Mitch Perry, Author at Florida Politics - Page 3 of 286

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

Randi Weingarten doesn’t share Jeb Bush embrace of Betsy DeVos as Education Secretary

Though education was rarely discussed by Donald Trump on the campaign trail, at the top of his list of priorities was to spend $20 million on school choice, which would come from “reprioritizing federal dollars.” In picking Michigan billionaire Betsy DeVos to serve as his Education Secretary, he made it clear that intended to make school choice and voucher plans for low-income families a focal point of his education agenda.

And Jeb Bush has been effusive in praising the selection every step of the way.

In November, the former Florida Governor described DeVos as an “outstanding pick” for to lead the Department of Education. In December, he said he was “so excited” when talking about her at the National Summit on Education Reform, sponsored by the Foundation for Excellence in Education, which he founded and chairs and on which DeVos serves as a board member.

Now, just before her confirmation hearing was set to take place (since postponed until next week), Bush is back again, penning a letter to the Senate’s Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, where DeVos will appear next week. In the note, he praises her as a “champion of families, not institutions.”

“For her, local control of education decisions means local control,” he wrote. “She trusts parents to choose what is in their unique child’s best interests, and she believes in providing every parent with the resources to pursue those decisions.”

DeVos is a leader in the movement to privatize the U.S. public-education system but has quickly become a lightning rod in the education world since her nomination by the president-elect.

One of her biggest critics is Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, the one-million-member-plus union that endorsed Hillary Clinton in November’s presidential election. She says that DeVos simply doesn’t believe in public education.

“These are the schools that 90 percent of children go to,” Weingarten told FloridaPolitics on Monday afternoon. “The job of an education secretary, not a lobbyist, but an education secretary, is to strengthen and improve public schools. Her entire ideology, her zealousness, her lobbying for the last two-to-three decades has been to undermine public education.”

Weingarten said that was most evident in the past year in Michigan, where she says DeVos “fought aggressively against the consensus” that the establishment in Detroit had envisioned recreating a public school system.

One of DeVos’ various groups, the Great Lakes Education Project, supported an A-F accountability system that the state created for Detroit. But POLITICO reports that the group fought back hard against a proposed Detroit commission focused on improving both charters and traditional schools, contending it would be beholden to the city’s mayor and school district officials.

“Her antipathy towards public schools is something that she has worn proudly on her sleeve,” says Weingarten.

Bush’s embracing of DeVos isn’t just turning off officials with the teacher’s unions. As quickly became apparent on the campaign trail in early 2015, the one-time presidential candidate’s support for federal Common Core standards was a big turnoff for some conservative groups.

Jane Robbins, a senior fellow with the American Principles Project in Washington, penned a column on the Townhall website calling DeVos selection “Jeb’s Revenge.”

“Jeb Bush and his ideological compatriots, including DeVos, advance what could be called a “government-foundation cartel” model of educational policy-making,” Robbins wrote. “Private foundations funded by wealthy individuals (who themselves may be dilettantes with no real experience in education) contribute ideas, and frequently personnel, to the government to achieve their policy goals.”

Robbins went on to say Bush “surely believes she’ll use the stratagems the cartel has employed for so long to impose its own vision of what American education should be. DeVos must instead assure the grassroots that she’ll use her new position to eliminate federal interference and truly return education policy to the states. Trump was elected to achieve that goal, not to install Jeb’s agenda. He should make sure DeVos understands that.”

Weingarten criticizes Bush’s education policies in Florida, saying he became obsessed with high stakes testing.

“Look at what Jeb Bush did, and all the work that was promised, by Jeb Bush, by George W. Bush, to have funding going into reading or any kind of investment to actually ensure that high standards were realized,” she says. “None of that materialized in Florida.”

Weingarten adds: “What happened instead was this competition amongst schools, this corporatization among schools, and this disruption which created huge anxieties amongst parents, teachers and children which cut the funding in so many different places and which created these restaurant-like reports cards from A to E or F that reduced everything to testing. Teachers were subjected to test based evaluation as opposed to other kinds of evaluation, and you see fewer people going into teaching and lack of joy in schools throughout Florida, and where superintendents rose up against it, parents rose up against it, and people have been fighting it, tooth and nail.”

