Mitch Perry, Author at Florida Politics - Page 3 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

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.”

Chris King says uncontested Republican rule has failed Florida’s working families

Unlike the other four Democrats who have either entered the race for governor or are seriously flirting with the possibility, Winter Park businessman Chris King is somewhat of a blank slate for the majority of party members in Florida.

That’s why appearances at events like Monday night’s Hillsborough County Democratic Executive Committee are taking on added significance.

“We have an affordable housing crisis all over the state,” King addressed Democrats gathered at the Children’s Board of Hillsborough County in Ybor City. “It is felt deeply here in Hillsborough County. There are 2.6 Floridians who don’t have access to a doctor who knows their name. Forty-five percent of our jobs pay less than $15 an hour, we have partisan gerrymandering, we’ve been fighting for years, we have toxic algae blooms we  can see from space, 90 percent of our students are in public school, and 90 percent of the conversation coming out of Tally is about.”

He paused as the crowd quietly announced: “Charters.”

During his 22-minute speech, the 38-year-old King talked policy and biography. He followed that with another 15 minutes of question-and-answer with DEC members.

King is CEO of Elevation Financial group, the Winter Park company he began over a decade ago with his brother, which invests in affordable and senior housing in the Southeast. While he hits the familiar Democratic talking points — education, health care and the environment — King also makes an issue out of the lack of affordable housing in the state, an issue which many other Democrats only give lip service.

“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, referring to the fact that for the 10th year in a row, state lawmakers are proposing to sweep money from the affordable housing trust funds into the general revenue fund to spend on other purposes.

Echoing Bernie Sanders, King says the biggest problem in Florida is an economy which isn’t working for enough working families.

“Our economy is going in one direction — down,” he says, casting a different version of Florida than the one depicted last week by the only Republican to declare his candidacy for governor, Agriculture Secretary Adam Putnam.

“The story that is not told — and we haven’t done a good job as Democrats, unfortunately of telling it over the last several decades — is that the party that stands up and says they’re the party of economic opportunity, they’re the party of growth and business and jobs, jobs, jobs, jobs, actually in the last 15 years in Florida we’ve been on a steady decline. It’s not talked about, but it’s felt by working families all over Florida.”

King says that Florida’s per capita GDP is nearly identical today to where it was in 2000, and says that blame for that economic stagnation is completely on Republicans, who have controlled all levers of state government for nearly two decades.

“Florida is not growing, and it’s hurting families and our ability to do really anything that you and I care about,” King continued. He said if elected he would implement a “jump start fund” to make capital accessible to small business people.

King is one of three Democrats to have officially entered the 2018 sweepstakes for governor. Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum was the first candidate out of the gate, and was followed by former Tallahassee area Congresswoman Gwen Graham two weeks ago.

Orlando attorney/entrepreneur John Morgan says he’s no rush to declare if he’s running (or not), while Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine is in a “testing the waters” phase. Levine will speak at the Tampa Tiger Bay Club this Friday.


Activists express concern about transparency of Tampa CRC meeting Wednesday

Florida’s Constitution Revision Commission (CRC) stops in Tampa Wednesday for public comments on potential changes to the state Constitution.

However, progressive groups are once again calling upon the Rules Working Group to improve what they say is a lack of transparency in how the CRC conducts these meetings.

The Constitution Revision Commission is a group of 37 people appointed to review and recommend changes to the Florida Constitution. Every 20 years, the Commission examines the Florida Constitution, holds public hearings and recommend possible changes to the Constitution, which then goes up for voter consideration.

But a coalition of progressive groups says the proposed draft rules for the Tampa meeting “deviate” from the rules “in some significant ways” compared to earlier CRCs.

In a letter sent Monday to the CRC, the group decries a lack of transparency and respect for Sunshine Rules; a lack of articulated provisions for meaningful public engagement; the potential for leverage and influence over commission members, and an unclear track for approval of proposals.

