Scott Powers, Author at Florida Politics

Scott Powers

Sean Buchan of Winter Haven enters CD 9 Republican field

A second Republican candidate, political newcomer, banker and veteran Sean A. Buchan of Winter Haven, has entered the race for Florida’s 9th Congressional District.

Buchan, 31, a banker with Wells Fargo Bank in Winter Haven, filed to run late last week, joining last year’s GOP nominee Wayne Liebnitzky of St. Cloud in hoping to take down Democratic U.S. Rep. Darren Soto in the 2018 election.

“The time is right,” Buchan stated of his entry into politics.

Married with two children, Buchan spent eight years in the U.S. Marines and two in the Army, and served two tours in Iraq.

His top concern is the economy which he described as “doing better, but not well enough,” particularly in Polk and Osceola counties, which he said are in need of across-the-board jobs from technical trades to high-tech.

He also stressed national security as a critical concern, and expressed a strong desire for tax reform that simplifies the system for tax payers.

CD 9 includes most of south Orange County, all of Osceola and much of eastern Polk. Last year Soto, a former state senator, defeated Liebnitzky, to replace two-term Democratic U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson. Liebnitzky won in Polk but Soto handily carried the vote in the other two counties.

Buchan said he’s currently reaching out to county Republican executive committees and Young Republican clubs to begin pulling together support and organization.

 

House forms first-ever Legislative Progressive Caucus

More than a dozen Democratic Florida House members have formed the Progressive Legislative Caucus, with firebrand state Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith of Orlando elected as its first chair.

The caucus held its organization meeting last week with Smith becoming chair, state Rep. Amy Mercado of Orlando vice chair, and state Rep. Joseph Abruzzo of Boca Raton as clerk.

“As we enter the final weeks of the 2017 legislative session, the Legislative Progressive Caucus will adopt caucus positions on key legislation to underscore our values and priorities,” Smith stated in a news release.

Other charter members included state Reps. Robert Asencio of Miami, Lori Berman of Lantana, Daisy Baez of Coral Gables, John Cortes of Kissimmee, Nicholas Duran of Miami, Joseph Gellar of Aventura, Evan Jenne of Dania Beach, Barrington Russell of Lauderdale Lakes, Sean Shaw of Tampa, Emily Slosberg of Boca Raton, Richard Stark of Weston, and Clovis Watson of Alachua.

The caucus put out a release stating that its members were inspired by the Congressional Progressive Caucus and aim to unite the progressive wing of the Democratic Caucus as a collective block to influence key legislation and advocate for progressive policy solutions that benefit all Floridians.

The caucus is committed to advocating for social and economic justice and security for all Floridians, protecting civil rights, civil liberties and advancing environmental protection and sustainability in the Sunshine State, according to the release.

 

Student assessment changes approved by House Education Committee

A bill that would push many student assessment tests to the last weeks of the year and open the prospect that SAT and ACT tests could replace Florida’s English and math tests was overwhelmingly approved by the Florida House Education Committee Monday.

Committee Substitute for House Bill 773 contains a number of education omnibus reforms ranging from removing bonus caps for public school teachers to allowing pencils and paper testing again for younger students.

Key provisions for the bill, however, continue the Florida Legislature’s efforts to roll back on perceived over-testing of students.

The bill, sponsored by Republican state Rep. Manny Diaz Jr. of Hialeah,  requires that English tests for students in grades 3-10 and math tests for grades 3-8 be held in the last three weeks of the year, to reduce disruptions.

The bill also provides that the Florida Department of Education commission a study to see how well the SAT and ACT national college preparatory tests align with Florida’s assessments, to see if they might be used instead of many of Florida’s tests.

It also requires that teachers – both current and following-year instructors – receive “easy-to-read” and understandable reports on a student’s performance on the tests, to include advice to parents on how to help with strengths and areas that need improvement.

The bill’s companion measure, Committee Substitute to Senate Bill 926, goes further in many areas, including eliminations of some end-of-course exams, and House Education members and public speakers who spoke for HB 773 either voiced support for Diaz’s effort or hope that it could go even further to mirror the reforms in 926.

