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Scott Powers

Pam Keith may not yet be declared in CD 18, but she’s campaigning

Democrat Pam Keith may not have yet declared or filed to run for Congress in Florida’s 18th Congressional District, but the former U.S. Senate candidate is organizing a staff and committee and preparing for a town hall meeting Thursday night.

Keith, a labor lawyer with a background as a U.S. Navy Judge Advocate General from Palm Beach Garden, said she still is exploring a candidacy to take on incumbent U.S. Rep. Brian Mast of Palm City. The town hall meeting, set for Palm Beach Gardens, is an effort to test the waters, she said.

“Come meet the RIGHT person to oust Brian Mast (R FL 18) from Congress,” declares an internet advertisement paid for and presented by the Committee to Elect Pam Keith.

“I am moving quickly, assessing the feedback I get,” Keith said. “Tomorrow night will be another data point.”

That includes formation of the Committee to Elect Pam Keith.

Keith was a no-name, longshot candidate for the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate in her first bid for for office, last year, behind sitting Congressmen with sizable campaign funds, networks of backers, and name recognition. She exploded into the party’s consciousness, however, with a fiery speech at a Democratic Party quarterly meeting in Orlando. And though she never raised money, she won some endorsements, including that of the Miami Herald, and attracted 173,000 votes statewide, finishing not far behind Alan Grayson as Patrick Murphy won the primary.

 

Democrats call on Carlos Curbelo to join their push for independent commission on Russia

As U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo gains national notice as the first Republican congressman to discuss the possibilities of obstruction of justice and impeachment involving President Donald Trump, Democrats are trying to pressure the Kendall congressman to join their call for an independent investigation.

Curbelo, who is on the House Ways and Means Committee, told CNN Tuesday night that if Trump asked then-FBI Director James Comey to set aside an investigation of former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn‘s associations with Russia, as reported, then that could construe obstruction of justice, and that could be an impeachment offense. Curbelo also called for Comey to testify before Congress, and to bring his memos and documents with him.

MotherJones.com reported Wednesday afternoon that Curbelo’s office called them to claim the distinction for him as the first Republican to discuss the prospects of impeachment over the Russian influence scandal that’s been alternately simmering and boiling in Washington for months.

Democrats responded to Curbelo’s new distinction by pushing for him to take the next step, if he wants a distinction as a Republican getting out front of the matter.

They urged him to sign a discharge petition introduced on the House of Representatives floor Wednesday to force action on House Resolution 356, a Democratic-backed bill to create a special, independent investigative commission to oversee the matter.

As of 4 p.m., one Republican, U.S. Rep. Walter Jones of North Carolina, had signed the discharge petition, along with 108 Democrats. All 11 Democratic members of Congress are co-sponsors of H.R. 356.

Curbelo’s office did not directly respond to an inquiry from FloridaPolitics.com about the independent commission, H.R. 356, or the discharge position, referring instead to an interview Curbelo gave to Alex Leary of the Tampa Bay Times Wednesday. In that interview, according to a tweet summary Leary posted on Twitter, Curbelo repeated many of the concerns he expressed Tuesday night, and said many of his Republican colleagues also are concerned. But he did not address the independent commission or the bill.

“If Carlos Curbelo is serious about calling for an investigation into President Trump’s ties to Russia, he should take action right now,” Cole Leiter, spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee stated in a news release. “There’s one simple way to do that: Carlos Curbelo can sign onto the discharge petition that is currently on the House floor, and bring the bill creating an independent commission up for a vote as soon as possible.”

Carlos Curbelo raises obstruction of justice concerns as some Republicans join Dems’ call for testimony, memo

As Florida’s Democratic members of Congress entered another day of denouncements toward new reports of President Donald Trump actions – this time involving former FBI Director James Comey – Republican U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo raised strong concerns about potential obstruction of justice by the president.

And other Florida Republicans are joining in a call to get Comey and his now famous memo in front of Congress.

In a late-night interview on CNN, Curbelo, of Kendall, said Congress should subpoena Comey and his documents and question him about the validity of reports that the president asked him to “put aside” an investigation, and that Comey wrote a memo detailing the conversation.

