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Scott Powers

Republican anti-Donald Trump group launches new Vladimir Putin ad

The Stand Up Republic campaign run by two former Republican insiders has come out with another internet video ad blistering President Donald Trump‘s relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin, an ad produced by Florida Republican operative Rick Wilson.

The ad begins with unflattering pictures of Putin and Trump with the declaration, “When America is under threat, we come together,” and concludes with a pitch for people to support the Russian sanctions measure Senate Bill 341, passed overwhelmingly by the U.S. Senate but languishing in the U.S. House of Representatives.

The ad comes from Stand Up Republic, the 501 (c) (4) committee established at the beginning of this year by former conservative independent presidential and vice presidential candidates Evan McMullin and Mindy Finn, who both had longtime ties with the Republican Party. It was produced by Intrepid Media and Wilson, the Republican operative behind last year’s #NotTrump campaign.

As Putin’s picture appears, the text quotes the Washington Post, “An unprecedented and largely successful destabilizing attack on American Democracy,” and the narrator declares, “American intelligence confirms that Russia tried to manipulate our elections, and Putin ordered it.” As Trump’s picture appears, the text reads, “Trump White House Protecting Russia on Sanctions,” as the narrator declares, “President Trump refuses to stand up.”

It then notes the Senate passed SB 341 by a 97-2 vote, as the narrator says, “But Americans are calling for Action.” And then she declares, “It’s the Constitutional duty of House Republicans to defend the nation.”

More than 28,000 Venezuelans in Central Florida vote to oppose Nicolás Maduro in straw poll

The rapidly-growing Venezuelan community in Central Florida sent a message home and to Florida and American politicians with a vote Sunday they said drew more than 28,000 people who waited hours in line at six poling places to vote overwhelmingly to condemn the government and policy of that country’s dictator Nicolás Maduro.

Led by radio show host William Diaz of Orlando, who also is Central Florida director of Mesa de la Unidad Democratica, a unified coalition of Venezuelan political parties, the straw poll more than quadrupled the turnout expected by organizers of Central Florida refugees and Venezuelan-American permanent residents and naturalized American citizens.

“Locally, we were prepared to get about 6,000 votes,” Diaz said  at a press conference held Tuesday at the Saint Issac Jogues Catholic Church in southeast Orange County.

The referendum was quasi-official, as it was organized and directed internationally by the opposition parties within Venezuela,

Statewide almost 150,000 votes were cast Sunday, and 700,000 total internationally in the straw poll, said Venezuelan refugee Samuel Vilchez.

“The results are incredible,” Diaz said.

All but five of the 28,328 votes cast in Central Florida, backed by signatures, Venezuelan identification numbers and thumb prints, voted yes on three questions that essentially declared opposition to Maduro and called for restoration of the country’s previous constitution, Diaz said.

Whether that message might have any affect on Maduro and his government, Diaz and others gathered for a press conference announcing the results said it should announce to the world how strong and determined the refugee community is in Florida, particularly in Central Florida.

“I know and I understand we have a new voting power in Central Florida, the Venezuelans” said Luis Figueroa, an official with the Puerto Rican Chamber of Commerce of Central Florida who volunteered to be a poll observer.

“It was really motivating, it was inspiring, to see so many people passionate about their country, passionate about their freedom, passionate about their family members who are still back there, and hoping, some day, to go back to their country as a free country,” said state Rep. Rene Plasencia, an Orlando Republican.

The resulting turnout led to long lines, but people were patient and eager to vote, Figueroa said He said he knew one woman who waited in line more than six hours and was happy to do so. The polling places were set to close at 5 but at least one stayed open until 10 p.m. The organizers quickly ran out of ballots and kept nearby Office Depot and Staples very busy on Sunday, they said. Nearby restaurants like a Panera’s Bread were swamped.

Diaz and Vilchez said the Venezuelan community got plenty of assistance from non Venezuelans such as Plasencia and Figueroa, from Cubans, Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, Mexicans and Anglo-Americans to run the polls on Sunday.

The vote also was a coming out for the strength and unity of the Venezuelan community, Diaz said. He said there were thousands of people who came who could not vote because they were too young, or because, for various reasons, they could not qualify, and estimated there were 50,000 people who showed up at the polling places. Therefore, he estimated 100,000 Venezuelans live in Central Florida.

