Mitch Perry, Author at Florida Politics - Page 6 of 365

Mitch Perry

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served five years as political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. Mitch also was 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 and is a San Francisco native who has lived in Tampa for 15 years. Mitch can be reached at

A trio of South Florida U.S. Reps. back Terrie Rizzo for Fla. Dem. Chair

Palm Beach County Democrat Terrie Rizzo is receiving the support of three members of the Florida congressional delegation in her bid to become the state’s Democratic Party chair.

Alcee Hastings, Ted Deutch and Lois Frankel — each representing districts that touch part of Palm Beach County — are backing Rizzo, who chairs the Palm Beach Democratic Executive Committee.

Rizzo is running against Hillsborough County State Committeewoman Alma Gonzalez, Brevard County Democratic Executive Committee Chair Stacey Patel, and Monica Russo, the Miami based president of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Florida.

Rizzo announced a list of 33 other endorsements from eligible Democrats who will be casting a ballot when the State Executive Committee convenes in Orlando on Dec. 9 to pick a successor to Stephen Bittel, who resigned three weeks ago after a report surfaced that he had acted inappropriately toward women.

There are 1,204 possible votes for state chair, with many of those votes weighted based on population.

After Rizzo sent out a news release earlier this week claiming that she has locked up nearly half the votes needed to win the race, an official with the Gonzalez camp pushed back, questioning that premise and arguing that it’s far too early to predict who is leading in the race.


Veterans can now apply for ID cards, thanks to Vern Buchanan

Veterans nationwide can now obtain a special, government-issued identification card, two-and-a-half years after President Barack Obama signed legislation sponsored by Sarasota U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan.

“Every veteran — past, present, and future — can now prove their military service without the added risk of identity theft,” Buchanan said, noting that millions of veterans have been unable to document their service without carrying around official military records. “These ID cards will make life a little bit easier for our veterans and serve as a constant reminder that our brave men and women in uniform deserve all the care and respect a grateful nation can offer.”

The ID cards are meant to offer a way for veterans to prove their service without carrying a copy of their DD-214 form, which contains sensitive personal information, such as veterans’ Social Security numbers. The new IDs will not, however, qualify as official government-issued identification for air travel or other uses. The ID card program is voluntary.

To request an ID, veterans must visit Vets.Gov, click on “Apply for Printed Veteran ID Card” on the bottom left of the page and sign in or create an account.

Congress passed Buchanan’s measure without objection in July 2015. Since then, VA leaders have spent time finalizing the rules and application process for the new IDs.

However, not every veteran can obtain the card.

VA officials ruled that new IDs will only be issued to individuals with honorable discharges, a move that has upset advocates, according to the Military Times.

“There’s really no reason to do that,” said John Rowan, national president at Vietnam Veterans of America. “It doesn’t serve veterans well.”

Buchanan represents more than 88,000 veterans in Sarasota, Manatee and Hillsborough counties.

Chris Latvala goes to class

Like his father, state Rep. Chris Latvala of Clearwater is a proud Republican who doesn’t always toe the GOP line – a contrarian streak which sometimes gets him into trouble.

Not that Latvala, son of longtime state Sen. Jack Latvala, is that worried about that perception.

“My grade with the NRA is a ‘D.’ And I’m proud of that,” the second-term lawmaker told students attending an American National Government class at the University of South Florida’s St. Petersburg campus Wednesday afternoon.

Noticing a reporter was observing the appearance, Latvala held his tongue on his true feelings on venerable NRA lobbyist Marion Hammer. 

Hammer “does not like me very much,” he simply said.

Latvala opposed the gun rights organization’s push during recent legislative sessions to repeal a state law that bars people from openly carrying firearms in public (coincidentally, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled earlier this week that it would not hear a legal challenge to the ban).

The 35-year-old Latvala is serving his second term representing Clearwater and Largo residents in House District 67, which he first won in 2014 by defeating Democrat Steve Sarnoff.

