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 Besides them, he’s into mystery and suspense books and movies, rock, blues, basketball, baseball, writing unpublished novels, and being amused.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

Opponents of All Aboard Florida charge finance meeting may violate Sunshine Laws

Indian River and Martin counties and Citizens Against Rail Expansion in Florida are seeking to delay and move Florida Development Finance Corporation consideration of financing for the All Aboard Florida train, charging that the meeting could violate Florida’s open meeting laws.

The two counties and CARE-Florida are opponents of All Aboard Florida’s plans to develop a private, high-speed, passenger train system from West Palm Beach to Orlando. They want the meeting delayed until they can receive and review meeting packets, and for the meeting to be moved from Jacksonville to somewhere within the rail route’s corridor, contending that holding the meeting 150 miles away could be prejudicial to the issue.

The Florida Development Finance Corporation has scheduled an emergency meeting in Jacksonville for 10 a.m. on Dec. 18

All Aboard Florida is seeking Florida Development Finance Corporation backing for the issuance of $1.15 billion in lower-interest, Private Activity Bonds to finance upgrades of the Florida East Coast Railway tracks between West Palm Beach and Cocoa, and and to construct new tracks from Cocoa to the Orlando International Airport. All Aboard Florida is preparing to launch its private “Brightline” passenger train service between West Palm Beach and Miami in a matter of weeks. The second phase of that project would, in a couple of years, run Brightline trains at speeds of up to 110 mph between West Palm and Cocoa, and up to 125 mph between Cocoa and Orlando.

Opponents, mainly in the ride-over counties of Indian River, Martin and St. Lucie, have fought against that second phase, arguing the trains would cause safety and environmental concerns with up to 32 trains a day crossing more than 100 at-grade street and road crossings and numerous canals and rivers at high speeds.

All Aboard Florida contends it will be meeting the nation’s highest rail safety and environmental protection standards.

Financing the second phase has been an issue; in 2016  the U.S. Department of Transportation withdrew its allocation for $1.75 billion in Private Activity Bonds, and allocated $600 million worth of the bonds only for the South Florida phase.

In a letter sent Thursday to William Spivey, executive director of the Florida Development Finance Corporation, Indian River County Attorney Dylan Reingold, Martin County Senior Assistant County Attorney Ruth Holmes, and CARE-Florida counsel Stephen M. Ryan charge that the emergency meeting in Jacksonville appears to them to be in violation of Florida’s Sunshine Laws.

“As the Florida Development Finance Corporation has not provided us with any agenda packet materials, we believe that any decision made by the FDFC must be postponed,” they wrote.

“Additionally, we respectfully request that the meeting be relocated to somewhere within the corridor of the proposed project. It is highly prejudicial to conduct a meeting concerning the issuance of $1.15 billion in bonds 150 miles from the closest point of the proposed project. This is highly suspicious considering the meeting is being conducted far away from the FDFC offices, which do lie near the location of the proposed project,” they continued.

SpaceX finally sets maiden launch of Falcon Heavy: January

After years of soft scheduling that has kept pushing its debut out into the future, SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy, the world’s most powerful rocket, is being prepared for its maiden launch from Kennedy Space Center in January.

The Falcon Heavy, essentially three Falcon 9 rocket boosters together, is designed to be the most powerful rocket the world has seen since NASA retired the Saturn V in 1973. The Falcon Heavy is designed for both heavy-payload Earth orbit missions and deep-space missions, capable of reaching the farthest depths of the solar system.

And like the Falcon 9 rocket, the Falcon Heavy was conceived as one day taking astronauts into space. SpaceX founder Elon Musk has proposed using it for the company’s privately-run mission to get astronauts to Mars.

SpaceX has not announced a specific date yet for the debut launch, which is being called a demonstration mission. But on Thursday the company announced the blast-off is being targeted for January. Should weather permit, the rocket’s ascent should be visible through most of the Florida peninsula.

The launch will come from Launch Complex 39A at Kennedy Space Center, which SpaceX has leased and rebuilt to accommodate its Falcon rocket line, including the Falcon Heavy. It’s the same launch pad that many of the Saturn Vs launched from between 1967 and 1973 carrying Apollo moon and Skylab missions.

The Falcon Heavy would produce more than 5 million pounds of thrust at lift-off. SpaceX says the Falcon Heavy will have the ability to lift 54 metric tons of payload into orbit, more than twice that of the Space Shuttle rocket system, and more than twice that of any other rocket in use today.