In an interview with CNN’s Don Lemon airing shortly before midnight Tuesday, Curbelo stressed that the truth is not known about the Trump-Comey meeting, but that an action such as that attributed to Comey’s memo could be construed as obstruction of justice. And Curbelo said the House of Representatives has found in the past, in proceedings against Presidents Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton, that obstruction of justice “has been considered an impeachable offense.”

Multiple media reports Tuesday and Wednesday, starting with the New York Times, citing unnamed sources, say that after a Feb. 14 meeting in the oval office Comey wrote an internal memo reporting that the president asked him to “let go” an FBI investigation into whether former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn had inappropriate dealings with Russia.

The White House denied that Trump made any such request.

“We have to hear from Director Comey,” Curbelo told Lemon. “Any effort to stop the federal government from continuing an investigation, any effort to dissuade federal agents from proceeding in an invesigation, is very serious, and could be construed as obstruction of justice.

“I’m not accusing anyone,” Curbelo added. “We don’t know what happened.”

Both Republican U.S. Reps. Brian Mast and Vern Buchanan also called for Comey and his memo to appear before Congress to start delving deeper to seek the truth.

“Mr. Comey should be asked to testify in public so that Congress and the American people can get all the facts and learn the truth,” Buchanan, of Longboat Key, said in a statement issued late Wednesday morning. “And we need to see Mr. Comey’s memo regarding his discussion with the president. Transparency is the best disinfectant.”

Mast, of Palm City, said Congress should have access to “whatever Comey memo or notes exist.”

“Speaking about intelligence, it’s a very serious thing,” Mast said in a written statement. “The way that you gather it is a very fragile thing. And it should be taken very seriously because irreparable harm can be done for a long time.”

Republican U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart of Miami tweeted, “I hope to get a full and complete briefing on details when they become available.”

In some ways, their comments were as strong as any provided by Florida Democrats following the Trump-Comey meeting reports, which followed within hours of the previous controversy, involving reports that Trump had shared highly-sensitive, highly-classified information with Russian diplomats.

Among Democrats, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson stated, “If true, this is another piece to the puzzle and it does not look good for the White House.”

U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy of Winter Park said much the same as Curbelo:

“This is a very serious allegation,” Murphy said in a statement. “Congress must obtain all relevant information about this conversation, and James Comey must testify in an open forum. Congress must also subpoena White House senior officials and all of Comey’s memos related to his conversations with the President. We need a comprehensive, bipartisan investigation that can follow the facts and uncover the truth.”

U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist of St. Petersburg renewed his call for a special prosecutor:

“If accurate, the President was attempting to impede an FBI investigation with national security implications. It’s just wrong, plain and simple,” Crist stated in a release. “The President is not above the law, but frighteningly it appears he thinks he is. If this isn’t the final straw making clear the need for a special prosecutor, I don’t know what is.”

U.S. Rep. Val Demings of Orlando said the new reports set off an alarm for every member of Congress.

“On the surface this appears to be obstruction of justice, which is why I’m joining my democratic colleagues on the House Oversight Committee in asking for a launch an immediate joint investigation with the House Judiciary Committee,” she stated.

“We need to investigate whether President Donald Trump and his top officials are engaging in an ongoing conspiracy to obstruct the criminal, counter-intelligence, and oversight investigations currently being conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Department of Justice, and Congress into members of his presidential campaign and their contacts with Russian officials,” she added.

U.S. Rep. Darren Soto of Orlando called the latest reports “the most damning” yet.

“FBI Director Comey’s notes detail that Trump asked him to drop the case against Gen Flynn. This constitutes the most damning evidence of obstruction of justice yet,” he wrote in a Facebook post. “The revelation comes after news that Trump released highly classified info to Russians putting our country and allies in jeopardy. Time for independent investigative commission!”

U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch of Boca Raton said America is enduring “one shocking revelation after another.”

“The President asked the FBI Director to shut down one investigation, then fired the FBI Director in order to shut down another investigation. In the end, the President’s actions must lead to a new, fully independent investigation to determine any evidence of undue influence or obstruction of justice by this White House,” Deutch stated.

U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel of West Palm Beach accused Trump of abusing power.

“The latest report that President Trump asked former FBI director Comey ‘to forget about Mike Flynn’ is just the latest string of disturbing occasions of this President abusing his power,” she stated. “It’s clear we need an independent investigation of whether there is connection between the Russian interference with the 2016 presidential election and the Trump campaign.”