He told the students he aspired to become a sportscaster while still in high school, but in his senior year was discouraged by a teacher. That resulted in him getting into politics, beginning with the presidential recount year of 2000.

Latvala attended the University of Central Florida where he became involved in some Young Republican activities, and then in 2006 was asked by newly elected House Republican Ed Hooper to become his legislative aide, a job he fulfilled until Hooper was forced to step down due to term limits in 2014. That’s when Latvala opted to run for the seat himself at the age of 32.

Latvala told the class that he is also a champion for the LGBTQ community, referring to the fact that he has co-sponsored the Competitive Workforce Act for the past three years. That bill would prohibit anyone from being discriminated against at work, in housing or in public places like restaurants because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

And he admits he’s still learning about those issues, confessing that when he first met with officials from Equality Florida, he wasn’t sure of everyone’s gender.

“All the people in that meeting who I thought were men were women, and all the women I thought were men,” he said, acknowledging that he learned a lot about transgendered people at that event.

He also said he differed from the majority of his Republican colleagues when it comes to the environment, specifically his opposition to fracking and offshore oil drilling.

But liberals are no fans of Latvala’s support for the “Schools of Hope” provision in the controversial education bill passed earlier this year. HB 7069 accelerates the timetable for school districts to turn around schools that continue to struggle academically.

Latvala said charter schools that would take over failing public schools would have to show they’ve been successful in areas of poverty throughout the country.

Nevertheless, thirteen different school districts in Florida filed suit last month to stop the $419 million, K-12 public schools law from going into effect. They contend it is unconstitutional because the measure eliminated districts’ ability to negotiate charter school contracts, instead requiring a standard state contract.

The suit also contends that the law creates a separate parallel system of schools which might violate the constitutional guarantee of “a uniform, efficient, safe, secure and high-quality system of free public schools.”

Latvala encouraged the students to follow lawmakers they support, and if possible, inquire about getting an internship. One student was disappointed after asking if he or other state legislators offered paid internships (they don’t), but Latvala did note how Janine Kiray, his district secretary, started out as an intern before ultimately hired to work with Latvala after his election.

None of the students asked about his father, state Sen. Jack Latvala, whose campaign for governor has been stopped in its tracks after revelations earlier this month that six women had accused him of sexual harassment.

One of those women, Rachel Perrin Rogers, went public Wednesday as one of his accusers.

In the immediate aftermath of the story, an attorney representing Perrin Rogers claimed Chris Latvala was not acting in the public interest.

Tallahassee attorney Tiffany R. Cruz wrote a letter to House Speaker Richard Corcoran to complain about comments made by Latvala and Rep. Kathleen Peters. Chris responded that he had no idea what Cruz was referring to, saying when it came to this story, he was making an effort to stay off social media.

Chris Latvala did tweet to Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam immediately after the story broke, saying the accusations against his father “are not true.”

Wednesday’s session was held in the class taught by USFSP government professor Judithanne McLauchlan. Last month, McLauchlan — a former state Senate candidate — invited Rick Baker and Rick Kriseman to visit her American Government class before the St. Pete mayoral election. Kriseman did appear; Baker did not.


Website blasts Rick Scott’s policies for working Floridians


A progressive group is attacking Gov. Rick Scott with a new website — Rick’s Recession — for what they claim is the state’s unequal recovery from the Great Recession and the detrimental cost of his policies for Florida families.

The site, published by progressive group “For Florida’s Future,” highlights what it contends are the majority of Florida counties still mired in a recession.

“Not a single thing Scott has focused on — slashing funding for public schools, refusing to expand Medicaid for millions of low-income Floridians or giving taxpayer funding to corporations who donate to his campaigns — has helped everyday Floridians,” says the group’s communication director, Blake Williams.