DeVos confirmation is now scheduled to take place January 17.

Blaise Ingoglia, Christian Ziegler introduce new plans as Florida GOP chair race approaches

As the race for Republican Party of Florida chair heads into its final days, Blaise Ingoglia and Christian Ziegler are proposing new plans to try to persuade fellow executive members to vote for them this Saturday.

Ziegler is the 34-year-old Sarasota County Committeeman challenging Ingoglia’s re-election bid. He introduced a new website called The GOPExchange, a place Ziegler says where County Republican Party leaders can securely browse and download previously developed resources and used by other county parties to help support their efforts to fundraise, communicate, get out the vote and promote elected officials after they’ve taken office.

Ziegler says if elected to lead the party, he’ll lead a team of individuals who can field custom design requests from counties and help execute these materials to fit their individual county best.

“The goal of this cost-cutting and time-saving resource isn’t just to help strengthen our county parties, but to also free up our County Party Leaders by taking them away from the computer and putting them in the most valuable place they can be — in their community,” he wrote in an email statement to committee members Tuesday.

Last week Ziegler announced that, as chair, he would institute the Florida GOP Republican Party Platform Educational Series” during its Quarterly Meetings to help educate and “give us the tools necessary to become experts on the official principles & policies of the Republican Party.”

Ziegler says that he would welcome guests from conservative think tanks like the Heritage Foundation, the CATO Institute, the American Enterprise Institute and others to take a deep dive into issues regarding the constitution, immigration, education, health care, national security and other matters.

“The goal would be to read through the platform, listen to an expert explain the importance of that portion of the platform, host a Q/A & debate session at the end of the class and leave that session with a deep understanding and talking points about a portion of the platform,” he writes.

Meanwhile, Ingoglia has offered up his own series of proposals and proposed four different programs Wednesday. They are:

1 — Trump Republican Clubs — Noting how many new voters who jumped on the “Trump Train” and registered as Republican back in the spring, Ingoglia says the job of the RPOF is to keep them involved with the party by forming these clubs. “If we can keep these new voters engaged and voting each election cycle, we will be an unstoppable force,” he says.

2 — Florida GOP University — Ingoglia says that while he’s expanded training over the past two years, there are some Republicans who can’t attend the quarterly meetings where they’ve taken place. That’s why he’s proposing what he calls “Florida GOP University” to bring that training to local Republican Executive Committee members in their individual counties.

3 — RPOF Enhanced Training — Ingoglia says he’ll have at least 7 training seminars planned for the RPOF’s first quarterly meeting.

4 — Republican Business Council — This is a plan to get more small business people involved with local REC’s. “The RPOF will encourage and help local parties set up “Republican Business Councils” in your counties under a club charter,” Ingoglia writes. “These “luncheon clubs” will be a good resource for future local fundraising,” he writes in bold italics.

The two men will face each other in the election slated for this Saturday at the Rosen Centre in Orlando.

Kathy Castor says Rick Scott is spreading misleading and inaccurate information about the ACA

U.S. Representative Kathy Castor says that a letter that Governor Rick Scott recently sent to House of Representatives Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy regarding the Affordable Care Act contains “misleading and inaccurate information.”

The two Florida politicians have always been on opposing sides regarding President Obama’s signature domestic achievement. As a former health care executive, Scott was criticizing what is often called “ObamaCare” before he ever ran for governor, while Castor has been a champion of the law since it was signed into law in 2010.

“For far too long, it has been fashionable in Washington to say Obamacare can only be tweaked,” Scott wrote to McCarthy. “The impact of Obamacare has been devastating in Florida and our nation. Obamacare was sold on a lie from the very start. Costs are skyrocketing, people have not been able to keep their doctors and many people have fewer doctors to choose from. The increases in health care costs are at a 32-year high and are expected to continue increasing in the coming months. Recent news of Obamacare rates rising 25 percent is absurd and families simply cannot afford it. We can do better and the families and businesses footing the bill deserve better.”

