Scott Powers – 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 Besides them, he’s into mystery and suspense books and movies, rock, blues, basketball, baseball, writing unpublished novels, and being amused.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.

Scott Plakon fundraiser hosted by publishers

Christian media publishers Steve and Joy Strang are hosting a fundraiser to kick off the re-election campaign of Republican state Rep. Scott Plakon Thursday evening in Lake Mary.

The Strangs, owners of Charisma Media, publishers of magazines and books including best-sellers based on Christian values, will be joined by Seminole County Sheriff Dennis Lemma, 18th Judicial Circuit State Attorney Phil Archer, and 18th Judicial Circuit Public Defender Blaise Trettis in hosting the fundraiser.

The event begins at 5:30 p.m. Thursday at the Charisma Media offices in Lake Mary.

Plakon, of Longwood, is seeking re-election in Florida House District 29, covering northwest Seminole County. Three Democrats are running, Darryl Block of Lake Mary, Patrick Brandt of Longwood, and Tracey Kagan of Longwood.

Bob Cortes takes leadership posts in National Hispanic Caucus of State Legislators

State Rep. Bob Cortes has been appointed the south region chair of the National Hispanic Caucus of State Legislators, his re-election campaign announced.

Cortes, the Republican who represents House District 30 in south Seminole County and a portion of north Orange County, also will serve as a member of the caucus’s executive committee leadership through 2019.

The nonpartisan NHCSL, founded in 1989, includes Hispanic legislators from all states, commonwealths, and territories of the United States, and it serves as a catalyst for action on issues of concern to the Hispanic community.the executive committee sets the agenda for the organization’s policy priorities and works with other stakeholders on behalf of the Hispanic community.

“This is an exciting opportunity for Florida, and I’m honored to be selected,” Cortes stated in a news release from his re-election campaign. “I look forward to providing leadership in our region and working with legislators from around the country to meet the challenges we face regarding housing, immigration, education, and health care.”

Cortes faces Democrats Clark Anderson and Maitland City Commissioner Joy Goff-Marcil in this year’s election.

After a year, families hear nothing on calls for justice for the Groveland Four

A year ago, the families of the “Groveland Four” fought back tears, joined with Florida Legislature leaders, and watching as lawmakers sought to do what they could to right a 68-year-old injustice from the Jim Crow era in Florida.

On April 18, 2017, the Florida House of Representatives approved CS/HCR 631 by 117-0. On April 27, 2017, a year ago Friday, the Florida Senate followed up with a 36-0 vote, apologizing for the “grave injustices perpetrated against Charles Greenlee, Walter Irvin, Samuel Shepherd, and Ernest Thomas.” The injustices had emerged from the 1949 wrongful accusation of four young, black men, of raping a white woman in a rural area outside of Groveland, in Lake County, triggering events that led to the deaths of Shepherd and Thomas, and imprisonments of Greenlee and Irvin.

The Florida Legislature’s resolution urged the governor and the Florida Cabinet to “expedite review” of clemency, granting full pardons.

Following the House vote, the bill’s backers, state Rep. Bobby DuBose, state Sen. Gary Farmer, House Speaker Richard Corcoran and other lawmakers joined the families to praise the day.

It is now a year later, and the families still are waiting, and have heard nothing about any expedited clemency review, let alone the granting of full pardons. That moment of praise seems so long ago to them now.

“We want closure. We want them to come out and pardon, or whatever it may be,” said Walter Irvin’s nephew, Eddie Lee Irvin Jr. “They got the proof now, the stuff from the FBI, that they were innocent the whole time.”

“I’m very disappointed at this point. I would like to know: What’s the holdup? What’s going on? Is there something else we have to do? Or just, why hasn’t there been any movement, any activity toward the pardons?” expressed Charles Greenlee’s daughter Carol Greenlee.

“We haven’t heard anything from anyone,” said Vivian Shepherd, Samuel Shepherd’s niece. And without any information, she fears the pardons are not being expedited, but are at the bottom of very tall stack, “so it’s like saying, ‘It’ll never happen.'”

[FloridaPolitics has not been able to track down any family of Ernest Thomas.]

There is much that is secretive about Florida’s clemency review process. Cases are confidential until they actually reach the point of appearing on the docket for public consideration by the Commission on Offender Review. As of late last fall, the commission had more than 22,000 requests pending for pardons and other forms of clemency. The commission takes them up for review in chronological order based on the filing dates, unless a member of the Florida cabinet intervenes and requests that any particular case is expedited.

