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 Besides them, he’s into mystery and suspense books and movies, rock, blues, basketball, baseball, writing unpublished novels, and being amused.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

Space Coast Business Force endorses Rene Plasencia, Thad Altman, Dorothy Hukill

Business Voice of Florida’s Space Coast has endorsed the re-elections of state Sen. Dorothy Hukill and state Reps. Rene Plasencia and Thad Altman in Brevard County districts, the organization announced.

Those endorsements are in addition to the previously announced nod toward Tyler Sirois for the open seat for House District 51.

All four are Republicans and all of them except Hukill have Republican primary challenges on August 28.

The organization, established to be the political voice for the Space Coast business community, also made endorsements of Chuck Nelson and Curt Smith in the Brevard County Commission District 2 and 4 elections, respectively; and Misty Belford and Andy Ziegler in the Brevard County School Board District 1 and 5 races, respectively.

“The state legislature, the county commission and our local school board have an incredible impact on the local economy,” said Kathryn Rudloff, executive director for the group, in a news release. “Ensuring the Space Coast remains a great place to live, work and do business is our priority. That is why local job creators are excited to support these proven leaders who are committed to the long-term health and sustainability of our diverse regional economy.”

Hukill is clear until November when she faces the winner of the Democratic primary, either Brandon Maggard or Mel Martin, for Senate District 14.

Plasencia faces George Collins in a Republican primary for House District 50, while Altman faces Matt Nye in the primary for House District 52. Democrats will be awaiting the winners in November.

“These candidates are asking the voting public for a job. The business community takes very seriously the opportunity to interview candidates and consider their qualifications for the office they seek,” Rudloff added.

Poll: Philip Levine and Gwen Graham tight, Chris King in third

A new poll from RABA Research is finding similar results from one disclosed earlier this week that the Florida Democratic primary race for the governor’s election is close to a dead heat between former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine and former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham.

The poll, using random digit dialing and excluding cell phones, surveyed of 660 Florida Democrats last Friday and Saturday, found Levine’s support at 27 percent, Graham’s at 26 percent, Winter Park businessman Chris King at 15 percent, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum at 8 percent, and Palm Beach businessman Jeff Greene at 3 percent.

Just 21 percent of those surveyed said they did not know, or that they wanted someone else.

“The race is a coming down to the wire. Phillip Levine and Gwen Graham lead the field with Chris King coming in a strong third,” John Davis of RABA Research said in a news release. “The coming weeks will be critical in determining whom Democrats put up as their nominee.”

RABA is a reasonably new polling outfit claiming bipartisan roots, founded in 2016 by Republican media strategist Kim Alfano and Democratic campaign consultant Brad Anderson, among others. Their polls have been cited by FiveThirtyEight, Politico and NBC News, among others, though their record is slim thus far. FiveThirtyEight has assessed just two of their polls, giving them only a C rating, and a very slight Democratic lean.

This survey does not take the usual “likely voters” track for Democrats; instead, it redistributes weight between super voters and new voters, with those who indicated the potential to vote in the August 28 primary. Among those surveyed, 79 percent they were almost certain they would vote, 10 percent said probably, and 11 percent said there was a 50-50 chance.

RABA reported a margin of error of 3.8 percent for overall results.

Two things this poll has in common with one conducted by the Republican-leaning political research organization Let’s Preserve The American Dream earlier this month while differing from many other polls: the overall conclusion that Levine and Graham are in front, in a very tight race; and a survey sample that took in a large percentage of female voters – 59 percent in the RABA survey. That’s reflective of the past two Democratic primaries in Florida, in which women made up 60 percent of the turnout.

Levine’s been running TV commercials almost all year; Graham started hers, only in the I-4 corridor, early this month; and King launched his statewide in April. Greene launched a huge ad buy this week, after the survey.

Among other findings:

— Graham was the only Democrat that had a majority of respondents having formed an opinion about her, but just barely — 52 percent.

