Mitch Perry, Author at Florida Politics - Page 2 of 332

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

Debbie Wasserman Schultz calls for special session to replace Confederate statue

(UPDATED) South Florida Democratic Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz wants the Florida Legislature to convene for a special session to deal with a Confederate monument that represents the state in the U.S. Capitol.

A bronze statue of Confederate General Edmund Kirby Smith continues to sit in the U.S. Capitol’s National Statuary Hall, despite legislation passed during the 2016 Legislative Session that approved removing it.

“While the events in Charlottesville represent our nation’s original sin, we know these hateful acts do not define who we are as a country. We must denounce white supremacy and domestic terrorism and stand up for love and compassion – not just with our words, but with our deeds,” Wasserman Schultz said in a statement.

Momentum to remove Smith from the congressional collection began in 2015 shortly after the South Carolina Legislature voted to remove the Confederate battle flag from its statehouse grounds. That seminal event took place after Dylann Roof went on a shooting spree in a black church in Charleston, South Carolina, killing nine black men and women. Roof had posed with a Confederate flag in photos.

Two competing bills regarding a statue that would have taken the place of Smith died in this year’s Legislative Session. One called for a likeness of educator and civil-rights activist Mary McLeod Bethune, while another proposed a statue of environmentalist Marjory Stoneman Douglas, author of “The Everglades: River of GrassNeither passed.

“Next year, we expect movement in the House and we’ll pass it in the Senate,” said state Sen. Perry Thurston, who sponsored the Bethune measure. “I am encouraged we will get it done next year.”

Each state has two statues on display in the Capitol. Florida’s other statue, a marble rendering of scientist-inventor Dr. John Gorrie of Apalachicola, a pivotal figure in the invention of air conditioning, is unaffected.

Wasserman Schultz says that leaving Smith’s statue in a place of honor “symbolizes a painful, disgraceful legacy.”

“It’s time to stop playing games,” she said on Tuesday. “No family visiting our nation’s Capitol should have to explain to their child that the statue representing our state honors someone who fought for a philosophy built on hatred and oppression.”

Wasserman Schultz says Governor Rick Scott and the Legislature must take immediate action by calling a one-day special session during their upcoming interim committee meetings to pass a bill with one of the three recommendations from the committee established by law: Douglas, Bethune or George Washington Jenkins, a philanthropist and the founder of Publix Super Markets.

“These three Floridians represent the best of the history of our state,” she said. “The removal of the Confederate statue must be made an urgent priority.”

“Like most politicians in Washington, the congresswoman is out of touch,” said House Speaker Richard Corcoran. “We’ve already made this decision and are now having a conversation about which great Floridian we should honor. The congresswoman should stop grandstanding and focus on balancing the Federal budget.”

Senate President Joe Negron did not respond to a request for comment.

Rick Scott reluctant to question President Trump’s call for possible military action in Venezuela

As Venezuela’s economy continues to spiral downwards, Governor Rick Scott has been championing the opposition to President Nicholas Maduro.

Scott is expected to ask the Florida Cabinet on Wednesday for a resolution prohibiting the State Board of Administration, which acts as the state’s investment manager, from investing in companies or securities that are owned or controlled by the Venezuelan government.

President Donald Trump threatened military action in Venezuela last Friday night, sparking condemnation from around the region, including from countries which are usually some of Maduro’s harshest critics.

Maduro has seized on Trump’s comments to reaffirm long-standing accusations that Washington is preparing a military attack. He called for military exercises on Monday, urging the public to join in a two-day operation on August 26 and 27 involving both soldiers and civilians.

“I know that the president is very concerned,” Scott told Florida Politics Tuesday when asked if he had any concerns about Trump’s provocative comment.

“I’ve talked to him about Venezuela a number of times. I think doing the sanctions was right against everybody involved with Maduro,” said the Governor, speaking to reporters at the Florida Aquarium after holding a press conference touting the record number of tourists who visited Florida during the first half of 2017.