“We like this bill. We hope that as it moves forward, we can go even further,” said Angie Gallo of the Florida PTA.

 

SunRail airport route set with transfer station only, for $250 million

The next big SunRail project, connecting the north-south line to Orlando International Airport, has settled on a route that would provide for transfer passengers only – with no parking lot – with a $250 million estimated pricetag.

The Florida Department of Transportation still is a long ways from settling on how to extend service from the commuter train’s DeBary to Poinciana route to the airport but an engineering study moving through the department and surfacing last week at a SunRail meeting shows the preferred route.

That route would go mostly along a 3.5 mile existing railroad track corridor from a railroad transfer station to be constructed north of the Meadow Woods subdivision to the airport property, and then along a two-mile route to be negotiated with the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority across airport property to the new OIA train station now under construction.

Last week the SunRail governing board, the Central Florida Commuter Rail Commission, received a brief update on the plan, which has been in the works since at least 2005, and first settled on the route – one of five alternative routes being considered – in internal documents last fall, and presented to the department’s inter model group in late February.

SunRail Executive Director Nicola Liquori told the board last week did not rule out the other four routes, which would connect to full-service stations at either Sand Lake Road or in Meadow Woods, but said the department decided to break out the transer-station only route for more detailed study. The most recent cost estimate of $250 million was being revisited but she did not have any information on when a firmer estimate might be available.

The internal documents project a 2020 opening. But that is unlikely considering MetroPlan Orlando, the metropolitan transportation planning organization projects seeking federal funding in 2020, and otherwise there are no sure plans for where the money might come from.

The plan calls for creating a transfer station just north of the Meadow Woods station now under construction. The transfer station, would be at the point where the Stanton Spur railroad track, owned by the Orlando Utilities Commission, now enters the north-south railroad corridor. Except for potential bus transfers, the transfer station would not have any parking lots or any facilities for drive-up or kiss-and-ride drop-offs.

SunRail currently operates a 32-mile track running north and south from DeBary to Sand Lake Road in Orlando. The next phase, an expansion southward to Poinciana, is now under construction, and would include new stations at Meadow Woods, the Tupperware headquarters, the Kissimmee Amtrak station, and Poinciana.

From the transfer station to the OIA Intermodel Terminal Facility – the airport train station – would be a 5.5 mile route that would take the train eight to ten minutes, according to the draft preliminary engineering report Liquori discussed with the board last week.

Most of the cost would cover construction, adding two new tracks in the corridor of sufficient quality to handle passenger trains capable of reaching speeds of 45 mph, plus the transfer station. Liquori said about $50 million would be needed for right-of-way purchases.

The FDOT preliminary engineering study projects 2,550 daily riders at the start, and a peak of 3,050 by by 2030. The current line carries an average daily load of fewer than 4,000 riders, though that is expected to increase with the southern expansion.

21 “March for Science” events taking place across Florida today

Yes, scientists feel they’re under attack by politics too, and like minority groups, women, gun advocates, gun opponents, social activists, and others, they’re taking it to the streets.

Twenty-one “Marches for Science” are set to take place in Florida Saturday, Earth Day, all declared as satellite marches to the main one that will take place in Washington D.C. Organizers say they’ll have more than 400 such marches worldwide this weekend.

March for Science organizers are declaring their mission as to champion “robustly funded and publicly communicated science as a pillar of human freedom and prosperity.”

Organized through scientists and supporters discussing the prospect through social media, on their website they declare that, yes, their effort “is explicitly a political movement, aimed at holding leaders in politics and science accountable. When institutions of any affiliation skew, ignore, misuse or interfere with science, we have to speak out.”

In Florida marches are planned Saturday for Clearwater, Fort Lauderdale, Fort Pierce, Fort Walton Beach, Gainesville, Hudson, Jacksonville, Lakeland, Miami, Naples, New Smyrna Beach, Orlando, Palm Beach County, Panama City, Pensacola, Sarasota, Titusville, St. Augustine, St. Petersburg, Tallahassee, and West Palm Beach.

