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 email@example.com.
Emboldened by the news that South Florida Republican Illeana Ros-Lehtinen will not run for re-election next year, the Democratic Campaign Congressional Committee (DCCC) released its “2018 Republican Retirement Watchlist.”
While Alaska’s Don Young tops the list, Sarasota’s Vern Buchanan and Miami-Dade’s Mario Diaz Balart are listed second and third, respectively.
“Given the negative national environment for the Republican Party, the DCCC knows that there are more retirements to come, particularly in districts that tend to vote for Democrats in other elected positions,” says Tyler Law, national press secretary at the DCCC.
While Buchanan barely survived to win his very first run for his seat in 2006 against Democrat Christine Jennings, he has not since faced a serious challenge. He crushed Democrat Jan Schneider last fall, winning by almost 20 percentage points.
In response to the DCCC, Buchanan spokesperson Gretchen Anderson quipped, “Good to see they still have a sense of humor over there.”
Ros-Lehtinen, a moderate in the GOP House Caucus who has disagreed sharply with Donald Trump, insisted in her announcement that she would not run for re-election that Trump had nothing to do with her decision, which when she steps down next year will mark 30 years in Congress. But the DCCC isn’t buying that, saying that the likely motivating factors in her retirement was her “inability to defend House Republicans’ misplaced priorities and dysfunction in this very Democratic leaning district and the daunting prospect of running for reelection in the shadow of President Trump.”
While it’s true that Hillary Clinton defeated Trump by nearly 20 percentage points in Ros-Lehtinen’s CD 27 seat last November, it should be noted that she dusted off her Democratic opponent, Scott Fuhrman, by 10 percent points.
Rumors continue to circulate that former St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker will soon announce his candidacy to challenge incumbent Rick Kriseman in November.
If so, Baker may need to do it as soon as this week, as Kriseman continues to extend his financial advantage.
The Kriseman campaign announced Monday that the campaign and an associated committee combined to raise over $100,000 in April for his re-election bid, bringing the total Kriseman for Mayor has raised to nearly $400,000.
“Every day, I talk to people who are excited about the direction our city is going,” Kriseman said in a statement. “I’m humbled to have so much support for our vision of St. Petersburg. Under my administration, crime and poverty are down, and the pier and small businesses are going up.
“I ran four years ago to take on some of the biggest challenges our city has ever faced. Where others ignored these challenges, we tackled them head on, and now St. Pete is a city moving forward. It’s an honor to be your mayor, and I’m going to keep fighting to make this great city even better.”
Currently, Jesse Nevel, Paul Congemi and Anthony Cates III have filed to challenge Kriseman in the August primary.
While Baker has been extremely coy about his ambitions, it has been assumed for months that if he were to run, he would make that announcement after the public votes on a referendum on expanding Al Lang Field. That’s the initiative that is literally funded by Baker’s boss, entrepreneur and Tampa Bay Rowdies owner Bill Edwards.
Baker has been speaking to neighborhood groups for months to advocate for the referendum that will go before St. Petersburg voters Tuesday, where it is expected to easily prevail.
Former Vice President Joe Biden will be the keynote speaker for the Florida Democratic Party’s biggest fundraising event of the year, the annual Leadership Blue Gala next month in Fort Lauderdale.
“We are thrilled to announce the former vice president as our keynote speaker. Joe Biden has spent his life in public service and has fought tirelessly for the Democratic belief that all Americans deserve an equal shot in our economy, not just those at the top. We are excited to welcome him back to Florida for our Leadership Blue Gala,” said FDP Chair Stephen Bittel in a news release issued Monday.
On Sunday night, Biden spoke in Manchester, New Hampshire, prompting speculation he is considering a run for president in 2020 (he would be 77).
But Biden promptly attempted to quash such talk,opening his speech with: “When I got asked to speak, I knew it was going to cause speculation. Guys, I’m not running.”