“It’s disgusting what’s happening down there,” Scott said.

Scott derided the Maduro government for placing opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez under house arrest after he was released from prison following a three year sentence for leading anti-government protests.

“Maduro needs to step down, he needs to release all political prisoners, we need democracy again, ” Scott said.

The Governor has not officially declared himself a candidate for U.S. Senate, but is expected to at some point in the next year. He’ll face Democratic incumbent Bill Nelson. With the crisis in Venezuela exploding, both men have been competing with each other to show how devoted they are to the Venezuelan-American constituency in Florida.

Nelson has been seemingly trying to catch up to Scott in talking tough on the Maduro government. Last month he called the Trump administration to consider cutting off imports of Venezuelan oil. While limiting Venezuela’s oil imports to the U.S. is seen as a powerful weapon, it’s not clear how effective it would be, and is not something that even Marco Rubio has publicly called for (though he has said the issue should be on the table).

Nelson and Rubio introduced legislation in May to provide humanitarian assistance to the Venezuelan people and increase sanctions on the Venezuelan officials responsible for the ongoing crisis there. Meanwhile, officials close to the governor note that he has been concerned about the Venezuelan people going back to 2014.

Scott brushed off a question about whether he supported Nelson’s request, saying that the Trump administration is looking at everything that they can do to promote democracy.

Over 120 people have been killed since anti-government protests began in April, driven by anger over shortages of food and medicine and Maduro’s creation of a legislative superbody that governments around the world say is dictatorial.

“I’ve talked to a variety of people, including some people who do charity care down there and they can’t even get charity care in there,” Scott decried.

The governor then got personal, saying that his daughter is pregnant with twins, and said he couldn’t imagine having a daughter or wife in a country that is enduring a shortage of medicine, which is the case currently in Venezuela.

“Can you imagine that knowing that your wife or daughter or somebody is going to have a baby and you know that unfortunately you’re in a country where they won’t even allow in the right medicine to take care of their citizens?” he asked. “That’s wrong.”

Rick Scott: State will help UF prepare for white supremacist’s visit

Gov. Rick Scott said he’s asked state agency heads to offer the University of Florida whatever help it needs to prepare for next month’s campus visit by a noted white supremacist.

Scott on Tuesday said he contacted the heads of the Departments of Law Enforcement, Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles and the Florida National Guard. He asked them to confer with university President Kent Fuchs and Alachua County Sheriff Sadie Darnell on what assistance the state could provide.

UF administration and campus police are working on a security plan for Richard Spencer, the head of the white supremacist National Policy Institute.

He’s scheduled to appear on the Gainesville campus on Sept. 12. Scott said he wants to make sure that if university officials have any concerns that they can reach out to those law enforcement officials, adding that “they can always reach out to me.”

Scott has criticized events in Charlottesville, Virginia on Saturday that led to the death of a progressive activist.

“Whether it’s the KKK or neo-Nazis or white supremacists, it’s evil,” he told reporters Tuesday, after speaking at a news conference on tourism at Tampa’s Florida Aquarium. “They don’t belong in our society. Of course, we all know we have the First Amendment, but we’re not ever going to condone violence in our state.”

Scott was also asked about the continuing saga about a Confederate statue in Tampa that is scheduled to be discussed again at Wednesday’s Hillsborough Board of County Commission meeting.

Commissioners voted last month to move the statue to a cemetery in Brandon, but a slow-moving private fundraising effort created to pay to remove the statue has prompted speculation that some members of the board may be considering an idea of placing the movement of the statue on the 2018 ballot.

“We have a democratic process in our state, so any conversations like that should go through that process, and then everybody figure out how we’re going to work together,” Scott said.

A protest in Durham, North Carolina on Monday night against racism took a turn when participants toppled a Confederate statue. “The racism and deadly violence in Charlottesville is unacceptable, but there is a better way to remove these monuments,” tweeted North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper.

