Scott Powers, Author at Florida Politics - Page 2 of 100

Scott Powers

Wayne Liebnitzky slams Darren Soto for boycotting inauguration

Let the 2018 campaign begin for Florida’s 9th Congressional District.

Republican Wayne Liebnitzky, who lost to U.S. Rep. Darren Soto in November and now has filed to take him on again in 2018, slapped Soto for his announcement that he is boycotting the inauguration of president-elect Donald Trump.

“I find it an absolute disgrace and should not be tolerated,” Liebnitzky stated in a Facebook post and a statement he sent to Orlando media. “I find it ironic that I gave him [Soto] the respect after our election as the winner and he does not do the same for our President, demonstrating the immature reactions that other Democrats have chosen. Central Florida needs people representing us that can promote leadership.”

Liebnitzky, of St. Cloud, won the vote in the Polk County portion of CD 9 but lost to Soto in Orange and Osceola counties. On Tuesday he said he could not let Soto’s first big partisan action stand without reacting.

Soto said Monday he was boycotting because he was deeply disappointed in Trump’s tweets about U.S. Rep. John Lewis, the Georgia Democrat who was a champion of the Civil Rights movement.

“I have a long history of working across the aisle and will continue to do so in Congress. However, I am deeply disappointed with President-Elect Donald Trump’s attacks against civil rights hero Congressman John Lewis and will not be attending the inauguration as a result,” Soto stated in a release he issued Monday.

Soto is not alone. The Washington Post is reporting that so far 44 Democratic lawmakers have announced they will not attend Trump’s inauguration. The Post’s list does not include Soto. It does include U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson, the Democrat from Miami Gardens.

Bob Graham: Daughter Gwen Graham hasn’t told him her plans yet

Like much of the rest of Florida, former U.S. Sen. Bob Graham said he’s waiting to hear what his daughter former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham will decide about running for governor.

The younger Graham has been talking about it for months, and even told that she wants to run for governor of Florida in the 2018 election, a job her father held while she was in junior high. But she also said she would not make that decision until after she left office as a member of the U.S. Congress.

She’s also dealing with the health of her husband Steve Hurm, who is being treated for prostate cancer.

Her last day in Congress was last week.

“She’s only been out of office for a few days. And she’s thinking about what to do. She’ll let her friends, and I hope parents, know when she makes the decision,” the former senator told during a stop in Orlando Friday.

“She hasn’t closed the book yet.”

Regardless of when she does, the elder Graham expressed keen interest in the 2018 gubernatorial election cycle, particularly because of the issue of protecting Florida’s natural resources — a passion he and his daughter have shared. He said he’s been very concerned about what recent administrations.

“Over the last few years, we’ve had a very distinct orientation towards the role of government in lives of Floridians. I’ve been particularly concerned about the role in protecting the natural resources that distinguish Florida,” he said. People are going to essentially have a referendum on the question of is this the way we want it to be permanently, or are we going to go back to a government we had at the end of the 20th century? That will be a very significant and with long-duration impacts, that decision Floridians will make.”

Stephen Bittel promises rapid growth as new Florida Democratic Party chief

Newly-elected Florida Democratic Party Chair Stephen Bittel isn’t the kind of guy who shies away from a fight.

And judging by his resounding victory Saturday, after a nasty campaign against four other candidates for the Party leadership, he doesn’t fight to lose.

“Contentious elections are reflective that there are Democrats all over Florida that are passionate, committed to coming together, moving forward together to win elections. So contentious is good. It means you care,” Bittel said after defeating some candidates with much longer- and better-known records in state party politics.

Bittel is taking over a Party that consistently has more registered voters statewide, but rarely wins statewide. Democrats now have almost powerless minorities in the Florida House, Senate and congressional delegation. The battle Bittel won, between the candidates and their backers, was one of shaking up the Party, and the question was whether that could be best done by someone claiming grassroots credentials or someone well-established in the money class.

During a break in the FDP annual meeting at the Rosen Shingle Creek Resort in Orlando Saturday, Bittel talked about building out a staff and leadership team “in a way that is reflective of all parts of our party, including people who supported my candidacy or other candidates.”

Judy Mount of Jackson County, previously serving as party treasurer, was elected first vice chair. Francesca Menes of Miami-Dade, from the county’s Little Haiti community, was elected treasurer. Casmore Shaw of Osceola County became state secretary.

Bittel said he’d be in the FDP’s Tallahassee headquarters for several days this coming week to meet staff and others.

“I have plans for enormous staff expansion,” Bittel vowed. “We’re going to grow this Party to a size and strength that has never been seen before.”