“Transparency and a clear set of ground rules are essential to the credibility of the CRC. As members of the Rules Working Group, you have an opportunity to enhance public confidence in the work of the CRC,” reads the letter, signed by several officials from groups ranging from the ACLU of Florida, Planned Parenthood, Florida AFL-CIO, Indivisible Tampa Bay and Progress Florida, among others.

The first CRC meeting was in Tallahassee in March. A week later, activists chided the CRC for the lack of transparency in a news conference.

In earlier CRC meetings, citizens have come before the Commission to discuss potential constitutional amendments: opening up of primary elections; requiring that a certain percentage of power generated be from renewable sources; recall initiatives for elected officials and require anyone running for president provide five years of income tax returns.

Chairing the Constitutional Revision Commission is Manatee County developer Carlos Beruff, best known for challenging (and losing) to Marco Rubio in the 2016 Republican primary for U.S. Senate.

The CRC meeting will be at Hillsborough Community College Dale Mabry Campus DSTU Auditorium, Room 111, at 4001 W. Tampa Bay Blvd. The meeting begins 5 p.m.

Rene Garcia opts not to run for CD 27 seat

State Senator Rene Garcia

Hialeah-based Republican state Sen. Rene Garcia is not running for Florida’s 27th Congressional District, the seat being vacated next year by 29-year incumbent Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.

“While the district represents a great part of the community and county that I love, I cannot continue to serve the public knowing that I would be abandoning the city of Hialeah and the people of Northwest Miami-Dade County,” Garcia said in a statement Monday.

“Having been born and raised in Hialeah, it has been the privilege of my life to serve my hometown for almost twenty years. I do so today with the same appreciation and intensity that I felt when I was first elected. So long as I am in public service, I will continue to represent this community with the integrity, collegiality, and passion that it deserves.”

The 42-year-old Garcia served in the Florida Legislature since 2000, when he was first elected to the Florida House, defeating Democrat Andy Pérez in the Republican primary with 55 percent of the vote. He was re-elected without opposition in 2002, 2004, and 2006 before being term-limited in 2008.

In 2010, he was elected to what was then Senate District 38, and re-elected 2012 and 2016 in SD 40.

In his statement, Garcia lavished praise on Ros-Lehtinen, who announced last month that after representing Miami-Dade County in Congress since 1988, she would not run for re-election next year.

“Congresswoman Ros-Lehtinen has served as a powerful voice for so many, including Cuban-Americans, women, immigrants, the LGBT community, and the oppressed around the world,” he said. “To be mentioned in the same company as such a figure has been one of the greatest compliments I have ever received in my career in public service.”

State Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez announced last week he’ll be running for the Democratic nomination for the seat, and Miami Beach Rep. David Richardson told last week that he is “taking a strong look” at the seat as well.

On the GOP side, Miami-Dade County Commissioner Bruno Barreiro officially filed his paperwork last week becoming the first major Republican to enter the race.

Other Republicans mentioned as contenders for the seat include Rep. Jeanette Nunez and former Miami-Dade School Board member Raquel Regalado.


Rick Baker recognizes previous stances on LGBT community will be campaign issue; Will it make a difference?

Near the end of Rick Baker‘s 36-minute speech announcing a re-election challenge to Mayor Rick Kriseman, the former two-term mayor invoked his mantra of St. Petersburg being a “seamless city” — and that includes the LGBT community.

“A lot has been said about me and the LGBT community by my opponent and by others,” he said on the steps of City Hall last week, without acknowledging why that was an issue when he was mayor and continues now as a candidate. “I want you to know that I believe that the LGBT community is a vital and important part of our community. I believe that when we work together, we have to work together with everyone.”

During Baker’s first go-round as mayor, from 2001-2010, he showed little interest in reaching out to that community.

As St. Petersburg’s annual Gay Pride parade grew to become one of the biggest celebrations of its kind in the entire Southeast, Baker assiduously eschewed attending the event. Nor did he ever hang the Pride flag over City Hall, a gesture Kriseman undertook during his first year in office.

