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 Besides them, he’s into mystery and suspense books and movies, rock, blues, basketball, baseball, writing unpublished novels, and being amused.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

Lori Harris withdraws from Orange County Commission race

Two months after making one of the biggest political debuts in recent Central Florida history, Lori Harris has withdrawn from the race for the Orange County Commission District 4 seat.

Harris is pulling out to care for a family member who developed a serious health issue, a situation that emerged after Harris first entered the race on April 11, her campaign said late Monday afternoon.

Harris submitted withdrawal papers Monday to the Orange County Supervisor of Elections Office.

Harris had entered the contest with much fanfare: standing beside her former boss, Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, as well as Kissimmee Mayor Jose Alvarez, at a well-attended downtown news conference. She had received Dyer’s backing after she served for more than three years as point-person on his staff for homelessness and other human services issues.

And she had come to the campaign with a dramatic personal story, a once homeless teen mother who pulled herself out of poverty, found her own housing, worked her way through college, and eventually achieved a high-profile career.

Yet she had entered a race that already had a fierce competition underway without her, between five candidates, Susan Makowski, Nicolette Springer, Maribel Cordero, Lance Ballinger, and Gina Perez-Calhoun. That resulted in plenty of grumbling in District 4 circles, charging that Dyer was trying to stack the Orange County Commission with his own people. Dyer and Harris denied that. But even assuming that normally there is no love lost between candidates, Harris found herself particularly disdained by some of the others.

The campaign finance leaders in that race, Makowski and Springer, have raised about $98,000 and $72,000 respectively. Harris had a strong first month in April, raising $14,000 in the 19 days after she filed. But she managed only another $1,375 in May.

Harris intends to “focus her efforts and time and energy on” her ill family member, said Tasi Hogan, a spokeswoman for her campaign. “I know it was a really hard decision for her.”

Jeremy Ring, too, reportedly had driver’s license suspended

It looks as if all the major candidates for Florida chief financial officer have had their driver’s licenses suspended — and also having trouble keeping track of that status.

Three weeks after Republican incumbent Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis was stung by a report that his driver’s license was suspended for nine months in 2011 and ’12, his election campaign is pointing out that his top opponent, Democratic former state Sen. Jeremy Ring, had driver’s license troubles of his own, and perhaps worse.

Patronis’ campaign is bringing to light a Sept. 1, 2006, story in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, which reported that Ring’s driver’s license was suspended because of unpaid tolls on toll roads.

As Patronis did last month, Ring blamed a system glitch last month, contending he had not even been aware, at least for a while, that the state had suspended his driver’s license, according to the 2006 story. That story had been published during Ring’s 2006 campaign for Senate District 32.

“Ring said he logged the violations because the transponder on his SunPass wasn’t working and he didn’t realize it until he tried renting a car and discovered his license had been suspended for nonpayment of the fines,” the Sun-Sentinel reported in that story.

“‘Once I found out, I paid everything instantly,'” the story quotes Ring as saying then.

Ring’s campaign acknowledged the 2006 suspension, and then released a statement reminding that Patronis’ license was suspended over an insurance matter, and now Patronis is the state’s top insurance regulator.

In Patronis’ case, his license was suspended in 2011 because of an apparent glitch in the system that the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles uses to keep track of mandatory car insurance for drivers. As demonstrated by records his insurance agent sent in last month, Patronis switched insurance carriers without missing a day of coverage. But his new policy did not get logged, for some unknown reason, into the department’s computers in Tallahassee. When the department saw he canceled his old policy yet saw no record of a new policy, it automatically suspended Patronis’ license for a standard nine months.

In May, Patronis told Florida Politics (through a spokeswoman) he did not know his license was ever suspended until asked about it.

By the end of that day, after being provided documentation on Patronis’ insurance, the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles declared the suspension an error and removed it from Patronis’ driving record.

“This discovery [of a report that Ring’s license once was suspended] brings to light many questions: Does this mean Ring’s campaign and/or his Democratic Party bosses were involved last month in trying to say CFO Patronis had a driver’s license suspension, which turned out to be a system error? Is this all just one big coincidence?” Katie Strickland, communications director for Patronis’ campaign, mused in a news release. “Or could it be that they were trying to get ahead of what has been a campaign problem for them before? It’s time for them to start giving some answers.”