— She also had the best favorable/unfavorable ratio in the pack, with 43 percent saying they had a favorable opinion of her, and 9 percent an unfavorable opinion. Levine’s ratio was 36 to 13 percent; King was 29 to 11 percent; Gillum was 26 to 10 percent. Greene, who might have been remembered by respondents at that point last week only for his failed 2010 U.S. Senate campaign in which he found himself fighting off several negative stories, registered 11 percent favorable, 21 percent unfavorable, with a huge 68 percent saying they are not sure.

— Just 29 percent said Florida was heading in the right direction, 48 percent in the wrong direction, and 23 percent said they were not sure.

— The cross-tab breakouts showed standings in all 10 Florida media markets, with Levine doing well in most of South Florida; Graham in Orlando and much of the Panhandle; Levine leading Graham comfortably in Tampa; Gillum holding down Tallahassee; and King with sizable advantages in Jacksonville and Gainesville, while also slightly leading Levine in West Palm Beach, Greene’s home turf.

Bill Nelson goes after Rick Scott as ‘Oil Slick Rick’ in digital ad

Earlier in the week, the U.S. Senate campaign of Republican Gov. Rick Scott launched a new TV commercial accusing Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson of going negative, even though Nelson hadn’t actually done that, yet.

Now he has.

Nelson is releasing a one-minute digital ad Thursday called “Oil Slick,” dubbing the governor “Oil Slick Rick” while accusing him of having supported offshore drilling around Florida until he only recently changed his mind as a political stunt as he prepared to run for the Senate.

This is only Nelson’s second digital ad of his re-election campaign and he has yet to launch a television commercial, battling against Scott who has put up a half-dozen statewide television commercials, including the one accusing Nelson of having gone negative.

Rick Scott‘s campaign responded by disputing Nelson’s claims that he sponsored the moratorium on off-shore drilling, or that he was even intimately familiar with it while it was moving. Scott’s campaign Press Secretary Lauren Schenone charged that Nelson distorted the facts, and that it was Scott who got drilling off the table [a status that Nelson’s people have insisted remains uncertain.]

The Nelson campaign did not provide any details about the ad buy behind the video.

Nelson’s first ad was almost entirely biographical, making no mention of Scott.

The new one stars Scott.

In addition to the digital ad, Nelson’s campaign also launched some other internet properties including “Scott Is Not For Florida” accounts on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram that feature a logo that mimics Scott’s official U.S. Senate election campaign logo.

In Nelson’s new digital ad, there is almost no audio, other than plucky background music that plays as video provides shots of Scott, offshore drilling, animation of an oil spill, and the Deep Water Horizon/BP disaster of 2010. Meanwhile, text declares:

“Oil companies have Florida in their sights. Scott supported offshore drilling. Even after the BP Oil Spill.”

Then a brief audio-video clip, the only one in the spot, from an undated event, shows Scott saying, “Offshore drilling is an option.”

Return to plucky music. “Now in this election year, ‘Oil Slick’ Rick pretended to be a hero,” the text picks up. “But the media uncovered the real story. It was a political stunt.”

The ad cuts to a photograph of Scott mugging with President Donald Trump, heads together, smiling, and then to a quote from the South Florida Sun-Sentinel: “If you think President Trump and Gov. Scott are playing election-year politics with drilling, you’re right.”

The text then states: “Bill Nelson actually wrote the bipartisan law that makes it illegal to drill off of Florida’s coast,” and then goes back to the Sun Sentinel’s statement, “On offshore drilling, only Bill Nelson has earned Floridians’ trust.”

Finally, comes the tagline that might emerge as the slogan for Nelson’s re-election campaign — “Bill Nelson puts Florida first, always has, always will.”

“The only way for Bill Nelson to present himself as a lifelong advocate against offshore oil drilling is to distort the facts, and the fact is that Bill Nelson not only didn’t write the bill that created the moratorium, he was the only Gulf Coast senator to not co-sponsor it,” Schenone responded in a written statement. “It’s also a fact that when Obama needed the support, it was Bill Nelson who was willing to put partisan politics first and change his position to support oil drilling closer to Florida’s shores. Now, because of Gov. Scott’s efforts, offshore drilling is off the table, but Bill Nelson refuses to celebrate, or even accept, this reality. While Bill Nelson continues to grandstand and distract from the truth, Gov. Scott will stay focused on securing real solutions to protect our environment.”

