Scott Powers, Author at Florida Politics

Scott Powers

Scott Powers is an Orlando-based political journalist with 30+ years’ experience, mostly at newspapers such as the Orlando Sentinel and the Columbus Dispatch. He covers local, state and federal politics and space news across much of Central Florida. His career earned numerous journalism awards for stories ranging from the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster to presidential elections to misplaced nuclear waste. He and his wife Connie have three grown children. Besides them, he’s into mystery and suspense books and movies, rock, blues, basketball, baseball, writing unpublished novels, and being amused. Email him at scott@floridapolitics.com.

Darren Soto defends fundraiser as not affecting his efforts for Puerto Rico

While Puerto Rico got hammered by Hurricane Maria, U.S. Rep. Darren Soto defended his re-election campaign fundraiser he is holding Wednesday night in Kissimmee, home to Florida’s most concentrated Puerto Rican population.

Soto, a Democrat from Orlando, said he’s been in constant contact with Puerto Rico officials and readying federal financial support for the country’s recovery following both Hurricane Maria and Hurricane Irma, and that those efforts will not be affected by Wednesday night’s event.

His fundraiser, starting at $100 for individual donations and going up to $1,000 donations for hosts, is set for 6 p.m. at the Seasons Florida Resort in Kissimmee.

Soto has touted his Puerto Rican heritage and advocated for Puerto Rico and Puerto Ricans in Florida while in Congress. His district, which includes southern Orange County, eastern Polk County and all of Osceola County, has an estimated Puerto Rican population in the hundred thousands.

Hurricane Maria crossed onto the island Wednesday morning as a Category 4 storm and reports of  widespread damage and flooding are pouring from the island. The storm is expected to continue to ravage Puerto Rico well into the night.

Criticism of his decision to go forward with the fundraiser has been widespread on social media. Republican Wayne Liebnitzky, who faced Soto in the 2016 election and is campaigning for a rematch in 2018, called Soto’s decision “in poor taste.”

“I think it’s absolutely shocking, disgraceful,” Liebnitzky said. “That event needs to be cancelled. He needs to postpone it to a later date.”

Soto defended the event as not relevant to his efforts to help Puerto Rico.

“I have been in hourly contact with [Puerto Rico] Gov. [Ricardo] Rosselló‘s office, spoke at length with our House Appropriations Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen today in Jacksonville about Puerto Rico, FEMA funding, and am leading letters to ensure full financial support of Puerto Rico’s recovery over the next few days,” Soto said in a message to Orlando-Rising.com.

“Our efforts and readiness to advocate for an effective federal response will not be affected by an Osceola event with local Democratic activists,” he added.

Republicans flip registration in Polk, Volusia, continue statewide gains

Republicans are boasting they have taken voter-registration edges over Polk and Volusia County Democrats, continuing a trend of trimming a once sizable advantage for Democrats statewide.

With Polk and Volusia counting slightly more Republicans than Democrats in registration data recorded through August 31, the Republican Party of Florida says it’s flipped 12 counties to a Republican advantage in two years.

But it’s not just in those counties.

Democrats in August 2013 had more than 500,000 statewide registered voters over Republicans. With the latest count, the Democrats advantage was cut nearly in half to just 275,000.

Florida has grown, and so have the parties. There now are 12.8 million registered voters in Florida, compared with 11.8 million in August 2013. While both major parties have more registered voters than ever, Republicans’ growth has kept up with the state population, the Democrats’ has not.

Independent voters and third parties made up the difference, growing in proportion to the state population (faster than either major party), taking share away from Democrats statewide.

In August 2013 Democrats boasted 39.6 percent of all registered Florida voters, but just 37.5 percent in August 2017.

Republicans saw their share slip some from 2013 through 2015, and then grow back. But August numbers reflected the same proportion of Florida voters, 35.4 percent, as they had in August 2013.

That still means a 2.1 percent registered-voter advantage for Democrats. Yet it was twice that, 4.2 points, in 2013.

Republicans since January 2016 have taken voter registration leads in 12 counties: Baker, Bradford, Columbia, Gulf, Hardee, Holmes, Okeechobee, Pinellas, Polk, Suwannee, Volusia and Washington.