Scott didn’t weigh in on what he thought about maintaining or removing such monuments, but merely emphasized that everything should go through a formal process.

He trotted out statistics touting how well Florida is doing regarding crime rates and job openings, “because we have a process that works. But everybody has to go through that process. If there are any changes that we make, just go through a logical process and have a conversation about that. That’s what’s great about our country.”

The news conference at the Aquarium took place at the same time as the Tampa Port Authority was meeting down the street on Channelside Drive.

When Scott named Tampa businessman Mike Griffin to the Authority’s board earlier this month, he mentioned how he was “concerned to see media reports detailing wasteful spending by the executives at Port Tampa Bay.

“It’s your money, let’s all remember this,” he said Tuesday, regarding the Port. “If you’re going to go spend taxpayers’ money, it’s all somebody’s money. Let’s watch how that money is being spent, and let’s make sure it’s transparent, make sure it’s accountable.”

“I think Mike Griffin’s first board meeting is today. But all boards, everybody who’s elected, everybody who’s appointed, you’ve got to say yourself, this is somebody else’s money.”

Dick Greco Jr. still considering a Tampa mayoral run in 2019

Retired judge Dick Greco Jr. says he is still considering running for Tampa mayor in 2019.

“I’ve been talking to some friends and family, and quite flattered, was very flattered that some people were asking me if I would be interested, so I’m just looking at all my options and that type of thing now,” Greco Jr. said Friday.

Greco is, of course, the son of Dick Greco, who served as mayor for parts of four different terms in four different decades. He came up 384 votes in 2011 of making the runoff to win a fifth term.

Greco Jr. first discussed his mayoral ambitions in an interview with the Tampa Bay Times’ Sue Carlton last month. He says he’s thought about running for “years and years,” but says he never felt it was the right time to leave the bench, where he served as a county and circuit court judge before stepping down in January,

He graduated from Auburn University and the South Texas College of Law. Greco was a prosecutor in Hillsborough for two years in the 1980s. He later worked in private practice and as an assistant county attorney. In 1990, Greco won election to the county court bench, where he stayed until returning to private practice in 2002. Greco served as a senior judge in 2008 before Gov. Charlie Crist appointed him to the county bench in 2009.

One thing that Greco Jr. would have to do if he were to actually get into the race is move back to Tampa. He purchased a retirement home in Homosassa several years ago, and after leaving the bench earlier this year, he sold his Tampa home. But he says he is definitely moving back to Tampa.

“I think Tampa is a dynamic town,” he says.

Former police chief Jane Castor, former state Representative Ed Narain, businessman David Straz and Council members Mike Suarez and Harry Cohen have all had their names floated as potential candidates when Bob Buckhorn’s second term expires.

“There’s some really great individuals who are thinking about doing it,” he says. “I think Tampa would do well with any of the names that I’ve heard.”

Greco Jr. does acknowledge that since he stepped down from the bench in January, life has been pretty good.

“I’ve really been enjoying retirement, and I’ve been able to travel some, and have my own schedule, and come and go like I wanted to,” he says, acknowledging that “it would be a great commitment.”

“But it’s a great thing to do should I decide to run and if I was to win it’d be a great way to serve,” he surmises.

Greco Jr. says he will make the first decision about a potential candidacy probably at the beginning of 2018.

Ross Spano endorses Yvonne Fry in House District 58 contest

Ross Spano, who represents the Greater Brandon area in the House of Representatives, is endorsing Plant City businesswoman Yvonne Fry in the House District 58 special election.

“Yvonne Fry is the most qualified and well-prepared candidate to serve the residents of District 58,” Spano said on Friday. “We share a focus on education and small business issues. While I have been working to address these issues in Tallahassee, she has been hard at work here at home.

“Her knowledge, experience and conservative ideals will guide her as we work together to make East Hillsborough County a better place to live, work and raise a family. I look forward to serving with Yvonne in Tallahassee.”