Darryl Block wins AFL-CIO endorsement in HD 29 race

Florida House candidate Darryl Block has received the endorsement of the Florida AFL-CIO heading toward the Democratic Democratic primary to run in House District 29.

It’s the second endorsement Block recently has picked up, following the blessing he received from Democratic state Sen. Victor Torres of Orlando.

Block, a Lake Mary lawyer, social worker and mediator, is battling with Longwood lawyers Tracey Kagan and Patrick Brandt for the August 28 Democratic primary nomination. The prize is the task of facing longtime Republican incumbent state Rep. Scott Plakon in the general election.

In a news release issued by his campaign, Block said he was thrilled to receive the backing of the labor union with more than 1 million members, retirees and their families. Block expressed his commitment to serve working families and veterans and be a strong advocate of employee rights, pay equality, environmental protection, public schools and sensible gun-control legislation, and to advocate for Puerto Ricans in Central Florida.

Block also slammed Plakon for his bill last winter setting new regulations on teachers unions and other public employee unions.

“The action taken this week by the AFL-CIO is just the beginning of our battle to bring fairness and equity to Florida workers, who have been ignored for far too long by a hostile Legislature,” Block stated in the release. “I look forward to joining my fellow progressives in championing workers’ rights in Tallahassee.”

Florida Family Action backs Adam Putnam

Republican Adam Putnam received the backing of John Stemberger‘s staunchly-Christian-conservative Florida Family Action as a “distinct honor and privilege” and spoke at least generally about supporting the group’s hardline anti-abortion positions.

At a news conference with board leaders of Florida Family Action and others at Stemberger’s office in Orlando Wednesday, Putnam also stressed his support for the group’s efforts to address human trafficking, children “orphaned” by opioid abuse, and caring for children and families. Putnam also spoke strongly about values, saying “Florida has to be strong inside and out,” and the state needs to “envoke the partnership and leverage the power of the faith-based community.”

For that, he repeated a proposal he made in May to create an “Office of Faith-Based and Community-Based Initiatives” within the governor’s office to work with churches and other faith-based groups on matters ranging from caring for the homeless to storm relief efforts.

Putnam’s proposal was one of the cornerstones of the “First Families Agenda” platform he introduced at the time.

Putnam declined to directly answer questions about whether his positions align with Florida Family Action, and it’s parent organization, the Florida Family Policy Council, on gay rights, a topic that has seen the organizations taking staunch opposition stances against what it calls the “homosexual agenda.” He replied by speaking of the need to defend religious rights, but neither offered support nor opposition to gay marriage or other rights earned or sought by the LGBTQ community and opposed by Florida Family Action.

That organization is the political arm of Stemberger’s Florida Family Policy Council, arguably the state’s leading Christian-conservative political organization.

Putnam claims a lifetime 100 percent National Right to Life rating and a 98 percent Family Research Council rating.

“I believe that we do have to defend and protect life in the state of Florida,” he said.

Stemberger, who also announced his personal endorsement of Putnam, said that was his organization’s impression as well, saying, “We believe he will fight to protect human life at every stage.”

Putnam got the endorsement over his Republican rival U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis after both made presentations in May at the group’s annual gala.

“It’s become clear to us that Adam Putnam is the clear choice for Florida’s future,” Stemberger said. “The next Governor of Florida needs to be a proven leader who knows Florida. No one knows Florida backwards and forwards, policy, people, demographics more than Adam Putnam.”

From the two organizations, Stemberger pledged to aid Putnam with broad support, with help from “thousands, hundreds of thousands of our volunteers statewide, from Pensacola to Miami, to educate and mobilize millions of Christian voters.”

Stembeger added: “He shares our faith and he shares our values, but, just as important, he would respect the right of those that don’t share our faith, and don’t share our values.”