Ring’s response:

‘I’ve heard of people throwing rocks at glass houses — but this is a boulder. It’s unbelievable that Jimmy Patronis is attacking Jeremy Ring over unpaid tickets from 12 years ago when it was just reported that he had his license suspended for not having insurance and he is the insurance commissioner for the state,” Ring’s campaign manager Anthony Pardal said in a statement issued by the campaign.

Jerry Demings raises another $80K in mayor’s race

Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings raised another $80,000 for his campaign and political committee in his quest to be elected mayor of Orange County.

Demings reported bringing in $48,950 for his official campaign and another $32,349 for his political committee, Orange County Citizens for Smart Growth during the month of May. That brings his total raised over $1 million between the funds, and he entered June with $959,013 left to spend.

His top competitor in the money chase, former Orlando chamber of commerce president and Winter Park entrepreneur Rob Panepinto, reported raising $33,202 for his official campaign but just $7,000 for his independent committee, Vision Orange County. Panepinto now has raised $641,433 overall and ended May with $376,615 left in his funds.

A third major candidate, Orange County Commissioner Pete Clarke, raised $9,050 in May. He now has raised $249,681, most of which coming from his own wallet, and came into June with $220,835 left.

Demings biggest check was from hotelier Terry Shaikh, who contributed $20,000 in May to Demings political committee; while Panepinto’s most generous benefactor in May was Gupta Vishaal, who’s in real estate and donated $5,000 to his political committee.

Alan Grayson launches new TV ad in CD 9 race

Former U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson has launched a second television commercial in his battle for the Democratic primary nomination to return to Congress again in Florida’s 9th Congressional District.

The new 30-second spot starts with a quick visit to Grayson’s roots, as he talks about “growing up in the tenements in the Bronx, surrounded by people who are different from me, and each other.”

“I’m proud to be one of the leading champions for equality of all kinds: social, political, economic and personal. This ad explains why,” Grayson said in a statement released by his campaign.

As images flow past of Bronx tenements, multiracial children playing, and then Grayson as an adult, he says that upbringing helped establish his appreciation of diversity and his beliefs in equality, respect and justice.

Grayson is trying to win back his old seat representing CD 9 and faces his successor, U.S. Rep. Darren Soto, in the August 28 Democratic primary. The winner would face Republican businessman Wayne Liebnitzky in November.

“People of different races, different languages, different religions, and I learned from that, that our differences are not something to overcome, but something to cherish,” Grayson says in the commercial. “And with so much in common as human beings, we all deserve equality, dignity and respect.” He concludes the commercial by declaring it to be a message of “justice, equality and peace.”

The ad is Grayson’s second TV commercial, following Progressive Warrior,” which kicked off his campaign last month, showing national progressive leaders extolling his first three terms in Congress, from 2009-’10 representing Florida’s 8th Congressional District, and from 2013-’16 representing CD 9.

Soto’s campaign has not yet launched any television advertising.

Florida Hispanic chamber endorses Rob Panepinto for Orange County mayor

Citing his plans to help businesses and families, the Florida State Hispanic Chamber of Commerce has endorsed Rob Panepinto for Orange County mayor.

The chamber released the endorsement in video form, as FSHCoC Founder and President Julio Fuentes extolled the Winter Park entrepreneur and former president of the Orlando chamber of commerce as someone who “understands what it takes to build a business and create jobs.”

Panepinto faces Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings, Orange County Commissioner Pete Clarke, and three other candidates in the August 28, non-partisan contest for Orange County mayor. If no gets more than 50 percent of the vote, the top two go on to a runoff in November.

“He has a plan in addressing the major issues facing businesses and families,” Fuentes says of Panepinto in the video. “And he will work to make Orange County even better.”

New Republican PAC launches $3.5 million blitz against Bill Nelson

The super PAC founded by Gov. Rick Scott is pouring $3.5 million into a new advertising blitz on television and social media attacking Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson as someone who voted to raise taxes and cut Social Security, and calling for him to be “term limited.”

The New Republican PAC ads, “Timeline,” are being released in three versions, six-seconds or 15 seconds for the internet, and 30-seconds for TV.

Republican Scott is battling Nelson in this year’s U.S. Senate race.

Nelson’s campaign responded with a long list of bills and efforts he has sponsored and supported to strengthen and protect both Social Security and Medicare, which are both attacked in the New Republican PAC ads.