Formal applications for pardons have been filed for Charles Greenlee and Walter Irvin, the two who survived long enough to be fully convicted and sent to prison. Their families filed for those pardons last summer, as did a young activist who took an interest in the case, Josh Venkataraman.

Normally, without requests to expedite cases, Commission on Offender Review cases are, as Vivian Shepherd feared, backlogged for many years.

Has anyone in the cabinet sought to expedite the Groveland Four cases?

Florida Politics asked all the cabinet members early last week: Gov. Rick Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi, Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.

Only Scott’s office responded, and the response did not answer that question, or whether the governor even supports the requested pardons. The response was essentially the same statement his office offered the last time he was publicly asked about the matter, in November, noting that the cases were going through “standard procedure” and the governor was keeping options open.

DuBose and Farmer also did not respond to inquiries to their offices about progress in the cases.

“Governor Scott is aware of the Groveland Four case and is strongly against any form of racial injustice or discrimination. Currently, the families of Walter Irvin and Charles Greenlee have applications pending with the Commission on Offender Review which conducts clemency investigations per standard procedure and the Florida Constitution. After the Commission concludes clemency investigation, their findings are presented to the four-member Board of Executive Clemency,” Scott’s spokesman McKinley Lewis said in a written statement. “We continue to review all of our options.”

Charles Greenlee was a young father, only 17 in July 1949, when he came from Alachua to Groveland looking for work. That was his path into what now is the infamous, nightmare episode of false accusations, arrests, beatings, shootings, railroaded justice, killings, and imprisonments of four men since demonstrated to be innocent. The narrative was spelled out in the 2013 Pulitzer Prize-winning book Devil in the Grove by Gilbert King.

Some of it also was spelled out in the resolution approved last year by the Florida Legislature. The resolution declared, “We hereby acknowledge that Charles Greenlee, Walter Irvin, Samuel Shepherd, and Ernest Thomas, who came to be known as ‘the Groveland Four,’ were the victims of gross injustices and that their abhorrent treatment by the criminal justice system is a shameful chapter in this state’s history.”

Greenlee and Irvin were paroled in the 1960s. Irvin died in 1969, Greenlee in 2012. His daughter Carol Greenlee finally got to know him when she went off to college and stayed with him in Nashville. At that time, he was working in maintenance at a funeral home and a department store.

“My father was, in my eyes, a great man, a very compassionate person, considerate, a family man who loved his children, and he was just a calm, gentle person, in spite of all that he had gone through,” she said. “He embraced life, and was very considerate of others.

A pardon, she said, “would, number one, lift the clouds over our heads in terms of his being sent to prison for something he did not do. It would give my nieces and nephews a sense of dignity, of respect, some confidence in themselves. When you’re associated with someone in prison, it leaves a cloud there.”

“For me, it hurts, to have lost the time that I’d never get back with my father. [There also is] a sense, a recognition that we are not descendant of a criminal. It will restore my father’s dignity and honor, even after his death,” she said.

Vivian Shepherd’s uncle, her father’s younger brother, Sam, was shot and killed while being transported to a pre-trial hearing, long before she was born. She’s 56 now, living in Clermont.

Like the others, she was thrilled with the resolution. Frustration is mounting now, though. The resolution was an apology. The pardons, she said, offer a concrete legal statement, and that’s what they want.

She has turned her frustration specifically toward Gov. Scott.

“From what we’re told, he can do it. He doesn’t have to go through the committee, but he calls himself ‘following protocol’ here, but we know he can do it,” she said. “I don’t know. Maybe I’m wrong, but I believe he just choses not to do it. What reason? I don’t know.

“If not him, we’ll look to the next governor,” she added.

Walter Irvin’s nephew, Eddie Lee Irvin Jr., 56, of Clermont, said he also believes politics is holding up the pardons process. And he fears there may not be the luxury of time for delays. Walter Irvin has a surviving sister, and two surviving brothers, including Eddie Lee Irvin’s father.

“I’d just like to see something done, we’ve got three siblings left, before they leave this Earth,” Eddie Lee Irvin Jr. said. “My Dad’s sister, Henrietta, she’s very sick right now, and she’s been battling for this [justice] a long time. Before she leaves this Earth, I would like to see something done, so she can go and be at peace.”

Marco Rubio joins calls questioning federal financing behind Brightline

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio on Tuesday joined his congressional colleagues U.S. Republican Reps. Brian Mast and Bill Posey in questioning whether All Aboard Florida should have received $1.75 billion in federally authorized, tax-exempt private activity bonds to build its private, higher-speed railroad from South Florida to Orlando.