U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson of Miami Gardens called Coomey “a perfect witness.”

“I see bombshells dropping everywhere. And from what I understand and what I have read and seen, our president needs to take an eighth-grade civics course because he doesn’t understand government. You cannot obstruct justice. You cannot threaten people. And now that he has fired the director of the FBI, we have a perfect witness in someone who can give us all of the details that we need to know. I’m hoping that he will spill the beans, and spill his gut, and tell everything he knows about Russia’s ties to our election and the president’s ties to Russia,” said Congresswoman Frederica S. Wilson (FL-24). “We have to find out the truth. And someone needs to help Mr. Trump because he doesn’t realize that he is on the brink of impeachment. People will begin to call for him to be impeached. The Republicans will have to join in because they need be on the right side of history. The world is watching us. And it’s a shame the way that we are showing up in the news every single day with some travesty involving the president. He has to understand this is not a reality show. He is the president of the United States.”

U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Weston allowed for either obstruction of justice or abuse of executive power in her observation, calling either one disturbing.

“If President Trump pressured then-FBI Director Comey to close down an investigation into former National Security Advisor Flynn, it would represent an egregious corrosion of the rule of law. The latest reports indicate that the President possibly abused his executive power, or attempted to obstruct justice. Either one, if true, would represent one of the most disturbing allegations yet,” she said in a statement released Wednesday afternoon.

“Along with this latest revelation and President Trump’s subsequent firing of Director Comey, it is increasingly evident that Trump has interfered with an investigation into whether he or his campaign colluded with the Russian government. It is essential that we put our country and the rule of law above politics now, and allow an independent counsel to broadly investigate the Trump-Russia ties without fear of presidential influence,” Wasserman Schultz concluded.

House Majority PAC targets Brian Mast in new ads

The Democrats’ House Majority PAC is targeting U.S. Rep. Brian Mast among six Republicans nationally with video ads released Wednesday attacking their votes to approve the American Health Care Act.

The Mast commercial, released as an internet ad, charges that his vote, which helped the U.S. House of Representatives approved the bill 215-213, could allow insurance companies to charge older people five times as much as they charge younger people for premiums, citing an American Association of Retired Persons report.

The ad refers to the clause as the “age tax.”

With video of people sitting around drinking coffee, reading their computer, and shaking their heads, the commercial also charges that Mast’s campaign received $150,000 from insurance company and financial interests.

“Congressman Mast,” the 30-second spot concludes, “Good for insurance companies, not so good for you.”

Mast’s re-election campaign responded by re-issuing his statement on why he voted for the American Health Care Act, which now is in the Senate, awaiting actions there. He noted that the Affordable Care Act – also known as Obamacare – failed in its promises and was leading to high premiums and other costs.

“The American Health Care Act delivers relief for families by ensuring that you get to choose your coverage and the federal government can’t tax you based on what you think is best for your family,” Mast added in that statement. “The bill returns control of health care from Washington back to you and restores access to quality, affordable options that are tailored to your individual needs.”

The House Majority PAC released nearly identical commercials, dubbed “Wonder Why,” in five other swing congressional districts Wednesday, in California, Minnesota, New York, and Texas.

The Democrats’ rapid response to the American Health Care Act – also known as TrumpCare – indicates the battle over health care continues into the next election.

“House Republicans voted for a disastrous health care plan that will hurt millions of Americans across the country,” Charlie Kelly, Executive Director of House Majority PAC, stated in a news release. “It is critical that we expose House Republicans for their dreadful plan that includes an ‘age tax’ – charging people over 50 years old up to five times more for their coverage.”

Andrew, R. Jai Gillum add baby Davis to family

R. Jai Gillum and her husband — Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum — have welcomed another member to their family, announcing the birth of baby Davis Allen Gillum.

Davis, born Monday night at 8 pounds, 3 ounces, is the Gillum’s third child, joining three-year-old twins Jackson and Caroline.

Gillum, who serves as Tallahassee mayor, reported on Facebook that mother and child both are doing well.

“Everyone on Team Gillum all across the state is thrilled for them!” spokesman Geoff Burgan said.

