Scott Powers, Author at Florida Politics - Page 2 of 162

Scott Powers

Scott Powers is an Orlando-based political journalist with 30+ years’ experience, mostly at newspapers such as the Orlando Sentinel and the Columbus Dispatch. He covers local, state and federal politics and space news across much of Central Florida. His career earned numerous journalism awards for stories ranging from the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster to presidential elections to misplaced nuclear waste. He and his wife Connie have three grown children. Besides them, he’s into mystery and suspense books and movies, rock, blues, basketball, baseball, writing unpublished novels, and being amused. Email him at scott@floridapolitics.com.

Seminole County lawmakers want response from Duke Energy

Seminole County Florida lawmakers have sent a protest letter to Duke Energy for not meeting its electricity restoration goals and state Rep. Bob Cortes has asked Duke officials to attend a county delegation meeting Tuesday to look into delays.

“Eight days after Hurricane Irma blew through our districts, the struggle for residents and businesses to get back to normal continues to be painfully exasperated by the lack of power. We are disappointed that Duke Energy has not made good on its promise to be fully restored by Sunday night, and we are concerned that sufficient progress has not been made toward its new goal of Monday night,” opens the letter written by state Rep. Bob Cortes of Altamonte Springs as the Seminole County delegation chair and also representing state Sen. David Simmons of Altamonte Springs, and state Reps. Scott Plakon of Longwood and Jason Brodeur of Sanford.

And they’re not alone. In neighboring Orange County, Reps. Bruce Antone, Kamia Brown and Carlos Guillermo Smith of Orlando are gathering information on the recovery of neighborhoods on Orange County’s east and west sides, and trying to get people in touch with Duke, especially in critical cases. And state Sen. Randolph Bracy of Oakland said he’s contemplating legislation that would require upgrades and underground wiring for older neighborhoods like Lake Jewell in Apopka that still are without power.

Bracy said he is concerned that the lengthier outages seem to affect the most vulnerable communities in his district, covering western Orange County, and he suspects it’s because of lack of investment in infrastructure upgrades..

“It’s just really disturbing,” Bracy said.

Smith said it is “not acceptable” that Duke has missed its goals, but said he was focusing on helping people get in touch with the company.

Antone and Brown were doing the same, with some successes, such as Tangelo Park, where Antone said about 24 hours after he called, about 20 trucks showed up and got the neighborhood turned back on.

“I’ve reached out to Duke several times. They’ve been fairly responsive. For whatever reason, the trucks show up in the areas I ask about. I want to say that they’re doing everything they can, but it’s a killer not to have power,” Antone said. “I didn’t get mine back until late Saturday.”

As of 3 p.m. Monday, 15,000 Seminole County homes and businesses and 19,000 in Orange County still were without power. Almost all of them are Duke customers, as other utilities have just about fully restored full service. Outside of South and Southwest Florida, and Highlands County, which has unique problems, those are among the largest outages left in Florida.

After Irma blew through the night of Sept 10 and 11, more than 300,000 customers in Orange and more than 100,000 in Seminole had lost power. Duke initially promised power back to all by Sunday, but has revised that target.

Cortes also has been raising questions about Duke’s responsiveness to individual residents and businesses that try to contact Duke, and who have reported receiving faulty information.

“We understand that power restoration after a natural disaster of this magnitude is a herculean task, but Duke Energy’s lack of transparency and effective communication about the situation and IT issues is trying its customers’ patience and eroding their confidence in Duke’s operation,” Cortes’ letter states.

Duke officials are being invited to Tuesday’s meeting in Seminole County to explain the delay of restoration of services there.

Smith also said he hopes House Speaker Richard Corcoran will at least assemble a special committee to examine ramifications of hurricane preparation.

Republicans go after Stephanie Murphy, CD 27 Democrats, on defense bill

National Republicans are launching internet ads attacking Democratic U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy of Winter Park and Democrats running in Florida’s 27th Congressional District over votes against a defense and anti-terrorism spending bill.

The National Republican Campaign Committee is launching four 30-second spots – two against Murphy and two generically against Democrats – that make it look and sound as if their no votes just made America far more vulnerable to terrorist and enemy attacks.

One spot, called “Terror,” begins with frightening images of terrorists and terrorist shootings, bombings and truck-killings, as a narrator declares, in the Murphy version, “Terrorists, determined to kill us, disrupt our way of life, threaten our freedom. The world is a dangerous place. And yet Congresswoman Stephanie Murphy opposed giving our military the necessary resources to keep America safe.”

