Bill Rufty, Author at Florida Politics - Page 6 of 12

Bill Rufty

Former Ledger of Lakeland columnist Bill Rufty is Central Florida political correspondent for SaintPetersBlog and Florida Politics. Rufty had been with the Ledger from 1985-2015, where, as political editor, he covered a wide range of beats, including local and state politics, the Lakeland City Commission, and the Florida Legislature. Ledger editor Lenore Devore said about Rufty’s 30-year career: “[He is] a man full of knowledge, a polling expert and a war history buff … who has a steel trap in his brain, remembering details most of us have long since forgotten.”

Darren Soto: Current GOP health care bill won’t pass

The current bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act will never pass Congress in its current form, freshman U.S. Rep. Darren Soto, an Orlando Democrat, told members of the Polk County Tiger Bay Club during a Monday lunch in Bartow.

“I believe ‘Trumpcare’ will be difficult in the House now that the joy of victory has subsided. And things in the Senate can come unraveled,” said the new congressman from Florida’s 9th Congressional District, which includes Osceola County and parts of Polk and Orange counties, during a post-luncheon interview.

“We must have a health care system other than (patients going primarily to) emergency rooms, which is the most expensive option,” Soto said.

A uniform bill with both parties working together is needed, respecting both sides.

But it is also an opportunity for the minority Democrats to have a say in defending or preserving parts of the Affordable Care Act because Republican lawmakers are so divided.

“In chaos, there is opportunity,” Soto said.

He has no problems calling the current bill “Trumpcare.” It is a play on words after Republicans called the ACA “Obamacare,” he said.

“He endorsed it (the Republican repeal and replace bill) so he owns it,” Soto said.

He also told his audience that the deportation of undocumented immigrants could devastate the agricultural and tourist industries in Florida, two of the three pillars of the state’s economy.

“This is the opinion of many ranchers and growers,” he said. “You are not going to have mechanical pickers in the groves. That is not going to happen. You need a guest worker program that actually works and need overall reform.”

Soto serves on the House Committee on Agriculture and on the House Committee on Natural Resources.

Citrus greening, a disease that attacks and destroys citrus trees, is a foremost concern he said. He said he is working with Rep. Dennis Ross, a Lakeland Republican, to get more funding for research crucial to Florida agriculture.

He and Ross have worked on several issues and will be among a congressional delegation Soto proposed to visit Iraq to determine the political and military situation.

The Florida Delegation, in fact, has developed a series of bipartisan issues on which members from both parties have agreed to work. They include Everglades Restoration, Infrastructure, Tax Reform and solving Red Tide.

“You can’t drive on 17/92 or US 27 and not understand the need for infrastructure funding,” Soto said. And citrus greening is a major concern to the Congress members from citrus counties, he said.

Soto may be a freshman member of Congress, but is not new to legislating. He served for nine years in a Republican-controlled Florida House and Florida Senate before being elected to Congress, which is Republican majority-controlled.

“I have to take that into consideration and thread the needle with good ideas. An example of that is money I have asked for to provide additional hurricane monitoring aircraft working with both parties. There is only one group to monitor the entire Gulf,” he said.

“Congress is more bipartisan than you may think,” he said. “We pass 10-12 bills a day on voice vote meaning no one objects enough to ask for a vote by name. It is the two or three controversial ones that get the press.”

‘Fake news: What is it; How to spot it’ event in Lakeland Sunday

Barry Friedman, editor and publisher of the online news site,,  will discuss the evolution of fake news as a major issue in current events and how readers can become more discerning of online postings.

Entitled “Fake News: Democracy in an Age of Media Bubbles and Infotainment News,” the event will be held 3:30 – 5:30 p.m., Sunday at the Just Dance Studio, 124 S. Kentucky Ave., Lakeland. An “admission fee” of $5 is requested for light refreshments during the two-hour seminar discussing the growing problem of fake news or deliberate propaganda.

Friedman notes that the 2016 election revealed a need for media consumers to know how to judge the credibility of what they read.


Polk County Democratic Women’s Club to host Lakeland walk, rally

The Democratic Women’s Club of East Polk County will sponsor a walk and rally at Lake Mirror in downtown Lakeland 5-6:30 p.m., Sunday, which it says is to emphasize women’s and social rights.

Karen Welzel, president of the club, said the rally followed by the march around the lake is “to give a voice to groups and individuals feeling marginalized and attacked during this election cycle, and to bring to the forefront issues of importance to women.”

Among those issues, sponsors said, are civil rights, economic issues including equal pay for equal work, health care, religious freedom, environmental concerns, reproductive freedom and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights.