Partly in disbelief, Florida’s members of Congress denounce Donald Trump’s revelations to Russians

A lot of Florida’s Democratic members of Congress are responding with stunned disbelief to news reports — and President Donald Trump‘s Tuesday morning tweet — that he shared classified, highly sensitive ISIS information with Russian diplomats last week, calling the prospect inexcusable and demanding details.

Republican U.S. Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Miami and Mario Diaz-Balart also denounced the events, while most other Republican members from Florida have yet to react Tuesday morning to Monday evenings’ news, and Trump’s tweet essentially acknowledging the information exchange.

On the other hand, Republican U.S. Rep. Bill Posey of Rockledge argued that if the concerns are real and serious, the sources who brought the story forward need to be taking their concerns to Congress, not offering unnamed source tips to the media.

“The President has the authority to make decisions regarding our national security and work with other nations to combat international terrorism,” Posey stated. “It’s time for these unnamed sources to come forward and inform Congress and the public of any specific allegations.”

After reports first in The Washington Post and then other major media outlets, Trump responded Tuesday morning with two tweets stating, “As President I wanted to share with Russia (at an openly scheduled W.H. meeting) which I have the absolute right to do, facts pertaining …” and “… to terrorism and airline flight safety. Humanitarian reasons, plus I want Russia to greatly step up their fight against ISIS & terrorism.”

Essentially The Washington Post and others had reported that Trump told the Russian officials about intelligence it had gathered on ISIS in Syria, from third-party sources that presumably would not want that information shared with the Russians, who are not aligned with the United States in the multisided Syrian conflicts.

“If the story is true,” began a statement from Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson.

“If these allegations are true,” opened Democratic U.S. Rep. Val Demings of Orlando.

“If reports are accurate,” surmised Democratic U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch of Boca Raton

“If true,” started Democratic U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Weston.

“Putin and the Russian regime are dangerous players in the global arena,” Diaz-Balart stated. “They are not our allies and cannot be trusted with sensitive, classified information.”

Ros-Lehtinen spoke on CBS Miami, and then passed along her essential position in a tweet Tuesday morning: “No one should share classified information with nations like #Russia that have interests adverse to ours.”

Democrats were no less direct, including those who caveated their statements in initial disbelief, calling for damage assessments and more.

And with later reports on Tuesday that the intelligence may have come from Israel, Deutch really let loose.

“It is shocking that President Trump shared classified information reportedly obtained by Israel with the Russians. Not only does this endanger Israel’s intelligence network, but it puts highly sensitive information into the hands of Russia — a partner of Israel’s enemies Syria, Iran, and its proxy Hezbollah,” Deutch said. “Intelligence cooperation between the United States and Israel has always been a cornerstone of our relationship, and to jeopardize this while boasting to the Russians puts America’s national security and Israel’s security at serious risk.”

“When you betray the trust of our allies and national security partners, it jeopardizes our safety and future intelligence sharing. As the former vice chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, I can’t stress enough how serious of a blunder this is,” declared U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings of Miramar. “It is imperative that Congress is given a full briefing on the extent of the damage that President Donald John Trump has caused in compromising highly classified code-word intelligence to the Russians.”

“If the story is true, this is a serious breach of security and will have lasting and dangerous consequences for the U.S.,” Nelson said.

“Trump betrays our country & allies when he leaks classified info to Russia,” tweeted U.S. Rep. Darren Soto of Orlando.

“The news that the president gave highly classified information to the Russian foreign minister and Russian ambassador in the Oval Office is deeply, deeply disturbing. His actions are indefensible,” declared U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist of St. Petersburg. “They delivered a self-inflicted wound to our national security, imperiling secret, sensitive operations overseas battling ISIS, putting the lives of our operatives in grave danger. Congress must exercise its oversight responsibilities immediately. The repercussions of the disclosure, and measures to prevent the President from repeating such a serious error, must be weighed.”

“If these allegations are true, they are inexcusable and deserve immediate action from Congress. In leaking this kind of intelligence, the President would be putting lives in danger. Our allies need to know that they can trust us,” Demings offered.

“As president, Trump has the right to declassify anything he wants, but that doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do,” offered U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson of Miami Gardens. “Russia is not our friend, and the sooner he realizes that, the better off our country will be.”

“If true, news reports indicate that President Trump compromised America’s intelligence gathering operations and security, and possibly harmed a relationship with a key ally and put lives at risk,” stated Wasserman Schultz. “His disclosure would be a gravely dangerous compromise of classified information with an adversary. Congress needs an immediate and full briefing on what damage has been done.”