“Personally, I don’t support the general agenda of the Pride event,” Baker told the then-St. Petersburg Times back in 2005. “And there are mixed feelings in the community. I’ve gotten petitions signed by hundreds of people who oppose the festival.”

One day after formally declaring his candidacy, a group of about two dozen activists gathered on those same City Hall front steps to denounce Baker’s historical relationship with the LGBT community.

The event was organized by Pinellas County Democratic Executive Committee Susan McGrath, a major backer of Kriseman.

“St. Petersburg is not the same city it was 15 years ago, and we don’t need to look any further than the people who’ve been elected to office,” McGrath says, referring to the fact that there are currently three members of the LGBT community that sit on the eight-member City Council.

McGrath acknowledges that while the total population of the LGBT community in the city is “finite,” a much bigger part of the electorate are the citizens that identify as wanting to live in a fair and welcoming city.

“So, if you’re a candidate for office, and you don’t want people to recognize your record on that,” McGrath muses, “I can run a campaign that might be over in August or November. I’m going to try to sweep some things under the carpet so that I don’t lose any more votes than I have to.”

Over the past two years, St. Petersburg’s reputation as an inclusive city for the LGBT community solidified with a top ranking from the Human Rights Campaign’s Municipal Equality Index. The score judged municipalities in five categories: nondiscrimination laws, employment policies, city services, law enforcement and municipal leadership.

Organizers of St. Pete Pride say that since the event expanded to three full days, the economic impact has grown from $10-million to over $20-million.

While appreciating the reference to the LGBT community in his speech, some people in St. Petersburg remain skeptical if Baker has evolved on the issue of gay rights, or if it’s more of an election year conversion.

“Is this just for his political gain now that he knows that the LGBT community is a very vital and important part of our community, or is he genuine?” asks Equality Florida member Todd Richardson. He said that in his conversations with people in the LGBT community in the immediate aftermath of his campaign speech, he’s heard some people want to give Baker the benefit of the doubt on his evolution on gay rights and have the opportunity to sit down with him, but others remain dubious when he’s never been willing to do so in the past.

“I go by what someone’s done in the history of representing a city,” adds Ed Lally, a Democratic Party activist. “And he has a giant ‘F’ on his report card for any advancement of LGBT equality.”

Lally says he doesn’t have to question what’s in Kriseman’s heart when it comes to supporting diversity.

Others in the LGBT community aren’t as judgmental.

Jim Jackson is a Democratic Party activist running in the City Council District 6 race this year who stood behind McGrath at Wednesday’s news conference criticizing Baker.

“I was surprised and really encouraged that he would include that (reference to the LGBT community) in the last part of his speech,” Jackson said. “I very carefully listened to that, and after he was done, I went up and thanked him for being inclusionary in that part of his speech.”

“I will tell you that has never been a single time in all of the years that I have known Rick Baker, when my gender, my sexual orientation or any other personal status was at all significant in the way that he interacted with me, either on a professional or personal level,” says Bradenton Police Chief Melanie Bevan, who moved up the ranks in the SPPD during Baker’s two terms as mayor.

“He was always my boss first, but he was also a mentor and a friend. But in every circumstance, he was fair and accepting of who I was. It was simply a non-issue.”

The two bonded, in part, over the fact that they are both parents of adopted children, Bevan says. Baker was one of the first people to contact her after Bevan announced she would be leaving the St. Petersburg Police Department to take the top job in Bradenton.

Chris Eaton, a local business official and former Democratic candidate for City Council and state representative, says the LGBT community vote is not a monolithic one.

“Not all LGBT members go to Pride and march, and not everybody wants to get married,” says Eaton. “Some people are concerned about the arts, and some people are worried about wastewater. Some people are concerned about straight talking honesty coming out of City Hall. And some people are concerned about their tax dollars that might not be fiscally responsible,” he said, reeling off a list of criticisms of Kriseman.