The Falcon Heavy’s claim to being the world’s most powerful rocket will hold until NASA completes its next big rocket, the Space Launch System, which also has seen its debut date drift in time through various delays. It’s now set for a 2020 debut, also from Kennedy Space Center, from the other launch pad of the twins, Launch Complex 39B.

Dialysis company TV ads cheer Bill Nelson

DaVita Inc., the nation’s leading dialysis and kidney and renal disease treatment company, is running political television commercials in Orlando and elsewhere praising U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson for his backing of a bill aimed at better coordination of patient care.

The commercial, running this week during MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” show, thanks Nelson for supporting The PATIENTS Act, Senate Bill 2065, which the Florida Democrat introduced in November, along with Republican U.S. Sens. Todd Young of Indiana and Dean Heller of Nevada, and Democratic U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado.

The bill would address patients suffering from end-stage renal disease, providing for comprehensive coordination of their care, to allow them to better manage their time and spend more time at home.

“This December, Congress can give hundreds of thousands of chronically-ill patients across America access to better-quality health care. Here in Florida, Sen. Bill Nelson stands with them,” the commercial begins.

“Thank you, Sen. Bill Nelson,” it concludes.

In a written statement, DaVita spokeswoman Alicia Patterson explained that “This ‘thank you’ campaign is aimed at elevating the visibility the impact the legislation would have on patients in hopes Congress takes action in the next two weeks. We’re running similar ads in a handful of Congressional districts across the country thanking those members who are champions of integrated care for dialysis patients.”

Nelson, of Orlando, is seeking-re-election next year to a fourth term. While Gov. Rick Scott has not declared his intentions or filed for the race, it’s widely assumed that he will seek the Republican nomination to take on Nelson.

In November, when the bill was introduced, Nelson stated in a press release, “The health problems associated with kidney disease often force Medicare patients to juggle multiple appointments and doctors. This bill will help improve these patients’ day-to-day lives by creating a one-stop shop where they can get the coordinated care they need.”


Bobby Olszewski, Rene Plasencia, Anna Eskamani, lead Central Florida House campaign gains

Five Central Florida candidates for the Florida House each raised more than $10,000 for their campaigns in November, including incumbent Republican state Reps. Bobby Olszewski, Rene Plasencia, David Santiago, and Bob Cortes along with first-time Democratic candidate Anna Eskamani.

Olszewski of Winter Garden, who took his seat after winning a special election in October, reported raising $14,000 in November — top among Central Florida candidates for the Florida House. That gave his re-election campaign about $17,000 after expenses going into December.

He has two Democratic opponents, neither of whom reported raising any money in November. Dawn Antonis of Winter Garden began and ended November with $1,355 cash in her campaign. Matthew Matin of Winter Garden has not yet reported any campaign financial activity.

Not far behind Olszewski in fundraising for November, Plasencia of Orlando brought in $13,500 for his re-election campaign in House District 50; Eskamani of Orlando raised $13,114 in her bid for House District 47; Santiago of Deltona, $13,100 for his re-election push in House District 27; and Cortes of Altamonte Springs, $11,125 in his re-election bid in House District 30.

Plasencia finished November with just over $61,000 in his campaign fund.

He also picked up an opponent, Pamela Joy Dirschka, 63, of Titusville, who filed to run on Dec. 8, and has not filed any campaign finance reports yet.

Eskamani finished the month with more than $110,000 in cash. She faces Republican businessman Stockton Reeves of Winter Park, seeking a seat expected to be open as Republican incumbent state Rep. Mike Miller of Winter Park is running for Congress.

Reeves reported raising $200 in November. He entered December with about $91,000 cash in hand, though almost all of that came from a personal loan.

Santiago finished November with almost $46,000 in the bank. His opponent, Democrat Tyran Basil did not report any financial activity in November and finished the month with $1,591 in hand.

Cortes finished November with $61,000 cash in his campaign account. His challenger, Democrat Clark Anderson of Winter Park, just entered the race in the last days of November and has not yet filed any campaign finance activity.

In other raises, Republican David Smith of Winter Springs reported raising $8,907 in November in the House District 28 race. He finished November with more than $139,000 in the bank. Democrat Lee Mangold of Casselberry reported raising $1,972. He finished November with about $7,300 in his campaign. They’re both seeking to replace Republican state Rep. Jason Brodeur.

