Mitch Perry, Author at Florida Politics - Page 3 of 324

Mitch Perry

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

At Florida Democrats Leadership Gala, Joe Biden argues progressives can still win working class vote

In the immediate aftermath of Hillary Clinton‘s stunning Electoral College loss to Donald Trump last November, Democrats took to writing think pieces and conducting heated arguments about how they lost working-class white voters.

Questions like: Was it too much of “identity politics”? Were they too elitist?

Joe Biden has heard and read about those discussions, and he’s sick of them.

“This phony debate going on in the Democratic Party, the Hobbesian choice that we’re given — we either become less progressive, and focus on working folks, or forget about working folk and become more progressive,” he said while giving the keynote speech to more than 1,200 Democrats at the party’s Leadership Blue Gala at the Diplomat Hotel in Hollywood.

“There is no need to choose, they are not inconsistent,” he said to a cheering crowd.

That’s easy for Biden to say. Biden’s unique political persona as a longtime member of the U.S. Senate representing Delaware has been one of representing the working class whites that Clinton lost to Trump last fall.

Biden himself thought hard about running for president, but with no clear daylight and so much of the Democratic Party establishment supporting Clinton (including President Barack Obama), he opted to stand down, but made the case on Saturday that the party could win back those voters, with an obvious inference being that he could be that candidate to do so in 2020.

Citing congressional ratings that showed him to be among the top ten liberal senators in the nation in his 36-year career, Biden said he has been a progressive and someone who could capture the working class vote, so Democrats should know that they could get those votes as well.

“These folks we’re talking about who left us — they voted for a black man named Barack Obama!” 

In fact, exit polls show that approximately 12 percent of voters who supported Obama turned around and chose Trump in 2012.

The former Vice President talked about the working class voters that the Democratic lost in the crucial Rust Belt states of Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. He said it was things like digitalization and automation that are putting people out of work, in what he called “this fourth industrial revolution” which is causing real anxiety and fear among many Americans.

“They’re worried that they won’t be able to keep up,” he said. “So we saw of playing to their fears, their lesser angels, their basic instincts, rather than their better angels can still have a powerful impact as a political tool.”

He then dug deep into what he said was the “hopelessness” of some of these Americans, mentioning the statistic that white men aged 45-54 who are dying at a quicker rate than any other demographic right now.

“Highest rate of drug abuse. Not the ‘hood. There,” he barked.

And Biden talked about how that anxiety can play out by lashing out at “the others,” such as undocumented immigrants, Muslims and the transgendered. “Anyone not like you can become the scapegoat.”

It was a compelling speech, marred only by a detour into how cutting tax loopholes could free up money to pay for the community college being the only soft spots in the 51-minute address.

He also chastised Democrats for failing to think big, going for an incremental change instead.

“What the hell is happening?!” he asked. “We build new things by breaking old things.”

“No, no. I’m being deadly earnest,” he followed up, one of half-dozen times he would point out his previous comment, making sure everyone knew he wasn’t joking.

While his intensity came close to yelling at the audience at points, a few times he dropped down to a whisper, where the audience had to literally lean in to hear him, such as when he described a conversation with his father, who once told him: “Joey, I don’t expect government to be able to solve our problems, but I do expect them to understand them. Just understand them.”

Remaining sotto voce, Biden admitted: “That slice of people that Barack and I had, Democrats have always had, that don’t think we understand them anymore. It’s not a lot, but it was the difference in the election.”

The former VP also asked for more civility in our politics, without mentioning the current president’s name. “We have to treat the opposition with more dignity,” he said, then boasted that there wasn’t a single Republican on Capitol Hill who doesn’t trust him or won’t talk to him.

The 74-year-old Biden recently launched “American Possibilities PAC,” a political-action committee that will keep him engaged to help other Democrats, but immediately sparked more discussion about a possible 2020 run, when he would be 77.

Then again, Donald Trump is already the oldest president in our history, having turned 71 last week.

Though there will be plenty of other Democrats in the mix, two of the leading lights — Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren — will also be in their 70s in three years. Sanders would be 78; Warren would be 71.