“If reports are accurate, President Trump revealed vital and highly classified information in the Oval Office to Putin’s top officials. This reckless move jeopardizes our intelligence sources, exposes extremely sensitive information, and seriously calls into question our president’s judgment,” Deutch declared in his original statement, before the Israel report. “This dangerous behavior threatens our global alliances in the fight against terrorism and actually makes America less safe.”

U.S. Rep. Al Lawson of Tallahassee posted on Facebook, “Reports of President Trump sharing highly sensitive information with Russian officials is extremely concerning. This underscores the need for a Special Prosecutor to investigate this administration’s ties to Russia.”

At a news conference Tuesday morning, U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor of Tampa said: “If it’s true that President Trump shared classified information with one of our adversaries while they were invited into the Oval Office, it’s simply outrageous and it undermines the ability of the United States of America to cooperate with our allies across the world, gathering intelligence. It undermines the effectiveness of the brave men and women in our intelligence agencies.”

U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy of Winter Park, also sent out a tweet, stating, “If other nations can’t trust us to keep shared classified info secret, then they will stop sharing it with us — making us less safe.”

Murphy’s campaign side had a lot more to say on the subject late Tuesday, in a fundraising email, demanding that transcripts of Trump’s meeting with the Russians be sent to Congress for review:

“These leaks could put American lives in danger and no one — not even the President — should be given a free pass for this kind of reckless behavior. Nothing is more important than the safety and security of American citizens. Trump’s leaks to the Russians put our national security at risk and endanger our relationships with key allies.

“In fact, The Associated Press is reporting that other countries may stop sharing intelligence that could prevent future terrorist attacks. As a former National Security specialist with one of the nation’s top security clearances, Stephanie knows the importance of keeping classified information within the intelligence community.

“That’s why she’s taking Trump’s leaks VERY seriously and calling for the immediate release of the meeting transcripts for Congressional review.

“Congress should at least have the same information the Russians now have in their possession. If our President put our nation in danger — we deserve to know.”

The email then directs people to click on a link to send a message to Trump, but the link first sends visitors to a fundraising page for Murphy’s 2018 re-election.

Adam Putnam brings ‘Florida First’ tour to Altamonte Springs

Republican gubernatorial candidate and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam brought his “Florida First” campaign to the Orlando area for the first time Tuesday afternoon, promising conservative, pro-growth values and belittling liberals he expects to go after him.

The fifth-generation Floridian and former state and U.S. lawmaker continued the opening themes of his brand new campaign, declaring “Florida exceptionalism” is why people want to visit and move here and vowing to promote that as Florida’s governor, and to prevent it from turning into a liberal and high-tax bastion like California, Illinois and New York.

“I believe there is a special obligation to be a Floridian, to keep Florida special, knowing that people from all over the world want to visit or move here. I want to Florida to be more than a prize for a life well-lived someplace else. I want Florida to be the launch pad for the American dream!” Putnam said to a warm reception of more than 100 people at the Eastmonte Civic Center in Altamonte Springs.

“And it can be that if we put Florida first!” he declared.

In his speech Putnam broke little new ground compared with what he’s been saying since he kicked off his campaign before 2,000 people in his hometown of Bartow last month.

In a press availability afterwards, Putnam said there is plenty in the 2017-18 budget just passed by the Florida Legislature that he would veto, though he was not specific; he criticized the Legislature for not reaching a deal on a medical marijuana enactment bill; said he would vote as a member of the Florida Cabinet to pardon the “Groveland Four,” as requested by the Legislature.

He also deflected a question about whether he would, as governor, invoke a states’ waiver included in the American Health Care Act to opt Florida out of having to cover pre-existing conditions. As a former member of Congress, Putnam expressed skepticism that the waiver will still be in the bill when it leaves the U.S. Senate, and said he hopes the final bill includes coverage for pre-existing conditions.

Putnam begins his campaign with a 10-day, 22-stop tour that’s hitting both big cities and small towns.

So far he has no real competition for the Republican primary, and his independent political committee, armed with almost $8 million to start, may intimidate away all but the most courageous. The Democrats, meanwhile, are heading for a primary brawl, with three major candidates so far, former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, and Winter Park businessman Chris King, and others mulling the race.