New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker was the keynote speaker at last year’s event. In 2015, the keynote speakers were Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard and Virginia Sen. Mark Warner.
The event will take place at the Diplomat Hotel Saturday, June 17.
Democratic hopes to retake the House in 2018 received a boost Sunday, with the announcement that longtime South Florida Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen will not run for re-election.
“There was no epiphany. There was no moment, nothing that has happened that I’ve said, “I’ve got to move on,’” Ros-Lehtinen, who represents Florida’s 27th Congressional District, told the Miami Herald’s Patricia Mazzeiin an exclusive interview. “It was just a realization that I could keep getting elected — but it’s not about getting elected.”
Ros-Lehtinen served in Congress for 29 years, first elected in 1988. Last November, she defeated Democrat Scott Fuhrman, a first-time candidate, by 10 percentage points — the closest margin in years. But Ros-Lehtinen — the first Hispanic woman and first Cuban-American ever elected to Congress — said she had no concerns about being re-elected in 2018 if she chose to retain the seat.
“There is no doubt in my mind whatsoever that I would not only win in this election, but I would win by a greater percentage,” Ros-Lehtinen said confidently.
Hillary Clinton defeated Donald Trump by 20 percentage points in Ros-Lehtinen’s district last year, and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is already boldly declaring that they’ll now take the seat next year. C
“As one of the most Democratic districts held by a Republican Representative, this district was always going to be competitive, ” said Cole Leiter, a spokesman for the DCCC. “Now it is all but guaranteed to be won by a Democrat who will finally provide the hard working people who live there the representation they deserve. As more vulnerable Republicans recognized the distance between their party and their districts, this retirement could well be the first of many.”
In January, the DCCC listed her, along with three other Florida Republicans,as part of a group of lawmakers targeted nationally in a midterm memo circulated to various Democratic allies.
“Ileana Ros-Lehtinen is simply a force of nature,” said NRCC Chairman Steve Stivers. “Her tireless work ethic was only matched by her charismatic personality. She represented her South Florida district well and she will be dearly missed in Washington. I wish her and her family the best. I am confident we will keep this seat red in 2018.”
Ros-Lehtinen was one GOP House moderate who did not support the Paul Ryan led American Health Care Act that was pulled at the last hour back in March. She hasn’t sounded that enthusiastic about the amended health care bill that may be voted on this week, but she says that Trump is not the reason she is stepping down at the age of 64.
“It’s not been part of the calculation of retiring,” she said of Trump, adding, “I would be talking to you even if Hillary Clinton were president.”
Undoubtedly, there will be those announcing their candidacies for the seat over the next few months. Fuhrman already announced he would run again for the seat in 2018, as has Miami Beach Commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez.
Fellow Republican Mario Diaz-Balart, who represents the adjoining South Florida’s 25th Congressional District, called Ros-Lehtinen “one of the most respected and admired” members of Congress. For almost four decades, Ileana has served our community with honor and integrity. From her days as an
“For almost four decades, Ileana has served our community with honor and integrity,” Diaz-Balart said in a statement Sunday afternoon. “From her days as an educator to the Florida Legislature, and now ending her tenure in Congress, Ileana truly exemplifies what it means to be a public servant. She never seeks political expediency and always puts the interests of her constituents first. From one corner of the globe to another, she is tireless in her crusade for human rights and democracy.
“To say Ileana is a trusted friend and mentor to me is an understatement; she is a part of my family, and I will dearly miss ‘mi hermana legislativa’ in the halls of Congress. I wish nothing but the best for Ileana, her husband Dexter, their children, and their grandchildren as she begins this next chapter in her life.”
Democrat Ted Deutch, part of the Florida delegation from bit further north in the 22nd Congressional District, called Ros-Lehtinen’s retirement a “tremendous loss” for both South Florida and the entire country.