Scott also called for giving Florida the “flexibility to run our own Medicaid program that uses the states managed care model,” and that be given the ability to enact reforms such as charging Medicaid beneficiaries a fee for using the emergency room in “non-emergency room situations.” And he advocated for realigning the methodology for calculating Medicare Part B premium cost of living adjustments. The current methodology, he says, is resulting in a disproportionate on state Medicaid programs, including Florida, where he says it has an estimated $82 million inpact over the past two years.

On Tuesday, Castor rebutted Scott, writing her own letter to McCarthy.

In the letter, she says that Scott neglected to mention that 1.7 million Floridians now have health care coverage due to the ACA. She also says that the ACA’s consumer protections (such as banning insurance companies from discriminating against those with pre-existing conditions, removing lifetime caps on coverage and allowing people under 26 to stay on their parents plans) have benefited the nearly 9 million Floridians who have employer backed insurance.

Castor writes that Scott has also overlooked the fact that the rate of growth of private insurance plans “has been held in check” in recent years.

“Governor Scott failed to mention significant cost savings to Floridians in his letter,” writes Castor. “Florida families with employer coverage saw their premiums grow by only 1.3 percent per year from 2010 to 2015, compared with 8.2 percent over the previous decade. If premiums grow in line with the national average in 2016, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) estimates that premiums in Florida will be $7,600 lower today than if grown matched the increase pre-ACA.”

Castor also says that plans to offer Medicaid block grants to the states “is a ruse to institute draconian cuts.”

The governor was in Tampa on Tuesday making an announcement about his proposals for higher education. When asked about his letter to McCarthy, he said, “I know it’s really important that everybody has access to high quality health care, but if you can’t afford it it doesn’t matter how good the quality is. That’s not something that we want for our society. What’s important to me is that we have a national plan that works, that controls costs….you have to focus on costs, you have to focus on quality,  you have to focus on service, and the ACA didn’t do those things.”

Bill Nelson now officially backing Stephen Bittel to lead Florida Democrats

U.S. Senator Bill Nelson has made it clear what had been strongly rumored for the past month now – he’s firmly behind Coconut Grove real estate developer and Democratic party donor Stephen Bittel in the race for the Florida Democratic Party Chair position.

“I have known Stephen Bittel for over 30 years and believe he will be an extraordinary Chair of the Florida Democratic Party,” Nelson said on Tuesday, just four days before the state’s executive committee votes on a new leader. “Stephen has been a dedicated advocate for the principles of the Democratic Party for many years and is a leader who has the smarts and heart to unite the party in addition to implementing plans that will help rebuild the party from the ground up. While there are several qualified candidates in this race, I am convinced that Stephen is the right person to chair the Florida Democratic Party,  he has my full support and I ask that you join me in this effort.”

Nelson told this reporter on December 15 that while he did not want to put his considerable influence in the race just yet, he said it was “time for us to get a very professionally run Democratic Party that has a chance of standing up against a very organized and very well-funded Republican Party,” adding that, “I think Stephen Bittle would bring that type of professionalism to the organization.”

Momentum has been going Bittel’s way to lead the party before he was even eligible to compete for the position. In fact, the circumstances allowing him to first be named a precinct captain with the Miami-Dade Democratic Executive Committee and then state committeeman is now the source of a lawsuit (as reported today in the Miami New Times).

Bittel also received good news Monday night in the form of a formal declaration of support from the Hillsborough County Democratic Executive Steering Committee.

“We decided that we would back Bittel as long as he was in running,” said Hillsborough DEC Chair Ione Townsend, who said of all the candidates that “at this point they all have the same platform, they’ve all adopted all  the same language and all the same ideas and the platforms are basically the same, so it boils down for us who we thought had the best chance of executing that plan, and we thought that Mr. Bittel had the best chance of executing that plan.”