The rally follows one in Winter Haven last month and several throughout the state building toward the Women’s March on Washington, Jan. 21.

Among the speakers for the Lakeland rally will be Welzel, president of the Democratic Women’s Club of East Polk Ridge; former Lakeland City Commissioner Keith Merritt; Dr. Maureen McKenna, president of the Democratic Women’s Club of Florida; Professor Emeritus Dr. Sharon Kay Masters of Florida Southern College, who specializes in Women’s Studies; along with several other speakers.


Bill Rufty: Will I-4, Polk County go blue?

RuftyTuesday will reveal whether the I-4 corridor is still an important swing corridor or whether it has become an important Democratic Party corridor.

Both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump hit the counties along that stretch of interstate many times as well — and not just the big cities of St. Petersburg, Tampa and Orlando. Smaller cities and towns were targets as well.

Donald Trump held a rally at the Lakeland Linder Airport and Tim Kaine, presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s running mate, appeared at a rally at the Lakeland Center.

Polk County, traditionally conservative Republican for two decades, is one of the last pieces of the I-4 corridor Democrats would like to have.

Awakening after 20 years, county party leaders finally succeeded in fielding candidates for all seven legislative races. While no Democratic landslide is in sight and only one likely competitive race this time, the Democrats have taken a page from former Polk County Republican Party Chair Jean Burt.

“I can’t expect people to vote Republican and change their party to Republican unless I give them really good candidates to vote for,” Burt said in 1985 when there was no Republican in office in the county.

Essentially, in each election, she asked well-known people in the community to take one for the party.

The first Republican legislator from Polk since Reconstruction was elected in 1990. A Republican majority was elected in 1996 and there hasn’t been a Democrat elected from Polk since 1998. Now, Democrats seem to be paying attention to Burt’s philosophy.

Two of the bigger names Democrats have fielded are retired Circuit Judge Robert Doyel facing Republican activist Sam Killebrew for House District 41, and former school board member Debra Wright challenging Republican incumbent Kelli Stargel, for Senate District 22.

Doyel amassed a healthy campaign warchest of $92,265, an unusual feat for a Democrat in Polk County. Killebrew finished with $228,699.

Wright raised $26,277 in her Senate campaign, but the incumbent Stargel had received $494,010.

Members of the Florida Legislature receive an annual salary of $29,697.

How About Another Election?

Walk into any voting location in Lakeland and you will be stopped as you come out of the building and asked if you are a resident within the city limits of Lakeland.

“If you answer yes the person behind the desk (placed at the required distance from the polling entrance) will say ‘Well come on over and sign the petition for a strong mayor.’” Lakeland resident Ricky Shira said after casting his ballot in early voting. He didn’t sign.

The petitioners will be out in force Tuesday at the precinct locations too.

Supporters of changing the city charter to create a strong mayor form of government in Lakeland hope to obtain enough signatures to force the issue onto the ballot in 2017.

Most of the people manning the petition tables are paid. But there are volunteers for the group as well. And there are just as many old-time movers and shakers in Lakeland who have formed a group to oppose the strong-mayor proposal.

Currently, while the mayor is elected by the city’s voters for a four-year term, he or she is considered one of the seven members of the commission in the city manager form of government.

Supporters hope to bring the issue to the ballot in November 2017, when city commission elections are held.

Both Tampa and Orlando, on each side of Lakeland, have the strong mayor system of government. Supporters say Lakeland, whose population is now over 110,000, is large enough to have a strong mayor system.

‘Woman’s Work’ …

Don’t tell Dena DeCamp of Lakeland that Donald Trump doesn’t have the support of women. She will read you a litany of women working in his Florida campaign.

“Most of the Republican campaign headquarters across the state are being run by the Florida Federation of Republican women,” said DeCamp of Lakeland, who is the state president.

She insists that statewide women are coming forward and supporting Trump, recalling a 92-year-old woman who had immigrated from Australia decades ago and became a citizen had come in to register to vote for the first time.

“We have had many people well over the age of 21 come into the Lakeland campaign headquarters to register for the first time or to change parties to Republican,” she said.

The forms are then taken to the Polk County Supervisor of Elections office to be recorded.

DeCamp has supported Trump from the day he won the nomination and has often acted as his surrogate in the state, including speaking at his event in Lakeland.

“This is the person we in the early tea party have been waiting for — a businessman who is not a politician,” she said late Monday as she was putting up more campaign signs.

Hispanic Polk Republicans to protest Hillary Clinton in Lakeland

The Hispanic Republican Club of Polk County plans a protest rally against Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton at 5 p.m. Thursday at the intersection of Florida Avenue and Edgewood Drive in Lakeland.