“I was here on Sunday morning and I was completely floored by what I saw. It was incredible,” Plasencia said. “To see the number of people voting, from one country, in one day, I was awestruck.”

The rapid expansion of the Venezuelan community has been apparent to local officials. Earlier this month the Orange County Public Schools said Venezuela is now the top origin of transfer students from outside the United States, ahead of Puerto Rico. Likewise, Orange County Tax Collector Scott Randolph said his driver’s license bureaus have seen dramatic numbers of people from Venezuela seeking driver’s licenses.


Sam Allen seeks to push ACA in challenge of Daniel Webster

Republican U.S. Rep. Daniel Webster has picked up a Democratic challenger in Florida’s 11th Congressional District, with Samuel Allen seeking to make the Affordable Care Act the centerpiece of his campaign.

Allen, 30, of Tavares, is a telecommunications specialist who once ran unsuccessfully for town council in Howie-in-the-Hills in Lake County,

While he’s ready to campaign on issues such as education, particularly higher education, he said the Republican health care bills and attacks on the Affordable Care Act motivated him to run, and will be the foundation of his challenge of Webster, a four-term member of Congress who’ll be seeking his second term representing CD 11, which covers of Lake, Sumter, Marion, Citrus and Hernando counties in west-central Florida.

This is an overwhelmingly Republican district, as the GOP has a 15 point advantage in voter registration, according to the Cook Partisan Voting Index. In 2016, his first run in CD 11 after moving from neighboring Florida’s 10th Congressional District, Webster drew 65 percent of the vote against a Democrat and an independent.

Allen does not yet have any political consultants, nor any campaign insurance short of his Howie-in-the-Hills run in 2004.

“The reason I’m running is I believe the Affordable Care Act is something to be built upon. What has been put forth in both the House and the Senate is atrocious,” Allen said. “What it will do for Floridians, is not OK. I’ve decided to run to make changes for the 11th District of Florida, and for all Americans.”

His plan: expanding Medicaid to allow a tiered buy-in by people who make too much money to qualify for Medicaid now.

“I think that will be not only helpful, but it would be the most cost effective way to make sure that health care is affordable and available for all Americans,” Allen said.

Webster held out for a long time this spring before voting yes on the American Health Care Plan, which was approved by the House of Representatives 217-213, but has been ignored so far in the U.S. Senate.

“Dan Webster showed himself, with the health care act,” Allen said.

Allen is married with three children, and is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in history from Arizona State University.


Andrew Gillum tells Orange Democrats its time for leaders to take on difficult conversations

Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum told Orange County Democrats Monday night that the party needs a Democrat with courage to espouse Democratic values if it wants a chance to win the governor’s office next year.

Gillum, speaking before perhaps 200 people gathered at the Orange County Democratic executive committee meeting, charged that Democrats have not been able to win the governor’s office because they have run candidates who show fear, who were not unapologetic advocates for the party’s values.

It is time, he said for leaders to have difficult conversations.

Gillum faces former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham of Tallahassee and Winter Park developer Chris King for the Democratic nomination. The leading Republican at this stage is Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.

“We need to go out there and tell people, tell people who it is we are, what believe in. that we believe in a strong public education system, that we believe in second changes, that if people make a mistake in their lives they should be able to come back, get a job and make a living for themselves and their families. We shouldn’t be afraid to tell people that we believe in science.

That drew applause.

“And that shouldn’t even be an applause line,” Gillum continued. He went on to describe the need for Democrats to lead the way in Florida on confronting global climate change, and encouraging solar energy, and to build 21st-century transportation infrastructure, and support for the LGBTQ community.

He also spoke of his battle, as Tallahassee mayor, to defend a city ordinance forbidding people from shooting guns in a city park. So far, Tallahassee has won court battles in the district and appeals level, against what he said was the gun lobby “that has run roughshod over public policy.”

“I said, we’ll see you in the Supreme Court, if that’s where you want to take us,” Gillum said. “You all, we have to stop rolling over and being afraid. The Second Amendment, the Second Amendment, the Second Amendment can sit side by side with common sense gun law reform.

“It will require us to stop being silent. What are we afraid of? Are our lives not important enough for us to stand up and say I deserve to be recognized to advocate laws to protect me and my children?” he said.

“We should be able to look into our children’s eyes to speak words of affirmation and hope and encouragement to them. And then to be able to rest at night that we’ve done the difficult work to make the hopes and aspirations of those children come true,” he added.