“Rick Scott just can’t tell the truth, so he lies about Bill Nelson’s record to hide the fact that he refused over $50 billion to provide nearly one million Floridians with health care. Here’s the truth: no one is more committed to protecting Medicare and Social Security than Bill Nelson,” Nelson for Senate spokesperson Carlie Waibel stated in the response.

The new ads show a progression of black-and-white pictures of Nelson aging while a narrator and text run through a timeline starting in 1972.

“Bill Nelson begins political career,” the narrator declares in the 30-second version, with a picture of Nelson from the 1970s and text that declares “1978 Washington Cut Social Security.” “Went to Washington: cut social security, raised taxes on Floridians,” the narrator continues.

From there the commercial cites a 1990 quote from an Orlando Sentinel story stating he is “leaving few footprints behind,” a voting record comparison that shows him voting “with Hillary Clinton 89 percent of the time,” and again raising taxes and voting to cut Medicare providers and weaken Social Security protections.

“After 45 years, it’s time to term limit Bill Nelson,” the narrator concludes

North Brevard Republicans favor Rene Plasencia in HD 50

Republican state Rep. Rene Plasencia has had an achilles heal of support in the Brevard County portion of his district – but that appears to be changing.

Plasencia, who lost Brevard County to challenger George Collins in the 2016 Republican primary yet won overall in Florida’s House District 50, came out on top in a straw poll this weekend over Collins, held by the North Brevard Republican Club.

Plasencia drew 66 votes to Collins 57, with Democratic candidate Pam Dirschka grabbing three of the Republican votes, in a straw poll overseen by the Brevard County Supervisor of Elections Office.

Plasencia is a former high school teacher from Orlando seeking his third term in the house, though only his second term representing the district that covers east Orange County and north Brevard County. Collins, also of Orange County, just entered the 2018 contest to challenge Plasencia a week ago.

Last year Collins’ demonstrated his strength in the Brevard portion of the district – which has more Republican voters than the Orange side – when he won a Brevard County Republican Executive Committee straw poll convincingly over Plasencia a few weeks before the primary.

Among other decisions, the North Brevard Republicans favored Denise Grimsley decisively in the contest for Florida agriculture commissioner. She drew 63 votes to Baxter Troutman‘s 27, Matt Caldwell‘s 26, and Mike McCalister‘s 12.

During debate, Gwen Graham pledges to ban assault weapons by executive order

It was a debate that (once again) had Florida’s four leading Democratic gubernatorial candidates spending much of their time trying to define personas and opponents.

But on Saturday night in St. Petersburg, former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham broke through with a bold pledge — to ban assault weapons by executive order.

“My commitment to you is action, not words. I have found a public safety statute [Graham’s staff later identified it as Florida Statute 14.022, which allows the Governor to take emergency action to quell violence] that allows the Governor, whoever she may be, to sign an executive order for public safety reasons banning the sale of military assault weapons,” Graham said during the debate hosted by Spectrum and its Bay News 9 cable channel in Tampa Bay and News 13 channel in Orlando.

Graham’s staff then fired-off a news release indicating she would sign such an order in her first week in office; it also would require universal background checks on gun purchases.

That moment was a rare one, breaking new ground in Saturday night’s Democratic gubernatorial debate at Pinellas Park High School, for Graham or any of the other three participants, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, and Winter Park entrepreneur Chris King. And it, at least momentarily, set Graham apart from the image of a nonprogressive Democrat that her opponents sought again to draw and she mostly accepts.

Levine also pressed an idea that has not gotten much attention, the creation of an “Education Security Administration” to focus on school safety the way the federal Transportation Security Administration focuses on air travel safety. He also made a sweeping announcement of his new position supporting legalization of marijuana.

Throughout most of the debate, candidates continued to press their differences mainly in their images: Gillum, as the bold, tough-talking, uncompromising progressive intend on giving “voters a reason to turn out and vote for something.” Levine is the mayor who accomplished progressive actions in Miami Beach from raising the minimum wage to reforming the police department.

King painted himself as the progressive with bold and new ideas, such as ending the death penalty and initiating a ‘bullet tax.’

As for Graham, she found moments to remind everyone she is the daughter of former Gov. Bob Graham, a mom, the only woman in the contest, and someone who can appeal to moderate voters.

[Florida’s fifth major Democratic candidate, Jeff Greene, declined to participate in the debate. His campaign remains largely silent since filing June 1.]

