Scott Powers – Page 3 – 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 Besides them, he’s into mystery and suspense books and movies, rock, blues, basketball, baseball, writing unpublished novels, and being amused.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
Philip Levine

Philip Levine opens Kissimmee office, grabs Jose Alvarez’s endorsement

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Philip Levine opened a Central Florida office in Kissimmee and announced the backing of Kissimmee Mayor Jose Alvarez, who helped open the campaign center on Saturday.

“Florida needs leaders who have a bold vision for our future, who lead with compassion, and have a track record of getting things done. Philip Levine embodies all of these qualities, and I know that he will represent the needs of our community and create better opportunity for Florida’s families here in Kissimmee and throughout Florida,” Alvarez stated in a news release issued by Levine’s campaign Monday.

Levine also announced the endorsement of Osceola County School Board Member Kelvin Soto.

Levine faces Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, and Winter Park businessman Chris King in battling for the August 28 Democratic primary to run for governor. The leading Republicans are Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, and U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis.

The new Levine campaign office, at 104 Church St. in Kissimmee, is the campaign’s third, following its headquarters in Miami and Tampa Bay office in St. Petersburg.

“Our campaign is excited to open our second regional office, here in Osceola County, the second-fastest growing county in our state. I am humbled by the early support from so many, including School Board Member Soto and Mayor Alvarez. Together, we will build a state and an economy that leaves no family behind, whether they came here from Puerto Rico or from anywhere else – a Florida where we truly all rise together,” Levine stated in the release.

Everglades Foundation taps new COO, communications director

The Everglades Foundation on Monday announced the appointments of Shannon Estenoz as chief operating officer and vice president for policy and programs, and Rebecca Rose as communications director.

“We could not have found a more qualified person to lead the Foundation’s operations, policy and programs than Shannon Estenoz,” Everglades Foundation Chief Executive Officer Eric Eikenberg stated in a news release announcing the appointments.

Estenoz has spent 21 years in environmental policy and advocacy, most recently at the U.S. Department of the Interior, where she served since 2010 as director of the Office of Everglades Restoration Initiatives and the executive director of the South Florida Ecosystem Restoration Task Force.

A former member of the South Florida Water Management District Board of Governors, representing Broward County, Estenoz also served as executive director of the Everglades Law Center before directing the World Wildlife Fund’s Everglades Program, and the Suncoast Regional Program of the National Parks Conservation Association.

Rose is a veteran Washington-based communications professional whose work has spanned federal agencies including the Navy, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Department of Energy and, most recently, the Export-Import Bank, where she served as vice president of communications.

“I know that Shannon Estenoz and Rebecca Rose will help the Everglades Foundation reach the next level of growth and accomplishment,” Eikenberg stated in the release. “Considering that much of our advocacy in the days ahead will focus on the implementation of restoration projects like the EAA Reservoir, their combined experience of over 30 years in Everglades policy and in the nation’s capital will be invaluable.”

Alan Grayson raises $192K in first quarter, says ‘I am running for Congress’ … somewhere

Democratic former U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson said Monday he definitely is running for Congress but insisted he still hasn’t decided where yet, as his campaign reports raising $192,000 in the first quarter of 2018.

“I am running for the U.S. House of Representatives,” Grayson said Monday.

But the decision as to which district, “gets answered during the qualifying period,” he added.

Qualifying for the U.S. House of Representatives ballot opens on April 30 and runs through May 4.

Grayson, who served one term representing Florida’s 10th Congressional District and two representing Florida’s 9th Congressional District in Central Florida, is officially filed to run in Florida’s 11th Congressional District this time. However, he maintains he is just holding a spot for his paperwork, so that he can raise money while assessing his options.

In the latest reports, Grayson’s committee raised $192,018, including $71,358 in contributions so small that they need not be itemized, with a total of more than 5,000 individual donations. The committee also spent $53,567 and entered April with $694,967 in the bank.