That ad is running on social media in Murphy’s Florida’s Congressional District 7, in Orange and Seminole counties. The generic version, using the words “Florida Democrats” instead of “Stephanie Murphy, is running in Florida’s 27th Congressional District, in Miami-Dade County.

The other ad is similarly running in both districts, with the same differences.

Called, “Missed Call,” it intersperses shots of a panicked-looking mother and the interior of a trashed and vacant shopping mall while the mother’s telephone call goes unanswered somewhere. The spot then reveals what’s going on, with a shot of a television screen declaring, “Terrorist Attack At North City Mall.”  Then the ad declares, “Rep. Stephanie Murphy voted against funding to combat terrorism.

Both ads refer to House Resolution 3219, the defense spending act, dubbed “Make America Secure Appropriations Act Of Fiscal Year 2018.” The House of Representatives approved the bill in July with an almost completely partisan vote, so split because Republicans had included money for the U.S.-Mexico border wall sought by President Donald Trump.

Murphy voted no, along with 186 other Democrats.

At the time, she charged in a press release that “House Republicans contaminated today’s defense appropriations bill” with the border wall … “once again politicizing our national security.”

“While I would have supported a clean defense bill—especially since I helped write and pass its authorization as a member of the House Armed Services Committee—I cannot fund the president’s ill-conceived wall at the expense of my state,” she added.

Power update: 1.4 million customers still without electricity

More than half of Collier and Lee counties now have power but approximately 100,000 customers in each was without electricity, and 1.4 million statewide Friday evening.

Statewide, more than 87 percent of Florida has the lights – and air conditioning – back on, in the latest report issued by the Florida Office of Emergency Management, as of 1 p.m. Friday.

Collier and Lee, hard hit by Hurricane Irma, saw dramatic improvements in electrical service since Thursday, but still are plagued by widespread outages. So is Monroe County, home of the Florida Keys, where 54 percent still were without power.

Hundreds of thousands of customers – homes and businesses – also were without power throughout the South Florida counties of Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach, but all three have power restored to more than 80 percent.

In Central Florida, Orange County’s outage was limited to 6 percent, or 36,414 homes and businesses, while Brevard County still had no service to 19 percent, or 59,515. Volusia County’s outage is limited to 18 percent, or 51,000, and Seminole County’s to 16 percent, or 34,000.

In Tampa Bay, Pinellas County’s outage was down to 11 percent, or 59,855 customers, while Hillsborough County’s was down to just 5 percent, or 30,415 homes and businesses.

In Duval County, 4 percent, or 19,417 customers, were without power.

Anti-terrorism bill co-introduced by Stephanie Murphy passes House

A bill co-introduced by Democratic U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy of Winter Park to provide money for anti-terrorism workshops for first responders has been approved by the House of Representatives.

The “Joint Counterterrorism Awareness Workshop Series Act of 2017,” House Resolution 3284, also introduced by U.S. Reps. Brian Fitzpatrick, a Pennsylvania Republican, and Dan Donovan, a New York Republican, provides funding for training of federal, state, and local first responders to prevent, prepare for, and respond to a coordinated terrorist attack. The House of Representatives approved it Thursday.

The program has been ongoing since 2011, conducting more than 30 workshops in cities across the country. Orlando hosted one in October, 2014.

“ I know firsthand the difference that highly-skilled, well-prepared first responders can make during a crisis,” Murphy stated in a news release issued by her office. “During the 2016 Pulse nightclub terrorist attack, law enforcement officials, medical professionals and other first responders saved many lives.  Joint Counterterrorism Awareness Workshops will help communities across the country establish effective policies and procedures to prevent, plan for, and respond to a coordinated terrorist attack.”

Chris King: Nursing home tragedy must spur senior housing talks

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chris King is waiting like everyone else for investigative findings about why eight seniors were tragically left to die in a powerless Broward County nursing home in Hurricane Irma’s wake, but as an operator of senior housing facilities he said Friday it’s past time to talk about what to do long term.

King’s Winter Park-based Elevation Financial Group owns or operates numerous senior affordable housing centers in five states including Florida. He has made affordable housing and senior care programs focal points of his campaign since he entered the race for the Democratic nomination in early March.

On Friday, King visited two of the centers his company operates in Orlando and Sanford to meet with residents and staff about how they weathered the storm. Then, in an interview with FloridaPolitics.com, King lashed out over what he described as longtime state neglect of senior housing concerns that he said could have contributed the tragedy at the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills Wednesday morning.

“The Broward tragedy I think is another example exposing what I hope I’m getting across throughout the state, which is for a very long time there’s been very little leadership on housing and on aging issues,” King said.