“As a public servant, she has worked tirelessly for her constituents for over three decades. Hardly a day goes by where Ileana isn’t on the House floor celebrating a remarkable person or event in her district.
“Ileana broke barriers as the first Hispanic woman elected to Congress and the first female Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. She has been a stalwart champion for human rights around the world, a voice for the oppressed, an outspoken advocate for LGBTQ equality, and one of the most steadfast defenders of Israel. Her legislative contributions have led to some of the toughest international sanctions against Iran, North Korea and Venezuela, and the promotion of democracy worldwide.
“From the moment I arrived in Congress, Ileana has been a friend and a partner. We have worked together countless times from championing equality to strengthening the U.S. — Israel relationship. It has been a pleasure and an honor to serve with her as Ranking Member of the Middle East Subcommittee. Her humor and good nature (see photo!) provides a welcome respite from the partisan challenges we face each day. Every Member of Congress should learn something from the way Ileana has conducted herself over the past 28 years. She has crossed the aisle to stand up for what she believes is right. She has stood firm in her convictions and stood up for those she represents even when it meant making tough political choices.
“As she finishes out her current term, I know that Ileana will work just as hard as she always has for the people of South Florida and on behalf of our country. I look forward to continuing to work alongside her for the next year and a half, and I will miss working with her when she is gone.”
Deutch’s statement included a photo of him and Ros-Lehtinen at a bipartisan delegation visit to Israel in July 2014.
President Donald Trump has offered Republican Party of Florida National Committeewoman Sharon Day an as-yet-unannounced role in his administration.
Day, who has been with the Florida GOP since 2004, said she would provide more information about the job “at a later date.”
“I have been offered a position within the White House administration,” Day told the audience at the RPOF spring quarterly meeting Saturday morning at the Tampa DoubleTree Hotel.
Although she was not at liberty to divulge any details about the position, Day did elaborate, quipping: “We have gone through more vetting, and they know more about me than I know about me.”
Day recently stepped down from her role as co-chair of the Republican National Committee, a position she had 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 county party.
In reviewing Trump’s first 100 days as president, Day took a shot at the GOP-led Congress over the lack of a health care bill.
“I want to know what our Congress was doing for the past eight years as they were constantly passing repeal-and-replace, and then didn’t have anything to repeal and replace it with,” she said. “So I think that we have to ask our elected officials that put our president in a situation where he couldn’t repeal and replace because he doesn’t write the laws, he simply signs the law.”
Day followed that with a spirited defense of Trump’s accomplishments, which, for her, included signing executive orders protecting whistleblowers at the Veterans Affairs Department and rescinding at least six Obama-era executive orders that aimed to curb climate change and regulate carbon emissions.
And despite the adage from her mother that “you never talk politics or religion,” Day declared a need for proud Republicans to talk up, wherever they go, why they support Trump, including at grocery stores or church.
“That’s our job as leaders in this great party,” she said.
Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe says he had broken the record for restoring voting rights to convicted felons, calling it his “proudest achievement” as governor.
And Charlie Crist is leading the cheers applauding the move.
McAuliffe boasted Thursday he had individually restored rights to 156,221 Virginians, surpassing the previous record-holder — Crist — by a nose.
As governor of Florida from 2007 to 2011, Crist restored voting rights to 155,315 felons, according to figures that McAuliffe’s office obtained from Florida.
“I applaud Governor McAuliffe’s leadership on a moral issue that goes to the heart of our democracy, the right to vote,” Crist said. “Clemency can be life changing. I thank Governor McAuliffe for his shared commitment to protecting civil rights and correcting wrongs in the criminal justice system.”
“I hope more Chief Executives follow his inspirational lead,” he added.
Meanwhile, the Florida Supreme Court approved language last week of a proposed state ballot initiative which would restore voting rights to nonviolent ex-felons.
Desmond Meade, the head of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, said his group had collected 75,000 signatures to ensure a court hearing. He’ll need another 700,000 by early next year to qualify to get the measure on the 2018 ballot.