The progressive Democratic hardliner pointed out that, thanks in part to redistricting, he has represented constituents now scattered about six different congressional districts, including CD 11, CD 10, and CD 9, as well as Florida’s 6th, 7th, and 8th Congressional Districts.

His last two terms were in CD 9, which now covers south Orange County, Osceola County and eastern Polk County, and now is represented by Democratic U.S. Rep. Darren Soto. Soto’s campaign has been bracing for him to put up a primary challenge.

Grayson’s first term was in CD 10, now covering western Orange County and now represented by Democratic U.S. Rep. Val Demings.

CD 6, now stretching from south of Jacksonville through Volusia County and into Lake County, is likely to be an open seat as Republican U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis is running for governor.

Republican U.S. Rep. Bill Posey represents CD 8, mostly in Brevard County with a sliver of eastern Orange County.

CD 7, covering Seminole and north and central Orange counties, is now represented by Democratic U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy.

CD 11, where Grayson is currently filed, covers northwestern Lake County and west-central Florida stretching to The Villages and Spring Hill and is represented by Republican U.S. Rep. Dan Webster, who beat Grayson in the 2010 election.

Grayson’s wife Dena Grayson, who ran for Congress in CD 9 in 2016, losing the Democratic primary to Soto, also is filed as a candidate in 2018, this time in CD 8. Her campaign did not raise any money in the first quarter of 2018 and finished with about $738 in the bank.

In an unrelated campaign move, Alan Grayson’s campaign appointed his daughter Star Grayson, 19, as treasurer, according to paperwork filed this past weekend.

The Graysons are Windermere-area residents, which is in CD 10. Yet residency has never been a big concern for Alan Grayson.

“The question always is, ‘What do the voters want?’ We’re determining the voters will, and we will act accordingly,” Alan Grayson said.

Andrew Gillum pledges to up corporate taxes to provide $1B more for public school

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum on Monday pledged he would spend an additional $1 billion on public education with a plan that would increase Florida’s corporate tax to pay for it.

“When I’m governor, we’ll invest $1 billion in our public schools, students, and teachers and put the president’s disastrous tax giveaway to work. Under my ‘Fair Share for Florida’s Future’ Plan, we’ll ask our richest corporations to invest a fraction of their windfall under this new law into our state’s education and workforce,” Gillum stated in a news release issued Monday by his campaign.

“For too long, Florida Republicans have forced working people to pay too heavy a tax burden instead of the richest corporations — meanwhile, my Democratic opponents have stood by silently. I will put an end to that as governor in 2019.”

Gillum’s plan calls for an increase in the corporate income tax rate on large corporations to 7.75 percent, contending that few of them are paying taxes now, and those that do pay only pay 5.5 percent. Given the $6.2 billion he said Florida corporations are saving through the federal tax cuts, he is calling the increase “Fair Share for Florida’s Future,” echoing the “Fair Share Tax Program” plan put forth in 1970 when then-U. S. Sen. Reubin Askew ran for governor.

Gillum’s plan would call for adding at least $100 million into the Public Education Capital Outlay Fund for public schools construction; at least $400 million to pay raises for public school teachers; at least $250 million in early childhood education programs; and at least $100 million for vocational training.

Gillum faces former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, and Winter Park businessman Chris King seeking the August 28 Democratic nomination to run for governor. The leading Republicans are U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis and Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.

In a white paper posted on Medium, Gillum, contended “our richest corporations will still pay billions less in taxes next year. We just ask that less than a fifth of that money go to work for Florida families.

“By adjusting our state corporate tax level to a modest 7.75 percent, which still allows corporations in Florida a massive tax cut and keeps our rate more than 1 percent lower than California, we will be able to recoup at least $1 billion back from the richest corporations and put it where we need it most — investing in our future,” he added. “My plan calls for rebuilding our public schools, paying teachers a minimum starting salary of $50,000, investing in early childhood education programs, and investing in SHOP 2.0 and vocational training to help get workers the training they need for higher paying jobs.”

