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 Besides them, he’s into mystery and suspense books and movies, rock, blues, basketball, baseball, writing unpublished novels, and being amused.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@flordiapolitics.com or scottmichaelpowers@yahoo.com.

CNN reports political favors led to 13K kids losing coverage; Chris King calls for probe

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chris King is calling for an independent investigation after CNN report Friday alleging the Florida Department of Health used faulty processes and political motives to kick 13,000 chronically sick children out of the state’s Children’s Medical Services program.

“I’m calling for an independent investigation into the Florida Department of Health and the administrative actions that led to this systematic decision to rip CMS health coverage away from more than 13,000 sick children and what influenced this decision,” King said in a news release issued by his campaign.

The Florida Department of Health responded Friday by contending the cable news network used misunderstanding and outdated information to inaccurately characterize the program, and that the claims that politics  played any role “is 100 percent false.”

“CNN’s reporting demonstrates a misunderstanding of Florida’s Medicaid system, the health insurance industry and the ethical standards of the State of Florida,” the DoH statement said.

Yet the department’s response largely defends what has happened since 2015, not responding much to what happened in 2015. What appears to not be at issue is that in 2015 Florida removed more than 13,000 children from the Children’s Medical Services program, a state-run Medicaid program set up for chronically-sick children, and referred them to other, private, Medicaid insurers.

The CNN report contends that the CMS program was nationally respected and designed to handle the sickest of kids, but claims those transferred off included many children with serious health problems including birth defects, heart disease, diabetes and blindness. It network reports that many of them were unable to find services under the new insurance plans which did not specialize in severe and chronically-sick children, which and which were not accepted by certain pediatric specialists.

CNN then cited experts and researchers in children’s health programs who said the data analysis, screening tools, and processes the Florida Department of Health used to decide which children would be dropped from CMS were deeply flawed, “completely invalid” and “a perversion of science,” in two comments.

The report then cites experts, including Dr. Louis St. Petery, former executive vice president of the Florida chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, who allege the children were switched to the private Medicaid insurers to reward Republican contributors. CNN also breaks down campaign contributions from the private insurance carriers to the Republican Party of Florida and other Republican political committees.

“Local and national experts in the medical field have expressed concern that this may have been done for political reasons, which, if true, would be deeply troubling,” King stated, first on Facebook, and then in a news release from his campaign. “The bottom line is that these children went without critical and oftentimes life-saving medical treatments and services because the state of Florida dropped them from CMS.”

King, a Winter Park developer, faces former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham of Tallahasse and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum for the Democratic nomination to run for governor in 2018. Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam of Bartow and state Sen. Jack Latvala of Clearwater are running for the Republicans.

The Department of Health addressed CNN’s allegations one-by-one, dismissing them all. Yet the DoH’s overriding concern is the argument that the processes and tools used in 2015 were discarded and in 2016 new and better tools were used. The department said all of the families of children removed from the program in 2015 were sent letters encouraging them to re-screen their kids for possible re-enrollment in CMS.

The department argued there would be no benefit to the private insurers to pick up the chronically sick children, so it clearly was no reward for anything.

“According to the state’s Medicaid agency [Agency for Health Care Administration,] it is not true that health insurers benefit from having higher risk patients on their plans,” the DoH statement said. “This is a claim CNN makes and then contradicts with the fact that sick children are costlier for insurance companies because of the care they need. There was no financial impact or plan profit from any change. Plans do not receive an individual rate for each enrollee, but rather one overall rate for the entire plan.”

At least since early 2016, the screening tools CNN reported on, which were used for about two years, were no longer in use, the department stated.

“Beginning on January 11, 2016, the department resumed clinical eligibility screening using the process defined by Rule 64C-2.002, Florida Administrative Code. The process includes a two-part approach to clinical eligibility screening – a physician-based, auto-eligibility process using diagnostic codes for chronic and serious conditions and a parent-based survey to ensure that all financially eligible children with special health care needs are given the option to enroll in the CMS Plan,” the DoH reported. “At any time, a parent or physician can request that a child be screened or rescreened for the CMS plan – a fact CNN omits from their story.”

And finally, the department contended, “Since the time CNN is speaking of, more than two years ago, there have been multiple changes in department and CMS Plan leadership.”

Paul Chandler’s HD 44 campaign confident he’ll overcome residency challenge

Democratic House District 44 special election candidate Paul Chandler might use the “Bev Kilmer” defense as part of his efforts to overcome a challenge to his residency qualifications to run in this fall’s special election.