Republican state Rep. Scott Plakon of Longwood reported raising $1,000, giving him about $38,500 in his re-election campaign in House District 29. His opponent Democrat Patrick Brandt of Longwood reported raising $150, finishing the month with $1,300 in hand.

In House District 31, Republican state Rep. Jennifer Sullivan reported raising $7,800 in November, and entered December with just over $18,000 in her campaign. Democratic challenger Debra Kaplan of Eustis reported raising $165, finishing the month with $4,300 in her campaign.

In House District 42, Republican state Rep. Mike La Rosa of St. Cloud reported raising $6,725, and entered December with about $42,100 for his reelection campaign. Democratic challenger Barbara Cady of Kissimmee reported raising $335, and finished November with about $3,900. Independent challenger Lonzell Ivory of Poinciana raised the first $200 for his campaign, and finished the month with that in the bank.

In House District 43, Democratic state Rep. John Cortes did not report raising any money in November, and finished the month with about $18,000 in his re-election campaign. He does not have an opponent.

In House District 45, Democratic state Rep. Kamia Brown of Ocoee did not raise any money in November and entered December with $10,350. She does not have an opponent.

In House District 46, Democratic state Rep. Bruce Antone of Ocoee did not report raising any money in November, and entered December with about $700 cash in his campaign. He does not have an opponent.

In House District 48, Democratic state Rep. Amy Mercado of Orlando reported raising $2,050, and finished November with about $17,600. She does not have an opponent.

In House District 49, Democratic state Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith of Orlando reported raising $2,110, and finished November with about $7,700. His opponent, Republican Pepito Aponte of Orlando, did not report any financial activity in November and entered December with $100 in his campaign.

In House District 51, three Republicans seeking to succeed outgoing Republican state Rep. Tom Goodson all had minimal campaign finance activity in November, and a Democrat entered the race in early December. Thomas O’Neill of Rockledge reported raising just $100, finishing the month with $5,900. Jeffrey Ramsey of Merritt Island did not raise any money in November, and finished the month with $15,700. Tyler Sirois of Merritt Island reported raising $150, and finished the month with $37,800.

New to the race is Michael Cavis Blake of Cocoa.

In House District 52, Republican state Rep. Thad Altman of Indialantic reported raising $1,500 and finishing the month with about $13,000. Republican challenger Matt Nye of Melbourne reported raising $2,535 in November, and entered December with $1,700.

In House District 53, Republican state Rep. Randy Fine of Palm Bay report raising $4,000. His re-election campaign entered December with about $65,000.

Jason Brodeur continues to rake in cash for 2020 Senate bid

Republican state Rep. Jason Brodeur continues to rake in campaign finance money for his 2020 bid for the Florida Senate, raising $19,229 for his official campaign and another $35,000 for his independent political committee in November.

Brodeur, of Sanford, leads all Central Florida state Senate candidates even though the election he’s shooting for is three years away. He now has raised more than $196,354 in his campaign fund, with $123,352 left after expenses, and another $1.3 million raised in Friends of Jason Brodeur Political Committee, with about $300,000 in that bank account on Dec. 1.

He is aiming for the seat being vacated by Republican state Sen. David Simmons in Seminole County.

Brodeur’s latest contributions include $10,000 from Committee of Safety Net Hospitals, $5,000 from grower June Simpson of Thonotosassa, and $5,000 from Mosaic for his political committee, and 15 maximum $1,000 checks for his official campaign, including $1,000 checks from lobbyist Ron Book and his law firm.

His Democratic opponent Fred Ashby of Oviedo reported $425 in contributions, giving his campaign just under $300 in the bank at the end of November.

Among those Central Florida Senate candidates running in the 2018 election, Republican state Sen. Dorothy Hukill of Port Orange had the largest November haul, bringing in $13,400, bringing her total contributions to $98,100. In her bid for reelection in Senate District 14, she has about $68,000 in the bank.

Her Democratic opponent Melissa Martin of Cocoa had a relatively strong month for a challenger, but not on the same scale as the incumbent. Martin reported raising $2,890 in November, giving her a total of $11,208 in contributions. She ended November with just under $10,000 in the bank.

Republican state Sen. Dennis Baxley of Ocala raised $6,500 in November, bringing his total contributions to $71,850. In his reelection bid in Senate District 12, he has about $55,000 in cash.

His Democratic opponent Gary McKechnie of Mount Dora entered the race only three weeks ago. His only campaign contribution was $258, which he donated to his own campaign. There also is another Republican in the race, Kaesha Gray of Ocala, who has not reported any campaign finance activity.