Alex Sink: Anger over HB 7069 could be Dems winning issue in 2018

Could expansion of state spending for charter school operators — at the expense of public schools — fuel a surge of support for Florida Democrats at the polls in 2018?

That’s what Alex Sink thinks could happen. At least she hopes it might.

The former CFO and 2010 gubernatorial candidate is angry about the passage of HB 7069, the massive education bill that includes $140 million for the “Schools of Hope” program, which would bring charter school operators with proven success rates in low-performing schools to communities where the traditional schools have earned consecutive state grades of D or F.

“Do we care about public education in this state or not?” she asks in her inimitable drawl. “Ninety percent of our kids go to public school, so 90 percent of our money plus should be supporting public schools,” she said Saturday while waiting in line for the first Democratic gubernatorial debate of the year at the Diplomat Resort Hotel.

“If we’re starving the system, we’re going to get more ‘failure factories,’ not less,” she says, using the term coined originally by the Tampa Bay Times in their award-winning 2015 series about failing schools in Pinellas County.

Just about every Florida Democrat considers the phrase “failure factories” an epithet.

And Sink disagrees with the notion that not enough of the public is upset about what Democrats portray as a GOP-led assault on the public school system.

“When you get sick, and you get into the ambulance, and the EMT people come to take you to the hospital, don’t  you want them to be well-educated, smart people? Hell yes!”

Tampa House Democrat Sean Shaw feels the same way.

“I don’t want to say we’ve got to exploit it, but we’ve gotta talk about it,” he says about HB 7069. “And we’ve got talk about what that bill does to public education in Florida, and it’s awful. I mean we’re dismantling public education day by day, and we can’t allow that to keep happening.”

Democrats talk about the intensity of their voters following last November’s election. Shaw hopes it persuades some people in Hillsborough County to get off the sidelines and into the arena.

“This kind of excitement is what causes a teacher to say, you know, I’m going to run for office, because I hate what they’re doing to public education,” Shaw says. “Or an environmental sciences professor, I hate what they’re doing to the environment, I’m going to run for office.”

Florida Democratic Gala draws big stage, love fest for gubernatorial hopefuls

With another fourteen months to go before Florida Democrats choose their gubernatorial nominee, the most talked-about potential candidate wasn’t at the Leadership Blue Gala, one of the Party’s biggest events.

And he won’t decide if he’ll even run until (maybe) next year.

Nevertheless, Saturday afternoon’s forum in Hollywood — between Gwen Graham, Andrew Gillum and Chris King — was the biggest stage this year for grassroots Democrats to evaluate who might best be the one to end the 20-year exile from the governor’s mansion.

The FDP’s Leadership Blue Gala, taking place at the Diplomat Resort in Hollywood, was a “forum,” not a debate, emphasized Progressive Caucus Chair Susan Smith.

However, it became a veritable love fest (literally) between the three candidates.

“I love you,” Graham told Gillum at one point, before looking at King and saying that while she doesn’t know him as well, she loved him as well.

Graham enters the race as the candidate with the best name recognition; throughout the nearly 90-minute event, she separated herself as the public-education candidate.

“The education industry is rigged against our students,” Graham said. “After almost 20 years of Republican rule and under Rick Scott, Tallahassee has sold out our schools to the highest bidder. As governor, I will end high-stakes testing, end degrading school grades and end the lottery shell game. We’ll finally pay teachers what they deserve and make sure every student has an opportunity at success, no matter where they come from or where they live,” Graham said after the forum.

Gillum has been the most electric candidate on the circuit. A dynamic public speaker with a compelling personal story, the 37-year-old Tallahassee Mayor is staking himself out as the progressive choice.

“Can a progressive, whose values reflect in my opinion the majority of us win?” Gillum asked the audience. “In my opinion, it’s the only way we win, is by bringing those folks out to the ballot by telling them that we stand for them, too.”

King proved most interesting on Saturday, perhaps because it was his biggest stage yet for his nascent campaign.

“In my opinion,” he said, “I have double the burden to try to prove that I not only belong here, but that I can earn your trust as your next governor.” King then acknowledged he doesn’t have many long-standing relationships with political officials.