Republican Party of Florida State Chairman Blaise Ingoglia said several factors were leading to the advances, notably a return to training local executive committees and volunteers on voter registration, and emphasizing it. He said when counties tip, it creates momentum, and he predicted the party’s advantage in Polk and Volusia to grow like it has in other counties.

The Florida Democratic Party did not respond to an inquiry about the latest voter registration numbers.

“You’re going to see a lot more people register Republican than they were before, at a faster pace, because people are going to start realizing that Democrats can’t get elected in those counties, and the only primaries that will happen will be on the Republican side,” Ingoglia said.

Republicans now hold voter registration advantages in 40 of Florida’s 67 counties.

Yet Democrats have command of most of the big, urban counties, giving them the statewide advantage. Of the seven counties with more than a half million registered voters, Democrats are in control of six, and only behind Republicans in Pinellas, which flipped to GOP strength last year.

Republicans are dominant in voter registration in mid-size counties. Of 25 counties with between 100,000 and 500,000 registered voters, Republicans have an advantage in 21, including Polk and Volusia.

Mike Miller gets Mel Martinez’ endorsement in CD 7

Former U.S. Sen. and former Orange County Chairman Mel Martinez has endorsed state Rep. Mike Miller of Winter Park in the battle for Florida’s 7th Congressional District, Miller’s campaign announced Wednesday.

“Mike Miller knows that a strong America is a prosperous America and I’m proud to support and endorse him to represent us in the U.S. Congress,” Martinez stated in the release. “Mike is a conservative Republican who will cut taxes and government spending while making sure we completely destroy ISIS and those who would do Americans harm”.

Miller, a Republican, worked for Martinez during his U.S. Senate tenure, 2005-’09. Martinez, of Orlando, also was chairman of Orange County from 1998-’01, and served as U.S.  Secretary of Housing and Urban Development.

“As a resident of Central Florida and former Orange County mayor I will be proud to have Mike represent me and my family in Congress,” Martinez stated. “I know we have challenges at home and abroad and that Mike Miller is the right person to represent us at this critical time. Kitty and I wish Mike and Nora the best during this campaign and look forward to voting for him in the primary and the general election.”

Miller aims to unseat Democratic U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy of Winter Park. Also in the race is Republican Sanford businessman Scott Sturgill.

“One of the many things I admire about Senator Martinez is his leadership on tough local issues,” Miller stated in the release. “During his time as Orange County Mayor, he led the fight to cut property tax rates twice, the first such cuts in twelve years. We share similar conservative principles that will guide my decisions in Washington. I am proud to have his support.”

Power restored except South, Southwest, Central Florida pockets

The massive power outage Hurricane Irma left behind last week with more than 6.5 million homes and businesses is down to a handful of pockets outside the still heavily-darkened Monroe, Collier and Lee counties that were hardest hit by the storm.

The latest data provided by the Florida Division of Emergency Management, showing power through 3 p.m., shows that the power companies have managed to restore electricity to more than 98 percent of the state, including virtually all homes and businesses in the vast majority of counties that were affected.

Almost all the exceptions were counties in South, Southwest and Central Florida. A few very small outages – a couple hundred customers here or there, remain in a handful of other counties.

Florida Power & Light continues with the largest outages, primarily in Southwest and South Florida, 98,000 homes and businesses combined, mainly in Collier, Lee and Miami-Dade counties.

Duke Energy has just 37,000 customers statewide without power, with just under half of those in Highlands and Hardee counties in Southwest Florida, and the rest in Orange, Seminole, Lake, Polk and Volusia counties in Central Florida.

Another 37,000 powerless homes and businesses remain under a handful of municipal electric and electric cooperatives, primarily in Monroe County, Collier and Lee.

Highlands still had 16,000 homes and businesses without power.

 

Jack Latvala swears off electric cash, urges utilities to stop political donations

State Sen. Jack Latvala called Tuesday for electric utilities in Florida to stop donating to political campaigns and instead spend the money on improving their power grid infrastructure.