He also noted how the FDP has been under-resourced for a long time: “that changes today.”

On Saturday, Bittel said that published reports suggesting he is a billionaire are not accurate. Yet the Miami Beach lawyer and businessman with interests in real estate development [chair of the Terranova Corp.] is wealthy enough so to beg the question. Bittel is also a well-known bundler of campaign contributions, and a big donor on his own, having personally donated more than $900,000 to various Democratic candidates and party committees. He said he’s also contributed generously to non-partisan, progressive issues not related to candidates, such as voter registration, public education and health care. I’m not stopping any of that.”

“I’m not stopping any of that,” he added.

Both Bittel and one of his chief rivals, Alan Clendenin, survived challenges to their candidacies just before the election on Saturday.

And enough controversy surrounded Bittel, Clendenin and, to a lesser extent, Dwight Bullard, that Bittel found a need to defend how he came to run for the position, saying he ran because party leaders came to him. There were protesters in the hallway of the Rosen Shingle Creek, holding up signs accusing Bittel of buying the Democratic chairmanship. A Democratic activist lawyer and a civil rights leader in Miami have sued to have it overturned. Because of the sharp divide, some delegates refused to vote.

Nevertheless, Bittel drew 55 percent of the ballot, in a weighted system that gives some delegates more votes than others.

And plenty of Democrats at the event appeared happy to have him, whether they voted for him or not.

State Rep. Amy Mercado, a former chair of the Orange County Democratic Party, praised the entire elected slate of officers led by Bittel as strong and diverse.

That diversity includes the fact that they do not all represent the same factions.

“There are enough differences in that group now that they have to figure out how to balance and move forward,” she said.

Still, others expressed some anger, particularly those delegates who self-identified as Bernie Sanders Democrats.

Bruce Jacobs, a Miami lawyer who served as a Sanders delegate to the Democratic National Convention last summer, and Mae Christian, a prominent Democratic civil rights activist from Miami, sued Bittel and the Party, charging that his path to the chairmanship was rigged.

A court hearing is set for Friday with Judge Lisa Walsh of the Miami’s 11th Judicial Circuit.


Florida Democrats tab wealthy developer Stephen Bittel to lead party

Despite challenges from leading, longtime Democrat activists from Tampa, Miami, Jacksonville and Kissimmee, wealthy South Florida developer and party fundraiser Stephen Bittel was elected chairman Saturday of the Florida Democratic Party.

Bittel won on the first ballot, winning 55 percent of the weighted votes against Alan Clendenin, Dwight Bullard, Lisa King and Leah Carius, quickly ending weeks of wheelings and dealings, charges and counter charges. There remains a lawsuit in Miami-Dade challenging Bittel’s candidacy qualification.

Bittel, who runs several companies in South Florida and has been reported to have a net worth more than $1 billion, took 614 weighted votes on the first ballot. Clendenin finished second with 230 and Bullard third with 115.

King lost again moments later in the race for the party’s first vice chair, to FDP Treasurer Judy Mount.

Alan Clendenin wins appeal to seek Democrats’ state chair

Longtime Florida Democratic leader Alan Clendenin is back in the running for the party’s state chairmanship after winning an overwhelming vote to reject a committee’s ruling from Friday night that had disqualified him.

Clendenin’s candidacy for the state chair was restored after he made a “you know me” speech Saturday morning to the Florida Democratic Party executive committee, to toss the Friday ruling by the party’s Judicial Council, which had ruled him ineligible.

“What happened yesterday had very little to do with the facts and more to do with agenda,” Clendenin said in unsuccessfully arguing his case before the executive committee. “I’ve spent 42 years working hard for the Democratic Party.”

The executive committee also upheld a ruling by that council to keep Miami-Dade developer Stephen Bittel o the ballot.

Bittel still must face Lisa King of Duval County, Leah Carius of Osceola County and Dwight Bullard of Gadsden County.

Party Vice Chairman Clendenin was disqualified by the Democrats’ Judicial Council Friday night from running for the statewide chair’s position. On Saturday morning he sought, unsuccessfully to stay alive in the chair’s race with an appeal to the executive committee.

Yet a challenge against Bittel was denied, and that denial was upheld Saturday morning by the executive committee. But it remains an active issue. Attorney Bruce Jacobs, who is challenging Bittel’s qualification, was denied the opportunity to speak Saturday morning, but said the matter would go to court.

And that pair of challenges hangs over the gathering Saturday, leading to shouts from the crowd.