As the creator of the Elevation Financial Group, King developed a consortium of companies specializing in real estate investment, property management and property renovation. He talks relentlessly about how the state needs more affordable housing, chastising Republicans in Tallahassee for raiding the state’s affordable housing trust fund. “To

“To me, that is an attack on working families, it’s an attack on teachers, it’s an attack on law enforcement,” he said. “That is something the day that I’m elected governor.”

Gilliam spoke most passionately about the less fortunate: “We can’t focus our education system and improving the outcomes of our kids if the only jobs we’re creating in this state are low-wage jobs.”

“I’m for a higher minimum wage, I’m for the ‘Fight for $15,'” he continued, adding what the people really want is a working for a wage with dignity.

At one point, moderator Keith Fitzgerald asked the candidates what they felt is the biggest challenge facing Florida, the country and the world.

In her response, Graham name-checked the president, getting one of the night’s biggest cheers.

“The biggest challenge we have facing the United States without question is Donald Trump,” and that he was the biggest challenge facing the entire world, as well.

None of the candidates differed on core Democratic principles if elected governor, such as calling for the restoration of voting rights for ex-felons, banning fracking and expanding Medicaid, but that may not be an option depending on what happens with the American Health Care Act in Washington D.C.

One interesting development occurred during the last question of the afternoon: Do the candidates support an open primary voting system, which would allow Republicans to vote in Democratic Party primaries and vice versa?

Party traditionalists frown on such a tactic, but Gillum and King enthusiastically embraced the idea.

Graham said she preferred a “Jungle Primary,” an election where candidates for the same elected office, regardless of respective political party, run against each other at once, instead of being segregated by political party.

Absent from Saturday’s was attorney and entrepreneur John Morgan, who has said he won’t make a decision about running for governor until 2018.

 

Kathy Castor vows Cuba-Tampa Bay engagement will continue, despite Donald Trump’s rollback

President Donald Trump told a crowd in Miami Friday he was keeping a campaign promise to roll back the “terrible and misleading deal” the Obama administration made with the Castro government in Cuba in 2014.

Two hours later, U.S. Representative Kathy Castor told reporters that the work of engaging the Tampa Bay area and the communist island will continue.

“I think President Trump’s new policy is regrettable and it takes us backward, because what it will do will really complicate our neighbor’s ability to travel to Cuba,” said Castor, a Democrat who has been a House leader in trying to end the economic embargo since flying to Cuba in 2013. “It’s going to make it more expensive, more costly and add bureaucratic red tape.”

Trump’s new policy will directly limit commerce with GAESA, the business and commerce wing of the Cuban military.

On non-Cuban-American travel, one change would make Americans visiting under the Obama administration categories of permitted travel subject to a Treasury Department audit, which could have a cooling effect on travel by adding a potential layer of inconvenience.

In his speech, Trump mentioned the lack of political and religious freedom for the Cuban people, as well as the release of political prisoners.

Of course, this is the same politician who said in Saudi Arabia last month“We are not here to tell other people how to live, what to do, who to be, or how to worship.”

“When you look at what they’ve said in Saudi Arabia, the relationship with Turkey, the Philippines, where the leader there is outright taking the lives of some of his citizens there’s a great inconsistency there,” Castor acknowledged.

In the years before Obama’s 2014 announcement, a group of local business and political leaders began pushing for more liberal relations with Cuba, saying that the Tampa region — the third largest area of the country for Cuban-Americans — was strategically behind getting prepared for when the fifty-year plus economic embargo was ultimately a thing of the past.

Nobody has been a bigger leader in the local movement than Al Fox, president of the Alliance for Responsible Cuba Policy Foundation. He called Trump’s announcement one of the worst foreign policy decisions in the country’s history.

“A new Trump policy change does nothing to benefit Cuba and more importantly, treats United States citizens as second-class citizens,” Fox said in a statement. “By what logic can Dennis Rodman, as an American citizen, travel freely to North Korea but not to Cuba? You will not find one Cuban on the island of Cuba that will support President Trump’s anticipated announcement, including the small dissident movement.”