A gay rights question followed, asking Putnam to clarify if his values and positions align with those of Florida Family Action.

“We have to build a state with strong families. It begins with defending life, defending marriage, and supporting the very pillars of our community and our society that allow our community to flourish,” Putnam replied. “That means discrimination ought not to be tolerated, and that includes discrimination toward the pulpit, and towards religious freedom, and religious liberty. And we strive to make sure that no one including our churches are discriminated against.”

Next, Putnam asked if he would support the anti-discrimination against gays bills that have been introduced in the Florida Legislature in recent years, and he replied, “I think it’s important to see what that looks like when it hits the desk. But we, I, am focused on making sure that we protect the balance that doesn’t include discrimination including discrimination against religious liberty.”

Florida’s Democratic gubernatorial candidates planning to march together in Homestead

Four and potentially all five of Florida’s Democratic gubernatorial candidates could wind up marching arm-in-arm – at least metaphorically – in Homestead this weekend at a rally protesting President Donald Trump‘s policy to separate immigrant children from their families.

In quick order Wednesday morning, in a line of falling campaign dominoes, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum announced he would be clearing his schedule to go to Homestead for the rally, former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham declared on Twitter they should march together, and businessman Chris King declared that he couldn’t agree more.

Former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine also has decided to march in Homestead the Saturday, according to his campaign.

Businessman Jeff Greene, in an airplane headed for Tallahassee late Wednesday morning, hadn’t weighed in yet, but his staff indicated his potential support.

“This Saturday we have decided to cancel our other events to march in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in South Florida. This moral crisis demands our leaders stand up to this outrage in unequivocal terms, and we will not turn away from what the Trump Administration is doing to these families,” Gillum announced in a press release Wednesday morning.

“@MayorLevine, @AndrewGillum, @ChrisKingFL and @JeffGreeneFL, we should do this together. This issue is bigger than any of our individual campaigns and we can send a louder message to @realDonaldTrump by standing together to resist it,” Graham tweeted.

“Couldn’t agree more. I’ll be there,” King tweeted back.

They’re planning to attend the “March to Keep Families Together” being organized in part by the ACLU Florida for 4 p.m. Saturday. It’s part of a nationwide set of rallies and marches against Trump’s policy of separating families caught crossing the border and sending the children by themselves to detention centers.

The march will focus on the federal Homestead Temporary Shelter for Unaccompanied Children, a detention center with a reported 1,000 beds, where at least 94 children stripped from their parents at the border are being held. It’s the same place where U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson and U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, both Democrats, were refused entry Tuesday when they sought to check on the welfare of the children inside.

All five Democratic gubernatorial candidates have issued strong condemnations of the practice, which evolved out of the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance policy” on illegal immigration launched in April, resulting in reports of more than 2,000 children being stripped from their parents and sent to live in mass detention centers while the government prosecutes their parents for deportation. Many Republicans including Gov. Rick Scott also have condemned the practice. With the Republican gubernatorial candidates, Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam has given mixed messages on his position, while U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis has said families should be kept together.

For the Democrats, heading to Homestead means, as Gillum pointed out in his announcement, a necessity to clear schedules. That includes for at least a couple of them canceling appearances at the St. Petersburg Pride event on Saturday.

How close the Democrats will march, together or just within eyesight of one another, remains to be seen.

“I think we would like to march arm and arm with them,” King’s spokesman Avery Jaffe said. “I think that would be a great visual. But we’ll be down there.”

Gwen Graham’s new TV spot focuses on Medicaid expansion

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gwen Graham is launching her second television commercial today — once again only in Tampa Bay and Orlando — and pushing hard for Medicaid expansion in Florida.

Her latest 30-second spot, “Absolute,” begins like a dramatic movie trailer with pounding music and flashing images of Tallahassee and someone being rushed on a hospital gurney, as Graham begins, “It’s disgusting what’s going on in Tallahassee. It didn’t used to be this way.”