Jacobs has filed a lawsuit in Circuit Court in Miami-Dade County to legally challenge how Bittel was elected state committeeman in Miami-Dade, making him eligible to run statewide. He said a hearing had been set for next Friday in the court of Judge Lisa Walsh.

Bittel’s attorney then told the gathering that Bittel’s election in Miami-Dade followed the letter of the law, and said the extensive evidence is prepared to show that.

Democrats are trying their hands at new technology to count votes.

Each qualified delegate has been given a digital, Wi-Fi clicker, assigned to them. To vote, they click their choices, and their votes are instantaneously recorded and displayed on a screen at the front of the room, with a timer showing when time expires.

The technology should result in much quicker results as the Democrats pick a new chair this morning, along with other top officers and ten delegates to the Democratic National Convention.

“They’re rented, so the Russians can’t hack them,” quipped Helen McFadden, the DNC’s parliamentarian.

Bob Graham, Chris Hand pushing new edition of ‘America The Owner’s Manual’

Someone might be forgiven for thinking that maybe Bob Graham and Chris Hand might not want to tell people how to fight city hall and win.

Graham, of course, is Florida’s former U.S. Senator and former governor. Hand is a former aide of his who also served chief of staff – at city hall, in Jacksonville. Fighting city hall, or the governor’s office, or Congress, might have put them in awkward positions at times.

But the pair is pushing a new edition of their book, “America The Owner’s Manual” with the new emphasis and subtitle, “You Can Fight City Hall – And Win.”

The 287-page, 10-chapter book is a how-to guide for citizens to define the problem that’s annoying them and take action to convince the government to take care of it, available on and other online bookstores. The book is a fully-updated and revised version of the book the first owner’s manual published in 2009, mainly addressing such rapidly changing arenas in media and social media.

Graham said the idea goes back to 1974 when, as a member of the Florida Senate, he was challenged by a Carol City High School civics teacher in Miami Gardens about civics education, and together they worked up a how-to curriculum for the students and helped teach it.

With chapters such as “Just the Facts, Ma’am: Gathering Information to Sway Makers,” “The Buck Stops Where? Identifying who in Government Can Fix Your Problem,” and “All for One, and One for All: Coalitions for Citizen Success,” the book aims, Graham said, at creating and training what he called the “citizen lobbyist.” Hand and Graham said it applies to all levels of government, but probably most important and effective at the local level, where they said most decisions directly affecting people are made.

“Really, what we’re trying to do in this book is, we want the everyday citizen who says that I’m concerned with the Orange County School Board changing the boundaries of my school, or I’m worried that government hasn’t cleaned up a local lake, or I’m worried about that new highway construction they’re talking about through downtown Orlando, that they can pick up this book and work in a step-by-step process to address their concerns with government,” Hand said.

Daniel Webster gets seat on Science, Space Committee

U.S. Rep. Daniel Webster of Clermont has been appointed to a seat on the U.S. House Science, Space and Technology Committee, essentially replacing former U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson as Central Florida’s second member of that committee.

Webster, whose Florida’s 11th Congressional District includes parts of Lake County plus most of west-central Florida, joins fellow Republican U.S. Rep. Bill Posey of Brevard County on the committee that reviews the NASA budget and initiatives, including programs at Kennedy Space Center. Grayson, a Democrat from Windermere, often pushed minority positions on that board, particularly pressing for NASA to be more involved in direct management of the human space programs.

“Congressman Webster is a great addition to the Science Committee. His degree in engineering and his many years of public service speak to his expertise that will be an asset to our team. I look forward to working with him, and I know he will make the 11th District of Florida proud,” committee Chairman Lamar Smith, a Texas Republican, stated in a news release issued by Webster’s office.

Webster also joins the Committee on Natural Resources, and will continue to serve on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

“Continuing to serve on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee provides me the opportunity to advance innovative solutions for increasing connectivity of our nation’s infrastructure and transportation systems, balance transportation budgets and eliminate government waste. I’m excited to join these additional committees and look forward to working with my colleagues on policies that will improve opportunities for Floridians, protect our vital natural resources and strengthen America’s position as a world leader in space, science and technology,” Webster stated in the news release.

More committee assignments for Val Demings, Darren Soto and Stephanie Murphy

Additional congressional committee assignments are rolling out and Orlando’s new representatives are getting seats to oversee natural resources, small businesses and the oversight and government reform.

U.S. Rep. Val Demings, an Orlando Democrat, has been chosen to be on the House Oversight and Government Reform committee, a powerful panel that Congress has used to investigate and various federal agencies and officials, including last year’s email investigation of Hillary Clinton. It’s chaired by Utah Republican Jason Chaffetz.