“To think that almost half of households qualify as working poor is galling,” Williams continued. “To think that over half of Florida’s counties are still living in a recession that should have ended years ago is unconscionable. If we’re going to dig our way out of Rick’s recession, the first thing we need to do is start prioritizing working and middle-class families, something Scott clearly hasn’t done.”

Citing data from the Florida Chamber Foundation, the website claims that a majority of Florida’s counties, especially those in rural areas, are actually worse off today than they were before the recession hit in 2008

Nearly half of Florida households (45 percent) qualify as working poor and struggle to afford even basic necessities like health care, transportation and housing despite being employed,” the site claims.

There is a petition calling on the governor to “stop prioritizing policies that help wealthy campaign donors and corporations, and start prioritizing policies that help working and middle-class Floridians.”

Williams says the site will be backed by a “significant” digital ad buy on social media.

A spokesman for the governor blasted the website later Wednesday.

“This political website is chock-full of out-dated and misleading information,” said John Tupps, the communications director for Scott. “Florida has been a national leader in job creation since Governor Scott took office and the state has gone from losing 800,000 jobs in the four years before he took office to adding more than 1.4 million in less than seven years.”

Scott’s office also said that since he took office seven years ago, “he has worked to cut taxes 75 times saving Floridians more than $7.5 billion, paid down $9 billion in state debt and made government more efficient to save even more taxpayer money.”

Scott’s office also cited Florida’s unemployment rate of 3.6 percent, the lowest in more than a decade, and that Florida’s annual job growth rate of 2.6 percent is exceeding the national rate of 1.6 percent.

Scott is beginning his final year as governor. He is strongly expected to challenge Democrat Bill Nelson for his Senate seat next year.

Rick Scott visits Tampa Police following arrest of Seminole Heights killer


Gov. Rick Scott came to Tampa early Wednesday to thank the officers involved in the arrest of 24-year-old Howell Emanuel Donaldson III, the man suspected of killing four people in Seminole Heights over the past six weeks.

“To the families of Benjamin Mitchell, Monica Hoffa, Anthony Naiboa and Ronald Felton, my heart goes out to you,” Scott said addressing reporters who gathered outside the Tampa Police Department headquarters shortly after 8 a.m.

“Because of the hard work of law enforcement, justice will be served.”

TPD Chief Brad Dugan and Mayor Bob Buckhorn announced that Donaldson was the suspect in the killings late Tuesday night, approximately eight hours after they arrested him at an Ybor City McDonald’s.

An employee at the fast food establishment said that Donaldson, who worked at the restaurant, came up and had given her a food bag with a .40 caliber Glock inside. The witness also told a TPD officer that Donaldson said he wanted to leave the state. Donaldson had since left the restaurant, but returned and was detained by officers.

Scott, Buckhorn, Dugan and other law enforcement officials were effusive in celebrating the collaborative effort between law enforcement agencies to help bring Donaldson into custody — just fifty-one days after he allegedly killed Mitchell, the first of the four people slain in the neighborhood.

Scott directed the Florida Highway Patrol to deploy additional troopers to Seminole Heights last week. Florida Department of Law Enforcement agents had also been involved in the manhunt, as well as sheriff deputies from Hillsborough County and officers from the St. Petersburg Police Department.

“We would not be here today having apprehending this individual had it not been for the team effort that’s been taking place for the last fifty-one days,” Buckhorn said.

Chief Dugan said at a press conference later on Wednesday that his investigators still have work to do on the case, though he said definitively that Donaldson is the culprit in the murders. He added that he had spoken briefly with Hillsborough County State Attorney Andrew Warren on Wednesday, but said it was too early to determine what penalty to seek.

Buckhorn surprised some residents a month ago when he asked Tampa Police officers who were working on finding the killer to “bring me his head on a platter.”

His rhetoric was toned down Wednesday, though he couldn’t resist offering his opinion about Donaldson’s fate.

“Today we begin the healing process, and today the judicial process starts,” the mayor said. “And it will end, and I will promise you that when it does end, that this community will be a better place because I know where this guy is going to spend his eternity.”