Latvala is a Republican gubernatorial candidate from Clearwater, has received electric company money in his political committee, Florida Leadership Committee, but not nearly as much as his Republican rival Agricultural Commissioner Adam Putnam has in his Florida Grown political committee.

While acknowledging that he’s accepted money from utilities in the past, Latvala says he will not in the future.

“Hurricane Irma showed us just how vulnerable we are with 6.5 million Floridians losing power after the storm,” Latvala stated in a news release issued by his gubernatorial campaign.

“In my home county of Pinellas, which was by no means the hardest hit area in the state, I heard from residents this week that were still without power. It’s time the utilities stop spending money on political candidates and instead protect the residents of this state.”

The release said state records shows in the 2018 election cycle the state’s largest utilities have already donated more than $3.6 million to candidates from both parties.

That includes $25,000 Duke Energy gave to Latvala’s Florida Leadership Committee in July. It also includes $250,000 Florida Power & Light donated to Putnam’s Florida Grown committee in January. Both committees also have received power company checks in previous years.

None of the three major Democratic candidates, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, Winter Park Developer Chris King, and former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham of Tallahassee, have received any power utility money this year.

Latvala acknowledged the money spent on campaigns “may not solve the entire problem.” After all, the utilities contend they are spending hundreds of millions of dollars to harden their electrical systems.

“But it will be a good start,” Latvala stated. “And I’m sure the thousands of Floridians who are still struggling to live without electricity would be more than happy to hear our state’s utilities will stop political donations and instead focus on their welfare and needs.”

Duke Energy acknowledges problems, apologizes in Seminole County

Duke Energy not only missed its deadlines for restoring power in Seminole and Orange counties and elsewhere but glitches in its information system provided little and often wrong information to customers, leading its lobbyist to apologize and promise better to Seminole’s lawmakers Tuesday morning.

Duke, once faced with 1.3 million customers without power following Hurricane Irma, is down to 56,000 state-wide.

But that includes 7,900 homes and businesses in Seminole and 10,500 in Orange after the North Carolina-based utility had promised full service by Sunday night, and then Monday night.

Adding to that woe were information technology system glitches that both prevented Duke from being able to keep track of who was calling in outages, and often falsely informed callers that their electricity was on when it wasn’t, or off when it was on, or advised them that no one had previously reported the outage, when the call was potentially one of scores the company had received from a given neighborhood.

And to the incredulity to some, the company was never able to tell anyone when to expect service restoration.

Tuesday, state Reps. Bob Cortes of Altamonte Springs, Jason Brodeur of Sanford, Scott Plakon of Longwood, and state Sen. David Simmons of Altamonte Springs brought Duke vice president for government affairs Chris Flack before their Seminole County Legislative Caucus meeting to demand answers and better performance, and received an apology and more promises.

“I’d like to start with an apology, with an apology to our customers,” Flack said. “In a time like this, information is important. Our customers want information. They want to know when the lights are coming back on. They want to know when they’re going to be able to get back to their daily lives. And we let them down.

“We’ve had some confusion. We’ve had some problems with our IT system, not to make excuses. We’ve not lived up to our expectations, we haven’t lived up to your expectations, we certainly haven’t lived up to our customers’ expectations,” Flack continued.

Lessons learned, moving forward, was his message.

And for that the four lawmakers, all Republicans, were eager to point out many of the lessons.

Brodeur suggested the company needs a better communications software that could actually pinpoint a caller’s location and give clear information about what was wrong, and perhaps how long the outage might last.

Plakon agreed that the company’s communications software seemed woefully inadequate, and he suggested the company needed to develop crowd-sourcing communications that could help them track problems through residents’ reports, especially when they might report critical problems, like people with special medical needs without power.

“A guy I know who owns a software company locally is incredulous that the software system could break down with this critical need that affects the health and safety of Floridians,” Plakon said. “The question is, what happened?”

Flack said he did not know, but agreed it needed to be improved, saying, “That’s on us.”

Cortes urged Duke to become more sophisticated in getting its messages out via social media, and to monitor social media reports about power.