The dozens of partners sponsoring the event range from environmental groups such as the Earth Day Coalition and The Nature Conservancy, to science specialty groups as the American Society for Cell Biology and the Planetary Society, to broad groups such as the National Center for Science Education and the Union of Concerned Scientists, as well as several universities.

They’re maintaining the marches are non-partisan.

“Science is nonpartisan,” said Blake Williams, spokesman for For Our Future spokesman, which is co-organizing the Florida marches. “Advocating for evidence-based policies and solutions serves everyone’s best interests, and Saturday’s march is about speaking out in support of science together.”

Families of homicide victims, ACLU, Janet Cruz join filers in Aramis Ayala case

Friends of the court are beginning to crowd into the Florida Supreme Court case pitting Orlando’s State Attorney Aramis Ayala and Gov. Rick Scott, with families of homicide victims siding with Scott, and the ACLU and House Minority Leader Janet Cruz siding with Ayala on Friday.

Several filings Friday are loading the case with friends. Also Friday, a group of more than 40 former judges and prosecutors filed a brief supporting Ayala’s case, and a group of Democratic Florida lawmakers filed their promised brief supporting her.

Now on the way is a brief from family members of homicide victims including those of Orlando Police Lt. Debra Clayton and Sade Dixon, who asked the court for permission to file their brief supporting Scott.

And a coalition of several groups led by the ACLU asked to file on Ayala’s behalf Friday.

Cruz filed requesting to join the group of Democratic lawmakers, led by Senate Minority Leader Oscar Braynon, supporting Ayala.

Those are all in addition to amicus briefs filed or pledged by another coalition of groups supporting Ayala, and the Florida Prosecuting Attorneys Association and the Florida House of Representatives supporting Scott.

Ayala and Scott are battling over whether she has the right to refuse to pursue death penalty prosecutions in her 9th Judicial Circuit, as she has declared; and whether he has the right to intervene and reassign her potential death-penalty cases to other state attorneys. He has reassigned 23 of her first-degree murder cases to State Attorney Brad King of Florida’s 5th Judicial Circuit. She has petitioned the Florida Supreme Court to determine if he can do so, and has sued Scott in federal court.

The homicide victims’ families include those of Clayton and Dixon, who were slain in January in a case that sparked outrage throughout Central Florida, and then fired a storm against Ayala when she announced in March that she would not seek any death penalty prosecutions, starting with that case against suspect Markeith Loyd. Others seeking to file in support of Scott include the families of 9th Judicial Circuit homicide victims Darrell Avant Jr., Jasmine Samuel, Elena Ortega, Alexandria Fransa Chery, and Teresa Ann Green.

The Supreme Court granted their requests Friday. They’ve promised to file their brief by May 3.

“The Family Members have special rights afforded by the Florida Constitution and statutes. The Florida Supreme Court would benefit greatly from the unique perspective of this group so seriously affected by the Petitioner’s refusal to consider their constitutional and statutory rights,” their filing states.

“Family Members can provide the Court useful insight regarding the Petitioner’s disregard of a homicide victim’s family’s rights and input in making prosecution decisions,” the filing continues.

The other new request for a friend of court brief came from a coalition including the American Civil Liberties Union Capital Punishment Project, the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, the Sentencing Project, and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

Earlier the Florida State Conference of the NAACP had filed a friend-of-the-court brief favoring Ayala, as part of a coalition that was formed and is led by The Advancement Project’s National Office.

The ACLU coalition request also was approved right away Friday.

“The proposed amicus curiae brief would address the crucial question of the Governor’s authority to reassign 23 capital cases from State Attorney Ayala to a different State attorney not elected by the people of the Ninth Judicial Circuit,” The ACLU request states. “It will further address why the Governor lacks authority to reassign the cases, as he claims, under Section 27.14, Florida Statute.”