When asked how the steering committee came to that conclusion, Townsend noted Bittel’s “proven record for fundraising and as a CEO.”

“We think that the FDP needs to be run more professionally and more business like,” she added.

The Hillsborough support for Bittel is another seeming blow to the chances of Alan Clendenin, the South Tampa based longtime DNC committeeman who lost a bid for state committee in his own DEC last month, and ultimately relocated to Bradford County to make himself eligible in the race this Saturday. When asked if there was any support among the 20 or so members of the steering committee on Monday night, Townsend diplomatically replied, “Let’s just say we decided we would back Mr Bittel.”

The race for FDP chair takes place this Saturday in Orlando. Along with Bittel and Clendenin, former state Senator Dwight Bullard, Duval County committeewoman Lisa King and Osceola County DEC Chair Leah Carius are on the ballot.

In wake of Orlando shooting, Vern Buchanan renews call to pass bill imposing death penalty for cop killers

One day after Debra Clayton was shot and killed, Sarasota area Republican Vern Buchanan is once again calling Congress to pass his bill making it easier to sentence cop killers to death.

Clayton, a 17-year veteran of the Orlando Police Department, died Monday morning while attempting to arrest a murder suspect. Hours later, an Orange County Sheriff’s deputy also died in an auto accident during the pursuit of the alleged killer wanted in the slaying of his pregnant former girlfriend.

“These vicious attacks against police must end,” Buchanan said. “My legislation sends a strong message to those who target police — you will be held accountable.”

Buchanan’s “Thin Blue Line Act” (H.R. 115), would make the murder or attempted murder of a police officer, firefighter or other first responders an “aggravating” factor in death penalty determinations.

Former Pinellas County Congressman David Jolly sponsored a similar bill in 2015.

Deadly shootings and ambush attacks contributed to a five-year high in U.S. law-enforcement fatalities in 2016, according to data from the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, a nonprofit organization based in Washington, D.C.

There were 135 officers killed on the job last year, and gun-related incidents were the leading cause of death, a report released last month indicated.

William J. Johnson, executive director of the National Association of Police Organizations (NAPO), praised Buchanan’s bill in a statement issued out by the congressman’s office, saying assaults against police have increased sharply in recent years. In 2016 alone, ambush-style killings of law enforcement officers increased by 167 percent, according to NAPO.

“Establishing stricter penalties for those who harm or target law enforcement officers will deter crime,” Johnson said. “Any persons contemplating harming an officer must know that they will face serious punishments.”

The legislation would be applicable when a murdered individual is on duty, in the performance of their duty, or because of their status as a public official.

The proposal covers federal, state, and local police officers, firefighters and first responders. The only requirement is that the homicide involves federal jurisdiction, such as an interstate homicide of an officer, one killed on federal land, or while serving as part of a joint task force.

Buchanan’s press staff said it is unclear at this time if the Thin Blue Line Act would apply in the case of the incident Monday in Orlando.

“We owe a great debt to police officers and first responders across the country,” Buchanan said. “Just as we recently witnessed during the Fort Lauderdale airport attack, these brave individuals put their lives on the line to keep us safe.”

Rick Scott introduces proposal to keep higher education affordable for Florida students

As everyone knows, Rick Scott has always been about adding jobs to the rolls since getting elected Governor of Florida in 2010. And since it helps to have a good education to get a good job, he’s been similarly focused in recent years on making it more affordable for Floridians to get a degree.

Continuing in that vein on Tuesday, Scott traveled to the New Tampa headquarters of USAA, the financial services company for the military community and their families, where he unveiled what his staff is calling his, “Finish in Four, Save More” legislative and budget proposals to encourage colleges and universities to make higher education more affordable for students and get them out of school within four years.

“I’ve not met one person to get out of a university or state college and said ‘I’m interested in not having a job,'” Scott said as the dozens of staffers and interns laughed as they observed the press conference. “No one’s interested in going on unemployment or public housing or anything like. They’re interested in living their dream.”