The intersection where north-south and east-west thoroughfares cross has been a favorite of sign wavers and protesters for decades.

From a candidate who used to dress as Uncle Sam, to one campaign that featured a rock band, to a street preacher with a megaphone, the intersection is somewhat similar to London’s Speaker’s Corner, especially during election season.

Concepcion Scharar, a Lakeland resident and one of the protest organizers, said the group plans to protest revelations in Clinton campaign officials’ correspondence in the recent WikiLeaks emails that she said are disparaging to Catholics and thereby an insult to Hispanics and other minorities. She said the gathering is also to protest Clinton’s own stand on abortion (which is pro-choice).

Armed with placards and signs, Scharar said the Democrats do not have as large a contingent of Hispanic supporters as they claim.

Polk School Board candidate Becky Troutman hosting affordable campaign event

troutmanPolk County School Board candidate Becky Troutman will hold a low-dollar fundraiser Tuesday, Oct. 18, from 5:30-7:30 p.m. at Leland Young’s Show Barn, 2905 Central Ave., Bartow.

Campaign donations for the event and eats are at an affordable $20 per family.

Troutman is the wife of former Republican State Rep. Baxter Troutman, who represented House District 66 from 2003-2010. In March 2008, Baxter Troutman proposed to Becky, his longtime girlfriend, on the floor of the Florida House.

Advance reservations can be made through

More civics, more civility says Dennis Ross

U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross

The vitriolic presidential campaign and its controversies are due in a major part to the education system failing to retain one of its traditional and historical obligations, the teaching of civics, U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross, a Lakeland Republican, told a meeting of a Kiwanis Club in his hometown Thursday.

“I have never seen anything like it,” Ross said of the combative campaigns and crowds this year. “And the reason is that we don’t teach our kids — the next generation — civics and the political process.

“Charlotte and Baton Rouge have been with us, and that is not the way to process change, “he said. “There has to be a sense of civility (on both sides),” he said.

Ross, during his first term, 2011-2013, was a member of the Tea Party Caucus of the Republican-controlled House, which was often accused of not compromising or not working with then-Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner. After the first term, he was no longer a member, adding he still believed in some of the group’s points.

But Ross is among several elected officials calling for a return to teaching the governmental and civic processes in school.

These subjects have largely been dropped in many schools to make way for more technical subjects without increasing the school year or for lack of funding. Still, they affect the way many understand government and dealing with one another, supporters say.

“In any relationship, we have to have give-and-take, but we don’t teach that anymore,” he said.

Ross often said where there is the teaching of the subject, the substance of government isn’t given to students, such as requiring a visit to a city commission meeting or a school board session.

Neither major party has a monopoly on the right way to do things, he said.

“I have many friends who are Democrats. My mother was a Democrat until the day she died. She always said that she voted for me, but I am not really sure,” he quipped.

It is crucial, he said, for the next generation to understand the process of government and civility toward each other. He said he is worried about what children are learning from this campaign year.

“If we have a fundamental understanding of the process (of government in a democracy), then we can go forward. I am encouraging students, teachers, school boards, and college professors on this subject,” he said.

Bill Rufty: House District 41 candidates going for the money

RuftySam Killebrew, Republican candidate for Florida House District 41, has raised a campaign war chest double that of Democratic candidate Bob Doyel, who nevertheless raised more than any Democrat running for the district in 16 years.

The battle for the open seat is the only competitive race among the seven legislative seats in Polk County that have elections.

In the latest campaign finance reporting period, Sept. 3 through Sept. 16, Killebrew reported raising $7,400 to bring his total contributions during the primary and general election campaigns to $135,499.

He has loaned himself $51,000. By Sept. 16, he had spent $109,498.

During the same two-week reporting period, Doyel collected $5,280 in campaign contributions, bringing his campaign total to $60,885 and loaning himself $10,000. He had spent $38,616.

The annual salary for a legislator is $29,697.

District 41 includes the eastern portion of Polk County. Latest voter registration numbers show the district with 41,357 Democrats, or 38 percent of the 107,900 registered voters in the district. Registered Republicans number 36,715, or 34 percent of the electorate.

Another 29,828 list themselves as no party affiliation or members of third parties. They make up 28 percent of the registered voters in District 41; those are the voters both candidates are spending money to attract in the final six weeks.

Killebrew has spent more than $32,000 for campaign consulting and $19,000 in campaign mail-outs.

Doyel has paid around $5,000 for consulting and $12,000 for campaign management. While Killebrew was heavy on campaign mailers, Doyel was more focused on campaign signs, according to their expenditure sheets.