Citing her own background in law enforcement, the retired Orlando police chief Demings declared in a press release, ““The integrity of our government is of the utmost importance. In a time when Oversight is needed more than ever in our federal government I promise to be a strong voice in the check and balance on our government, and a strong voice for the people of Central Florida.”

U.S. Rep. Darren Soto, an Orlando Democrat representing Florida’s 9th Congressional District, has been selected as a member of the House Natural Resources Committee, chaired by Utah Rob Bishop.

The committee represents one of Soto’s strongest interests while he served as a member of both the Florida House of Representatives and the Florida Senate, where he was active in crafting and promoting legislation to protect the state’s water resources.

U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy, a Winter Park Democrat, has been given a seat on the House Small Business Committee, chaired by Ohio Republican Steve Chabot.

“Small businesses are the backbone of our economy – employing more than 3.1 million people across our state. In fact, more than 40 percent of workers in Florida are employed by a small business,” said Murphy. “As someone who has worked in the private sector advising and counseling entrepreneurs and small businesses, I am eager to get to work on the Small Business Committee to reduce the regulatory burdens on small businesses, increase their access to capital, and help strengthen our region’s economy by creating more well-paying jobs. I’ll also work hard to encourage and support more women- and minority-owned small businesses and entrepreneurs as I have done in the nonprofit sector for many years.”

Last week the trio and other freshmen members of Congress received their first committee assignments. Demings was placed on the House Homeland Security Committee; Soto, the House Agriculture Committee; and Murphy, the House Armed Services Committee.

Dwight Bullard talks of Democrats the party has ignored

Not counting the fact that he’s running from Gadsden County, little about Dwight Bullard is any mystery to many Florida Democrats who’ll be gathering in Orlando this weekend to consider electing him or one of four other candidates as the new state party chairman.

“People know exactly where I stand,” said Bullard, the former Florida senator and representative from South Florida, whose parents Edward and Larcenia also served in the house or senate, or both, in a family dynasty that lasted in South Florida from 1992 until Dwight Bullard’s defeat for election in a newly-drawn district last fall.

Bullard, the Gadsden County Democratic state committeeman, faces Osceola County Democratic Chair Leah Carvius, Miami-Dade County Democratic State Committeeman Stephen Bittel, Duval County Democratic Chair Lisa King, and Bradford County Democratic State Committeeman Alan Clendenin. The Florida Democratic Party leadership will gather in Orlando this weekend to pick one of them to be the new chair, to replace Allison Tant, who is stepping down.

“Most Democrats that I talk to will applaud me saying ‘You were great in the Legislature. You fought for what we need to fight for,'” Bullard said. “While my detractors will say, ‘Well, that’s not necessarily what we need in a DEP chair,’ while my supporters will say, ‘That’s exactly what we need in our DEP chair.'”

Bullard said he wants to stand with those he says the party has forgotten, the disaffected voters who don’t think the party talks to them, but rather at them. The ones who don’t go to Democratic executive committee party meetings, or Democratic club meetings, or events. They’re just out there, he said.

“It’s really best classified as the ignored Democrats, or the Democrats that don’t want to be caught up in the formal structure of the party,” Bullard said. “I know the party infrastructure and the mechanics in which we operate, working with the DECs and the clubs. But the reality is we often times talk about having more registered Democrats than our counterparts, but they are not the persons in the outcome of the elections. A lot of it has to do with us never having really outreached to those folks, showing them why they should spend that 20 minutes every two years voting for Democrats.”

The bottom line, he said is, Democrats have held a solid edge in voter registrations yet lose time and time again in statewide races. He said it is an embarrassment for the party, and the party hasn’t seemed to recognize it. The problem he said, is that party insiders decide on the “prototypical candidate” without finding out what ordinary Democrats want or don’t want. That has created a chasm between the voters and the party, he said.

“You’ve got a grand canyon or sinkhole opening in your back yard but you’re still having a cocktail party like nothing’s going on back there,” he said. “The key for the party is: stand for something. It doesn’t have to be one single, central message, but be aware of people out there in the everyday. We know things like the environment are important. We know things like income inequality and the environment are important. But when it comes to key issues, we’re not affectively at the forefront of addressing those issues as a party.”