When asked what should happen to Donaldson, Buckhorn said he wanted the process to take its place. And once it does?

“If he is found to be guilty, he should die. It’s that simple,” the mayor said.

Dugan said the arrest of Donaldson gave him a feeling of relief. The longtime Tampa policeman was named interim chief earlier this year, and then was officially given the title of chief just a few weeks ago. He said it was hardly an ideal way to start off his career.

“To start off as chief of police and to have four unsolved homicides on your watch? That’s a tough pill to swallow. That is something that I’ll carry the rest of my life,” Dugan said.

Scott said he couldn’t understand why anyone would want to murder someone in cold blood.

“Why somebody would have it in their mind to go take four individuals lives? I don’t get it, and I don’t know if we’ll ever understand it,” he said.

Dugan said there is no apparent motive for the murders at this time. He said Donaldson was cooperative with officers once he was taken into custody, but has only admitted that the gun he was found with on Tuesday was his. He has not admitted to the murders.

Tampa Police ‘optimistic’ on possible break in Seminole Heights murders

Tampa Police Chief Brian Dugan is “optimistic” a man with a gun at a McDonald’s restaurant in Ybor City Tuesday afternoon could be linked to four recent killings in Seminole Heights.

Dugan said his agency received a tip at 2:45 p.m. of a man was brandishing a gun at the McDonald’s on E. 13th Avenue. The unidentified man was confronted, and taken in to be interviewed.

The man was not put in custody at the time, the chief pointed out.

The TPD has received over 5,000 tips since the four murders began last month in Seminole Heights, but Dugan admits he is “optimistic” that Tuesday’s tip about the man could be linked to the killings.

“We have to be very careful about what we release because this person might be completely innocent,” said Dugan, who met with reporters at Tampa Fire Rescue Station #4, south of the McDonald’s.

As of 5 p.m., the man had been arrested.

The suspect in the Seminole Heights killings is described as an African-American male with a light complexion. Officials believe he is approximately 6′ to 6’2″ tall, with a thin build. He was armed with a large black pistol.

“We have a gun,” said Dugan. “We don’t know if it’s our gun.”

It has been 51 days since the TPD began searching for the killer of Benjamin Mitchell, killed October 9.

Mitchell’s death was followed by the killings of Monica Hoffa on October 11, Anthony Taino Naiboa on October 19, and Ronald Felton on Nov. 14. Each of the murders was within 10 blocks of each other in the neighborhood of southeast Seminole Heights.

“It’s been a long time for the families and for the cops, and so I’m guarded on the whole thing, but I’m optimistic,” Dugan said, adding it would be a long night for police.

Florida House candidate accepting campaign contributions in bitcoin

Libertarian candidate Alison Foxall is accepting campaign contributions via digital bitcoin currency.

The House District 72 hopeful is one of a number of political candidates who have solicited contributions from the cryptocurrency, which was first created in 2009.

Rand Paul accepted bitcoins during his 2016 presidential campaign, as has Colorado Democratic Rep. Jared Polis and fellow Florida libertarian Adrian Wyllie, who ran for governor in Florida in 2014.

A Republican (and former libertarian) candidate for Senate in Kansas is also accepting bitcoins, as was another candidate in Kansas, until that state’s Government Ethics Commission (GEC) ruled last month that the currency is just too secretive and untraceable to be allowed as a form of campaign contributions in either state and local elections.

“Bitcoin is a digital currency,” Kansas GEC executive director Mark Skoglund said. “There is no physical manifestation of this currency in any way. It’s just alphanumeric characters that exist only online. It is not backed by any government. The value is subjective and highly volatile. However, there are millions of people who utilize bitcoin.”

The Federal Election Commission issued an advisory opinion in 2014, allowing bitcoin donations as in-kind gifts. The committee that received the contribution in bitcoin would report its value based on the bitcoin’s market value at the time the contribution was received.