Fry is engaged in a GOP battle for the seat against Plant City businessman Lawrence McClure. 

“Rep. Spano is and has always been a rock solid conservative voice in Tallahassee,” Fry said in a statement. “I cannot wait to have an opportunity to work with him to strengthen our education system and remove the burden of excessive taxes and regulations from our small businesses. I am extraordinarily grateful for his support.”

Earlier in the week, Fry was endorsed by Hillsborough County School Board member Melissa Snively.

Fry and McClure will are the two Republicans to announce their candidacy for the seat being vacated by Dan Raulerson, whose last day in office will be Aug. 15. The Plant City Republican is stepping down for health reasons.

The only Democrat to file for the seat so far is Jose Vasquez Figueroa, a long-shot candidate who has been unsuccessful in previous runs for state and local office. Libertarian Party of Florida candidate Bryan Richard Zemina also has filed.

The primary is Oct. 10, and the general election will be Dec. 19. District 58 covers much of east Hillsborough County, including areas of Plant City, Dover, Mango, Thonotosassa and Temple Terrace.

Vern Buchanan says momentum is growing for his bill to ban horse slaughter

Congress is just into the second week of a five-week summer August break, but that doesn’t mean lawmakers are staying idle when it comes to working on gaining support for legislation they’re sponsoring.

Take Sarasota’s Vern Buchanan, whose office announced Thursday that his bill that would ban the killing of horses for human consumption picked up its 150th co-sponsor in New York Republican Dan Donovan.

“The slaughter of horses for human consumption is a barbaric practice that must end,” Buchanan said.“We need to build on this momentum and get this bill signed into law.”

Last week, the SAFE ACT (Safeguard American Food Exports) was introduced in the Senate this month by Senate Republicans Susan Collins from Maine and South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham, and by Democrats Bob Menendez from New Jersey and Sheldon Whitehouse from Rhode Island.

The SAFE Act has been endorsed by the Humane Society of the United States, the Animal Welfare Institute and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

Although the slaughter of horses for human consumption is currently not allowed in the United States, the prohibition is temporary and subject to annual congressional review. There is no federal law prohibiting the transport of horses across American borders for slaughter in Canada or Mexico.

More than 100,000 American horses are exported to Canadian and Mexican slaughterhouses each year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Those horses are butchered and then transported overseas for consumption in Japan, Italy and other countries. More than 90 percent of these horses were healthy and in good condition.

The last horse slaughter plant in the U.S. shut down in 2007, and Congress has worked to keep them off U.S. soil every year by denying funding for required slaughterhouse inspections in its annual appropriations budgets.

Buchanan has received the U.S. Humane Society’s Legislator of the Year award for his strong record against animal cruelty.

At Senate Commerce hearing in St. Pete, Bill Nelson vows to keep oil drilling moratorium

While the U.S. Senate is officially in recess, Bill Nelson brought a bit of Washington D.C. to St. Petersburg.

On the USFSP campus Thursday, the Florida Democrat hosted a meeting of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, which focused on the threats to the state’s tourism-driven economy.

Last year, Florida attracted 112 million visitors, generating $108 billion for the state’s economy and supporting 1.4 million jobs. But that dependence on the tourism industry means any problems (man-made or through nature) could impact that cash cow for the state’s future economy.

Nelson was joined by local Democratic Reps. Kathy Castor and Charlie Crist, who also shared the dais with Clearwater Mayor George Cretekos, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, and Pinellas County Commission Chair Janet Long.

Nelson boasted about sponsoring the 2006 bill with then-GOP Florida Sen. Mel Martinez, calling for an oil drilling ban off much of the state’s Gulf Coast through most of 2022. That translates into a no-drilling zone through June 30, 2022, extending 125 miles off much of Florida’s Gulf Coast, reaching as far as 235 miles at some points in the eastern Gulf.