Scott Sturgill raises $211K in first quarter for CD 7 race

Republican congressional candidate Scott Sturgill is reporting that his campaign raised $211,489 in the first quarter 2018, pushing the total raised to over a half-million dollars in Florida’s 7th Congressional District.

Sturgill’s campaign pointed out Monday that in the quarter, it outraised all Republican primary opponents combined. He faces state Rep. Mike Miller, Vennia Francois, and Patrick Weingart.

With the first quarter take, Sturgill, a businessman from Sanford, now has raised $520,000 and finished March with about $366,000 in cash.

Miller, of Winter Park, has now raised a total of $326,000 and finished the first quarter with about $270,000. Francois, of Winter Park, entered her first campaign finance report, showing she raised $15,578 and spent $12,419 during the quarter. Weingart, of Altamonte Springs, has not filed any campaign finance reports.

They all aim to unseat Democratic U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy of Winter Park, who has raised about $1.75 million and had about $1.2 million in the bank

“We’re racing toward the nomination and we’re not taking our foot off the gas,” Sturgill stated in a news release issued by his campaign. “We’ve established that we’re the only conservative option in the race and the only Republican candidate that can bring together the needed resources to win in November. I’m grateful for all of the support.”

Sturgill’s first quarter 2018 donations included another $50,000 he lent his campaign. He now has put $150,000 of his own money into the campaign.

CD 7 covers Seminole County and north-central Orange County, stretching through downtown Orlando and surrounding neighborhoods.

“I think the other candidates need to seriously reassess their options at this point” Sturgill campaign consultant Frank Torres stated in the release. “We’ve demonstrated we can keep pace with Stephanie, and Republicans in the 7th district deserve the candidate that has the best chance to win back the seat in November.”

Philip Levine calls for DCF changes to offer support to young adults without

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Philip Levine promised closer relationships between state government and nonprofits like Orlando’s Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida, saying the state needs to re-evaluate how such programs are run through the Department of Children and Families.

After touring the Second Harvest Food Bank Friday — the second Democratic gubernatorial candidate to do so, after Gwen Graham did in December, Levine offered few details about his vision to address hunger, homelessness and other chronic social needs but spoke of making them priorities.

“We need to do all these things to lift the state up,” Levine said. “It requires us to have better education, better health care, a better environmental policy, non-discrimination policies.

“And when you come to an organization like this, and you see the opportunity they present if they could just get cooperation and partnership with the state of Florida, to me it’s a golden opportunity. I look at this and say, this to me is an asset of our state, and how do we utilize this asset?”

Levine faces Graham, Winter Park businessman Chris King, and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum in the battle for the August 28 Democratic primary. The leading Republicans are U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis and Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.

Partly through partnerships with big local corporate players such as Walt Disney World and Darden Restaurants, Second Harvest collects, sorts and distributes food to more than 500 local emergency food assistance programs throughout Central Florida.

After praising the model and vowing his administration would plug into it, Levine pivoted to a discussion of The Florida Department of Children and Families, saying he spoke with a Second Harvest volunteer trainee who had come up through foster care, who said that when he turned 18, he had virtually no support system.

“I think that’s an example of something that needs to change. We saw, unfortunately, that shooter from [Marjory] Stoneman Douglas [High School.] I think he had a similar experience. He [Nikolas Cruz] turned 18 and no one was looking after him, in terms of mental health,” Levine said.

“I think we need to start taking care of our people more, and maybe start modeling ourselves after some of the most admired companies in America who take care of their people very much so, the same organizations we want to attract to our state of Florida, whether it’s Amazon or Boeing, or Disney, whatever it may be, we need to start acting more to take care of our people,” Levine said.

Rob Panepinto banks $100K in Orange County mayor’s race

Winter Park businessman Rob Panepinto raised more than $100,000 in March for his run for the office of Orange County Mayor.