Retired U.S. Air Force Col. E.J. Otero, who has family in Cuba, has been a virulent critic of Obama’s move to end the diplomatic freeze out of Cuba back in December of 2014. He said Trump’s announcement “achieves a sense of balance,” adding that it didn’t go as far as the exile community would have liked but (obviously) will annoy supporters of rapprochement such as Castor and Fox.

The most significant fact “is the hotels,” Otero says. “If they’re state-run, you can’t stay there.”

Retired Tampa CPA and Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce official Jose Valiente also has family in Tampa. For years, he was a critic of any type of exchange with the Castro-led government but changed his attitude after a trip with the Chamber to Cuba a few years back.

Valiente said the announcement will affect the burgeoning entrepreneur movement in Cuba, specifically mentioning those who have started up restaurants, bars, bed-and-breakfasts, and farms in recent years and who were getting ready for “an avalanche” of American tourists that were going to be coming to Cuba.

“He said it was a great day in Cuba, ” Valiente said of Trump’s remarks. “I’m still trying to figure that out still what was so great about the announcement today to benefit the Cubans there today.”

Castor held her news conference at Tampa International Airport, which began offering commercial flights to Havana in 2011, and to other Cuban cities last winter.

Joining her at the news conference were officials from the Florida Orchestra, the University of Tampa and the Florida Aquarium in Tampa, all of whom have worked with their Cuban counterparts in recent years. The Aquarium agreed to cooperate with the National Aquarium of Cuba on research affecting their shared marine environment back in 2015.

“We’ve got a lot to learn from them, so the exchange has been tremendously helpful for us, and hopefully productive for them too,” said Margo McKnight, Florida Aquarium’s senior vice president of conservation, science and research. She vowed to continue that relationship,

“We won’t be daunted,” she said. “We have lots more to do and a lot more to learn.”

Castor maintained a similar attitude. She said the Tampa Bay area will continue to be a leader in cultural and scientific exchanges, but said that the loosening of travel restrictions over the past few years is being reversed, costing travelers money and more bureaucracy.

She said her greatest concern was that a reduction of U.S. tourists will erode the ability of private entrepreneurs on the island to grow their business.

Although the Tampa Democrat has a been a leader in trying to increase relations between the two nations, she’s by far not the only member in Congress who believes in that strategy.

Last month, 55 U.S. Senators, led by Arizona Republican Jeff Flake and Vermont Democrat Patrick Leahy, reintroduced the Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act, which would eliminate current restrictions on traveling to Cuba for tourism purposes.

“Any policy change that diminishes the ability of Americans to travel freely to Cuba is not in the best interests of the United States or the Cuban people,” Flake said Friday. “It is time Senate leadership finally allowed a vote on my bipartisan bill to fully lift these archaic restrictions which do not exist for travel by Americans to any other country in the world.”

Castor has also entered a bipartisan bill in Congress calling for the elimination of the economic embargo. That measure does not have a majority in the House, however.

House Republican Dan Raulerson wants everyone to own a gun

The attempted assassination Wednesday morning of Louisiana Republican Congressman Steve Scalise in suburban Washington D.C. has shaken the nation.

Certainly, lawmakers now realize how vulnerable they are to mentally unstable people with access to firearms who disagree with them politically.

At Friday’s Tampa Tiger Bay Club, five members of the Hillsborough County Legislative Delegation were asked their thoughts on what the shooting means for Floridians, and the nation.

Plant City Republican House member Dan Raulerson said the answer was simple — everyone, especially lawmakers — should be armed.

“I think each one of those congressmen should be carrying a weapon. I think we all should be carrying a weapon,” he said, creating a buzz of dissent in the audience among the liberal-leaning Tiger Bay members at Friday’s meeting at the Ferguson Law Center in downtown Tampa.

“I’m sorry folks, I’m sorry, but here’s the point,” Raulerson said. “The Constitution gives us the right to bear arms, but also gives us the responsibility to own and operate a weapon.”

As widely noted, probably the only reason there wasn’t more carnage on that baseball field in Alexandria, Virginia where Congressional Republicans were at practice was that Scalise, as a member of House leadership, had police protection. That’s something that most regular members of Congress don’t have.