Florida is one of just three states that permanently bars ex-felons from voting unless they get clemency.
“Expanding democracy in Virginia has been my proudest achievement during my time as Governor,” McAuliffe said in a written statement. “Over the course of the last year, I have had the privilege to meet with many of the men and women affected by this order, and their stories inspired us as we continued this fight against the hostile opponents of progress.”
According to North Korea’s deputy U.N. ambassador, the standoff over his country’s nuclear program will end only when the U.S. withdraws its “hostile policy” toward the northeast Asian nation.
In an interview with The Associated Press Friday, Kim In Ryong says his government will not attend “any type of talks which would discuss its nuclear abandonment.”
That includes the U.N. Security Council meeting Friday on the North Korean nuclear issue.
He called it “another abuse” of U.N. authority, acting on instructions of the United States, a veto-wielding member.
Kim said that “it is a wild dream for the U.S. to think of depriving the DPRK (North Korea’s official name) of its nuclear deterrent through military threat and sanctions.”
But neither the Donald Trump administration nor Florida Sen. Bill Nelson, sound like they’re ready to tamp down the rhetoric when it comes to living with a nuclear North Korea.
“I can tell you that this Senator doesn’t want to live with a nuclear North Korea any more than what it has right now,” Nelson told reporters at a news conference at his district office in Tampa Friday. “And that means having an ICBM (Intercontinental Ballistic Missile) that can reach almost the entire U.S.”
Meanwhile, China is calling for North Korea to stop its nuclear and missile activities, with Foreign Minister Wang Yi saying at a U.N. Security Council ministerial meeting Friday that “use of force … will only lead to bigger disasters.”
While the Trump administration is banking on China pressuring its communist neighbors, Nelson says it would be foolhardy to rely on the Chinese alone to restrain the North’s nuclear ambitions.
“If we’re relying entirely on China, I think it’s going to be a long time coming because the Chinese are not reliable,” the Florida Democrat said. “So if China can’t help us, that leaves one thing left, and that is kinetic action, which is a war.”
With almost 26 million people living in the Seoul metropolitan area, Nelson says “there are no easy answers.”
The senator feels the ideal situation is a nuclear arms deal, similar to what the Obama administration and the western powers executed with Iran in 2015.
But Nelson also acknowledges that North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong Un, isn’t likely to back down.
“So, we’re ultimately going to be faced with a war,” Nelson said on a dour note, “or we’re going to have to be faced with a North Korea with a nuclear ICMB that can reach the U.S.”
The U.S. Air Force test-fired an intercontinental ballistic missile which traveled over 4,000 miles before splashing down in the South Pacific after launching early Wednesday from a base in California. The test was long-planned, according to defense officials.
When asked about the timing of the test amid threats surrounding North Korea, one official told Fox News: “If we had canceled the launch, that would be a story too.”
The U.S. Air Force has 450 Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles in underground silos across three bases in Wyoming, North Dakota, and Montana.
In the coming years, that number will reduce to 400.
Meanwhile, rumors are circulating on Capitol Hill that House Republicans may have enough votes to commit to attempting to pass a health care bill next week.
Disputing that notion, Nelson believes there is still too much dissent within the GOP’s various factions for a vote to make it to the floor.
“I don’t think they’ll pass it in the House,” he says, “because they can’t get their act together, just like they couldn’t a month ago when they tried to pass a replacement for the Affordable Care Act.”
“What we ought to do the fixes to the ACA, and then you don’t throw 24 million people that now have health insurance that never had it before,” Nelson adds. “You don’t throw them out on the street not having any health insurance. That’s what we ought to do, but this all gets balled up in politics, and you get the pushing and tugging, and you get the partisanship and all of that.
“Well, this time you see that, even within one party, you can’t get agreement. So, I don’t anticipate we’re going to have that problem again. We do need to have some fixes (to the ACA).”