Simmons focused on the power infrastructure, and for a comprehensive plan in advance.

“Please don’t go away with the thought that we’re looking for how fast you’re going to get service back on as a goal. Our goal is you won’t have the outages that you had. That way you don’t have to deal with how quickly you’re going to turn it back on,” Simmons said.

“As we move forward with 21 million citizens of this state, it’s not good enough to just have mass outages and hopefully get it back up to working. It’s incredibly important to put together a plan, and it’s going to be hardening of infrastructure, so you won’t have these numbers.”

Flack said the company already has invested “several hundred million dollars hardening our system” and will be looking closely at what failed within that system, and learn better approaches.

All of that came with a background of appreciation for all the restoration work that has been done by Duke, other power companies, and thousands of linemen, many of whom coming in from out of state. Duke replaced 3,000 poles and dealt with more than 1,100 broken transformers, and replaced more than 1,000 miles of line, Flack said. About 1,000 of those poles, 325 of those transformers, and 325 miles of that line were in Seminole.

“Our focus right now is on restoration,” Flack said.

He promised full restoration by the end of Tuesday, except for specific, individual customers that might have unique problems at their properties.

 

David Smith qualifies with petitions for HD 28 ballot

Winter Springs Republican David Smith announced Tuesday he has gathered enough certified petition signatures to qualify for the 2018 ballot running for Seminole County-based House District 28.

Smith, a retired U.S. Marine Corps colonel and business consultant, is running to replace Republican state Rep. Jason Brodeur, who is running for the Florida Senate. There are two other candidates, Republican Chris Anderson, a Seminole County deputy sheriff from Lake Mary; and Democrat Lee Mangold, a Casselberry businessman.

Smith has submitted 1,122 valid signatures.

“I’m truly grateful for all the hard work by my volunteer staff and I’m especially thankful for the support and encouragement I’ve received throughout Seminole County,” Smith stated in a news release. “Qualifying by petition demonstrates our strong grassroots support across House District 28. Our conservative message resonates with voters. This is a significant milestone in the campaign, but I know there is still a lot more work to be done. We’ll keep working hard, meeting with voters, listening to their concerns and sharing our conservative plan for Central Florida.”

Smith also has raised over $60,000, mostly from Central Florida donors, and contributed $60,000 himself to the campaign – which currently has $105,000 cash on hand.

 

Mark Ruffalo urging progressives to help with Hurricane relief

Actor Mark Ruffalo is pushing progressives nationwide to help raise money for hurricane relief in Florida.

One of the stars of “The Avengers,” “Spotlight,” and “Now You See Me,” who’s also a progressive political activist, is sending a message Tuesday to members of progressive groups throughout the country through the Progressive Change Campaign Committee raising the issue of climate change and urging people to contribute to a Hurricane Irma recovery fund. Ruffalo said the money will be used for hurricane relief.

Ruffalo maintains that more than a dozen Florida progressive grassroots organizations already are on the ground providing assistance, and they formed the Hurricane Irma Community Recovery Fund, and have raised $30,000. Ruffalo’s message is for other progressives to join them. He cites a local progressive leader as saying that they also have served thousands of meals to people in low-income communities.

“People across Florida will remember that progressives were there for them. That trust will be valuable as we ask them to join our fight for climate solutions, for students, for Dreamers, for workers, and for other causes,” he writes. “Your tax-deductible donation today will help Florida families and communities now — AND win hearts and minds for progressive causes in the long term.”

The letter provides a link to donate to the Hurricane Irma Community Recovery Fund or the Progressive Change Institute, or both, through Act Blue.

Ruffalo also pushes the climate change button, opening with: “I’m going to say something controversial that should not be: Climate change and giant hurricanes are connected.”

And he adds, “As we help hurricane victims, we need to stay true to our progressive values. This means acknowledging climate change and remembering that marginalized communities who are least equipped to escape are hardest hit in crises like this.”

 

Orange Democrats pick Eddy Dominguez for HD 44 election

Eddy Dominguez, an executive at an employment consulting agency, has been selected by Orange County Democrats to be the replacement candidate for the upcoming House District 44 special election.