Nelson wants that ban to continue until 2027, but says it’s “vigorously opposed by the oil industry.”

Castor took Nelson’s idea further, saying her Florida Coastal Protection Act would prohibit oil drilling, leasing, preleasing and any related activities off the Gulf Coast and the Straits of Florida permanently. However, she had been reintroducing that bill in Congress for the past eight years.

Castor notes that a huge challenge to the tourism industry, as well as the future of everyday Floridians, is the changing environment — higher air-conditioning bills, more beach renourishment, and rising flood and property insurance rates.

“If we do not act now to get ahead of this, we’re going to be facing a very difficult future,” she said.

Another concern for Florida is that President Donald Trump has slated to completely cut funding for Brand USA, a federally funded organization to promote America overseas as a tourist destination.

“I think it’s the classic definition of a penny wise and a pound-foolish,” Nelson said, adding that Castor and Crist would fight to maintain that funding in the budget.

Also testifying were many local experts.

Mise en Place co-owner Maryann Ferenc, a member of the Brand USA  board of directors, told committee members the organization generated nearly $3.9 billion in federal, state and local taxes, and supports 50,900 incremental jobs annually.

Robin Sollie, president and CEO of the Tampa Bay Beaches Chamber of Commerce, indirectly referenced the attempted budget cuts to VISIT Florida in the Legislature this year when she spoke about Brand USA, particularly in “emerging markets like Dubai and Cuba.”

University of Florida Associate Dean of Research Sherry Larking said Florida’s tourist economy is based on natural resources. Preserving those resources was crucial for Florida’s economic interests, she said.

Mitchell Roffer, president of Roffer’s Ocean Fishing Forecast Service, said threats to Florida’s economy come from both inside and outside the state. He singled out water quality, habitat degradation, and climate change.

Wengay Newton warns Tampa City Council about the threat to CRA’s

Brandon-area state Sen. Tom Lee and Lithia Rep. Jake Raburn rankled members of the Tampa City Council earlier this year after they learned of the legislative proposal that would ultimately prevent cities and counties from creating Community Redevelopment Agencies (CRA’s).

While the bill did not make it to Gov. Rick Scott‘s desk, it might next year, St. Petersburg House Democrat Wengay Newton warned Thursday.

“I know that after serving eight years on the City Council in St. Petersburg the value of CRAs,” Newton told the Tampa City Council, which acts as its CRA. “I’m a champion for them, but when they have bad actors … then that becomes chapter and verse for the whole state, and they’ll pass laws to kill them and get rid of them.”

CRA’s hold on to a set percentage of the property taxes paid by residents of a community and then invests that money back into the area.

As motivation for his legislation, Lee cited the mishandling of CRA funds in South Florida, which led to a bill that would have eliminated all of the state’s CRAs by 2037, as well as create additional oversight and reporting requirements for all CRAs statewide.

The City Council was already well aware of the bills earlier this year, which prompted Chair Yolie Capin to contact both Lee and Raburn to ask them to “reconsider.”

Newton told Tampa lawmakers he supported one part of the bill that would allow counties to clawback funds once the blight in the CRA was alleviated. “What that means is that once there’s no more blight, you can’t just be throwing money around because you got it and it’s there,” he said, adding that the council should be “mindful” of their own spending.

“The bill didn’t go anywhere, but I guarantee it’ll be back next session,” he warned.

Councilman Mike Suarez said he appreciated the sentiments from his fellow Democrat, but if Scott knows of malfeasance being performed by CRA boards, he said the governor has the power to remove those members. “If they’re not doing the right thing, have ’em remove those people.”

“If they’re not doing the right thing, have ’em remove those people,” Suarez said.

Capin added that Tampa CRAs have done nothing illicit, and would gladly testify to that in Tallahassee next year if needed.

“I want to offer us up as an example of perfection in CRA,” Capin said. “They can scold Miami-Dade all they want, but you’re looking at a commission that’s been very vigilant.”