Chandler, from Lake Buena Vista, faces Republican Bobby Olszewski, from Winter Garden, in the Oct. 10 special election to fill the vacant HD 44 seat to represent southwest Orange County.

First, though, Chandler may have to overcome a lawsuit filed last week in Leon County challenging his qualification to run for office in Florida. Chandler has had a split residency between Missouri and Florida for years, and allegedly even voted in Missouri last year, but insists Florida has been his primary residence for years. The suit challenges that.

His campaign calls the suit frivolous, more of a distraction than a concern.

“We’re all confident that this is going to be a breeze,” said Chandler’s campaign Communications Director Joey Roulette. “But Paul is mainly focused on his campaign and running on the issues. This is a diversion from the campaign issues.”

Essentially, Chandler intends to prove he qualifies as having established domicile in Florida as early as 2012 when he first applied for and received his state ID card, and no later than early 2015, when his current home’s lease began. That standing is irrelevant to where he was registered to vote, and should be the basis of satisfying the state rules for residency for election purposes, his campaign argues.

That was the defense Kilmer used last year when she ran for the Florida House of Representatives.

Article III, Section 15 of the Florida Constitution requires a candidate for any legislative office “shall have resided in the state for a period of two years prior to election.” It does not explicitly define “resided,” Kilmer argued last year.

Kilmer, however, was never sued, so the public accusations about her residential status were never tested in court. The lawsuit against Chandler was filed Aug. 8 in Florida’s 2nd Judicial Circuit by Charles Hart, a Republican who lives in Windermere.

Chandler has not yet filed a response in court. He has hired an attorney, but Roulette was not ready to identify him Friday.

Kilmer, the former Florida state representative who served six years, left in 2005, and then ran again last year. In 2010 she had moved to Texas, and campaign materials charged she had given up her Florida residency. Questions were raised about when she moved back, and when the clock needed to start ticking to meet the Florida two-year requirement.

Among other things, Kilmer had registered to vote in Texas, something she did not change back to Florida until 2015.

Kilmer argued that she established domicile in Florida. She did appear on the ballot against incumbent state Rep. Brad Drake in an Aug. 30, 2016, Republican primary battle for House District 5. Drake crushed her, taking 74 percent of the vote.

Still a mystery in Chandler’s case is whether any of the Republican candidates from Tuesday night’s Republican primary, or their campaigns or surrogates, promoted the suit, which was handled by attorney Roger Beaubien of the Coates Law Firm in Tallahassee.

The campaigns of Olszewski and John Newstreet, who finished second on Tuesday, pointed fingers at each other. Meanwhile campaign finance records show that the campaign of Bruno Portigliatti, who finished third Tuesday night, made two payments to the Coates Law Firm totaling $650 for legal fees, including a payment made the day the suit was filed. Portigliatti, however, said that his campaign had indeed hired the Coates firm to do legal work, but it was completely unrelated to the lawsuit. He said he did not learn about the lawsuit until the day after it was filed, and was appalled that it had been filed.

Richard Corcoran releases new committee assignments

House Speaker Richard Corcoran released his committee assignments for the 2018 Legislative Session Thursday with just a few changes from 2017, notably some freshmen getting vice chairmanships and new chairs for the Ways and Means and Commerce Committees.

Corcoran’s changes in committees look more like mid-term adjustments for the two-year term, rather than the wholesale reshuffling that Senate President Joe Negron announced earlier this week for that chamber’s committees.

“Your preference requests were accommodated to the extent possible, including the recommendations of (Democratic) Leader (Janet) Cruz,” the Land O’ Lakes Republican wrote in a memo to members.

“One notable change addresses the status of the Public Integrity & Ethics Committee, which because of workload and the nature of the work, will be treated as a procedural committee, much like Rules & Policy,” he added. “In order to ensure all members have at least one substantive committee, we increased the size of the Education, Judiciary, Health & Human Services, and Ways & Means committees to accommodate freshmen members from Public Integrity & Ethics.”

With the departure of former Commerce Committee chairman Jose Felix Diaz, who is running in a special election for the Senate, state Rep. Jim Boyd of Bradenton will slide over from chairing the House Ways and Means Committee to chair Commerce, with Paul Renner of Palm Coast taking the chair of Ways and Means.

Otherwise, the committee assignments reward a handful of freshmen with new vice chairmanships of committees and subcommittees, and give Rep. James Grant of Tampa with a chairmanship, that of the Health Quality Subcommittee of the House Health & Human Services Committee.