Mast, of Palm City, and Posey, of Rockledge, led a congressional challenge of the appropriateness of the bonds during a hearing last Thursday of the U.S. House Subcommittee on Government Operations.

In a letter Tuesday to U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, Rubio raised the same question Mast and Posey posed, plus a couple more.

“AAF’s project has raised questions regarding whether federal financing was appropriately used. I urge the Department of Transportation to provide clarity,” Rubio wrote.

At issue is the interpretation used by the U.S. Department of Transportation to determine whether the privately owned and operated Brightline railroad being planned from West Palm Beach to Orlando would qualify under federal laws that restrict private activity bonds’ usage.

The federal tax-exemption on bonds is explicitly available in the law to either passenger trains that can go at least 150 mph, or to surface transportation projects that have previously received federal transportation funding.

The Brightline train, as envisioned, could go as fast as 110 mph between West Palm and Cocoa, and could top out at about 120 between Cocoa and Orlando. The current trek from West Palm to Fort Lauderdale has a maximum speed of 79 mph. The next leg, to Miami, opening later this year, also has a maximum speed of 79 mph.

At the hearing last week, a U.S. DoT official maintained that Brightline qualified for $1.75 billion of tax-exempt bonds as a surface transportation project that had previously received funding, up to $9 million for upgraded road crossings. Posey, Mast and other members of Congress at that hearing criticized that interpretation, saying they understood “surface transportation” to be defined as roads and highways, not railroads. They also argued that the road crossings that had received the federal funding were not owned by Brightline and thus shouldn’t have been considered a part of the Brightline project.

Brightline President Patrick Goddard testified that his company followed all the U.S. DoT rules, and that the approval of private activity bonds has been successfully defended in court, more than once.

Though Rubio appeared unconvinced in his letter Tuesday.

“It is not clear that Brightline’s proposal should have qualified for these funds,” he wrote.

He wanted to know three things:

– “Is DOT’s interpretation that any surface transportation project that utilizes Title 23 funds, no matter the dollar amount, would qualify for funding through private activity bonds?”

– Is there precedent for other rail projects that did not meet the 150 mph threshold receiving funding?

– Has DOT previously denied rail projects based on the 150 mph threshold not being met?

Feds to provide grants to schools enrolling hurricane evacuees

The U.S. Department of Education will move forward with grants to schools in Florida and other states that took in children evacuees from Hurricanes Irma and Maria and then struggled with unexpected costs, U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy‘s office announced Tuesday.

Under legislation Congress pushed through and approved in February, with Murphy’s backing, the department will be making grants of $8,500 for each enrolled student who was displaced by the hurricanes that tore through Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands last September. The grants are up to $10,000 per student for students with disabilities.

According to a release from Murphy’s office, school officials will be able to use the money to pay and hire teachers, purchase classroom supplies, lease additional classroom space, mentor students, and provide transportation services.

“Schools and communities in central Florida have welcomed displaced students from the U.S. territories of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands with grace and generosity, and this federal funding will give them the financial support they need to offer a high-quality education to both new and existing students,” Murphy stated in the release. “I’m proud I was able to lead the bipartisan effort in Congress to deliver this much-needed support to our local schools. I will keep fighting to help displaced families and the communities that have embraced them.”

The Florida Department of Education will collect data from the state’s school districts; apply for funding from the U.S. Department of Education; and then distribute the federal funding it receives to the school districts based on their documented need.

Florida’s public schools reported enrolling at least 12,000 displaced students.

Ricardo Rosselló pushes to empower Florida Puerto Ricans to support the island

The Governor of Puerto Rico came to Orlando Tuesday to launch an effort aimed at getting island migrants in Florida and throughout the other states to register and vote for the territory’s interests.

Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló expressed the same frustration Tuesday that he brought to a controversial speech he gave in Kissimmee in January when he essentially accused the federal government of letting down the island commonwealth and its residents during their times of need, the 2016 economic collapse and the 2017 Hurricane Maria devastation.

This time Rosselló came with the plan he promised in that speech, seeking to rally Puerto Ricans stateside. It involves a newly incorporated, non-profit, non-partisan organization called Poder [Spanish for power, or for to act] established to lead stateside efforts to organize the estimated 5.6 million Puerto Ricans to register, identify political candidates willing to support Puerto Rico, and vote.