“Now we’re discussing should we fund armed security for each of us?” Raulerson asked with disdain. “No, we can’t do that, we can’t afford that. But we do have the right and the ability to protect ourselves, and that’s what the Constitution gives us.”

The other two Republicans on the panel — Tampa House District 63 Rep. Shawn Harrison and Brandon Sen. Tom Lee — wouldn’t go as far as Raulerson in providing a tidy policy prescription based on the Wednesday’s shooting.

“Life is about balance. Law abiding citizens should be allowed to own guns,” said Harrison. “We have to do a better job of keeping guns out of the hands of people who have mental instability. Clearly what we had was a crazy person in Virginia who hated a different member of a political party, and took that out on those members of different political parties.”

Federal law enforcement officials identified the alleged shooter as James Hodgkinson, 66, of Belleville, Illinois, who died following a shootout with authorities. He was said to be a Bernie Sanders supporter who loathed President Donald Trump and other Republicans.

Harrison said there’s too much hate in the country.

“We need to start realizing that just because you have an ‘R’ or a ‘D’ next to your name, you’re not the enemy of the other side,” he said, adding that “we need to work on constructive dialogue to keep crazy people from doing crazy things.”

Lee compared the situation to the drug problem in America, saying whether it’s pill mills or heroine or Fentanyl, “these are a demand-size problem, not supply-side problems.”

The two Democrats on the panel — St. Petersburg-based lawmakers Darryl Rouson and Wengay Newton, chimed in as well.

Rouson talked about the fact that he was pleased that though there was a slew of pro-gun bills on the agenda of some lawmakers (such as Sarasota Senate Republican Greg Steube, who had 10 such bills filed), few of them passed this year.

Newton said it was all about ensuring that the mentally ill didn’t get access to firearms, though he didn’t say how that could be accomplished.

“The laws are only put in for people who abide by the law,” he said. “If you’re not a law-abiding citizen, the law does not mean Jack.”

The Republicans on the panel were also challenged on two consecutive questions from the audience about their refusal to expand Medicaid when it came before them back in 2013 (that was the only year when a serious attempt for a hybrid form of Medicaid expansion was passed in the Senate but lost in the House).

Harrison had the distinction of being one of only three House Republicans to support the Senate bill (which earned him applause when he said that).

“My belief was while the feds are paying 100 percent, why not see if it can work?” he said.

Lee also supported the plan (only St. Petersburg Republican Jeff Brandes opposed it in the Senate). He disputed that it was a clash between the parties, and said, in this case, it was “inner chamber problems.”

When asked how much they are paying for their health insurance, all five lawmakers confessed it was only $180 a month.

“Must be nice,” one audience member muttered.

In Tampa, Richard Corcoran faces hostile crowd angry about school bill

It was a tough room for House Speaker Richard Corcoran.  

Speaking before an unfriendly crowd of public school supporters in Tampa, Corcoran doubled down on his support of an education bill that creates a new system of charter schools to replace underperforming public schools.

On Thursday, Corcoran stood beside Rick Scott in Orlando as the Governor signed the controversial HB 7069.

To its critics, the most provocative part of the omnibus education bill was Corcoran’s ‘schools of hope’ plan, which includes a $140 million incentive plan to attract high-performing, specialized charter schools to in effect compete with struggling neighborhood schools.

“The only way you can draw down that money if you’re a charter school was if a situation existed in Florida where we were taking children and forcing them into ‘failure factories’ where they were getting an inferior education,” Corcoran said Friday morning to a packed house at the Oxford Exchange in Tampa’s North Hyde Park district.

The Land O’Lakes Republican was the featured guest at the weekly Tampa Con Cafe lecture series.

It was the term “failure factories” that drew particular ire during the extended Q&A portion of the morning, during which Corcoran was criticized by Kenny Blankenship from Pasco County.

Afterward, Corcoran explained it was the same language used by the Tampa Bay Times in their award-winning 2015 series about failing schools in South St. Petersburg.

