008, President George W. Bush awarded Carson with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest award given to a civilian.

After ending a Republican bid for president in 2016, Carson — an early Trump supporter — became Trump’s pick for HUD secretary in February 2017. The U.S. Senate confirmed him March 2 on a 51-48 vote. He was a controversial nominee because of his lack of experience in either housing or development, or government in general.

Kathy Castor dismisses talk of her running for Tampa mayor

Kathy Castor is not interested in running for Tampa mayor in 2019.

Elected in November to a sixth term in Congress representing Hillsborough County, the idea that Castor was contemplating leaving Washington to succeed Bob Buckhorn was floated by Patrick Manteiga in his La Gaceta column late last month.

On Tuesday, Castor dismissed such speculation.

“You know, I love my hometown, and I’m in a fabulous position to be able to advocate for my hometown,” she told FloridaPolitics.com. “And that’s what I intend to do — stay right where I am, if the voters will continue to have confidence in me.”

Castor was elected in the Democratic wave of 2006, when the party stunningly picked up 31 seats, putting them back in charge of the House of Representatives for the first time since the Newt Gingrich-led Republican party took over the House some 12 years earlier.

Castor won the open seat left vacant by Jim Davis’s decision to run for governor by winning a primary over four Democrats, including current County Commission Chairman Les Miller.

Florida’s 14th Congressional District seat is considered to “lean strongly Democratic,” though the most recent redistricting before last year’s elections reduced the Democratic advantage in Florida from roughly 14 percent to 7 percent.

Republicans retook the House in 2010, but with Democrat Barack Obama in the White House, Castor was able to maintain some influence, most notably in the president’s decision in December of 2014 to reestablish relations with Cuba. That effort was paved in part by Castor’s 2013 announcement that it was time to end the economic embargo against the Communist island nation.

In doing so, she became the first elected official in Florida to make such a declaration since sanctions took place more than fifty years earlier.

Castor currently serves as the Vice-Ranking Member of the House Energy & Commerce Committee, one of the first committees to review the first iteration of the American Health Care Act, the House GOP health care plan designed to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. The AHCA passed the House earlier this month.

Buckhorn’s second and final term in office as mayor is slated to end April 2019, with nearly two years until Tampa voters will be asked to decide on his successor.

Gus Bilirakis wants Donald Trump to talk human rights when meeting Turkish president

Gus Bilirakis is calling on Donald Trump to speak about the deteriorating state of human rights in Turkey, just before the president is scheduled to sit down with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the White House Tuesday.

“As it is a critical moment for Turkey and the U.S.-Turkish relationship, the United States must be candid and consistent in our support of democratic values and respect for human rights for the sake of Turkey’s future, as well as the long-term interests in the region of both the United States and our NATO allies,” writes the Tarpon Springs Republican congressman in a letter made available Tuesday afternoon. “We, therefore, urge you to make support for Turkish democracy a priority, both in your meetings with President Erdogan and in U.S. policy toward Turkey thereafter.”

Erdogan has been under fire for a contested referendum that vastly expanded his executive power, as well as his government’s crackdown on dissidents and civil society after an attempted coup last summer.

Trump is reportedly among the minority of world leaders who actually called and congratulated Erdogan on his recent victory in the referendum giving him sweeping constitutional powers and extending his potential political lifespan.

“Over the past several years, Erdogan and his allies have a continuous assault on the rule of law, particularly using the courts to stifle fundamental rights, including free speech, to quash any opposition to their undemocratic actions,” writes Bilirakis, a co-chair of the Hellenic Caucus.

As his staff indicates, Bilirakis has often spoken out against Turkish provocation and threats to the sovereignty of Greece.

Bilirakis represents Tarpon Springs in Congress. That city has the largest population of Greek-Americans of any city in Florida.

In Tampa, public officials blast education bill, urge Rick Scott veto

A host of political and education issues came together Tuesday in West Tampa to trash the massive $419 million public education bill that GOP lawmakers unveiled and passed in the final days of the Legislative Session.

“This is the mother of all education bills, ” said Rep. Sean Shaw. The Tampa Democrat was referring to House Bill 7069, a 278-page conforming bill agreed to in secret and barely surviving a vote in the Senate before the Legislature adjourned earlier this month.

HB 7069, a massive 278-page education conforming bill that was agreed to in secret, barely survived a full vote in the Senate. Public school officials throughout the state have blasted the bill for its enormous incentives for privately run charter schools.

As a freshman who just completed his first session in the Florida House, Shaw said that the way he thought things were supposed to work in Tallahassee is that a bill is introduced in a committee and goes through other committees. Then, if it survives that process, the bill is ultimately voted on in the House and/or Senate.

Not this time.

“Not only is it filled with bad policy, the procedure with which it was done was way out of wack,” Shaw lamented.

Three members of the Hillsborough County School Board — Susan Valdes, Sally Harris and Cindy Stuart — all appeared at the news conference held at West Tampa Elementary.

On Monday, the Florida School Boards Association became the latest organization calling on Gov. Rick Scott to veto HB 7069. In addition to criticizing the lack of transparency in the crafting of the bill, the FSBA have an issue on how Title 1 dollars would be spent if the bill passed.

“The way that the state has now taken a federal law and reregulated it basically at the state level is going to siphon millions and millions of dollars away from our schools that have the highest concentration of poverty,” said a concerned Jeff Eakins, the superintendent of the Hillsborough County School District.

Another controversial provision allocates $140 million for the House’s “schools of hope” proposal, aimed mostly at encouraging charter schools with a track record of helping academically struggling students. The measure would help open branches of charter schools near traditional schools that continually do poorly on state report cards.

“So if we’re going to incentive the charter school that works down the street from a ‘failing school,’ what happens to the failing school that we’ve given no funds to get better?” asked a frustrated Shaw. “What happens in the next five years? The next 10 years?

“This harmful education bill continues to divert our tax dollars from our public schools, many going to for-profit corporations that act as charter schools,” said Tampa-area Democratic Congresswoman Kathy Castor.

Mindy Taylor, an advocate for the Alliance for Public Schools, says her organization is most concerned about parental engagement, increasing funding for public schools, and maintaining local control of schools.

“The provision in HB 7069 violate each of these priorities,” Taylor said.

Eakins stated that Hillsborough receives about $8 million annually for a recruitment retention program to lure nationally certified teachers to teach in some of the county’s poorest area. “That’s $8 million we will not be able to use in that particular program,” he said. “The impact is going to be real.”

Other provisions in the bill include additional funding for social services at a limited number of traditional public schools that are failing, an expanded bonus program for teachers and principals, restrictions on teacher tenure-like policies, a recess mandate for elementary schools, and the elimination of a required high school math exam.

A report from POLITICO on Monday indicated that Scott may, in fact, veto HB 7069.

“We’ve got to make sure we properly fund education, whether we have a great state college system, we have a great K-12 system,” the governor said. “We’ve got to continue to do that.”

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