“My concern is less on what happened in Broward and more the decision making that created that environment, and why we’re still not out of the woods in the larger issues of housing and aging, and why the state is in an absolute crisis,” he added.

King faces Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum and former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham in seeking the Democratic nomination for 2018 election. The leading Republicans are Florida Agriculture Secretary Adam Putnam and state Sen. Jack Latvala of Clearwater.

“For two decades we have had no commitment to housing, to housing excellence, to housing access, to housing affordability. So the only time we really address is when we have a crisis,” King said.

He noted a failed 2006 bill that sought to require backup generators at nursing centers.

“The thing in Broward, as I see, and I’m very cautious not to judge prematurely, but it’s hard to imagine why we couldn’t get a law passed that you have to have full generator support in assisted-living or nursing-care facilities. There seems to be a lot of evidence that that would have prevented this,” he said.

King’s company does not operate either assisted-living or nursing-care facilities. Still, he expressed some empathy for the operators of such facilities, noting they face tremendous challenges with both preparing for and staffing during hurricanes.

“We’ll figure out the facts in Broward, and whether there was neglect or patterns. We’ll figure that out. What I’m looking at from my position, is was there any systemic lack of leadership?” King said. “My challenge as the storm was coming this way is I have communities in five states, but I have 900 senior affordable homes in Florida, all down the I-4 corridor…. So we had a pretty massive, comprehensive effort to protect all of those people.”

One of the properties his company manages, Lutheran Residences in St. Petersburg, was evacuated. One, Serenity Towers on the St. John’s in Sanford, lost power for 14 hours. He said they had no injuries at either.

“The important thing is systems can break and things can go wrong, and power can go out, and storms can hit, and employees can not show up. As a business leader, I appreciate all the things [that can happen,] and you’re responsible. And so you do the best you can and hope and pray and you hold your breath. But better results come when there are redundancies and when there is a commitment to excellence,” he said.

Florida Keys still closed; ‘different kind of lifestyle for a while’

The lower Florida Keys were hammered in special ways by Hurricane Irma and remain closed to residents, visitors and even more volunteer cleanup workers as authorities try to get them livable, officials said Friday.

An estimated 65 percent of the housing was damaged to the point of being uninhabitable, according to authorities, but residents will not be allowed to cross the bridges to get back in to find out for themselves for the time being.

Water, sewer, electricity and housing stock are in short supply throughout the Keys, particularly in the lower Keys, official said during a meeting with Gov. Rick Scott, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and other local, state and federal disaster response authorities in Marathon. The main port is closed, and numerous boats and other vessels are adrift, clogging channels.

The Florida Department of Transportation has finished its inspections of all 26 bridges leading into the Keys and found them sound and safe. But that’s no longer the overriding issue.

Teams from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Florida Division of Emergency Management, various other state and federal agencies, even the U.S. Navy, are on the scene. And they’ve pretty much filled every available hotel and motel room, said Martin Senterfitt, Monroe County’s director of emergency management.

That means authorities even are turning away some volunteer relief workers, because there’s no place to put them.

“As much as we want help, as much as we need help, we have to  moderate that,” Senterfitt said.

And, he added, the Keys will remain closed until there is confidence residents and others will not come in to find no where to stay, nothing to drink, and no other services.

“Do they have the ability to boil water? Do they have the ability to flush a toilet? It’s that basic,” he said.

Many of the damaged homes appear to have only roof damage, but enough to keep them from being occupied. Yet FEMA and the Florida Division of Emergency Management have challenges in setting up temporary housing, because there is so limited available open land.

The main waterline survived, but most of the feeder lines into the islands were damaged, and they’re being inspected and repaired, but the process is time consuming, officials said.

The sewer lines appear to be fine, but most operate with pumps and lift stations, and with no electricity, most are not operating.

“The biggest need after we get water, power and fuel back, for the Keys, is housing,” Scott said.

Once the gates are opened and everyone is allowed back, a second wave of crisis is expected as each resident and business owner discovers his or her challenges, Senterfitt said

“It’s going to be a little bit different lifestyle for a long time,” he said.

Scott and other state and federal officials assured all attention possible is being focused on recovery in the Keys, which the governor said presents unique challenges.

“I think everybody’s goal is to get everybody back in the Keys the first day we can,” Scott said. “The day everybody can come back and enjoy the Keys again will be a good day for the state.

“The people evacuated out of the Keys, they want to get back.  But the most important thing is to keep everybody safe,” Scott said.

 

Bob Cortes measure seeks full citizenship, short of statehood, for Puerto Rico

State Rep. Bob Cortes has introduced a measure that would urge Congress to take steps to expand citizenship rights for people of Puerto Rico and improve the commonwealth’s opportunity for statehood, without actually dealing directly with the statehood issue.