Among freshmen getting vice chairs:

Randy Fine of Brevard County, Careers & Competition Subcommittee of the Commerce Committee.

Jason Fischer of Jacksonville, PreK-12 Innovation Subcommittee of the Education Committee.

Erin Grall of Vero Beach, Civil Justice & Claims Subcommittee of the Judiciary Committee.

Michael Grant of Port Charlotte, Transportation and Tourism Appropriations Subcommittee.

Twenty-one of the 27 freshmen lawmakers now have vice chairs.

Corcoran also opened bill filing for House members: “The bill request submission deadline for all bills (substantive and Appropriations Project bills) is now on the same day, Nov. 14. The filing deadline for your first two bills is Nov. 21.

“The filing deadline for remaining bills is the first day of Session, Jan. 9,” he said.

For the full list, go here.

Jack Latvala vows more mental health, substance abuse money, rips Richard Corcoran

Speaking before a crowd of mental health and substance abuse treatment professionals, Republican gubernatorial candidate Jack Latvala promised more money for their causes and lashed out at Speaker Richard Corcoran and House Republicans for neglecting them.

Latvala, the Republican state Senator from Clearwater who chairs the Appropriations Committee, said Florida has neglected mental health and substance abuse funding because the House is too interested in cutting taxes to consider funding necessary services.

Speaking to the Florida Behavioral Health Conference at Walt Disney World, Latvala vowed he’d do a better job of getting money for those programs.

“Since 2000 we’ve cut $2.7 billion in recurring taxes. That’s $2.7 billion more each year that could be spent on mental health, substance abuse, education, environment, all of the things that we have to provide as a state for our citizens,” Latvala said.

“This area that you work in has not been properly death with, has been actually neglected,” he added.

At one point Latvala recognized Republican state Rep. Jason Brodeur of Sanford, the chairman of the House Health Care Appropriations Committee, and said the lack of funding for mental health and substance abuse programs was not Brodeur’s fault, but his boss’s. And then he ripped into Corcoran, who may announce a campaign to run for governor himself.

For now, Latvala’s rival for the Republican gubernatorial nomination is Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.

“Richard Corcoran, what he knows about real-life problems like you deal with every day, he reads in a book. He also reads in that same book, the Koch brothers’ manifesto, about how you first cut taxes, and how people should help themselves, and the government should not people,” Latvala said.

Latvala accepted some of the blame for limited funding for mental health and substance abuse programs, confessing he was new at appropriations and “maybe we dropped the ball a little” in dealing with the House budget proposals this year. But he said it would not happen again.

“I will guarantee you Senate support for any budget amendment that calls for increases in substance abuse funding,” he said, drawing thunderous applause.

He then spoke of the heroin and opioid epidemic and said “This is not satisfactory to have 20 or so Floridians dying every day from opioid overdoses.”

Firefighters in Orlando, Miami back Jack Latvala for governor

Republican state Sen. Jack Latvala has picked up endorsements of two major firefighters unions in his quest for the Republican nomination to run for governor next year, his campaign announced Thursday.

The endorsements come less than 24 hours after Latvala formally kicked off his campaign Wednesday in Hialeah, Clearwater and Panama City.

Latvala received the endorsements of the Miami Association of Firefighters, International Association of Fire Fighters Local 589; and of the Orlando Professional Firefighters, International Association of Fire Fighters Local 1365.

“Local 1365 is grateful for the support that you have given to firefighters and other first responders during your time in the Florida Legislature,” Orlando Professional Firefighters President Ron Glass stated in a letter to Latvala quoted in a news release from Latvala’s campaign. “Your ability to reach consensus with members of both parties was instrumental in providing firefighters from across the state of Florida with stable careers, better working conditions and a pension that allows them to retire with dignity.”

Latvala faces Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam for the Republican nomination. Democrats running include former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham of Tallahassee, Winter Park developer Chris King, and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum.

“The firefighters of this state have forged a very strong bond with you and you have proven capable of making the difficult decisions to ensure that your firefighters are afforded equitable safety condition and benefit levels,” Miami Association of Firefighters President Freddy Delgado stated in a separate letter quoted by the campaign. “Some of those decisions have included protection of our current defined benefit retirement and fighting for firefighter cancer presumption in the State of Florida.”

Latvala kicked off his campaign outside Fire Station #7 in Hialeah.