“If we bind together, if we organize, if we demonstrate to the rest of the U.S. citizens who live in the United States that Puerto Ricans are a force to be reckoned with, we will define elections, and show we have political power, the sky is the limit for us,” he said, speaking at the Anna G. Mendez University System campus in Orlando.

Rosselló said his administration began hopeful in its dealings with the federal government even though he inherited the crushing economic and fiscal crisis of 2016 and the Promesa plan approved by Congress to force austerity measures on Puerto Rico’s government and people.

But after Hurricane Maria last September, which he called “the greatest devastation in the history of the United States,” and after Congress approved the tax reform package that imposed a new excise tax on Puerto Rico, Rosselló said he lost faith in promises and decided Puerto Ricans needed to mobilize.

“We are starting an effort that has been a long time coming,” Rosselló said.

Poder will pursue both traditional grassroots efforts and internet strategies to seek and organize Puerto Ricans in Florida and the rest of the mainland, Rosselló said. Luis Figueroa, formerly Rosselló’s regional director for Puerto Rico’s Federal Affairs Administration, will be Poder’s Florida director.

They will be endorsing candidates, Figueroa said.

Florida’s Puerto Rican population is notorious for not registering, or if registered, not showing up in elections. It has made the community a frustration for candidates, campaigns and organizations seeking to tap their rapidly growing presence in Florida, especially in Central Florida. Democratic political strategist Steve Schale projected Tuesday that Puerto Ricans likely will impact Central Florida politics, but not state politics.

Rosselló and Figueroa acknowledged the record. The Governor noted that the voting rate is about 85 percent on the island, but only about 30 percent for islanders who moved to Florida, so he insisted the Puerto Ricans who migrated to Florida are not apathetic, just not properly organized, yet.

A few victories, perhaps in local races such as school board contests, will whet the confidence of voters, Figueroa said.

Former U.S. Rep. Sandy Adams backs Scott Sturgill in CD 7

Republican former U.S. Rep. Sandy Adams is throwing her support behind Scott Sturgill in the Republican primary contest for Florida’s 7th Congressional District, which includes a large swath of her old district.

“Congress is broken, and it will take a new approach to fix it. Scott Sturgill has the real-life experience as a successful businessman that will be necessary to cut through government red tape and let the American economy grow,” Adams stated in a news release issued by the Sturgill campaign. “We need real conservatives like Scott in Congress to hold the line on spending, help the private sector create jobs, stand up to the Washington special interests, and enact policies to help get our economy moving again. I would ask all Central Florida conservatives to stand with me and help elect Scott Sturgill.”

Adams, of Oviedo, served one term, 2011-’13, representing Florida’s 24th Congressional District which included much of eastern Seminole County before the last redistricting. CD 7 now covers all of Seminole County, plus north and central Orange County.

Sturgill, a Sanford businessman, faces state Rep. Mike Miller of Winter Park, Vennia Francios of Winter Park, and Patrick Weingart of Altamonte Springs in the August 28 Republican primary to run in CD 7. They each want a shot at Democratic U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy of Winter Park.

“I’m honored to receive the congresswoman’s endorsement in this important race to give the voters of the 7th district their voice back in Washington,” Sturgill stated in the release. “Congresswoman Adams never missed a vote in the House and always put her constituents first, regardless of the D.C dysfunction that took place around her. I’ll bring the same kind of work ethic to Congress after we win this November.”

 

Andrew Gillum announces digital ad buy for ‘Opportunity’

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum is releasing a new digital ad his campaign says is backed by a five-figure buy, using his upbringing to inspire his views on opportunity.

The 30-second ad, “Opportunity,” features Gillum, now the Mayor of Tallahassee, sitting in front of a modest house talking about the people who cared about and believed in him when he was young, and how he intends to do the same. It includes footage taken from a five-minute introductory video “Bring it Home” that he released at the start of his campaign last year.

“Were it not for a good public education, caring and loving parents, a grandmother who prayed for me, and, quite frankly, people who believed enough in me to say that I could, I wouldn’t be the person I am today,” Gillum states. “And I plan to work as hard as I can every day, if given the opportunity, to make sure every child has that same opportunity.”

Gillum and his campaign have aggressively used the internet and social media. It earned more than a million organic impressions on Twitter when the campaign hosted a voter-registration drive in for Broward County high school students, and a Facebook Live statewide organizing event with Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith. The campaign has boosted those and other digital videos on social media, but this ad will be the first all-out effort behind a video.

Gillum faces former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham and Winter Park businessman Chris King in the 2018 Democratic gubernatorial primary.