Scott cited statistics that show that only 44 percent of undergraduate students at Florida state universities graduate within four years and 71 percent of students are graduating with four year degrees within six years. “So we have to do better,” he said.

His legislative proposal includes a request for freezing for all state colleges and universities fees. Currently fees at universities average almost $100 per credit hour and colleges average more than $26 per credit hour.

He’s also calling on state colleges to freeze any tuition increases. That follows a 2014 legislative proposal that limited the state’s universities ability to establish or raise a tuition differential.

The plan allows would cut teaching assistant fees by 25 percent.  It would also expand the Bright Futures scholarship program to cover summer school classes (it currently only covers fall and spring semesters) and provide a sales tax exemption for students purchasing required textbooks, which Scott says will save students $48 million a year collectively.

“If you can’t afford your education, it doesn’t help if we have great universities and great state colleges,” the governor said later in meeting with reporters.

In the early part of the aughts, Florida’s university presidents bemoaned the low rate of statewide tuition, saying it hurt in recruiting esteemed professors from around the nation because of reduced funding available. That changed in 2007, when former Governor Charlie Crist signed legislation that approved a five percent tuition increase set by lawmakers. In 2008, the Legislature approved a six percent increase.

In 2009, Crist signed legislation allowing the Board of Governors to raise undergraduate tuition rates past whatever the Legislature approved. As long as the total increase didn’t exceed 15 percent per year, they were allowed to do this until tuition reached the national average, which was $8,893 in 2012-13.

Scott used that tuition rate hike against Crist when the two opposed each other for Governor in 2014.

The Legislature  passed and Scott signed into a law in 2014 a bill that eliminated automatic tuition increases, even for inflation.  The law did give the University of Florida and Florida State the ability to lobby the Board for a differential increase, up to a maximum of 6 percent.

The website 24/7 reported back in 2013 that Florida had the eight cheapest average tuition in the nation with an average instate tuition rate of $6,336.

Rick Scott is non-committal whether he would sign a bill allowing Floridians to carry guns in airport terminals

Rick Scott says he doesn’t have an opinion on whether or not he’d support a law that would allow licensed gun owners to carry guns in airport terminals.

The question came to him on Tuesday, four days after 26-year-old Army Veteran Esteban Santiago, who is accused of killing five people at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport on Friday after he recovered his gun that he had picked in his suitcase and then retrieved at the baggage claim area.

A proposal by Sarasota Republican Greg Steube that would allow a licensed gun owner to carry a gun in airports throughout the state is on the agenda for the Florida Legislature when they begin their session in March. The Steube bill (SB 140) does more than just allow for guns in airports – it would also allow the 1.7 million concealed weapons permit holders to carry guns on college campuses and in government meetings as well as carry openly in public.

“We’re in the middle of an investigation, and I’m looking forward to what happens at the end of that investigation,” Scott told reporters in New Tampa on Tuesday morning. “Right now my goal is to mourn with those who lost their lives, for those who are still in the hospital, and there will be time for politics once we finish this.”

Scott was asked twice more about the bill by reporters who wanted to get his general sense of the bill. He initially responded by again repeating the fact that there is an ongoing investigation into Santiago, as well as an ongoing manhunt for Markeith Lloyd, who Orlando Police say killed Master Sgt. Debra Clayton as she tried to confront him outside a Walmart.

“So my goal is to just finish these,” Scott said, referring to both cases.

But a television reporter asked again straight up – would he support the Steube bill if it landed on his desk?

“We have a legislative session that begins in the first part of March, so I know there will be a lot of legislation about a lot of different things. If it makes it to my desk I’ll review it,” he said.

Fort Lauderdale Democratic state Senator Gary Farmer was planning on announcing a gun control bill on Tuesday in response to the Fort Lauderdale killings.

Scott has had to contend with the killings in both Fort Lauderdale and Orlando in the past week.

“My heart goes out to the families impacted,” he said on Tuesday. “I went and visited many of them at the hospital at Broward Health and there was one family who just found out that they lost their mother and I talked to one who was active Air Force….Your heart goes out to them.”