In many ways, Bullard’s failure this fall to stay in the Florida Senate reflected the divide in the party. Ultimately he lost Florida’s newly-drawn Senate District 40 [not really the district he and his mother had represented] to Republican state Sen. Frank Artiles, a veteran state representative with a lot of support and money. But Bullard didn’t get to the general election until he’d survived a bloody Democratic primary fight with Andrew Korge, who pounded him with advertising painting Bullard as being out of step with some fundament issues, most notably with his less-than-absolute support for Israel. [Bullard says he’s a strong supporter of Israel but also feels support must be offered for displaced Palestinians] Ultimately that primary battle was characterized as a classic progressive Democrat, Bullard, versus a more moderate, more establishment Democrat, and Bullard won the primary.

Then there is that Gadsden representation. Bullard is from Miami-Dade. It has been his home and his base his whole career. But he lost a contentious battle for that county’s state committeeman post to Bittel. So Bullard, who has a home in Gadsden, moved there, ran there, and won that county’s post, earning the necessary credential to run statewide. He’s not alone. Clendenin did the same thing, moving from Hillsborough County to Bradford when he couldn’t win a hometown post. And others in the past, including Tant, have done the same.

“The rules are antiquated,” he said. “I think all five of us have talked about that has been the case… the system needs to end.”

Leah Carius seeking to be the local-control candidate for state Democrats

Leah Carius said she knows something about being in a medium- or small county and feeling largely ignored by Democratic Party leaders Tallahassee, yet she also knows more than a little about strengthening a Democratic powerhouse.

Carius, the chair of the Osceola County Democratic Party, is one of the dark horses seeking election as chair of the Florida Democratic Party on Saturday. Among counties with between 100,000 and 500,000 voters, hers is one of very few that Democrats control, or that supported Democrat Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election, and it’s the medium-sized counties that largely gave Donald Trump and the Republicans their victory.

Yet she’s not feeling the love.

“Being from a medium-sized county, I found our requests fell on dear ears,” she said of her efforts to get state party help. “I can’t imagine how hard it’s been for the small counties.”

Two of the other four candidates for the Democrats’ top leadership post are campaigning from small counties of their own, but they’re not really from there. Stephen Bittel is running representing Miami-Dade County, where he just won a state committeeman post in December, and has been busy locking up endorsements from coast to coast. Lisa King is running from Duval County, where she is state committee woman. Meanwhile, Dwight Bullard, who lost the committeeman election to Bittel in Miami-Dade, has moved to Gadsden County, where he became a state committeeman, to run for the state post. And Alan Clendenin did the same thing, moving from Hillsborough County, where he lost, to become a state committeeman from Bradford County, his base to run for the state job.

If she has a shot, it likely will come from cobbling votes from Central Florida together with those of representatives of other medium- and small-counties sympathetic with her frustration.

Carius is in her second term as Osceola’s party chair. She’s a Florida native [though she’s lived some of her life in Alabama] who said she grew up in an active Democratic family, and has always been involved in Democratic politics, but really got going a few years ago as a PTA mom frustrated with what she saw the state doing to public schools.

Registered Democrats nearly outnumber Republicans by a 2-1 margin in Osceola County. They have a super majority on the county commission and all the constitutional offices, plus a majority on the Kissimmee City Commission. Two of the three state representatives, the state senator and the U.S. congressman representing Osceola all are Democrats. Clinton got 61 percent there. Much of that dominance predated her leadership, but it has been strengthened since she took charge.

Carius’s platform focuses on shifting the party’s power back to the local Democratic executive committees, and focusing on building benches there.

She decries that for a decade or more Democrats have continued to try to push candidates from the top, only to lose. She refers to her opponents as the usual suspects. She sarcastically says that the Miami-Dade County Democratic Party is trying to dictate decisions to the state party, including who should be chair.

“I thought this was the perfect time to refocus our party,” she said. “It’s time to focus on what works. It’s time to bring back to the elections those in the local DECs. Instead of having a state party that dictates down to the local DECs, we need a state party that supports them, and helps the build our bench of wonderful local candidates, and build upward. That’s how we take the state back.”

She’s also convinced it’s time for the Democratic Party to develop new tactics on fundraising, putting less focus on pursuing those big checks that often dictate what the party will do, and focusing instead on the Bernie Sanders model of convincing huge numbers of ordinary people to send in small checks. Those small checks are personal commitments, and those people will also vote, she said.

As for policy platforms, Carius wants to see a focus on basic, mainstream, fairly moderate issues.

“Specifically, an inclusive platform that emphasizes what Americans care about most: economic security. We can achieve this by focusing on what we in Osceola County refer to as the Four E’s: Education, Employment, Energy, and Environment,” she declares on her campaign website. “This platform is broad enough for each county to emphasize issues that are most relevant to their communities.”

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