Bill Rufty: Polk GOP endorses in nonpartisan race

Hunt Berryman
Hunt Berryman

The Polk County Republican Executive Committee endorsed incumbent Polk County School Board member Hunt Berryman for re-election. Berryman is a registered Republican voter.

The school board is supposedly a nonpartisan office.

Don’t tell that to the thousands of Republican insiders across the nation who are supporting the concept of “total majority,” which means endorsement and election of registered Republicans no matter if the office is nonpartisan.

Berryman came in second in the Aug. 30 election. As was the case with most Polk School Board incumbents up for election, he was challenged by three candidates.

Billy Townsend, an independent and longtime critic of the school board, its inaction on education issues and during a scandal last year, came in first with 43 percent of the votes cast followed by Berryman with 33 percent.

Unlike party primary elections, in which the winner is simply the candidate with the most votes, the winner in the nonpartisan election must have more than 50 percent of the ballots cast to win.

Jim Guth, Polk County Republican Party chair, said the executive committee endorsed Berryman because “he is the most conservative candidate and the most prepared to work with all groups involved in our education system …”

The runoff between Townsend and Berryman and that of another school board position will be on the Nov. 8 ballot.

Bill Rufty: A political rarity in HD 41 – Republican, Democrat agree

RuftyRepublicans and Democrats agreeing on a major issue – It seldom (if ever) happens lately in national politics.

But on a state level, Republican Sam Killebrew and Democrat Bob Doyel, competing for Florida House District 41, agreed on the critical issue of education in the state of Florida.

There are too many tests and perhaps not geared to finding children’s progress so much as to grade teachers or schools, they said in front of a Polk County Tiger Bay luncheon in Bartow Wednesday.

Both men, of course, support the state giving the vacant agriculture office building, Nora Mayo Hall, located in the district, to the city of Winter Haven.

District 41 covers the eastern portion of Polk County. It is currently held by Rep. John Wood, a Winter Haven Republican, who will have reached his eight-year term limit on Election Day.

Killebrew and Doyel each won their respective party’s primary, Aug. 30. No Democrat has won the seat since 1998 or any other legislative seat in the county for that matter.

The Democratic Party, not known for vigorous active campaigning for its candidates, is “pulling out the stops” for Doyel, a retired circuit court judge, because of the changing face of the district. More people who work in Osceola or Orange counties are among those moving into the northeast portion of the county.

But Killebrew is well-known for his contributions to the Republican Party both financial and through his candidate recruiting. A retired contractor, he completed several projects in the district.

They (state education officials) have tied teachers hands by all of this excessive testing, said Killebrew, whose wife teaches in the Polk County school system. His wife has helped him understand what changes are needed in Florida, he said.

“She says we need to get the federal government out and have mostly the state involved,” he said. “But we need to do testing by counties not one state standard test because there are differences,” he said.

Doyel gave a similar opinion on education and testing.

“We need to take a close look at testing. If that is what we call an education standard then we are in real trouble,” Doyel said

“The tests don’t take into account if the child is hungry or couldn’t sleep the night before because of poverty…or homelessness,” he said.

There were plenty of differences between the two men on other issues.

Unlike many Tiger Bay Clubs where members rise from the audience, sometimes in a confrontational manner that wastes time, Polk club members submit their questions in writing.

Asked for their opinion on legislation likely to come before the Legislation in 2017 that would allow people to openly carry a gun, Doyel said he is “adamantly opposed.”

Killebrew said 45 states allow open carry permits. Open carry permits are stricter and require stiffer checks he said.

Both men strongly disagree on a proposed medical marijuana amendment proposed for the state constitution.

“It should not be in the state constitution. This one is bad but not as bad as the one two years ago (which was defeated),” Killebrew said.

‘’It still is not handed out by pharmacies, but private shops and a caregiver can buy for up to five people,” he said.

Doyel said he, too, was opposed to the issue being a constitutional amendment such as the one outlawing the penning of pregnant pigs which was passed some years ago.

“I support it, but not just on medical marijuana,” Doyel said. “As former law professor, I am concerned about teenagers who get caught with a very small amount of marijuana and have their futures destroyed with prosecution.

“I think for those small cases there should be a citation,” he said.

On expansion of Medicaid coverage Killebrew is opposed and Doyel supports it.

With a question asking each candidate’s position on abortion, Killebrew said: “I am pro-life.”

Doyel said, “I wish it were that simple, but that runs counter to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling.”

From a political junkie’s viewpoint, both candidates were almost too nice to one another.

Both wisely called for additional funding for citrus greening. Polk County dropped from first in production of citrus in the state to third and the main agriculture research center is located in District 41.

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