Among other 2020 re-election candidates, Democratic state Sen. Randolph Bracy of Senate District 11 reported raising $2,000 in November, and Republican state Sen. Debbie Mayfield of Senate District 17 reported raising $1,000. Meanwhile, neither Democratic state Sens. Linda Stewart of Senate District 13 nor Victor Torres of Senate District 15 reported raising any money in November. Bracy, of Oakland, entered December with $8,000 in the bank and Mayfield, of Rockledge, with $25,500. Stewart, of Orlando, who just opened her campaign two weeks ago, reported no money yet, and Torres, of Orlando, reported having $22,000 in the bank.

Jeremy Ring gets nods from Mayors Buddy Dyer, Jack Seiler in CFO race

Democratic candidate Jeremy Ring has received the endorsements of two big city mayors, Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer and Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jack Seiler, in the contest for the Florida chief financial officer post, Ring’s campaign announced Thursday.

“With Jeremy, Floridians have a real opportunity to transform the way our State does business,” Dyer said in a news release. “His unique business background and his innovative approach combined with a real record of delivering higher paying jobs are exactly what Tallahassee needs right now.”

Both Dyer and Seiler are, like Ring, Democrats. Ring faces Republican incumbent Florida CFO Jimmy Patronis heading toward the 2018 election. Patronis has over $1.15 million cash on hand. Ring has $113,000 cash on hand.

Ring is a former state senator from Broward County who was an early investor and executive in Yahoo!.

“For too long, Tallahassee has talked about how they don’t like other people telling them how to run their state, but have been all too keen on telling our cities how to run theirs,” Ring stated in the release. “Over the years I’ve gotten to know Mayors Dyer and Seiler well and to say that I respect them would be a drastic understatement. Their leadership and ability to navigate their cities through both the good times and bad is something that Tallahassee can and should learn from. I’m humbled to have their support and excited to have them join our campaign.”

Philip Levine’s TV ads introduce his family extolling his work ethic, empathy

Two new television commercials from Democratic gubernatorial candidate Philip Levine‘s political committee introduce his family, with his mother and fiancé extolling his work ethic, empathy for others, and a sense of family.

The commercial with his mother Diane Ziman, “Mom,” is in English, while the one with fiancé Carolina Murciano, “Familia,” is in Spanish. They begin airing Wednesday and will air for several weeks in major markets around Florida, according to his committee, All About Florida.

They are the second round of television commercials from the committee, following a set that began airing last month talking about Levine’s policy priorities.

Levine faces Democratic rivals former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham of Tallahassee, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum and Winter Park businessman Chris King in the primary nomination bid. The leading Republican candidate is Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam. No other candidates have hit TV.

In Mom, as shots trade between her looking into the camera and Levine being with family, or throwing a football, Ziman asks, “What makes a Mom proud? A son like Philip Levine. As a kid, he washed cars, swept floors––every job you could imagine. Then, with a pocket full of dreams, Philip turned $500 dollars into a major Florida business, before becoming the Mayor who fought rising seas and hateful prejudice. If I taught Philip one thing…”

“I know, Mom,” he replies. “Do the right thing!

“That’s my boy!” she concludes.

In “Familia,” Murciano declares, in Spanish, “If you want to know what drives Philip Levine, its moments like these. With his family. When he was young, Philip worked very hard. Washing cars, cleaning floors––truly in all kinds of jobs. It was with this commitment to hard work that Philip transformed $500 dollars into a major company known worldwide. And when other families need help, Philip is always there to help them.”

During last month’s fundraising stint, Levine topped $1 million between his campaign and committee accounts. The former Miami Beach mayor maintains a huge fundraising lead in the Democratic primary.

Opponents strike back on Ashton Hayward’s Airbnb commercial

Pensacola Mayor Ashton Hayward was the star of a television commercial that began in Tallahassee last week in which he extolled the virtues of vacation rental homes in Pensacola and Airbnb for marketing them – but opponents of that company’s legislative agenda are striking back this week, with a new video starring Hayward.

Hayward didn’t explicitly discuss that legislative agenda in the commercial, “Airbnb citizen,” instead talking about visitors wanting “that authentic experience, and this is what Airbnb offers them.”

AirbnbWATCH, a group tied to the hotel industry that opposes much of Airbnb’s legislative agenda, has launched an internet video featuring a brief interview with Hayward in which he acknowledges that local communities should have some say in how to regulate vacation rental homes.