That cuts to the obligatory reference and images of Graham’s father, former Gov. and U.S. Sen Bob Graham, as a narrator reminds viewers that he expanded health care and then noting that it’s now up to his daughter.

Gwen Graham, the former congresswoman from Tallahassee, then declares, “It is an absolute failure of the Republican Legislature that we haven’t taken Medicaid expansion. We will take Medicaid expansion.”

She also states another wish, a little vaguer and somewhat less of a pledge: “And every Floridian should be able to buy into the same type of insurance that Tallahassee politicians get.”

Graham has pledged to work with the Legislature to expand health care, and she has said she would take it directly to the voters with a state constitutional amendment if the Legislature refuses to act.

“Medicaid expansion is critical to our state. As governor, I will work with the Legislature to expand health care — and if they won’t, I will veto their priorities until they are willing to listen to the priorities of everyday Floridians,” Graham stated in a news release about her new TV commercial. “And if the Legislature refuses to act, I believe the people of Florida will do their job for them.”

Graham faces Jeff Greene, Philip Levine, Andrew Gillum, and Chris King in the August 28 Democratic primary. Greene, Levine, and King have been running statewide television commercials, while, so far, Graham has appeared content to concentrate on capturing the I-4 corridor, from where much of the Democratic vote came in the 2014 and 2016 primaries.

Gillum’s campaign has not yet gone up on television, although a national political committee supporting him ran statewide ads for him earlier this spring.

The winner gets to take on the Republican nominee, either Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam or U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis.

Tyler Sirois picks up Business Voice endorsement in HD 51 race

Republican Tyler Sirois has received the endorsement of the Business Voice Political Committee, a group representing a broad cross-section of Brevard County businesses and entrepreneurs, in his quest to be elected to the House District 51 seat, his campaign announced.

Five candidates are running for the seat opening up because incumbent Republican state Rep. Tom Goodson is leaving due to term limits. So far, only Sirois, of Merritt Island, and Democrat Mike Blake of Cocoa have qualified for the ballot. Also running are Cocoa Mayor Henry Parrish, a Republican; Thomas O’Neill, a Republican; and Shain Honkonen, who is running as an independent candidate.

In a letter to Sirois, Business Voice Political Committee Chairman Larry McIntyre and Executive Director Kathryn Rudloff jointly declared that “due to your commitment to bring common sense leadership to Tallahassee and support local job creators, we believe you are the right choice to represent the Space Coast.”

HD 51 includes Cape Canaveral, Cocoa, Cocoa Beach, Merritt Island, and Rockledge in Brevard County.

“On the Space Coast, job creators and employers want to see a greater emphasis placed on vocation and technical skills in our public schools,” Sirois stated in a news release. “Parents want their kids prepared to enter the workforce and participate in the economy. The support of Business Voice underscores the importance of this message, and I am grateful for their support.”

Florida Democrats petition Rick Scott to acknowledge climate change harm

Responding to press reports that his holdings include large investments in fossil fuel companies, the Florida Democratic Party is launching a petition drive demanding that Gov. Rick Scott acknowledge the harmful effects of climate change on Florida.

“Rick Scott has denied climate change and the effects it has on Florida families, despite mounting scientific evidence. Now, Floridians know why — Rick Scott has enriched himself by heavily investing in companies opposed to climate change regulations. Sign this petition – tell him to finally stand up for Floridians and stop using his position as governor to benefit himself,” reads the petition.

The Democrats are responding to press reports Tuesday published in the Tampa Bay Times, which dove into his most recent available financial disclosures and then cross-checked his investments against policy positions on climate change held by the companies in his portfolio. The Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau [the partnership of the Times and the Miami Herald] reported that crosscheck found “a clear aversion to regulating greenhouse gases among companies that made up Scott’s portfolio the last time it was disclosed four years ago,” the Times reported.

Scott’s next round of financial disclosures, much more detailed under federal law, are due next month.