Steube isn’t backing down from his bill in the wake of the airport shootings. If anything, he’s doubling down, telling the Orlando Sentinel that another armed person could have mowed down Santiago.”Had a licensed permit holder been one of those people standing right behind him, he’d have gotten one shot off and somebody would’ve pulled a gun out and shot him,” Steube said.





NextGen Climate running ad in Florida against Rex Tillerson’s nomination

In anticipation of Rex Tillerson’s confirmation hearing to be the next U.S. Secretary of State on Wednesday, NextGen Climate is airing ads in Florida and five other states this week, telling viewers to contact their senators to oppose Tillerson when his nomination comes before the entire U.S. Senate.

Tillerson is the longtime CEO of ExxonMobil who was picked by President-elect Donald Trump to head the State Dept. last month, but his close affiliation with Russian leader Vladimir Putin has been a source of controversy with some senators.

The ad, “Protect America,” comes as Trump has been criticized for dismissing intelligence reports that found Russia conducted a campaign of cyber attacks to interfere with U.S. elections, and previously suggested that he would lift sanctions against Russia.

“Donald Trump has made his values clear — instead of working to support the American people, he’s nominating corporate and Wall Street insiders,” said NextGen Climate President Tom Steyer. “Rex Tillerson has shown he puts corporate interests over American interests. The Senate must protect the public by rejecting his nomination.”

Steyer is also blasting Tillerson on the environmental front, claiming that under his leadership, ExxonMobil had “one of the worst environmental records,” and is currently under investigation for lying about the dangers of climate change.

On Monday, over 75 people protested in Tampa in front of Senator Marco Rubio’s office, calling on him to oppose Tillerson when he votes on his nomination in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

NextGen Climate Action is a Super PAC focused on giving support to environmentally active candidates.

See the ad below:



Janet Cruz among those backing Stephen Bittel’s bid for Florida Democratic Party leadership post

Coconut Grove real estate developer and major political donor Stephen Bittel rolled out a list of new endorsements of bid for Florida Democratic Party chair on Monday, including South Florida congressional members Ted Deutch, Lois Frankel, and Alcee Hastings .

Also backing Bittel is Janet Cruz, the House Minority Leader from Tampa, which also is the (once and former) home of Alan Clendenin, who is running again for the leadership post after losing a close race in 2013 to outgoing chair Allison Tant.

Clendenin lost his bid for state committeeman in Hillsborough County last month, losing by 12 votes to Russ Patterson. Although much was made about a bylaw interpretation by party chair Ione Townsend that precluded local elected officials from voting in the race, those votes would not have put Clendenin over the top in his own county. He ultimately moved to Bradford County and was elected as a state committeeman there, making him eligible to run for the chair position (a similar fate that occurred with Dwight Bullard, who, after losing to Bittel last month in Miami Dade County, moved to Gadsden County to become a committeeman and keep himself viable).

When Clendenin ran for party chair in 2013, there were some local Democrats who were not in his corner. Some of those sentiments were expressed in the aftermath of last month’s Hillsborough DEC vote.

On Tuesday night, Cruz issued this statement to

“Alan Clendenin has been a dear friend of mine for many years. I supported Alan for his first bid for Party Chair and there is no doubt that there is a great need for his voice within the Party.

However, if we are going to be successful in 2018 & beyond, we need a Chair with a proven record of delivering victories for Democrats up and down the ballot. Stephen Bittel is a dedicated, progressive warrior with the business and grassroots organizing experience necessary to execute a 67-county strategy that energizes Florida Democrats as we head into a crucial midterm election cycle.

I believe Stephen has the vision and the ability to raise the resources we will need to ensure Senator Bill Nelson is reelected, that we elect a Democratic Governor for the first time in 20 years, and that we continue to grow our legislative caucuses in the State House and State Senate. For the future of Florida’s working families, we need Stephen Bittel as the next Chair of the Florida Democratic Party.

Meanwhile, Bittel and Bullard both released a list of endorsements on Monday.