King won the lion’s share of big applause lines as the school auditorium crowd heavily peppered with students who seemed to relate to his youthfulness and his positions on such issues as legalizing marijuana, prison reform, dealing with racial injustice, a bullet tax, and removal of state money from profit-making charter schools.

In many cases, King was able to pre-empt Gillum, who holds similar progressive positions on many of those issues, often announcing them before King.

Forced to follow King in Saturday’s debate at many key moments, Gillum tried to remind everyone he was first.

The question about marijuana first came to Levine, who declared he would support legalization, regulation and taxation of marijuana, allowing local cities to take the lead.

That drew in Gillum, who reminded everyone he was the first to call for legalization, regulation and taxation.

Graham held her position for support for medical marijuana but went no further Saturday night.

Attacks on each other came late in the one-hour discussion.

At first, the four seemed to be playing nice. When Gillum was asked about the FBI investigation into Tallahassee city government, King came to his defense, calling Gillum “a good an noble public servant.”

But the cordiality didn’t last. Before long, Gillum and King were going after Graham for her vote on a Syrian refugee bill in Congress that President Barack Obama opposed, charging that she did not have a good congressional voting record for Democrats.

Gillum then went after Levine for having once cut a campaign check to Republican U.S. Rep. Marco Rubio. King accused Levine of belittling those who don’t agree with him, including journalists and scientists.

“Boy, it’s sure fun to be the front-runner,” Levine replied.

Graham announced she would take the high-road and disarm “the negative narrative of me.”

But that too didn’t last. When Gillum accused her of voting against Obama’s agenda 52 percent of the time, Graham dove in — counter-accusing Gillum of voting for a coal-fired power plant in North Florida, despite the environmental impact of burning coal.

Gillum insisted he ultimately voted against the plant and had led for the installation of a huge solar-power farm, but by that time it was on.

By far, Gillum got the best laugh of the night, although it was an uncomfortable one, considering the irony and awkward direction of the question. Gillum, the only African-American in the race, responded quickly with a punch and cutting wit that exposed irony and awkwardness.

“Do you see institutionalized racism as a threat to our democracy, and why?” co-moderate Holly Gregory, a Bay News 9 anchor asked, forwarding the question from someone who offered it on Facebook: “This question goes to Mr. Gillum first.”

“Why’s that?” Gillum replied. When the laughter, cheering, and embarrassed jeering finished he added, “I had to. It was an opening. I’m sorry.”

Democrats call for Adam Putnam to drop out, resign after report of missed background checks

A Tampa Bay Times investigation into an apparent yearlong lapse in national background checks for Florida concealed weapons permits has started a wave of Democrats calling for Republican Agriculture Commissioner and gubernatorial candidate Adam Putnam to drop out of the Governor’s race or resign.

They were responding to a new report from the Times “Buzz blog” Friday afternoon that said Putnam’s Department of Agriculture and Consumer Affairs failed for more than a year to run national background checks on people applying for Florida concealed weapons permits.

The lapse may have resulted in unknown numbers of permits issued to people not qualified to carry guns in public.

A response put out by Putnam’s office reads, “To be clear, a criminal background investigation was completed on every single application. Upon discovery of this former employee’s negligence in not conducting the further review required on 365 applications, we immediately completed full background checks on those 365 applications, which resulted in 291 revocations. The former employee was both deceitful and negligent, and we immediately launched an investigation and implemented safeguards to ensure this never happens again.”

Leading the pack was Democratic gubernatorial candidate and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum:

“Adam Putnam’s rhetoric on guns has been dangerous — but this is far worse. His department’s failure to conduct background checks is a dereliction of Putnam’s duties, and he should consider whether he is able to continue running for governor or serving as commissioner of agriculture,” Gillum, the mayor of Tallahassee, said in a written statement Friday.

Gillum also released a video on Facebook that went into greater detail, railing against dangers that he says Putnam may have unleashed in the forms of armed people who were not screened.

Former U.S. Rep. and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gwen Graham:

“Drop out now, Adam.”

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Philip Levine:

Former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine stopped short of urging Putnam to drop out of the race, but did say he should consider resigning from the agriculture commissioner’s post, and Levine called for an investigation.

“Negligence that threatens and costs lives must never be tolerated — Adam Putnam’s lack of due diligence and disregard to follow protocols endangered communities and put people’s lives at unnecessary risk. Career politicians like Mr. Putnam think this is just another bad day at the office — but when you conceal a level of negligence that endangers every resident, and every child, in Florida, you forfeit any moral right to lead.”