And that’s the crux of the legislative fight: Airbnb and other vacation rental home companies, such as rival marketing firm HomeAway, have been pushing for legislation to prevent cities, towns and counties from regulating vacation rental homes, arguing that such local regulation gets out of hand and thwarts competition in the lodging industry.

An AirbnbWATCH crew caught up with Hayward at the U.S. Conference of Mayor’s convention in Miami Beach in June and asked him, on camera, if he would prefer that mayors have the ability to regulate vacation rental homes, rather than have the state dictate what cities and counties may do.

In the video posted by AirbnbWATCH, Hayward replies, “For me, when it comes to your location, your local community, sometimes there are issues you need to regulate that are different than across the state. If you think about the great state of Florida, it’s the third largest state in the union. And so those are issues that are sometimes different say in Tampa, or in Miami, or Miami Beach, for that matter, or Boca, or Orlando. It’s a big state, so it’s difficult sometimes to have this broad brush of regulation.”

Hayward’s office did not respond Tuesday to a request from Florida Politics to discuss the apparently conflicting messages being offered by the mayor for both sides of the vacation rental debate.

AirbnbWATCH said in a news release that it has recorded numerous similar interviews with mayors, and looks forward to releasing them as well.

International elections award winners: Australia, Ecuador, Ireland, Seminole County

The Seminole County Supervisor of Elections Office has won an international award for elections, winning a first-place honor for reaching first-time voters, from the International Centre for Parliamentary Studies’ International Electoral Awards.

The award put the Seminole County office on the same stage as elections’ honorees from Australia, Ecuador, Ireland, Canada, and Mexico, among other countries. The only other American elections’ office to win one of the awards was from Los Angeles.

Seminole County won in the category of the First Time Voter Award, with honorable mentions being given to the Permanent Electoral Authority of Romania, and The League of Young Voters of the United Kingdom.

Seminole County Supervisor of Elections Mike Ertel did not attend the awards ceremony, held in Jordan. Dean Logan, county clerk for the Los Angeles County Registrar, picked it up for him.

Ertel said the award recognizes the efforts Seminole County has undertaken to register new voters in high schools, and then to engage them in thinking about how much power their votes give them. He said he’ll go into a high school, register the students to vote, and then tell them they’ve just gained power. He said invariably the students respond with “yeah, right,” attitudes and grumbling about the lack of power of young people.

He’s set them up.

After engaging them in a town-hall conversation about what things they’d like to see changed, and still getting some skeptical, cynical responses, Ertel calls on someone he’s planted in the back of the room, or calls someone on the phone and puts the speaker next to the microphone. A mayor. A school board chairman. Some other elected official. And that person then explains what 200 votes from that auditorium would do to his or her next election.

“It’s really cool,” Ertel said. “The students eat it up.”

This is the second major award his office has won recently. Last week Ertel announced his offices website had won a “Golden Web Award” from the The International Association of Web Masters and Designers,

After cutting murder plea deal, Aramis Ayala demands answers from Rick Scott

The ongoing conflict between Orlando’s State Attorney Aramis Ayala and Gov. Rick Scott over her death penalty policies took another turn as Ayala cut a murder deal with a suspect that avoids a death penalty then answered the governor’s questions by asking her own questions.

Scott and Ayala, state attorney for Florida’s 9th Judicial Circuit, have been battling, at high stakes, since March when she first announced she would not seek capital punishment. Yet even since the Florida Supreme Court told her she cannot take that position and she relented, the conflict continues.

It’s now in a war of public records requests and information demands. Part of that has to do with the case of Emerita Mapp, who would have been Ayala’s first death penalty case. Scott charged Ayala missed a critical deadline, blowing a capital punishment prosecution. Ayala denied that, but then on Friday cut a plea bargain with Mapp in which she pleaded guilty in exchange for a life sentence in an April slaying in Kissimmee.

Last week Scott’s General Counsel Daniel Nordby demanded detailed reports on how Ayala’s death penalty review process operated, and why she missed the deadline, and what she would do about it. Her response Monday continued to deny that the capital punishment case was compromised, and once again charged that the governor himself missed the case back when he was reassigning all potential death penalty cases to another state attorney.

“I would like to know what method/procedure you used in determining which cases you decided to take from my office,” Ayala wrote the governor on Monday.

She made it a records request. And she informed the governor that she had forwarded Nordby’s requests for information to her own public records department.

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