“In the past month, I’ve traveled from Destin to Dade, listening to the ideas of Democratic leaders in more than 40 Counties across the State,” Bittel said in a statement.“If we are to win statewide, we need to make sure that every voice is heard.  Today, we announce the endorsement of two dozen caucus chairs, Counties and voters who represent all the best Florida has to offer.  I’m proud to have their support, because together we will build a Democratic Party that will win for Florida’s families.”

Rounding out the field is Duval County’s Lisa King and Osceola Democratic party chair Leah Carius.

The election takes place this Saturday in Orlando.

Protesters in Tampa tell Marco Rubio to hold Rex Tillerson accountable during confirmation hearing

Rex Tillerson‘s confirmation hearing for Secretary of State begins Wednesday morning at 9 a.m., and dozens of activists in Tampa want to make sure that Marco Rubio holds Tillerson’s feet to the fire during that hearing.

At a rally in front of the Senator’s district office in Tampa’s Westshore area on Monday afternoon, approximately 75 people stood alongside Kennedy Boulevard denouncing Tillerson, with many critics mentioning his close ties to Vladimir Putin and the Russian government as a reason to oppose his nomination.

“Marco Rubio can stop this madness of Rex Tillerson’s appointment, and we’re out here to stand by him and say we agree with your concerns and thank you for looking out for us. You can be the one that stops this,” said Dayna Lazarus with Organize Now in Tampa.

Lazarus isn’t overhyping Rubio’s power in the confirmation process. With Republicans having just a one-seat majority on the 19-member Foreign Relations Committee, Rubio’s opposition — combined with ten Democrats on the panel — could keep the nomination from advancing out of committee, although his nomination would still ultimately come up before the entire U.S. Senate.

Rubio has already expressed some skepticism about Donald Trump’s nomination of Tillerson, who built a close relationship with Putin through his leadership as CEO of ExxonMobil. Putin awarded Tillerson with Russia’s Order of Friendship in 2013, a special honor bestowed upon foreign citizens who contribute to Russia’s culture, economy or international relations.

Rubio’s initial reaction to the pick wasn’t positive.

Rubio later said that he had “serious concerns about Tillerson’s nomination.

Rubio “has a responsibility to the state of Florida” to thoroughly vet Tillerson, said Marina Welch, who is heading up the Tampa Bay area region’s trip to Washington for the Women’s March on D.C. the day after Trump’s inauguration on January 21.

“We are out here to show Senator Rubio that we support his skepticism about this Rex Tillerson appointment, ” said Kent Bailey, chair of the Tampa Bay area chapter of the Sierra Club. “We want him to feel supported in doing the right thing, the courageous thing in standing up to the expected appointment of a man who has no business being Secretary of State, a man who has been Putin’s partner in crime for decades.”

Referring to the report that in 2001 Tillerson became the long-time director of a US-Russian oil firm based in the tax haven of the Bahamas, Bailey said that was a very profitable relationship for both Tillerson and Putin. “Tillerson got a friendship award from Putin just months before Russian invaded the Crimea and went into Ukraine. Our country put sanctions on Russia, which Rex Tillerson publicly and loudy argued against.”

About halfway through the event, protestors began chanting, “Reject Rex! Reject Rex!” Later, group of five were allowed to enter Rubio’s office and tell his staffers their feelings about why they want him to reject Tillerson.

On NBC’s Meet The Press on Sunday, Arizona Sen. John McCain and South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham both said they still have questions about they can support Tillerson.

There were many in the crowd who are also suspicious of Tillerson when it comes to his stance on global warming. In a 2012 speech, Tillerson said about the issue (which he does believe is a problem) that,”We have spent our entire existence adapting. We’ll adapt,” he said. “It’s an engineering problem and there will be an engineering solution.”

“Who’s going to pay for this engineering problem?” asked Tampa activist Jim Shirk at the protest. “Is he foisting off the response to global warming on everybody else except the people causing it?”

Tillerson’s confirmation hearing begins at 9 a.m. on Wednesday in Washington.


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