Panepinto’s March campaign finance filings show that he brought in $35,200 for his official campaign fund and another $65,000 for his independent political committee, Vision Orange County in March. As a result, his campaign now has raised $319,332 and finished March with just over $254,000 left in the bank.

Vision Orange County so far has raised $181,149 and entered April with about $90,000 in cash.

Meanwhile, Orange County Commissioner Pete Clarke reported raising $11,955 for his Orange County mayoral run. That brings his campaign’s total haul to $274,766, and it entered April with about $268,000 left.

Both pale compared with Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings, who reported last week that his official campaign had brought in $52,225 in March, while his independent committee Orange County Citizens for Smart Growth, brought in $185,500. Demings two committees entered April with a combined reserve of $726,000.

They all seek to succeed term-limited Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs, who is running for Orange County School Board chair this year.

David Richardson picks up ‘Moms’ seal on guns views in CD 27 race

Democratic congressional candidate David Richardson has become the first candidate running for Florida’s 27th Congressional District seat to be given the Mom’s Demand Action’s  for “candidate distinction” reflecting his views for gun laws reform.

Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, formed after the Sandy Hook Elementary School mass shooting in 2012, is part of the larger network of gun-violence prevention organizations in the Everytown for Gun Safety network.

“I’m honored to have received the Candidate Distinction citation from Moms Demand Action” Richardson stated in a news release issued by his campaign. “I’m proud of my work in Tallahassee on Gun Reform, specifically in passing the Bump Stock ban and proud of my F rating I have received from the NRA. Now more than ever, we need to elect progressive candidates who support implementing universal background checks, banning deadly devices like bump stocks, high capacity magazines, and an assault weapons ban. I plan to do just that, when I’m elected to Congress.”

Richardson is in a crowded albiet shrinking field seeking the August 28 Democratic nomination to run for the CD 27 seat being vacated by the  retiring Republican U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. Among other Democrats in the race are Donna Shalala, Matthew Haggman, Mary Barzee Flores, Kristen Rosen Gonzalez and Michael Hepburn.

Florida’s delegation presses for Kennedy Space Center launch support money for NASA’s next big rocket

Congressional letters signed by a large majority of Florida’s delegation are urging congressional leaders to support full funding not just for NASA’s next spacecraft and rocket but for critical upgrades at Kennedy Space Center to launch them.

The letters to chairs of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees subcommittees overseeing space have drawn signatures of 21 of Florida’s House members and U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson and also have support of others who couldn’t appropriately sign because they’re on the committees, including U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio.

The letters focus on the multi-billion dollar projects to build NASA’s big new rocket, the Space Launch System, and the Orion Spacecraft, which are to carry astronauts into deep space. That’s not new. But the letters give equal weight now to urging full funding for the related Kennedy Space Center upgrades, to exploration ground systems, and for a new mobile launcher, huge boons to the space business at Florida’s Space Coast.

A letter sent last month by U.S. Rep. Bill Posey, the Rockledge Republican who sits on the House Space Subcommittee, and co-signed by 10 other members of Florida’s delegation, urges $557 million for the exploration ground systems improvements in the 2019 federal budget, and another $17 million for other construction. It also calls for $150 million in 2019 to build a new mobile launcher that could support the SLS rocket for 40 years, a recent NASA policy direction change from plans now seen as problematic to retrofit the current mobile launcher. The letter also calls for another $2.15 billion for the SLS rocket development, and $1.35 billion for the final Orion crew vehicle development.

The rocket’s debut has been pushed back, but still is possible by the end of 2019, or in early 2020.

Most of the ground systems work has been underway for several years, but risks falling behind without full funding, and that could further delay the first launches of the SLS, even if the rocket and Orion spacecraft are fully developed and ready to go, the letters argue.

“The exploration ground systems are an indispensable part of the infrastructure of space exploration,” Posey’s letter states.