City Council Chair Darden Rice says she hopes that Baker understands that “the ball is in his court” to demonstrate a deeper understanding of why diversity is important.

“He has to go beyond equivocations, go beyond half-hearted statements, and really demonstrate that he understands and cares why this issue is important, and perhaps even acknowledge why some people in the community aren’t quite trusting him on this issue just yet,” Rice says.

“I like Rick Baker. I think he’s a good person,” adds Annie Hiotis, chief operating officer of the Tampa law firm of Carlton Fields. “I think he did some good things when he way mayor, but he certainly didn’t put diversity in the forefront at all, and when you’re the CEO of an institution, you’ve got to make that a priority for a city to reach its full potential.”

One potential opportunity for Baker to demonstrate his bona fides on the issue is to show up at the Pride Parade next month. Another, suggests Lally, is for the former mayor to sit down with Nadine Smith, the head of Equality Florida. “I think that would be a big signal to the LGBT community,” he says.

St. Petersburg-based political strategist Barry Edwards says Baker’s inclusion of LGBT rights in his speech “shows his sensitivity to the issue in the Saint Petersburg of today.”

“However at the end of the day the race for mayor will be decided upon by whom voters feel is a more competent steward of moving St. Petersburg forward,” he says.

Early polling in the Kriseman-Baker race suggests that it will be a close election.

In a city that went for Hillary Clinton last fall with nearly 60 percent of the vote, the demographics favor Kriseman.

In his campaign speech, Baker dismissed partisanship, saying, “that’s all they’ve got,” while betting that deep-seated relations with the electorate and dissatisfaction with the current administration will transcend party affiliation in what is officially considered a nonpartisan race.

CD 15 hopeful Greg Pilkington believes 2018 will be a big year for Democrats – including himself

Greg Pilkington is one of a handful of aspiring Democrats who have filed to challenge Dennis Ross in Florida’s 15th Congressional District next year.

Nevertheless, Pilkington may be the best organized of the bunch at this early point in the election cycle.

Since entering the race, he’s hired some political pros to help him in his attempt to win the crowded Democratic primary next summer. That includes campaign manager Stephen Madden, Blue Ticket Consulting’s Tom Alte as his campaign finance fundraising director, Laura Williams as his communications director, and Phyllis Whitney (who served as campaign treasurer for Democrat Alan Cohn in his 2014 race).

The 54-year-old Indian Lakes Estate resident comes to the race with extensive overseas experience, with his last position being an executive officer for budget and strategy at World Customs Organization, an intergovernmental organization based in Brussels, Belgium.

He also worked as a global project manager for DHL Worldwide Express, and as a program management adviser for FedEx Express.

“I think I have the skill set to be the kind of legislator that Polk County needs,” Pilkington said in an interview late Tuesday afternoon. He thinks the Democrats gains next year will be “impressive” and doesn’t believe the Trump presidency is going to improve before the 2018 congressional elections.

“If anything, I think things are going to get worse,” he said, about an hour before news broke that President Trump had fired FBI Director James Comey. “I think there’s something in the Russian dossier. I think there may be other stories that we don’t know about, and certainly the president has ample opportunities to continue to make the kind of poor decisions that he’s already made, so I think the Democrats have a very strong chance in 2018 — especially since Dennis Ross has aligned himself as a surrogate for Mr. Trump.”

On health care, Pilkington says he believes that the Affordable Care Act (which he says is a more appropriate term to describe it than “Obamacare”) had the right “intention,” but because it was subjected to approximately 60 attempts to be repealed vs. being improved, “that it became a very flawed piece of legislation.”

However, he’s a much bigger critic of the Republicans’ American Health Care Act that Ross helped pass last week and predicts that the Congressional Budget Office will surmise that between 24 million to 30 million people will be booted out of their insurance if it were to be implemented. Instead, he backs a single payer health care system.