Marco Rubio says now’s the time to impose more sanctions on Venezuelan government

The Trump administration imposed sanctions Wednesday on eight more Venezuelan officials, including the brother of late socialist leader Hugo Chavez, punishing them for their roles in President Nicolas Maduro‘s creation of a new Constituent Assembly.

The actions by the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) will result in freezing all assets of the eight officials subject to U.S. jurisdiction, and American citizens are prohibited from dealing with them.

“I support the Administration’s imposition of a new round of sanctions against corrupt individuals involved in organizing or supporting the illegitimate and anti-democratic Constituent Assembly in Venezuela,” Florida GOP Sen. Marco Rubio responded. “Given the Maduro regime’s continued assault on democracy in Venezuela, the time has now come for the president to act on his promise to impose significant economic sanctions on the Maduro dictatorship.”

Washington slapped sanctions on Maduro himself last week, a day after the Constituent Assembly was sworn in. That same day Maduro ousted Attorney General Luisa Marvelia Ortega Diaz, who had ordered an investigation into possible fraud in the Constituent Assembly vote.

Most countries worldwide have dubbed the election fraudulent and say the Constituent Assembly is a sign of a dictatorship.

The Trump administration says harsher sanctions could come if the political situation continues to deteriorate. Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson hinted that the U.S. could impose a ban on Venezuelan oil, the country’s sole source of income.

However, such a move would likely only further hurt the Venezuelan people, making the South American nation’s food and medical shortage worse than it already is.

In Florida, more than 93,000 Venezuelan-Americans voted last month in a nonbinding straw poll, in advance of the Venezuelan vote on the Constituent Assembly.

Earlier this week, Nelson criticized Gov. Rick Scott for backtracking on a proposal to crack down on state money flowing to organizations or investments that could benefit the Venezuelan government.

Joe Saunders back at Equality Florida as senior political director

Joe Saunders, who along with David Richardson, became the first openly gay member of the Florida Legislature in 2012, is rejoining Equality Florida as its new senior political director.

In his new position, Saunders will lead the organization’s civic engagement programs, pro-LGBTQ mobilization efforts, and electoral programs.

“I can’t think of a more important place to be in 2018 than Florida,” Saunders said in a statement. “Florida is poised to be the first breakthrough Southern state in the work to ensure LGBTQ people are protected from discrimination. As the largest swing state in the country, Florida will hold a defining role in the national response to the politics of Washington, and we have hugely important races for U.S. Senate, Governor, Congress and a chance to reshape our state legislature. My time working nationally has reinforced for me that Equality Florida is one of the smartest and most capable LGBTQ organizations doing this work. I’m excited to be back.”

Richardson previously served nearly a decade as Equality’s field director before making history when he won an east Orlando seat in the Florida House of Representatives in 2012, concurrently with Miami Beach’s Richardson, making them both become the first openly elected Floridians to the legislature ever.

“Joe Saunders is a proven LGBTQ and progressive leader who brings an incredible wealth of skill, knowledge and talent to our work,” said Equality Florida Deputy Director and EQFL PAC Chair Stratton Pollitzer. “We stand at the edge of incredible opportunity for progress even as we see new and emboldened attacks coming from Washington and some leaders in our state Capitol. Under Joe’s leadership, Equality Florida stands ready to hold elected leaders accountable at the ballot and to lift up those who stand on the right side of history.”

Equality Florida was hopeful that this past legislative session would have passed the “Competitive Workforce Act, ” which would have treated sexual orientation and gender identity as similar to race, sex and religion in the state’s civil rights laws. The law would prohibit an employer from being able to fire or refuse to hire someone because of their gender identity or sexual orientation. Businesses like hotels, restaurants, and shops could not turn LGBT people away, and landlords could not reject a renter’s application.

The bill had picked up significant Republican support, but still ultimately died in the Governmental Oversight and Accountability Committee.

Show Buttons
Hide Buttons