Posey’s letter drew signatures of 11 of Florida’s members of the House: Posey, Gus Bilirakis, Kathy Castor, Charlie Crist, Ron DeSantis, Neal Dunn, Matt Gaetz, Stephanie Murphy, Darren Soto, Daniel Webster, and Ted Yoho.

A follow-up letter from Republican U.S. Sen. Brian Babin of Texas, making the same pleas, included 163 members signatures from throughout the country, and drew most of the 11 Florida members who signed Posey’s letter, plus ten more from Florida: Al Lawson, Val Demings, Dennis Ross, Brian Mast, Francis Rooney, Alcee Hastings, Lois Frankel, Ted Deutch, Carlos Curbelo, and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. Three other House members from Florida, Tom Rooney, Mario Diaz-Balart, and Debbie Wasserman Schultz are, like Rubio, on the main committee receiving the letters, and so do not sign under Congressional protocol.

Thirty-one senators including Nelson signed the Senate version, sent out Tuesday by Utah Republican Orrin Hatch.

Rubio’s office said he’s supportive, had an active role in pushing for $2.15 billion for the SLS rocket, $1.3 billion for Orion, and will “continue to push for increased funding in order to keep the ground system upgrades on track.”

A day cashing campaign checks helps Dennis Baxley swamp foe in SD 12 race

With a Democratic challenger now picking up a little momentum in his fundraising, Republican state Sen. Dennis Baxley spent a day last month cashing scores of $1,000 checks from political action committees for his re-election fund in Senate District 12.

Baxley, of Ocala, reported that in March his campaign brought in $47,250. All of it was recorded on March 30, and all of it came in big checks from political action committees, businesses, and lobbyists, including 44 checks for the maximum $1,000 and another six for $500 apiece.

That pushed Baxley’s re-election campaign up to $152,350 collected, with about $112,250 left in the bank going into April.

Meanwhile Democratic challenger Gary McKechnie had his first significant month of fundraising, but it was a modest collection compared with Baxley’s one-day haul. McKechnie, a motorcycle-riding travel writer from Mount Dora, reported raising $13,256 in 102 checks in March. That brought his campaign total to $21,638, with about $20,000 of that in the bank on April 1.

Senate District 12, which includes part of Lake County and a big swath of north-central Florida, was just about the only Central Florida Senate district where candidates had much campaign finance activity in March.

Democrat Bob Doyel was an exception. He reported bringing in $20,882, including a $7,000 check from himself, in his bid to unseat Republican state Sen. Kelli Stargel in Senate District 22, which includes parts of Lake and Polk counties. Doyel entered April having raised $64,881, and with $49,255 in the bank.

Stargel raised just $1,033 in March, but has raised $146,733 overall, and entered April with almost $104,000 left. New in the Democratic field for that seat, former state Rep. Ricardo Rangel of Auburndale reported raising $2,075, and spending $108.

In Senate District 14 on the Space Coast, Democratic challenger Melissa Martin of Cocoa reported raising $6,369, giving her campaign a total of $24,416 in contributions, and about $21,400 left in the bank. Republican state Sen. Dorothy Hukill of Port Orange didn’t raise any money in March. But her campaign already had raised $120,650, and entered April with about $84,000 left in the bank.

Looking ahead to the 2020 elections, Republican state Rep. Jason Brodeur of Sanford didn’t raise any money for his bid to be elected in Senate District 9 in Seminole County, but he has a campaign that already had raised $237,454, and it entered April with $144,000 left in the bank. His Democratic opponent, Fred Ashby, has not really raised any money.

Also looking ahead to the 2020 elections, Democratic state Sens. Randolph Bracy of Orange County’s Senate District 11, Linda Stewart of Orange County’s Senate District 13, and Victor Torres of Orange and Osceola counties’ Senate District 15 didn’t have any campaign finance activity to speak of in March. None of them has more than $25,000 in their re-election accounts at this point, but none has an opponent yet either.

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