 

Twine noose lowlights hate being sent Aramis Ayala’s way

A twine noose taped to a postcard and nasty comments sent in the mail and via social media are showing racist hatred Orlando’s State Attorney Aramis Ayala is receiving as she battles in court with Gov. Rick Scott over whether she has the power to refuse to pursue death penalty prosecutions.

The twine noose was discovered attached to a card inside an envelop mailed to her office, one of two racist-material and potentially threatening mailings that her office has reported to the Orange County Sheriff’s Office recently.

Ayala, state attorney for Florida’s 9th Judicial Circuit serving Orange and Osceola Counties, told sheriff’s office investigators she believed the twine noose was meant as a threat to her as a public official, and could be constituted as a hate crime. The sheriff’s office referred the mail to the U.S. Postal Inspectors Office.

The sheriff’s report on the matter did not detail what was said in the letters. Parts of the report were redacted.

Ayala’s office declined to comment.

Ayala’s office also reported receiving hate-filled and potentially threatening messages via social media. One Facebook message called her a “stupid b—-” and a “damn inbred snowflake” for choosing “not to ever seek the death penalty. “Can’t wait till you get stripped of you license,” it continues. “Then you can go back to being the useless hood rat you are.”

Another told her, “You should watch where you bring attention to yourself at. The FBI is now being informed of the actions you’ve been taking behind the scene. You’re about the windup in jail instead of prosecuting cases.”

A YouTube.com comment declared, “fucking n—–s. n—–s everywhere. the black woman is sticking up for a convicted COP killer. She should be on trial for her job and fired and thrown to the streets. she should pick cotton for the rest of her life and be whipped”

In each of those three cases, names are attached to the comments.

Democrats gubernatorial candidates react to Frank Artiles’ resignation

Democratic gubernatorial candidates and potential candidates are declaring Friday that Frank Artiles did the right thing and one is wondering why Gov. Rick Scott stayed out, after Artiles resigned his seat in the Florida Senate because of his vulgar comments to comments earlier in the week.

Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, an announced candidate, called Artiles’ resignation the “right move for Florida.”

“The kind of hurtful rhetoric that Senator Artiles used, while still far too common, only serves to divide us against each other,” Gillum said. “From every corner of our state, we know that there is a lot more that we share in common than what separates us. Now we must refocus our attention on the issues that can help the most people: creating good paying jobs, reinvesting in public education, and ensuring access to health care for all.”

Orlando businessman Chris King, an announced candidate, questioned the silence of Scott on the Artiles matter, after the senator accosted two black, Democratic colleagues in a private club Monday night with a tirade of vulgar and racist comments.

“While it’s gratifying so many Floridians across the state came together to demand accountability, there was one conspicuous absence — Rick Scott,” King said in a release. “The Governor of our great state should be the first voice to demand racism is never normalized, not duck and hide from leadership. Governor Scott’s refusal to stand with the well-meaning people of Florida is a result of the arrogance that comes with decades of one-party rule, and an important reminder of the need for change.”

Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, who is exploring a candidacy, declared, “After doing all the wrong things, Sen. Artiles finally did the right thing by resigning.”

Former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham of Tallahassee, who is exploring a candidacy, tweeted her reaction:

“I’m proud of @SenAudrey2eet & @SenatorThurston for standing up to a bully. Their strength is why Artiles’ hate is leaving the Senate.”

More than 40 top judicial, prosecutorial officials to file in support of Aramis Ayala

A group of more than 40 former Florida Supreme Court justices, and judges, prosecutors and legal officials from throughout the country are filing an amicus brief supporting Orlando’s State Attorney Aramis Ayala in her power-struggle with Gov. Rick Scott, contending that the issues in their court battles are of national importance.

“By seeking to remove Ayala from all cases that might implicate the death penalty, the Governor does serious damage to the fundamental values of separation of powers and the democratic process, and threatens the bedrock principle of prosecutorial independence upon which much of our criminal justice system rests,” the brief argues.