On social security, Pilkington wants to eliminate the maximum Social Security tax cap from $127,200 to no limit on earned income. He also believes that the law mandating that people begin accepting their Social Security benefits at 67 be repealed to go back to age 65.

He supports comprehensive immigration reform and is vehemently against the measures the Trump administration has been talking about.

“It’s absolutely ludicrous that we would talk about spending $20 billion on a wall when what we should be talking about is using that money on renovating the 430 Veteran Administration facilities that are closed throughout the country, and maybe even converting them to public clinics-immigration centers, where people can actually go and apply for citizenship,” he says.

The other CD 15 Democratic candidates that have already announced include Ray PenaGreg Williams and Cameron Magnuson. 

Steve Schale on the night the lights went out on Hillary Clinton in Florida

On Election Night 2016, at approximately 7:45 p.m., Steve Schale was at an Orlando brewpub.

The Democratic strategist opened his laptop to review his state’s election returns.

“It’s in real bad shape,” Schale told Hillary Clinton pollster John Anzalone and campaign consultant Jim Margolis in a phone call.

“What the f**k are you talking about,” Anzalone asked disbelieving, according to “Shattered,” a riveting look behind the scenes of the Clinton campaign.

Shattered is now the No. 1 non-fiction book on the L.A. Times best-seller listand sits at No. 2 on The New York Times best-seller list.

“Trump’s numbers weren’t just big, they were unreal,” say co-authors Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes.

They write:

“In rural Polk County, smack-dab in the center of the state, Hillary would collect 3,000 more votes than Obama did in 2012 — but Trump would add more than 25,000 to Mitt Romney’s total. In Pasco County, a swath of suburbs north of Tampa-St. Petersburg.

“Trump outran Romney by 30,000 votes. Pasco was one of the counties Schale was paying special attention to because the Tampa area tended to attract retirees from the Rust Belt — folks whose political leanings reflected those of hometowns in the industrial Midwest.

“In particular, Schale could tell, heavily white areas were coming in hard for Trump.”

A couple of paragraphs later, Allen and Barnes note:

“You’re going to come up short,” Schale told Margolis and Anzalone.

The book also reports Schale “set off an alarm bell” — unnecessarily — in the eyes of some of Clinton’s senior aides.

“They demanded to know what data he was using to determine that the race was over so early.”

As the world would learn, of course, Schale was right.

Despite polls saying otherwise, and despite a supposed surge in Latino voters in early voting that was to be the hidden weapon to bring Clinton a victory in Florida, Donald Trump won the Sunshine State by 1.2 percentage points.

When it was clear that Trump would win Florida, other states began falling in line, setting off one of the greatest political upsets in U.S. history.

In an email Thursday, Schale told

“The first returns from Pasco were horrendous, and I initially thought she was done, but very quickly, urban counties came in, and she was well ahead of all the benchmarks.

“She was also doing well in places like Seminole, and her absentee numbers in places like Sarasota and Pinellas were looking fine. Margolis and Anzalone called me at about 7:15 to ask if I was seeing the same thing they were, and I confirmed that I was, and I was cautiously optimistic.

“By about 7:45, the border counties on I-4 — those around the urban ones — started to report more complete returns, and it became pretty clear, when combined with less than robust Election Day returns from the base counties, that she would not go into 8 p.m., when the Central time zone counties report, with a big enough lead to offset what was going to happen there.

“I called those guys back, to tell them she was going to be short in Florida, and the book basically takes it from there.”

In “Shattered,” the authors report that when the Clinton camp learned they would probably lose Florida, they also heard they were losing in North Carolina. They were “keystone states for two of Hillary’s three paths to victory.”

A short time later, Bill Clinton called Craig Smith, the first person hired for Clinton’s 1992 campaign, and the co-founder of Ready for Hillary, the super-PAC formed at the beginning of 2013 to support a Clinton presidential run.