Rick Scott, Bill Nelson head to Kissimmee to talk Puerto Rico

Republican Gov. Rick Scott and Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson – opponents in this year’s U.S. Senate election – both went to Kissimmee Friday afternoon to talk to Puerto Rican residents about their needs.

But while Nelson spent a town hall talking with Puerto Rican migrants’ struggle to find housing, Scott’s town hall mostly roamed other issues from small businesses’s challenges to the safety of children.

Scott’s town hall, which officially was a U.S. Senate campaign event, included Puerto Rican small business owners, pastors and a small handful of active leaders in the Central Florida Puerto Rican community, touched briefly on housing needs, but the governor heard more about concerns involving how small businesses can get more state business, the pardons program, the appearance lately of children panhandlers, and Venezuela.

Nelson’s town hall, which officially was a U.S. Senate office event, was more focused, and included eight or nine people who had come to Central Florida from Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria devastated the island, and who now were living in motels in Kissimmee, desperate for more stable housing. Also attending were several church leaders and a few public officials, including Democratic Kissimmee Mayor Jose Alvarez and Democratic state Sen. Victor Torres.

Nelson began offering them good news and bad news, that the Federal Emergency Management Agency on Friday agreed to extend their temporary shelter program to May 14, but that FEMA declined to extend it into June. Nelson said he, Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, and Democratic U.S. Rep. Darren Soto had requested that longer extension so that Puerto Rican families who had enrolled children in Florida schools could see them through the end of the school year.

He heard several stories, some of them in Spanish, of Puerto Rican migrants who had come, found work, couldn’t go home to Puerto Rico, but couldn’t find housing in Central Florida, and were stuck living in motels.

Among them, Gustavo Santiago, 47, who’s living in a motel and said he had been terrified that he, among hundreds of Puerto Rican families, was on the verge of being pushed out onto the street Friday, until FEMA agreed to the temporary housing assistance program’s extension to May 14.

Santiago said he and his fiancé and her son came to Florida on Nov. 1 because his house, his car, and everything else he owned was totally destroyed, by ten feet of water, and without a car he lost his job. In Kissimmee, he found a job at a Wal-Mart store, where he’s been working since December.

It’s a challenge, very difficult, this uncertainty of whether people will be extended or not. It’s not like we’re not looking for housing, we are. I’m pretty sure everybody here has gone out there. I’ve been out there, searching. and the response that we’re getting is there is no availability.

“And some of the places where there is availability, we don’t qualify because we don’t make enough money, or we make too much money,” Santiago said. “So what do we have to do? We’re not here for a hand-out…. We’re not here to live off the government. But right now we need help.”

Scott said he, Rubio, and Soto will continue to push FEMA to extend the housing vouchers beyond May 14.

But there is no plan for any immediate next-step housing for the migrants. Scott, too was asked about housing, and he talked of long-term programs to build more affordable housing, particularly in Central Florida and the Florida Keys. But he said there was no interim-step program.

He turned the focus to economic development noting that Orlando’s growth has added 42,000 jobs in the past year.

“Here’s the issue we’re dealing with right now. This state has been growing so rapidly, it’s causing housing process to go up,” Scott said. “And so where our problem when I got elected was we had housing that was being foreclosed on, that’s not the issue anymore. Our issue is housing prices have gone up so much, and it’s difficult to stay up with the growth, when you have 400,000 or 500,000 people moving here a year.”

Job growth tops 1.5 million in his tenure, Rick Scott says

Florida added 12,500 new public sector jobs in March pushing the jobs growth tally over 1.5 million during his tenure, Gov. Rick Scott announced Friday in Orlando.

The latest numbers from the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity show the state’s unemployment rate holding at 3.9 percent, with the professional and business services sector leading the way in the 167,000 new private jobs created in the past 12 months.

“Now we’ve passed 1.5 million jobs in seven years and three months, which is exciting to me because as you know it’s what I ran on back in 2010, 700,000 jobs in seven years, and now we’ve way more than doubled that,” Scott, who recently announced his bid for the U.S. Senate, said at VOXX International, an automotive electronics and audio components manufacturing company in Orlando.

The latest numbers show 38,100 new jobs in the professional and business services sector, 32,300 in leisure and hospitality, 31,600 in construction, 21,200 in education and health services, and 15,600 in financial services over the past year.

The office also cited an annual job growth rate of 2.3 percent in Florida, compared with 1.8 percent nationally, and the 3.9 percent unemployment rate represents a decline of 6.9 percentage points since December 2010, faster than the 5.2 percentage points decline seen nationally.

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