The 29-year-old Foxall will face off against Republican James Buchanan and the winner of the Democratic primary between Margaret Good and Ruta Jouniari on Feb. 13. The Democratic primary takes place Tuesday.

Foxall raised $4,497 in her first five weeks of fundraising. The next financial report is due at the end of this week.

The election became necessary after GOP incumbent Alex Miller stepped down from the seat in early September.

Foxall was not immediately available for comment.


Jeff Brandes on how criminal justice reform can address generational poverty

At an anti-poverty conference, state Sen. Jeff Brandes said that, if possible, he thinks it could be beneficial for the Legislature to work on policies that encourage millennials to marry before having children, though he acknowledged that’s unlikely to occur.

“The regulatory effects from that would be game-changing,” the St. Petersburg Republican said during the Florida Chamber Foundation’s “Less Poverty, Through More Prosperity Summit” Tuesday in Tampa.

Brandes cited the “Success Sequence” as a formula that can help reduce Florida’s poverty rate, which among those under the age of 18 is a staggering 30 percent.  Success Sequence is an anti-poverty process first endorsed by officials with the Brookings Institute and has since been adopted by folks with the American Enterprise Institute. It calls for people born into poverty to get at least a high school degree, work full-time and marry before having any children, in that order.

That’s easier said than done, Brandes admitted.

“That is one that is frankly, not well suited for the Legislature to address, but it needs to be part of the overall conversation about addressing prosperity and poverty in the state,” he said.

The conversation then veered into criminal justice reform, which has become one of Brandes’ major passions over the past couple of years.

Florida prisons incarcerate approximately 100,000 people, with another 30,000 in urban county jails, Brandes said. But there are not nearly enough people to staff those prisons, hurting the chances those in custody to avoid recidivism.

There are currently 2,100 job vacancies in our state prisons, he said, and not a huge demand to take those positions, which pay a measly $31,000 annually. That contributes to increasing contraband in prisons and inmate violence.

Brandes talked about creating a prison “off-ramp,” such as opportunities to offer civil citations instead of arrests. The state has made major progress on that with juveniles, but Brandes says that opportunity needs to be presented to adults for certain offenses.

“You steal an item in Florida that costs $300. You’re a committed felon in the state,” he said, noting that law hasn’t changed since 1986, as opposed to most of Florida’s neighboring states, where the felony threshold is stealing an item worth $1,500.

“Steal an iPhone; you’re in prison for five years. You could lose your right to vote. Good luck getting a job,” Brandes said, calling it a “scarlet letter” that will be with someone for the rest of their life.

Other policies Brandes specifically addressed include providing inmates with an opportunity to study and acquire occupational licenses while incarcerated, so they have skills in an industry where they’d be eligible to work once released from prison.

Those arrested in, say, Tampa shouldn’t be placed in a prison in the Panhandle, Brandes added, citing how important family interactions are to prisoners in giving them hope about their future.

When Bob Rohrlack, president and CEO of The Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce, asked what the business community could do to help, Brandes mentioned mentoring and certificate programs tied to an employer or another career source. He said the Legislature could play a part in offering incentives to businesses and released inmates.

“Can I create a certified inmate program?” he mused, suggesting a look at what other states or doing to encourage businesses to get involved.

Brandes also weighed in on the state’s affordable housing crisis; the current model was broken, he said, and a “radically different approach” needs to be adopted to help the public.


Florida Chamber hosts Tampa conference on poverty in Florida

When Democrat John Edwards ran for president in 2004, he gained traction in the primaries by talking about “two Americas” — one wealthy and powerful, the other poor and weak.

The Occupy Wall Street movement followed in 2011, which introduced into the lexicon the derisive term “the one percent,” a reference to the upper elite who increasingly grow wealthy while a majority of Americans see wages stagnate.