“We always knew Rick Scott was a climate denier, but now we have a clearer picture as to why,” Democrats’ spokesman Nate Evans stated in a news release issued by the state party Wednesday morning. “In true self-serving Scott form, he has millions of dollars in investments in companies that have directly advocated against climate change regulation. It’s time that Scott, who has continued to get richer at taxpayer’s expense, put Florida’s best interest first and finally acknowledge the harmful impacts that climate change is having on the state.”

The Democrats included references to past statements from Scott questioning climate change and reports that his administration has banned the term “climate change” from appearing in official state documents.

Scott is running for the U.S. Senate this year against incumbent Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson. Scott’s campaign responded with this statement:

“Governor Scott put his assets in a blind trust to avoid conflicts of interest when he was first elected and that hasn’t changed. The Governor also signed one of the largest environmental protection budgets in Florida’s history this year, which invested $4 billion into Florida’s environment and included millions of dollars to help local governments with sea level rise planning. While Nelson and his fellow democrats continue to be all talk, Governor Scott remains focused on securing real solutions to protect our environment.”

‘This practice needs to stop now,’ Rick Scott says of taking away children

“This practice needs to stop now,” declared Gov. Rick Scott in strong opposition to President Donald Trump‘s immigration policy leading to the separation of children from families,

In a letter Tuesday to Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, Scott claimed no direct knowledge of what is going on at the Homestead Temporary Shelter for Unaccompanied Children, citing only “unconfirmed reports” that it may be housing children forcibly taken from their parents under Trump’s new zero-tolerance policy against undocumented immigrants.

But the Republican governor also made it clear he breaks with Trump and much of the Republican Party regarding the continuation of the policy, which has led immigration officials to split up families and send the children, even toddlers and babies, to live in big detention centers alone, while their parents are held and prosecuted somewhere else for illegally entering the country and prepared for deportation.

“I have been very clear that I absolutely do not agree with the practice of separating children from their families,” Scott wrote. “This practice needs to stop now.”

However, he did not make it clear whom exactly he is blaming. He concluded the letter by writing, “It is extremely frustrating that, after decades of inaction by the federal government, many innocent children are now paying the price for the failures of Washington. Congress must address our immigration system immediately.”

Scott asked the federal department to immediately notify federal, state, and local officials of undocumented children, separated from parents, who are coming to or placed in Florida. Scott also inquired about providing health care, education, and social services.

He also offered Florida’s help to reunite children with their parents.

Scott did not call for closure of the Homestead facility, nor did he make any references to events earlier Tuesday when Florida’s U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson — Scott’s Democratic opponent in this year’s U.S. Senate election — and U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz were denied entry into the facility to see how the children being housed there are doing.

Nelson’s re-election campaign spokesman Ryan Brown was unimpressed with Scott’s letter, saying if he wanted the policy to change, he communicated with the wrong federal official.

“President Trump could end this policy with the stroke of a pen,” Ryan said in a written statement. “If Gov. Scott really cared about these kids, he would have written this letter to Trump asking him to end this policy instead of asking HHS to confirm what we all already know.”

Reportedly, the Homestead center now has space for up to 1,000 children. What is unclear is how many individuals are actually being held there, and how many were actually separated from their parents. Scott noted in his letter that the facility had been used in the past to house minors who had crossed the border unaccompanied by parents. A wave of such migration infamously occurred in 2015, and many of the unaccompanied children who were detained then were sent to Homestead.

Nelson reported Tuesday afternoon that federal officials confirmed to him that 94 of the children currently held in Homestead were separated from their families.

In his letter, Scott expressed no direct knowledge of those children.

“In February of this year, the federal government notified Congress, including Florida’s congressional delegation, and state and local officials that they were planning to reopen the shelter in Homestead,” he wrote. “Recently, we received unconfirmed reports that this facility is now potentially holding children who have been forcibly removed from their families as a result of President Donald Trump’s zero-tolerance policy toward illegal entry into the United States.

“Reunifying the children who have been separated from their families is very important, and the State of Florida stands ready to assist in this process,” Scott continued. “Please inform me on any measures the state can facilitate to help the reunification process.”

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