A governor, he said, should be measured by the answer to the question, “How are the children doing?”

Rick Scott reassigns 2 more Aramis Ayala cases, involving alleged child killers

Gov. Rick Scott has reassigned the cases of two women accused of abusing a three-year-old Orange County boy to death, transferring their cases from Orlando’s State Attorney Aramis Ayala to Ocala’s State Attorney Brad King.

The transfers are like more than 20 others the governor has reassigned from Ayala to King since March, when Ayala, the elected state attorney for Florida’s 9th Judicial Circuit, said she would not pursue the death penalty in any murder cases in her district under Florida’s current laws.

This time the transferred cases involve an incident that occurred earlier this year, in which Callene M. Barton and Lakesha C. Lewis were arrested for allegedly beating the pre-school son of their other roommate with a window blind rod, and then throwing him down a flight of stairs. The boy died.

Scott’s authority to reassign such cases, and Ayala’s authority to refuse to pursue death penalty prosecutions, are in the hands of the Florida Supreme Court. The two took to the Supreme Court to battle out what outside interests have called a major case defining the powers of elected state attorneys and governors. The two made their oral arguments last week. A decision could come any day.

The case and the stakes involved have divided legal and lawmaking authorities, not just in Florida but nationally.

Lewis, 28, was booked earlier this month on charges of first-degree murder and aggravated child abuse.

Barton, 58, was booked earlier this month on charges of first-degree murder, aggravated child abuse, and tampering with a witness.

Anna Eskamani draws 10 Democratic lawmakers’ endorsements in HD 47

Democratic candidate Anna Eskamani announced the endorsements Monday of 10 Democratic members of the Florida House of Representatives in her bid for Florida’s House District 47.

In addition to the endorsements from Democratic state Reps. Amy Mercado and Carlos Guillermo Smith of Orlando, announced earlier, the backing comes from Democratic state Reps. John Cortes of Kissimmee, Daisy Baez of Coral Gables, Emily Slosberg of Delray Beach, Evan Jenne of Hollywood, Lori Berman of Boynton Beach, Robert Ascencio of Miami, Sean Shaw of Tampa and Shevrin Jones of West Park.

Eskamani, or Orlando, filed to run for what would be an open seat representing east-central Orlando including downtown, Winter Park and much of central Orange County. Republican incumbent state Rep. Mike Miller of Winter Park, filed to run for Congress instead of re-election.

Eskamani is the only candidate in the race so far.

“I’ve had the pleasure of working with Anna since she was a UCF College Democrat,” Mercado, a former Orange County Democratic chair, stated in a news release issued by Eskamani’s campaign. “She is an amazing individual who puts all her energy and passion in rolling up her sleeves to fight for community, which is exactly what we need in Tallahassee. She will be an amazing addition to the Florida legislature.”

David Richardson gets support of South Florida LGBTQ group SAVE

South Florida’s foremost LGBTQ community advocacy group, SAVE, has thrown its support behind Democratic state Rep. David Richardson in his run for Congress in Florida’s 27th Congressional District.

Richardson made history in 2012 when he became the first openly-gay person elected to the Florida House of Representatives, then also with the support of SAVE.

In a news release, the organization praised Richardson’s leadership within the Democratic Party and his ability to work across the aisle to produce results, specifically citing his efforts to the criminal justice system and push for gun control laws.

“This endorsement is the earliest SAVE has ever done, because Rep. Richardson is a true champion of equality and the ideal candidate to replace Congresswoman Ros-Lehtinen,” Executive Director at SAVE Tony Lima stated in the release.

Richardson is entering an already crowded field.

“We’ve supported and stood behind Jose Javier Rodriguez and Bruno Barreiro during past elections and we respect their candidacies. However, Rep. Richardson has consistently advocated for the LGBTQ community and, just as importantly, he has been able to get policy passed even while in the minority party,” added Lima.

SAVE stated it already has begun planning fundraisers and organizing an army of volunteers to support Richardson in his historic bid for Congress.

Bruno Portigliatti out with first TV spot of HD 44 special election

Republican Bruno Portigliatti has launched his first TV commercial of the House District 44 campaign, an introductory spot declaring, “Now, you know Bruno.”

The spot is airing on the Fox News channel on the Spectrum cable network in Orlando.