“Only in those situations where you’ve had the local attempts — they’re called turnarounds — they’re given one year, two years, three years, to turn around those schools and have been incapable of doing so,” Corcoran said. “Only in those situations, would we allow a not for profit charter with an absolute proven record of success … in low-income areas.”

He said the “proven record” of success for those schools is that they had to have an 80 percent graduation rate, 80 percent go on to a college, and they had a higher than the average county and state testing scores.

But critics say the bill will devastate already cash-strapped traditional public schools. They’re concerned about changes in the allocation of Title I funding, the federal money used for low-income schools. That could affect districtwide programs such as summer school.

There’s also concerns about a part of the bill making it possible for universities, churches and several other types of institutions to provide space for charter schools without zoning exceptions, overriding local control over zoning decisions, according to the Miami Herald.

House Democratic Leader Janet Cruz calls the bill “an assault on public schools.”

Democratic state Sen. Linda Stewart of Orlando says it “an unwise experiment in education policy opposed by our state’s teachers, parents, professional administrators and superintendents.”

And Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gwen Graham declared it to be a “massive step toward turning Florida’s public-school system into a public-school industry designed to benefit corporations and powerful interests.”

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum said Scott “would rather his for-profit charter school friends make a quick buck instead of providing our kids with the world-class education they deserve.”

Even some who support the bill, such as Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, have blasted the lack of transparency in how it was assembled.

But Corcoran continues to defend how it all went down.

“The parts of that bill were defended in committee: one committee, two committees, on the floor, sent over to the Senate, and the parts of that bill that they said we’re done in secret, the total votes for the parts in the bill between the two chambers was 1,600 plus votes, to 200 no votes,” he said.

What was done at the end of the legislative process on the education bill was taking completely vetted and debated bills and put together, Corcoran added. He did acknowledge that he would like to “work” on limiting the “number of mergers in the last week of Session.”

Public school supporters in Florida have blasted the Legislature’s support for charter schools for years, saying they are not held to the same standards of accountability. Corcoran pushed back on that argument Friday.

“There are public charter schools, and there are public traditional schools. Both of them are under the same accountability provisions,” the Speaker said, eliciting disapproval from the audience.

When he said charter schools came with the same certification requirements, the growls grew louder.

“Yes, they do!” he replied. “I’ll be glad to sit down with you and go through the statutes. They don’t have to be unionized. That’s the biggest difference between the two — ”

“No!” responded at least a dozen members of the public.

Among those public educators who were shouting at Corcoran was Naze Sahebzamani, a Hillsborough County public school teacher who accused the House Speaker of speaking in “half-truths.”

“I just think if he wants to make education a priority in the state and we want us to become leaders in this country in education, then he has to fund public education and he has to hold the charter schools to the same standards, and the same accountability as the rest of us, which they’re currently not doing,” she said.

There were also several questions highly critical of what city and county government officials said this year has been an unprecedented attack on the issue of home rule.

Tampa City Councilman Harry Cohen asked Corcoran how he could justify the Legislature’s decision to place a measure on the 2018 ballot to expand the homestead exemption. If passed, the proposal will reduce property taxes in every local jurisdiction in the state (Tampa’s estimated loss would be $6 million annually; Hillsborough County’s $30 million).

“First, I’d say, I care more about the people of this state than I do the governments of this state,” Corcoran replied, a line he repeated later during the hour.

Discussing how the Legislature has been able to find loads of waste in a variety of state agencies (like VISIT Florida), the Speaker would have none of it.

“The concept that you can give somebody a $25,000 homestead exemption and put in on the ballot, and the result is this: that local governments have only two choices — they have to raise taxes, or cut essential services that really benefit their local community, is absolutely crap.”

Corcoran defended his opposition to the Florida Competitive Workforce Act, which would add sexual orientation and gender identity to the Florida Civil Rights Act of 1992.

He said, “suspect classes” like blacks or women deserve protection, but for others, “there are laws on the books that allow for the protection for being dismissed for any kind of egregious behavior.”

Corcoran added that government should be getting out of such “hyper-regulations.”

Later in the discussion, a man who identified himself as a lifelong Republican said he took offense to Corcoran’s comment.