Nelson also says he would work with Trump on tax reform, and it needed to come with a plan for infrastructure spending.
It was the same idea then-candidate Trump talked about on the campaign trail but has yet to enact in his first 100 days in office.
Officials had high hopes for a bill to reconfigure Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority (TBARTA).
Those same officials are now expressing some contentment following an amendment from the bill’s original sponsor, Clearwater Republican Jack Latvala.
The legislation would change TBARTA’s name from the Tampa Bay Regional Transportation Authority to the Tampa Bay Regional Transit Authority, and reduce the number of counties involved in addressing the region’s traffic issues.
It has been a top priority of the Tampa Bay area business establishment, specifically the Tampa Bay Partnership.
But there were major concerns expressed by the bill’s supporters last week after the measure significantly weakened by an amendment filed by Tampa Bay Republicans Tom Lee and Jeff Brandes. That amendment required that any proposed rail project coming out of the newly formed transit agency would need approval by each county’s Metropolitan Planning Agency as well as the Legislature itself.
Latvala produced a new version of the bill Thursday, with the MPO’s and the Legislature’s approval only required for state funding of rail projects.
“I think the intention of the previous changes were not to insert any new processes or roadblocks to any kind of transit but was really a statement by Brandes and Lee to reinforce the steps that were necessary to consider light rail in Tampa Bay,” says Rick Homans of the Tampa Bay Partnership.
“And so what I think that Sen. Latvala has done with his amendment is to reinforce that the intent is to underline these important steps, but not to create new steps in the process, things like feasibility studies, approval by the MPO, an act by the Legislature,” Homans adds.
“All of these steps if state funding is involved in a rail project, are important steps to take, and this bill as it delineates and outlines that rigorous process that the community has to go thru if it’s going to seek state funds for rail in Tampa Bay.”
The bill originally included only Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco counties in the new TBARTA, but later Manatee was counted in the bill. Last week’s amendment inserted Hernando County into the bill, making it almost as large as TBARTA’s initial seven-county focus. Hernando is still on the bill.
Homans spins that as a win, saying this brings in some influential Tampa Bay-area Senators into the mix.
“On the political front, this is a project for the Tampa Bay Legislative Delegation, and this brings Wilton Simpson and Bill Galvano into the process,” he says, “and they have a stake in the success of the future of our regional transportation system … I think that it’s important that were all working on this together.
“Having Manatee and Hernando at the table shows how this is a region that’s connected and we all have a stake in building this transit system,” he says.
The Partnership has been a driving force behind the legislation. They paid for a study conducted by the D.C.-based Enos Center for Transportation on a regional structure for transportation planning, operations, and decision-making is that was presented to the entireBay Area Legislative Delegation in February.
Homans credits his team of lobbyists, including Ryan Patmintra, Ron Pierce and Seth McKeel with discussions over the past week with Senators Latvala, Lee and Brandes as helping to come together on the bill.
“What’s going forward (today) is a win for Tampa Bay,” he says. “And it’s a team effort on the part of the legislative delegation.”
The Senate is scheduled to vote on the TBARTA bill Friday, where it will then go to the House, where the companion bill is sponsored by Plant City’s Dan Raulerson.
In anticipation of those events, Organize Florida Education Fund and the Center for Popular Democracy released a report Thursday on how Florida’s infrastructure burdens women of color and their families.
The report lays the blame on Florida lawmakers who they say have failed to act to expand health care access or improve job quality in the state’s two dominant industries: tourism and hospitality, “both of which tend to offer low wages and little to no benefits.”
The report concentrates on Florida’s low-wage economy in the Orlando and Tampa markets.
“In this report, we try to lay out how that plays out and make some recommendation for policies that help to mitigate those effects,” says Michele Kilpatrick, a researcher from the Center for Popular Democracy.