“This failure by his office to review background checks coincided with the tragic Pulse shooting — a lack of responsibility like this cannot be tolerated. An investigation should be opened immediately. These developments require an immediate response from Commissioner Putnam, starting with if he deserves to continue to serve in his current role.”

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chris King:

“Adam Putnam should resign.”

U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch:

His district includes the scene of the horrible Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School slaughter in February. He said in a tweet that Putnam “must” resign.

“My blood is boiling. This is an unimaginable failure for anyone who serves the public. He made FL less safe. He put lives at risk. He must resign.”

State Sen. Linda Stewart:

Her district includes the site of the horrible Pulse slaughter on June 12, 2016, said Putnam “needs to resign.”

“I’m extremely alarmed at the failure by Commissioner Putnam to disclose that his agency had failed to conduct these critical background checks — allowing possibly mentally disturbed individuals and others who shouldn’t be disqualified, to be legally armed in Florida.”

State Rep. Jared Moskowitz:

“After twenty-two years of holding public office, we can now add an additional major accomplishment to Adam Putnam’s lifetime government employee resume: helping to put guns into the hands of terrorists. Putnam’s gross negligence may have allowed someone on the FBI terror watch list to get a concealed carry permit.
“How can a politician who can’t even fulfill their basic duty to keep Floridians safe be our next governor? Lets just think what some Republicans would say if Obama did this, they would ask for his birth certificate……again!”

American Bridge:

“Adam Putnam should resign immediately,” American Bridge spokesperson Zach Hudson said in an issued statement. “Not being able to log into the FBI background checks system should have resulted in Adam Putnam’s office calling an IT professional, not approving concealed carry permits to potential criminals.”

The Pride Fund to End Gun Violence:

“Adam Putnam clearly has more allegiance to the NRA and gun culture than he has to ensuring the safety of Florida’s citizens,” stated Pride Fund executive director Jason Lindsay.

The Times article cites a report from the Office of the Inspector General that says that starting in February 2016 the department could not get into the FBI’s federal background check database to see if applicants had issues in other states that should prevent them from holding concealed weapons permits in Florida. The situation persisted until at least March 2017, according to the Times. The problem existed because the clerk with that role could not log into the FBI’s National Criminal Instant Background Check System, according to the OIG report.

In the 2015-16 fiscal year, Florida received a record 245,000 applications for concealed weapons permits. In the 2016-17 fiscal year the record was broken again with 275,000 applications, the Times reported.

Without federal background checks, it could be impossible to screen out anyone who might be disqualified from carrying guns in public in Florida, who might have such issues as mental illness, the Times notes.

Gillum’s reference to Putnam’s rhetoric may have been to Putnam’s statement, in a tweet last year, that he considers himself a “proud NRA sellout.”

State teachers’ union endorses Gwen Graham

The Florida Education Association is backing Democrat Gwen Graham, a former schools’ counsel in Leon County, for governor.

 “Supporting Gwen Graham is an easy choice for anyone concerned about Florida’s schools. She is the public education dream candidate,” FEA president Joanne McCall stated in a letter to members Thursday night. “She supports increasing salaries for educators and wants to ensure that lottery money actually goes toward educational enhancements.”

All four campaigning Democrats have made those pledges, with Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum going so far as to pledge a minimum $50,000 starting salary. Winter Park entrepreneur Chris King and former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine also have made detailed pledges. Jeff Greene continues to pursue the silent phase of his fledgling campaign.

The leading Republicans, Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, had no shot at the FEA endorsement.

Graham has pushed public education investments and improvements as her top priority since entering the race 13 months ago, and has held a series of roundtable discussions with teachers around the state. She’s also a former PTA president, and she began the WorkDays portion of her campaign at Miami Carol City Senior High School.

The Florida Education Association, with its 140,000 Florida teachers and school support professionals members, has long been a potent force in Democratic Party politics.

“Since beginning my campaign with a workday at Miami Carol City Senior High School, I have heard from countless educators, students and parents ready for a change in Tallahassee,” Graham said. “Earning the support of Florida’s teachers and school support professionals means the world to me. When I am governor, they will finally have a voice in the Governor’s Office. Together, we will end high-stakes testing, increase educators’ salaries, and restore our promise to Florida’s public schools.”

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