“I stood with more than 100 first responders when I kicked off my campaign outside Fire Station #7 in Hialeah yesterday to show my continued support for the men and women who work so tirelessly to protect all Floridians,” Latvala stated in the release. “I am humbled and honored to have their support and thank the Miami Association of Firefighters Local 587 of the International Association of Fire Fighters and Orlando Professional Firefighters Local 1365 for joining me in my campaign to be the state’s next governor.”

Paul Chandler ties Bobby Olszewski to Donald Trump in HD 44 race

Democrat Paul Chandler has fired the opening salvo in the special election campaign for Florida’s House District 44, tying newly-nominated Republican candidate Bobby Olszewski to President Donald Trump.

“Let me be clear. A vote for Bobby Olszewski is a vote to bring Donald Trump style politics to Orange County,” Chandler stated Thursday in a news release. “Bobby supports Donald Trump on health care. He supports him on taxes. He supports all of Trump’s misguided policies. There is no place for that in District 44.”

Olszewski just won a bruising Republican primary on Tuesday, while Chandler has largely sat back, watched and listened through the Republicans’ campaign, waiting for the face-to-face race for the Oct. 10 special election to fill the HD 44 seat opened when state Rep. Eric Eisnaugle quit in the spring to take a judicial appointment.

Republicans have a sizable voter registration advantage in HD 44 and have owned the district’s seat for decades. Yet Chandler’s campaign points out that the district, which covers southwest Orange County, voted for Hillary Clinton over Trump in 2016.

The district’s voters, the Chandler news release states, is “clearly rejecting not only his policies, but his politics of deceit and division. Instead of renouncing that type of politics, and those policies, Robert Olszewski supports them every step of the way.”

Chandler, of Lake Buena Vista, faces a legal challenge to his qualification as a candidate, with a lawsuit filed last week alleging he voted in Missouri last year; if he was a legal Missouri resident, that could make him ineligible to run in Florida this year. Chandler insists he has been a legal Florida resident for several years, and is fighting the lawsuit.

Meantime, he’s turned on his campaign, now that he has a Republican opponent.

“Bobby Olszewski is going to have to explain to the voters of this district why he supports Trump’s plans to strip away health care from tens of millions of people, including hundreds of thousands of Floridians,” Chandler stated. “Or why he supports giving huge tax breaks to millionaires like Trump, while the middle class struggles.”

Chandler is a former teacher and is the founder and CEO of Ohana Healthcare, a national medical records management and consulting company with offices from Hawaii to Orlando. He has pledged to focus on preserving and improving health care, stronger education, and knows how to create jobs for Florida.

“The race is on. And the choice is clear. Donald Trump style politics in Orange County, or a real plans to move the 44th forward,” Chandler said.

Scott Sturgill grabs two sheriffs’ endorsements in CD 7 race

Republican congressional candidate Scott Sturgill has earned the endorsements of Seminole County Sheriff Dennis Lemma and former Orange County Sheriff Kevin Beary in Sturgill’s quest for the nomination to run in Florida’s 7th Congressional District.

“Scott has consistently stood with law enforcement and first responders. He exemplifies the type of leadership we need in Washington for Central Florida,” Lemma said in a news release issued by Sturgill’s campaign.

Sturgill, a Sanford businessman, faces state Rep. Mike Miller of Winter Park in seeking the Republican primary nomination to take on Democratic incumbent U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy of Winter Park. Among other items, Sturgill’s company Durable Safety Products produces safety equipment for first responders.

“Scott Sturgill is the kind of new blood we need in Washington D.C., said Beary, Orange County sheriff from 1993-2009. “We need leaders who are going to work with President [Donald] Trump for the American people on jobs, immigration, health care, law enforcement, and homeland security. I especially like his stance that a congressman deserves the same health care that you and I get.”

CD 7 covers Seminole County and north and central Orange County.

 

Mary Barzee Flores turns backlash hate talk into fundraising

Democratic congressional candidate Mary Barzee Flores‘ strong statements about Nazis, white supremacists, President Donald Trump, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions brought in ugly responses Wednesday filled with profanity and wishes that she would die.

And that, her campaign is quickly turning into a fundraising pitch.

The former circuit court judge and federal public defender from Miami is running in Florida’s Congressional District 27, seeking to replace Republican U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who’s retiring.

In messages sent out mainly through social media earlier this week and Wednesday, Flores denounced Nazis, the KKK, and white supremacists, and challenged Trump to take numerous actions to oppose racial violence, but lamented, “This president has failed nearly every test of leadership thrown his way, time and again.” Of Sessions, she wrote, “We wish he’d stay out of Florida. Jeff Sessions and the Trump administration don’t represent the values of this community. We wish he’d stay out of D.C. and the Federal Government too.”