“Do you know Bruno?” the playful spot begins, followed by Portigliatti himself smiling, almost laughing, responding, “Yeah, I know Bruno.”

Bruno faces John Newstreet, Bobby Olszewski, and Usha Jain in the Aug. 15 primary to fill the vacant HD 44 seat representing southwest Orange County. The winner will face Democratic nominee Paul Chandler in the Oct. 10 general election to replace former state Rep. Eric Eisnaugle, who resigned this spring.

The 30-second ad, done by Consensus Communications in Orlando, then follows with several neighborly-looking people standing on front porches or a sidewalk declaring, “Bruno’s in my church.” “Bruno’s an experienced businessman.” “He’s not the politician that the establishment wants.”

The narrator then declares him to be conservative, someone who shares the values of lower taxes, less red tape, better schools, and better roads.

“There are a lot of politicians on the ballot,” Portigliatti declares, with a laugh. “But I’m the only Bruno.”


Space groups hailing appointment of Scott Pace as National Space Council executive

While Vice President Mike Pence prepares to take over American space policy as chairman of the resurrected National Space Council, space exploration advocates are hailing his choice as the panel’s executive secretary, Scott Pace.

Pace is a former space policy advisor in the administration of President George W. Bush and an academic who currently is director of George Washington University’s Space Policy Institute, one of the leading space policy think tanks in the world.

“Scott is a leader who will serve the National Space Council well. We look forward to working closely with Scott and the rest of the NSC to advance the United States space enterprise by leveraging the U.S. commercial space industry’s vision, investment, and innovation,” Commercial Spaceflight Federation Chairman Alan Stern, a former NASA official who was the leader of the recent Pluto exploration mission, said in a written statement. The federation represents companies such as SpaceX, Blue Origin and Space Florida.

Mary Lynne Dittmar, president and CEO of the Coalition for Deep Space Exploration, which represents companies such as Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and Orbital ATK, said Pace will bring a “trusted perspective to the council.”

“Dr. Pace’s unique combination of experience in government, the private sector, and academia, and his internationally-recognized expertise in space policy, make him an exemplary selection,” she said in a written statement. “Scott has long been a supporter of NASA’s deep space human exploration, science, and technology programs and of space commerce, and is a recognized leader supporting U.S. geopolitical interests in space.”

The White House announced late Thursday that Pace would be the day-to-day guy behind the National Space Council, which is being reactivated this summer for the first time since 1993.

Pence was at Kennedy Space Center last week, and besides infamously placing his hands on a spacecraft with a sign reading “Do not touch,” he impressed the NASA audience there with his promises to re-energize America’s space programs, to fully commit to a human trip to Mars, and to return to the moon in the meantime.

Pace also served as an associate administrator at NASA in the 2000s, and as a policy analyst with the RAND Corporation’s Science and Technology Policy Institute.

[Photo by and courtesy of William Atkins/The George Washington University.]


Val Demings sharing Central Florida ACA stories

U.S. Rep. Val Demings is responding to the latest U.S. Senate health care bill by soliciting, gathering, videotaping and posting stories of Central Florida residents helped by the Affordable Care Act.

The stories begin with one about someone identified only as a Central Florida small business owner named Kirk, who begins his testimonial by complaining that the price of health insurance had climbed too high, but says he came to appreciate it when he got stage-four bladder cancer.

“When I was diagnosed with that, we were on the ACA,” Kirk said. “By having that insurance coverage in place already, that’s really what helped me survive. Before the ACA, I would have lost my insurance. I would have lost my health care.

“So the laws ACA put in place helped protect people like me to not be discriminated against just because we are sick. It’s not any fault of my own because I have cancer,” Kirk states. “I look at the future and think, ‘What’s going to happen if these protections for pre-existing conditions are taken away?’ It scares me. It scares me to death, quite literally.”

Kirk’s video is one of 10 that Demings has gathered so far that she intends to share on social media, according to a press release from her office.

Demings, a Democrat from Orlando, said she wants to work with Republicans and Democrats to fix the current health care laws, not to repeal them.

“It was so important for me to hear the stories from people in Central Florida who have been affected by the ACA, whether their experience has been positive or negative,” Demings stated in the release. “We know the ACA is not perfect, but let’s work together to make it better, and I’m hoping by sharing some of these stories I can show why that is so important.”

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