Among those policy proposals included in the report are:
— Subsidizing the fortification and repair of homes in low-income communities threatened by intense storms that the report says are “caused by climate change.”
— Following the lead of California in establishing stringent standards for power plant emissions.
— Aggressively enforce environmental protection and occupational health standards in the energy industry, including requiring energy companies to invest in infrastructure maintenance and early warning systems to detect leaks and spills, and insisting on adequate safeguards for new construction.
— Establish programs to encourage primary care physicians to serve underserved populations expand Medicaid eligibility.
— Increase Florida’s minimum wage to support working families and rigorously investigate and prosecute of wage theft.
Meanwhile, the rally in Tampa is scheduled 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. in Lykes Gaslight Park. The demonstration then moves to MacDill Park, which will host local art installations and climate science exhibits.
In St. Petersburg, a rally will take place between 10:30 a.m. — 12:30 p.m. at Mirror Lake, 654 Mirror Lake Dr. N.
For a list of all related events in Florida, check out the list here.
Two weeks ago, the Florida House spent more than three hours debating a bill to attract specialized, high-performing charter schools to Florida as an alternative to struggling public schools.
On Thursday, with time running out in the 2017 Session, teacher union officials, educators and activists denounced the controversial $200 million spending plan (HB 1505) at a news conference outside of Essrig Elementary School in northwest Tampa.
“Diverting $200 million in our taxpayer money away from our children’s public schools to unaccountable private companies is a terrible plan,” said Michelle Prieto, the Tampa coordinator of the group Mi Familia Vota. “The job of these legislators should be to assure equal access to properly funded education. This bill fails that test miserably.”
Republicans overwhelmingly support the “schools of hope” measure as a way to break the cycle of poverty in low-income communities. They say that these specialized charter operators will use innovative techniques that have been proven to work in other areas.
The bill, a favorite of House Speaker Richard Corcoran,would provide the infrastructure to allow out-of-state specialized charters to create new schools in communities with public schools graded “D” or “F” for three or more years that also receive Title I funds.
“Did you know that public schools have mandated curriculum, and charters don’t?” asked Nicole Bond, a parent of a first-grader in the Pinellas County school system. “Did you know that teachers in public schools are required to have degrees to teach, and in this charter proposal, they wouldn’t have to?”
Debbie King is the mother of a daughter who attends Hillsborough High School, a former Pasco County high school science teacher, and now is an organizer with the activist group Organize Florida. She acknowledged that Hillsborough County schools have a “lot of issues,” which begins and ends with inadequate funding.
King was recently asked to buy toilet paper that she said was needed at Seminole Heights Elementary School.
“That is absurd,” King said. “There is not funding for recess. There is not funding for toilet paper, but all of a sudden, there’s $200 million for our taxpayer money to give away to private charter schools with no accountability to our Legislature, our families or our children.”
Speakers at the event mentioned other education bills they believe would remedy problems with Florida’s education system more efficiently. One such bill is SB 1552 by Altamonte Springs Republican David Simmons which would encourage school turnaround efforts in which districts extend their school days by at least an hour, provide students with wraparound services, or give charter-like autonomy to their principals.
Newly elected Hillsborough County School Board member Lynn Gray championed Florida public schools, saying that she’d like for Gov. Rick Scott to fund programs that work, like the Tampa Schools international baccalaureate program.
“We have great public magnet schools that could use funding as well as new public schools dedicated to STEM and STEAM,” Gray said. “But, instead those programs and schools are likely to be on the chopping block if ‘Schools of Hope’ passes, and instead a few millionaires who are politically connected and run for-profit schools will get our tax dollars intended for our children and the public school teachers the resources they need to do their job.”
Florida has always been in the bottom five states in funding public education, noted Jean Clements, the president of the Hillsborough County Teachers Association. The $200 million plan for charters is “particularly disturbing,” she said.
Without a true Senate companion, the bill is expected to be hammered out in House-Senate budget negotiations within the next week.