Dominguez, 37, was picked to run in place of Paul Chandler, who withdrew from the ticket on Sept. 8, though the withdrawal was not announced or officially recorded until Sept. 13 due to state offices being closed for Hurricane Irma.

Winter Garden businessman Bobby Olszewski is the Repulican candidate for the Oct. 10 special election to fill the seat vacated when former state Rep. Eric Eisnaugle resigned to take a judicial appointment in the spring. Olszewski won a primary on Aug. 15.

Chandler’s name, along with Olszewski’s, is on all the ballots for the Oct. 10 election, including thousands of absentee ballots that already have been mailed to voters in the southwest Orange County District, and hundreds that already have been returned.

If Dominguez qualifies for the ballot by Wednesday, Orange County Supervisor of Elections Bill Cowles will mail notices to all absentee voters that a vote for Chandler will be recorded as a vote for Dominguez. Signs saying so also will be placed in the polling places on Oct. 10.

“I’ve always dreamt about going into politics. It’s a matter of the right opportunity. This special election came around and I very seriously considered running for it, when it was just Paul,” he said.

Since Chandler backed out, “A lot of people called me and rooted me on and said ‘Hey, you really have a chance,'” he said. “I think the key to winning is voter turnout, without a doubt.”

Dominguez was selected by acclamation Monday night by the Orange County Democratic Executive Committee, according to Chairman Wes Hodge.

Harvard educated [bachelor’s degree in government and economics,] Dominguez is executive vice president at Resource Employment Solutions, and before that was founder and chief executive officer of VR Mergers & Acquisitions in Orlando. He also has served in leadership roles for Latino Leadership, Boy Scouts of America Central Florida Council, the Santiago & Friends Family Center for Autism, and his son’s PTA. On his Facebook page, he lists his political views as “moderate.” He and his wife Holly Dominguez have two children.

One of his backers, Chuck O’Neal, called Dominguez “a bright young man who has promised to pull out all of the stops and win this district,” in a Facebook post. “I believe he is the right person for the job and a friend of Florida’s environment.”

Dominguez said the environment is a very important issue for him. He’s also interested in issues ranging from home rule to campaign fundraising, and others key to people in the district.

Bill Nelson relates his and Marco Rubio’s Irma trek, cites climate change

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson outlined to the U.S. Senate Monday his and U.S. Marco Rubio‘s post-Hurricane Irma tours of Florida describing destruction, tragedy and challenges from the Keys to Jacksonville, and called attention to climate change as a factor.

Nelson, a Democrat, on Monday also sent letters to the chief executives of 10 major U.S.-based airlines urging them to cap their airfares for people fleeing the path of Hurricane Maria, which is bearing down on the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, among other Caribbean islands.

Nelson’s speech on Hurricane Irma, given from the well of the U.S. Senate, was full of praise for federal agencies  such as FEMA, the Coast Guard, the Army Corps of Engineers, and the military for responding quickly and strongly, as “Floridians helping Floridians. Americans helping Americans.”

And Nelson also used the speech to push for the value of those agencies, and for legislation and language in legislation he intends to push, some of it jointly with Rubio.

At least for Nelson, that includes his push for language in a bill the Senate actually was taking up during his speech, climate-change readiness for the military, included in the Defense Programs Authorization bill (House Resolution 2810.)

Nelson cited the hurricanes, including Hurricane Harvey that struck Texas, hailstorms in Texas damaging military aircraft, coastal erosion in Florida and Alaska, threatening early-warning radar in Alaska, wildfires in the west, flooding of a logistics rail in Louisiana, and military warehouses in Virginia.

“And so, as we turn to this defense bill, this is an issue for national security. As Secretary of Defense James Mattis has said, and I quote, “Climate change is impacting stability in areas of the world where our troops are operating today,” Nelson said.

“And so that’s why in this version of the defense bill that we will pass today, there’s a provision in there that this senator had something to do with which calls for the defense department to conduct a comprehensive assessment of threats to the training and readiness of our armed forces and the military infrastructure caused by climate-related events.”

Nelson wrote that provision.

 

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