From Shattered:

“’Sorry to be the one to tell you,’ Smith said in an Arkansas drawl echoing the former president’s, ‘but we’re not going to win Florida.’ Bill hung up and called Governor Terry McAuliffe, who was eager to depart Virginia for the victory party at the Javits Center. Don’t bother coming, Bill told him.”

According to a post on his blog after the election, Schale said Clinton had a roughly four-point edge in early voting and vote-by-mail tallies going into Election Day.

Trump won by 360,000 votes — 13 points — more than enough to overtake Clinton’s early vote lead.


Larry Sabato moves Carlos Curbelo’s CD 26 race to ‘Toss-up’

Bad news for Carlos Curbelo, Brian Mast, and other Florida Republicans in vulnerable Congressional Districts in 2018 who voted for the American Health Care Act.

Only 21 percent of American voters approve of the GOP health care plan passed by the House last week, according to a Quinnipiac survey released Thursday. That’s a slight improvement over the 17 percent who approved of the first health care plan in

That’s a slight improvement over the 17 percent who approved of the first health care plan in March. Overall, the current health plan goes down 56 to 21 percent.

The bill has come under intense criticism from Democrats, who say that it will hurt Americans with pre-existing conditions. Republicans counter that the bill gives the individual states $8 billion to create high-risk pools for those citizens, but the public isn’t buying it.

Voters polled, in margins of 75 — 21 percent, including 59 — 34 percent among Republicans, that it’s a “bad idea” to give states the ability to allow health insurance companies to raise rates on people with pre-existing conditions.

Meanwhile, after the AHCA vote. Sabato’s “Crystal Ball” ratings downgraded Curbelo’s chances of retaining Florida’s 26th Congressional District seat next year. Sabato had CD 26 as “leaning Republican,” but now shifted it to “Toss-up” (the forecasting website is named after University of Virginia political science professor Larry Sabato).

Mario Diaz-Balart‘s position in Florida’s 25th congressional district was also downgraded slightly, going from “likely Republican” to “leaning Republican.” Diaz-Balart also voted for the AHCA.

Kyle Kondik, the managing editor for Sabato’s Crystal Ball, writes that Diaz-Balart’s seat is “only vulnerable in a wave environment,” adding that his district “also became a little less Republican last year.”

On the Democratic side, Kondik lists three congressional seats maintaining a “leans Democratic” outlook — Stephanie Murphy in Florida’s 27th District, and Charlie Crist in Florida’s 13th District. The other seat is Ileana Ros-Lehtinen’s seat in Florida’s 27th District.

After she announced last month that she would not run for re-election, the seat shifted to “Leans Democratic” because it now lacks an incumbent and is the most Democratic-leaning seat held by any Republican in the country.

As Kondik writes, the final story of the AHCA has yet to be written. Republican leaders say the bill they produce will be notably different from the House version.

However, that may not be enough to prevent Democrats from using the AHCA to run against Republicans in 2018. In 2010, Republicans had a field day blasting red-district Democrats over a cap-and-trade climate change bill that narrowly passed the House the previous year, even though it never got a vote in the Democrat-controlled Senate.

Whether the Democrats can use this unpopular vote effectively against Republicans next year, of course, remains to be seen.

Adam Putnam touts Florida exceptionalism as he starts his campaign for governor

With a setting out of a Norman Rockwell painting, Florida Agriculture Commissioner and fifth generation Floridian Adam Putnam formally announced his candidacy for governor on Wednesday morning before hundreds of adoring friends and supporters in his home town of Bartow in Polk County.

Harkening back to an earlier era, Putnam said “some people say that this doesn’t happen anymore – flags flying, high school bands playing, prayer on the court house steps, World War II veterans and children shoulder to shoulder, generations coming together in common cause, people from all backgrounds in every corner of this place, united behind this movement.”

“The American Dream is alive and well and happening right here this morning,” he exclaimed. “I can’t imagine a better place to announce that I am running for governor of the state of Florida!”

Based on his extensive public service in Tallahassee and Washington D.C. at the still young age of 42, Putnam has been considered by the Florida Political Establishment for years as the likely next man to succeed Rick Scott in the governor’s mansion.