“I’m a Jew,” the man said, “and you can’t tell that unless I tell you.”

Corcoran is reported to be strongly considering a run for Governor in 2018, but he said Friday that any such announcement will not be forthcoming anytime soon. He won’t make any such decision until he finishes his reign as Speaker after the Florida Legislative Session ends next March, a time that seems extremely late, especially as candidates like Putnam are already raising millions of dollars early in the process.

Then again, Corcoran is right now actively raising money in his PAC, which he says would go to other issues he cares about — if he chooses not to run for higher office. Those issues include a six-year ban on legislators lobbying and/or judicial term limits.

Despite the intense vibe in the room, Corcoran never lost his cool.

Talking about how he stays in touch with his legislative district, because he has to run every two years, Corcoran said he often attends community forums like this, “even though you guys aren’t in my district. And it sounds like that might be a good thing.”

With that, the crowd erupted in laughter.

(In the interest of full disclosure, it is important to note that Richard Corcoran’s political committees, like many other candidates, advertise on several Extensive Enterprises Media platforms.)

Florida Democrats announce new vehicle to try to get more of them elected to state Senate

Incoming Senate Minority Leader Jeff Clemens announced Thursday the creation of a new campaign to help get more Democrats elected to the Florida Senate in 2018 and beyond.

Flip Florida Blue” will set out initially to invest resources to win the special election in Miami-Dade’s Senate District 40 seat formerly held by Hialeah Republican Frank Artiles, who resigned from the seat in disgrace in April after admitting to using racist and sexist language to two black Democratic legislators. That primary election takes place next month (July 25), with the general scheduled Sept. 26.

The next goal is ambitious: Clemens says there are 6-7 targeted Senate Districts in the 2018 cycle they hope to flip, adding to the current roster of 15 Democrats in the 40-member body. One of them will undoubtedly be SD 18, which could see a rematch between GOP incumbent Dana Young and Democrat Bob Buesing. Last fall, Young won the race by seven points, with independent Joe Redner getting nine percent. Redner said that if Buesing mounts a campaign in 2018, he will not run for the seat.

“Senate Victory and my predecessors have, over the last several years, made steady progress, going from 12 to 15 Democratic Senators,” Clemens said. “Now, however, I think there is a great sense that the political and media landscape has evolved, and we need to hit reset on how we approach our campaigns and their communications,” said Clemens.

The ever-irreverent Clemens, who plays in a U2 cover band when not in the Legislature, expressed in the news release the top priority of the campaign is to “help keep Democrats from getting their asses kicked at the polls.”

“There are millions of people in Florida who think both parties suck, and we have to be clearer as to why we suck significantly less, and in fact, why voting for Democrats is a choice people can actually feel good about,” Clemens said. “Public education, clean water, justice, equality, and the ability to climb that ladder to a great job are the hallmarks of a Democratic government. Compelling communications, unfortunately, have not been the hallmark of every Senate Democratic campaign. We’re working to change that.”

The announcement comes seven months after Senate Democrats announced the creation of an “Affiliated Party Committee” that would operate outside of Senate Victory, the official committee housed within the Florida Democratic Party charged with electing Democrats to the Legislature’s upper chamber. That move was made in anticipation that Coconut Grove real estate developer and Democratic Party fundraiser Stephen Bittel would take over as chair of the FDP, which happened in January.

Although Clemens talks about “steady progress,” he admitted in January that the total net gain of only three seats was a disappointment following the redistricting of every Senate district before the 2016 election.

“Yeah, you can’t sugarcoat it. It was disappointing,” Clemens said of the results of last November’s election. “And there were seats we really felt were going our way and four weeks out; all the polls started to slip from us.”

In addition to winning SD 40 and up to seven seats next year, Flip Florida Blue’s third priority is to turn the Senate blue and take over the governor’s mansion in 2018.

Florida Republicans took over the Legislature 20 years ago, controlling the governor’s mansion for the past 19 years.

Rick Scott signs Janet Cruz-sponsored bill letting patients make fewer drug store trips

Rick Scott signed SB 800, the Senate companion to House Democratic Leader Janet Cruz’s HB 1191, putting medication synchronization into law.