The group includes former Florida Supreme Court justices Harry Lee Anstead, Rosemary Barkett, Gerald Kogan, and James E.C. Perry; former United States Solicitors General Walter Dellinger, Donald B. Verrilli, Jr., and Seth Waxman; four former Supreme Court justices from other states; five current or former state attorneys general from other states, and dozens of current or former judges, prosecutors, and justice officials from throughout the country. Anstead, Barkett and Kogan are former chief justices of the Florida Supreme Court.

Ayala and Scott are battling over whether she has the right to refuse to pursue death penalty prosecutions in her 9th Judicial Circuit, as she has declared; and whether he has the right to intervene and reassign her potential death-penalty cases to other state attorneys. He has reassigned 23 of her first-degree murder cases to State Attorney Brad King of Florida’s 5th Judicial Circuit. She has petitioned the Florida Supreme Court to determine if he can do so, and has sued Scott in federal court.

Scott’s action “is a dangerous, dangerous thing,” former Florida Chief Justice Kogan, who left the Florida Supreme Court in 1999, said to FloridaPolitics.com.

“Let’s assume for a moment that the governor did have the authority to move a state attorney or a district attorney off the case. What’s going to happen, it may not be limited in the long run to capital cases. It could be any case,” said Kogan, a former capital crimes prosecutor and criminal justice chief judge in Miami-Dade County. “So absolutely, you could have the governor as the one who is going to be running the prosecution in that particular state. That’s not what we have, with the balance of power and three equal parts of government philosophy.”

Such a precedent in authority could even lead to the point of the governor controlling prosecutions of overtly political cases, steering them to friendly prosecutors, he cautioned.

The group of judicial and prosecutorial officials intends to file their brief supporting Ayala in the Florida Supreme Court case, arguing that the traditional concept of prosecutorial independence is at stake, not just in Florida but nationally.

“The Florida Constitution establishes a decentralized prosecutorial system, which ensures that prosecutorial decisions will be made at the local level without interference from statewide officials,” the brief argues. Scott’s intervention, it charges, “usurps the will of Florida voters and the interests of justice.”

Written by Verrilli, former United States solicitor general under President Barack Obama and now a partner in Munger, Tolles & Olson in Washington D.C., the brief argues that Ayala has the discretion to decide whether to ever seek a death sentence and to establish an office policy on the matter.

It states, “Across the country, prosecutors routinely exercise their discretion by articulating a general policy regarding charging, diversion, sentencing, and enforcement priorities.”

The brief cites relevant policies created by head prosecutors in jurisdictions across the country, including Oregon, New York, and Chicago.

Ban on steroids for greyhound racing dogs passes House

A bipartisan bill banning the use of steroids on greyhound racing dogs was approved Thursday by the Florida House of Representatives.

House Bill 743, cosponsored by Democratic state Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith of Orlando and Republican state Rep. Alex Miller of Sarasota, was approved in the house by a vote of 84 to 32, despite strong opposition from racetrack and racing dog associations.

The companion measure, Committee Substitute for Senate Bill 512, sponsored by Republican state Sen. Dana Young of Tampa, has passed two committees and now is in the Senate Appropriations Committee.

The House sponsors had argued that the use of dog steroids was both unfair to competition and harmful to the dogs. As he pushed the bill through committees, Smith had repeatedly called the practice “doping” and charged that reports indicated steroids are routinely given to female dogs to keep them from going into heat.

“I’m incredibly proud of the bi-partisan coalition we built around this common-sense measure to protect greyhound racing dogs in Florida. Anabolic steroids can have harmful long-term side effects, in addition to serving as a performance enhancer on female dogs,” Smith stated in a news release. “As long as greyhound racing continues in Florida, we have a moral obligation to ensure these dogs are treated as fairly and humanely as possible.”

HB 743 is Rep. Smith’s first bill to pass the Florida House since his election in November 2016– a rare victory for a freshman Democrat serving in a Republican dominated legislature.

There are currently 19 racetracks in the United States, 12 of them here in Florida.

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