Perhaps the last person you’d hear discussing such terms would be a representative from the Florida Chamber of Commerce, but that’s precisely the organization that is sponsoring a daylong event on poverty Tuesday in Tampa.

“I’m fully aware that this is not a popular conversation to have,” said Florida Chamber CEO Mark Wilson in kicking off the “Less Poverty, More Prosperity” conference at the Sheraton Riverwalk Hotel, sponsored by the Chamber’s Foundation.

To his knowledge, the Chamber is the only entity of its kind in the country who has taken up the mission of studying poverty as they work toward reducing impediments to job growth in the Sunshine State.

The effort began in earnest in January, when the Chamber Foundation launched its 2030 project; it’s expected to be completed sometime next year. The initiative aims to provide a step-by-step strategy to make Florida more globally competitive, create economic opportunity for all, and will lead to vibrant and sustainable communities.

A pro-business organization that, by nature, is considered economically conservative, Wilson said the Chamber is a nonpartisan organization and advised anyone who came to the event from a “far-right” or “far-left” perspective to leave their ideology at the door.

“This conversation only turns into results only if in fact we can agree what’s the challenge, what’s a good outcome and what can we all do to help our policymakers to get the changes that need to be made,” he said.

The statistics are daunting: while the state’s 15.8 percent poverty level is troubling, it doesn’t differ much from the national average of 13.5 percent.

In March 2016, Wilson testified before a congressional panel on how to seek ways to end generational poverty by lifting up Americans through economic opportunity instead of entitlements. He said he ended up getting hate mail following that appearance.

“It was the kind of people who were saying,’ what, have you become Bernie Sanders now? Why would the Chamber get involved in doing something about poverty?'” he said. “It just told me that people just don’t know what they don’t know.”

Wilson and other speakers who appeared on panels throughout the day discussed how poverty includes more than one’s income level — it also includes food, transportation and housing.

The chamber intuitive strives to study what can be done to raise the wages of people in poor ZIP codes. “Every person matters, and every ZIP code matters,” Wilson said.

He also said that some in the business community might be coming to the issue on an economic level, while others from a moral point of view.

Wilson said that there is a body of evidence arguing both philosophies are accurate.

The Chamber’s focus is to alleviate generational poverty, not “situational,” which will take generations to turn around. And he said that means tackling early learning in childhood, ticking off a statistic that a child at the age of three who is born into a college educated family has heard 30 million more words than someone born into poverty.

“Newsflash. You can’t make that up later,” Wilson said, adding that it’s up to the business community to address and alleviate that devastating disparity.

Halfway through his 28-minute address, Wilson asked what appeared to be a trick question: Whether it was better for the average person with two kids to be making $9 an hour, or $25 an hour.

He later explained how people could lose certain benefits once their income increases; that’s why in Florida, it’s better to make $9 an hour than $25 if you’re in poverty.

That said, the Chamber opposes efforts to mandate raising the minimum wage in the Sunshine State, including a move by Orlando entrepreneur John Morgan to put the issue on the 2020 ballot.

American Action Network airing new ad praising Carlos Curbelo’s support of GOP tax plan

U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo is being applauded for supporting the GOP tax plan in a new ad produced by American Action Network.

The District 26 Republican is one of the most vulnerable House incumbents in the nation and has been the subject of several TV and radio ads this year by the group, which has ties to Republican House Leadership.

American Action Network announced earlier this year that they would spend $20 million attempting to get the GOP tax plan passed. This is at least the fourth ad in some form (radio, digital and/or television) directed toward voters in CD 26, which spans a part of Miami down to Key West.

AAN previously targeted Curbelo and other Republicans to support proposals in the House of Representatives that would repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.

“What a country and what a day,” Curbelo said two weeks ago after casting a vote in support of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. “Today we are one step closer for tax relief for every American family.”

Curbelo is one of 29 House Republicans being thanked by the group in the latest $2.5 million ad buy.

The U.S. Senate may vote on their version of the tax reform proposal by the end of this week.

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