House Memorial 147 calls on Congress to address inequalities Puerto Rico and its residents face that date to a 1922 Supreme Court ruling that put the island and its people on a different track than any of the previous American territories that became states.

Cortes, an Altamonte Springs Republican with Puerto Rican heritage, said the approach is novel, not something he’s seen proposed anywhere else. It aims to push for incorporated territory status for Puerto Rico, something granted as a precursor to potential statehood to Hawaii, Alaska and all other states added to the union since the original 13 colonies formed the United States.

Puerto Rico was never granted status as an incorporated territory of the United States in part because of ramifications of the 1922 Supreme Court decision in Balzac vs. Puerto Rico, providing for a unique relationship between the federal government and the territory of Puerto Rico and its residents, he said.

And that relationship fosters inequality, Cortes argued, because Puerto Rico residents – including those who might have been born and raised stateside as full American citizens who then moved to live on the island – receive back limited federal benefits even though they pay full payroll taxes for Social Security and Medicaid, and in some cases federal income taxes. And the lack of status as an incorporated territory means the island does not have the necessary pre-statehood government institutions that territories such as Hawaii, Alaska, and Louisiana established before applying for statehood.

It’s part of the reason, he argued, that Puerto Ricans are flooding into Florida as part of a mass migration, seeking not just economic opportunity but full citizenship-status benefits they can be granted simply by boarding a plane out of San Juan.

“The whole key here is to straighten out that unequal citizenship system,” Cortes said.

He said he’s talking to state Democratic state Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez about sponsoring a similar measure in the Florida Senate.

“This is something different, innovative,” Cortes said. “This is not something people are aware of. People will say, ‘he’s advocating for statehood for Puerto Rico.’ Yeah, I’m probably advocating for statehood. That should be a decision of the people. But before you get there, certain things need to be done. This is not a direct call for statehood.”

Two weeks ago Cortes and fellow state Reps. Rene Plasencia of Orlando, and David Santiago of Deltona traveled to Puerto Rico to meet with government officials to foster closer ties between the state of Florida and the commonwealth. However, Cortes said that while he gathered information during that trip, his determination to pursue this measure predated that visit.

 

Power update: 2.3 million homes and businesses still without

Heat may be rising among the millions of Floridians still without power, as 2.3 million homes and businesses head toward finishing a fourth full day without.

The latest data from the Florida Office of Emergency Management show 22 percent of the state still was sweating out power outages at 3:30 p.m. Thursday, on what has been the hottest day this week for many, reaching the mid-90s in parts of the Sunshine State.

In Collier County 159,000 electricity customers – homes and businesses – still were without power, or 65 percent of the county. In Lee County, 270,000 customers were without, or 62 percent. And in the Florida Keys, Monroe County still has no power for 73 percent, or 46,000 customers.

In Miami-Dade County the number of customers without power just barely slipped below 300,000, less than half of what the county had on Tuesday. Yet that’s still 26 percent. In Broward County, 22 percent were without, or 201,000 customers. In Palm Beach County, 21 percent were without power, 164,000 homes and businesses.

In Tampa Bay, Pinellas County’s number of electricity-free homes and businesses continued to fall quickly, as power has been restored to all but 21 percent, about 116,000. That’s less than a third of powerless customers on Tuesday. In Hillsborough County, 12 percent were without power, or 78,000. Likewise in Pasco, where 15 percent, or 40,000 homes and businesses, were without power. In Manatee County, 42,000, or 20 percent, were without.

In Central Florida, 15 percent, or 84,000 customers were without power in Orange County; 30 percent, or 94,000, in Brevard County; 25 percent, or 71,000, in Volusia County; 21 percent, or 43,000, in Seminole County; 15 percent, or 21,000 in Lake County; and just 5 percent, 7,000 customers, in Osceola County.

In the Jacksonville area, 14 percent, or 51,000 customers, were without power at 3:30 p.m. in Duval County; 22 percent, or 28,000, in St. John’s County; and 15 percent, or 14,000, in Clay County.

 

Alan Grayson taking on Donald Trump

A bored and angry Alan Grayson can be a can be dangerous for someone, and he’s aiming now at President Donald Trump.

The former Democratic, hard-boiled congressman from Orlando, who continues to keep a campaign warm for a possible return-to-Congress effort, has started a leadership political action committee called Lock Him Up Now  to pursue and keep track of evidence of alleged crimes and misdemeanors of the 45th president of the United States, and to raise money for an anti-Trump effort.