What’s that, you ask?

Many patients, especially those with chronic conditions who may have been prescribed medications from different specialized physicians, currently face various refill dates and multiple trips to the pharmacy each to maintain their prescribed treatment plan.

This lack of alignment (or synchronization) in prescription fill dates has been identified as a major contributor to medication nonadherence, which results in bad health outcomes for patients and an estimated annual impact of $300 billion a year in avoidable costs to the U.S. health care system.

The new law now prohibits health care companies from denying patients the ability to receive a partial refill of a prescription if they choose to enroll in a medication synchronization program through their pharmacy. This should allow more patients to synchronize their prescription plan and lead to better health outcomes.

“This new law is an invaluable tool for elderly and chronically ill patients in Florida who find it burdensome to make multiple trips to the pharmacy each month,” Cruz said on Thursday. “Medication synchronization will lead to better health outcomes and longer lives for thousands of Floridians who are in need of continuing care. I am grateful to my colleagues for their overwhelming support of this legislation, and I thank Governor Scott for signing it into law.”

Kathy Castor puts faith in Senate GOP to resist completely repealing Dodd-Frank

Last week, the GOP-led House of Representatives voted to repeal many of the stricter regulations enacted after the 2008 financial crisis. It was part of a desire to roll back rules that they say have hurt banks, restricted consumer growth and slowed economic progress.

Democrats disagree, as each one voted against the bill.

“I think the memories of politicians in Washington D. C. are very short,” Tampa Representative Kathy Castor told FloridaPolitics.com earlier this week. “I remember sitting across from many of our neighbors who were at risk of losing their homes after they had lost their jobs in the economic collapse of the Great Recession, and now they want to go back to those risky practices where the banks can use their deposits to make risky bets on Wall Street?”

Significant changes included in the Financial Choice Act are major changes such as repealing the trading restrictions, known as the Volcker Rule, and scrapping the liquidation authority in favor of enhanced bankruptcy provisions designed to eliminate any chance taxpayers would be on the hook if a major financial firm collapsed.

“They want to take a lot of the Wall Street cops off of the beat by eliminating the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (a central part of the Dodd-Frank Act), gutting their ability to hold big banks and others in the financial system accountable,” Castor said. “And they want to eliminate the Volcker Rule that says banks have to be more responsible with their money and not use it to go gamble.”

“I think it’s a step backward for the folks across the state of Florida, especially who lost so much in the Great Recession,” the congresswoman added.

The Financial Choice Act isn’t totally terrible, Castor said.

“In fact there are some new provisions in the Republican bill that are helpful to community banks that I support, so I’m hopeful that they will get into negotiations with the U.S. Senate and those provisions will survive to help our community banks,” she says.

Unlike changes to the Affordable Care Act, making most changes to Dodd-Frank would require 60 votes in the Senate. Republicans in the Senate are working on their own financial regulatory bill that could gain the needed Democratic support.

Sharon Day nominated to serve as U.S. ambassador to Costa Rica

President Donald Trump is nominating Sharon Day, a former Republican National Committee co-chair from Fort Lauderdale, to be his ambassador to Costa Rica.

Day recently stepped down from her role at the RNC, a position she held since 2011.

She’s served on the Executive Committee of the Broward County Republican Party since 1994, and in 1996 was elected as state committeewoman for the Broward County Republican Party.

Speaking at the Republican Party of Florida’s spring quarterly meeting in Tampa in late April, Day informed the audience that she had been offered a position within the Trump administration. She didn’t elaborate at the time, but did say: “We have gone through more vetting, and they know more about me than I know about me.”

Day gave a spirited defense of the Trump administration in that speech, saying that as proud Republicans they needed to talk up and support the president wherever they went, including at grocery stores or church.

Meanwhile, the fate of another Florida Republican rumored to be getting an ambassadorial post remains unresolved at this time.

Since January, it’s been speculated that Miami Republican Carlos Trujillo will be chosen by the administration for a potential ambassadorship to Argentina or Panama.

However, those positions — as is the case with dozens of other ambassador posts — remain unfilled at this time.

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