“He certainly is the front runner, and part of the reason is that he is  very well known in the local areas and by local county party people,” says USF political science professor Susan McManus. “One thing we’ve learned from the last couple of elections is that support from the grassroots party organizations can be critical to winning a primary, and he’s well known in those circles.”

After serving for a decade in the House of Representative representing Polk County, Putnam quit Washington D.C. (even while he had moved up in party leadership) in 2010 and returned back home to run and ultimately win the Agriculture Commissioner’s race at the age of 36. Immediately afterwards, he was immediately placed on the short list of viable 2018 gubernatorial nominees, and so far everything is playing to script in a so-called “Purple State” that hasn’t elected a Democrat governor in more than two decades.

For years, Putnam has described his home state as a “reward for a life well lived,” a reference to the number of seniors and others from the Northeast, Midwest and other places around the country who end up making Florida their home.  But that phrase is far too passive for a candidate who is hoping to inspire Floridians about the future, resulting in a variant of that expression on Wednesday, where he repeatedly said that the state can be be “the launch pad for the American dream.”

“A state that is the fishing capitol of the world, can also be the state that builds the moats and trains the craftsmen, the state that has trained millions of soldiers and sailors and airmen can retrain our own citizens,with the skills they need to compete in a rapidly changing world and win,” he said. “The state that put a man on the moon can develop the next generation of tools for the next giant leap of mankind. Florida can be the launch pad for the american dream.”

Putnam invoked that signature phrase no less than five times in his sixteen minute address.

While Putnam’s speeches have always had a ring of “Florida exceptionalism,” he literally used that statement on Wednesday as well, saying it’s very real, and said it described “the grocery clerk in Lakeland who revolutionized the supermarket industry, or the cashier on I-Drive who now owns the souvenir shop… It’s the truck driver hauling fruit who saved up to buy an orange grove, and then another… It’s the hotel maid who now runs her own bed and breakfast.”

“Hard-working folks like these have been able to achieve their American Dream right here in Florida,” he said. “I want every single Floridian to be able to tell a similar story. I want people around the country to know this is where it happens.”

Having served in politics for nearly half of his still young life, some critics have said that could be a negative going into the next election cycle, but those in attendance to observe his speech dismissed such thoughts.

“Individual candidates are what makes up an election,” said Hillsborough County resident Nyla Thompson. “It’s not a trend, its whether you have experience or don’t have experience, I think it’s the individual who is the candidate, they are the ones who tell their message or don’t.”

Jim Elliott, a City Commissioner in Wildwood (based in the Villages), made the trek to Bartow to observe Putnam’s speech. He says that while the tag of “career politician” could be a drag on some candidates, he doesn’t think it will stick to Putnam.

“I think  he’s got excellent knowledge of the state of Florida and what their needs are, and I think he’s smart enough to figure out what the solution is and I know that he can work with the people necessary to get the job done,” Elliott enthused.

Sarasota County State Committeeman Christian Ziegler says it’s too early to predict who the 2018 GOP nominee will be, but says that Putnam’s announcement last year that local residents can apply for or renew state concealed weapon licenses at their local tax collector offices was a bit hit with Second Amendment enthusiasts, and will help him in a Republican primary.

“I had to drive an hour and a half south, and now it makes it a little bit more accessible,” said Ziegler.

Putnam is the first major Republican to get out of the gate and announce his candidacy. House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Clearwater state Senator Jack Latvala are also considering their own runs for office.

One Florida Republican not impressed with Putnam is Latvala’s son, Chris, a state representative in Pinellas County. After Putnam’s speech, Latvala tweeted, “The guy who wants to build the American Dream in FL is the same guy who oversaw the largest decline in agriculture in FL history.”

Putnam will immediately hit the campaign trail, with a 22-city, 10 day tour scheduled to begin on Thursday.

Photo credit Kim DeFalco.

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