With a webpage subtitle of “The Resistance, Help End the Trump Presidency,” the organization’s goal is to compile and even create legal cases for impeachment or forced resignation.

“Our side needs somebody concentrating on what it will actually take to get rid of him,” Grayson said. “I think he’s already crossed the [impeachment] threshold.”

Grayson of course is known for his harsh, often bombastic, knee-breaking, sometimes outrageous, progressive-oriented political rhetoric.

Yet he also was one of the more successful whistle-blower lawyers in the country. Grayson said he intends to use that experience and knowhow to try to draw out any potential whistle-blowers on Trump, and get them to provide information, leaked or otherwise, that could be compiled into cases. His organization’s website is set up partly for that.

He said he has confidence that an independent, whistle-blower-oriented investigation could have opportunities beyond what either the official U.S. Congressional inquiries or FBI Director Robert Mueller can pursue.

Grayson served three [non-consecutive] terms in Congress. He represented Florida’s 10th Congressional District but was defeated for re-election by Republican U.S. Rep. Dan Webster. Then he served two terms representing Florida’s 9th Congressional District, but stepped out last year for an unsuccessful bid for the Democratic nomination to run for the U.S.

Since leaving office he’s kept a relatively low profile until now, but has kept open his congressional campaign fund. Because of that, last winter he filed to run against Webster again, this time in Florida’s 11th Congressional District. Yet he insisted then, and continues to insist now, that filing was just a paperwork matter to keep the option open and money flowing, and he hasn’t decided if he’ll run again, or where, or against whom.

Meantime, Lock Him Up Now is pursing both evidence and money, and seeking to become a rallying point for anti-Trump efforts

“We’ve struck a cord. A very large number of people think Trump needs to be impeached and forced out of office, or to resign,” he said.

Grayson’s critics, and there are numerous in both parties, may argue a collapsed U.S. Senate campaign and eight months out of office, Grayson’s fundraising opportunities might be limited. But he contends he’s raised $600,000 from 37,000 individual contributors for his still to-be-determined congressional run.

“I have a very broad base of support. People continue to contribute, notwithstanding my lack of success in the Senate race last year,” he said.

The Lock Him Up Now organization recently commissioned a national poll, which Grayson said he paid for himself. It asked 1,245 voters nationwide a series of questions about Trump, with what he said is a margin of error of 2.8 percent.

Yes, the questions were leading.

One asked: “Is Donald Trump a pathological liar?”

Grayson said 69 percent responded yes, 20 percent no, and 11 percent maybe.

“Is Donald Trump a jerk?”

Grayson said 77 percent responded yes, and 23 percent no.

And, he added, political party breakdowns didn’t change that, saying 88 percent of Democrats said they thought the president was a jerk, 80 percent of independents, and 61 percent of Republicans.

Airbnb expands call for hosts to house evacuees, relief workers

Airbnb, the nation’s largest vacation rental home marketing business, said Thursday it has 230 host homes mostly in northern Florida offering free stays to Hurricane Irma evacuees and relief workers and now is activating its disaster relief program  through more of Florida.

Airbnb also is seeking new hosts in Central Florida, South Florida, North Florida, Gainesville, and Tampa Bay for Florida, and in Puerto Rico, to help evacuees and relief workers in the Caribbean.

The company is encouraging its hosts – individual home owners who list their vacant rooms or properties for nightly rentals through Airbnb – to join its disaster response program. Under that both the hosts and Airbnb waive their fees to make rooms available for refugees and relief workers. The company activated the program last week, but initially only targeted hosts in the Florida Panhandle.

Kelli Bentz, Airbnb global director for disaster relief, said infrastructure problems – mainly power, internet service and phone service – are hampering efforts to reach hosts and encourage them to participate, but as services are restored this week they expect that to change and the numbers of participating host homes to go up significantly.

Irma left a swath of downed power lines and impacted internet and phone service statewide.

“We have a team working around the clock just trying to reach them,” Bentz said in a press call Thursday.

Airbnb’s disaster relief  program has been in place for years. In Texas, more than 900 Airbnb hosts participated, offering more than 1,000 individual properties for evacuees and relief workers for Hurricane Harvey. But the situations are as different as the storms. In Texas, for example, Airbnb had no problem arranging for hosts in San Antonio, Austin, and Dallas right away, and none of those cities was significantly impacted.

That effort is ongoing, through Sept. 25.

Florida’s relief effort is currently set to run through Sept. 27.

Airbnb has more than 36,000 participating hosts in Florida, but each one sets his or her own schedule, sometimes offering a room only one or a few nights a year, while others are available full time. The Florida inventory of available rooms changes constantly, she said.

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