Then came the backlash, which her campaign reports includes “vicious, violent, racist and sexist Alt-right trolls … attacking Mary for speaking up.” Most of the comments the campaign quoted were filled with “****” where the profanities presumably appeared, such as, “MARY FLORES–EAT **** AND DIE–TODAY” and “U can go and **** U self!!”

And so comes the fundraising letter sent out Wednesday afternoon.

She’s in a crowded field with fellow Democrats state Representative David Richardson, state Senator Jose Javier Rodriguez, Miami Beach Commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez, and Miami DEC member Michael Hepburn; and Republican Dr. Maria Peiro.

“I showed these vile comments to Mary and this is what she told me: “We have a First Amendment. They can say whatever they want about me and I’ll keep saying what I believe. At least they got my name right,” Flores’ campaign manager Sam Miller wrote in the fundraising letter.

“Mary is tough as nails. After a dozen years as a public defender and eight years sitting on the bench hearing criminal cases, anonymous trolls on the internet don’t faze her one bit,” Miller added. “Mary’s not going to back down, and neither can we.”

 

Chris King gets backing of Eatonville Mayor Eddie Cole

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chris King has picked up the endorsement of the mayor of Eatonville, Florida’s oldest town incorporated as an African-American city.

Eatonville Mayor Eddie Cole‘s endorsement is a double triumph for King, one of his first from elected officials, and a leader in the Orlando-area’s black community.

Eatonville, incorporated in 1887, is just a couple miles from King’s business offices in Winter Park.

“For some folks, Chris may be a new face, but I’ve known and felt the impact of his work in Central Florida for quite some time. From his work in affordable housing to his philanthropies in public schools, I know Chris to be a man of character, hard work, and inclusion,” Cole stated in a news release issued by King’s campaign.

“Florida is failing to meet the basic needs of its citizens – most acutely where jobs, housing, and health care are concerned. As the mayor of Eatonville, I’ve seen how far our community has come and how far we have to go,” Cole continued. “I’ve also seen how for too long communities of color have been forgotten, while elected officials pay lip service to both the unique and common challenges we face. I know with Chris we’ll have more than just a seat at the table: a real partner in bringing about economic change here in Eatonville and across the state.”

King faces Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum and former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham seeking the Democratic primary nomination to run for governor next year. Republican candidates include Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and state Sen. Jack Latvala, who formally kicked off his campaign Wednesday.

“Eddie Cole’s support means a lot to me,” King said. “Mayor Cole has spent his life in service to others and his community. I am committed to partnering with him and all of our leaders across the state as we remake the Florida economy into one that lifts up all communities, not just those with access to the powerful.”

Republicans target Debbie Wasserman Schultz in aide scandal ad

Congressional Republicans have released an internet video ad blasting Democratic U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz for her employment of and defense of an aide at the heart of a scandal in Washington D.C.

The National Republican Congressional Committee is circulating a 43-second spot dubbed “Corrupt” that says she waited until Democratic congressional information technology aide Imran Awan was arrested in late July to fire him, even though other members of Congress cut him and other suspects loose months earlier. The spot also alleges she did so reluctantly while contending he was the target of Islamophobia.

Awan reportedly was arrested while trying to leave the country and was charged with bank fraud. He and several other members of his family, two brothers and his wife, all Democratic congressional aides, have all reportedly been under federal investigation since at least early in 2017, a probe that became public in February. There have not been other arrests or other charges.

“Scandals, lies and corruption, that’s Debbie Wasserman Schultz,” the NRCC ad concludes.

Wasserman Schultz fired Awan from her staff on July 25, the day after he was arrested by the FBI and U.S. Capitol Police at Washington’s Dulles International Airport.

In a statement released by her office prior to the NRCC ad, Wasserman Schultz said, in part, “As a mother, a Jew, and a member of Congress, if there is one thing I know for sure, it’s this: my commitment to doing what’s right and just – even if it isn’t what’s easy and simple – is unyielding.

“Undoubtedly, the easier path would have been to terminate Mr. Awan, despite the fact that I had not received any evidence of his alleged wrongdoing; but that is not the woman my constituents elected, and that is not the mother my children know me to be.

She said that the investigation, as she watched reports, raised troubling concerns about fair treatment, due process and “potential ethnic and religious profiling.”

“At the end of the day, there are times in our lives when we must do what may be hard but right, even when there is a cost,” she concluded. “This was one of those times for me and I would make the same decision again.”

 

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