Putnam spoke of conservative leadership over the past six years fueling the Florida economy, painting images of hotel maids opening their own bed-and-breakfasts, and of the Space Coast being even better with private space industry emerging there than it ever was when it relied on NASA.

“American exceptionalism, Florida exceptionalism, is still very much alive and well in the Sunshine State in 2017 and it will be even stronger when I get elected,” he said.

“Florida, with limited government, a focus on Constitutional freedom, liberty, law and order, Florida is the destination of choice for people to come here to find their piece of the American dream,” he added.

He called for protection of gun rights and boasted that the state’s number of concealed weapons permits dramatically increased under his commission, and argued that is a key reason why Florida’s crime rate has fallen.

Putnam also called for the state to not only push technical and vocational education more, but said the state needs to do a better job of advising students of the high-wage jobs they can pursue with vocational education.

He also vowed great support and homage to be paid to service members, veterans, police and other first responders.

“And our men and women in law enforcement, the military, and those who serve our nation and their families will know that Florida is the most veteran and military and law enforcement friendly state in the entire country, hands down,” Putnam said.

Ryan Yadav mulling Democratic run for Attorney General

Winter Park attorney Ryan Yadav said Tuesday he is contemplating a Democratic run for Florida attorney general.

Yadav ran unsuccessfully last year for the House District 30 seat. Republican state Rep. Bob Cortes won re-election, beating him, 53 to 47 percent.

“I have recently been contacted by people throughout the State encouraging me to run for Attorney General in 2018. I am seriously considering the venture and will make a decision over the summer,” Yadav declared in a message to Orlando-Rising.com. “Based upon my qualifications, trial experience, and fire in the belly — If I run I will win!”

The only declared candidate in the attorney general’s race so far is Republican state Rep.  Jay Fant of Jacksonville.

Yadav’s race against Cortes last year was largely self-funded, with $75,000 in personal loans, plus about $23,000 in donations. Cortes hugely outspent him, with more than $370,000, and also received indirect support from the Republican Party of Florida and other organizations. Yadav received a few endorsements, including from school groups and unions, but little money.

Yadav, who turns 33 at the end of the month, has his own law firm in Sanford, practicing mostly criminal defense law, though he said he also practices a wide range of law.

“I feel that I have, in all candor, more legal experience, varied legal experience, than the past three attorney generals combined. And the Republican candidate has only done legal work for a bank,” he said, referring to Fant.

But Yadav also cautioned that he has a lot to contemplate before deciding to run, including whether he can assemble fundraising and grass-roots support for a statewide race.

“I’m not naive to the challenges of running a statewide campaign,” he said. “But I think it is within reason.”

Darren Soto to push bill to declare Kissimmee River ‘Wild and Scenic’

Democratic U.S. Rep. Darren Soto said Monday he intends to sponsor legislation to protect the Kissimmee River with a designation under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.

Such a move, if it were to be approved, would enact broad protections for the river, which starts in Osceola County’s Little Lake Tohopekaliga and, at least in its original bed, meanders 103 miles before emptying into Lake Okeechobee, and providing the Everglades with one of its largest sources of water.

But in the mid-20th century the Army Corps of Engineers set out to address flooding by channeled the river into canals that created a straight shot between the lakes, flooding Okeechobee with much of the phosphate-based pollution that is strangling the Everglades and causing Florida’s algae blooms. In the 1990s, by act of Congress, the corps reversed policy and began restoring the river to its natural state, and the $1 billion project is a little more than half done.

Soto, speaking at a town hall meeting in Orlando focusing on environmental issues, called for widespread actions to address Florida’s natural environment, particularly the Everglades, and announced that as part of that he will introduce a bill to put the Kissimmee River into the class of the nation’s most protected and revered rivers.

The move is for both the river’s sake and the Everglades sake, he noted.

“The Kissimmee River has an unusual windiness to us which allows the water to be cleaned. If it’s a Wild and Scenic River, that’ll limit what activities can be done on there, primarily recreational,” Soto said. “Right now there’s not much other than recreational happening there. But there is nothing in the law to stop that. So we want to enshrine it into law. And then we’ll be able to get federal funds.”

The Wild and Scenic River Act of 1972 has three designations: wild, scenic and recreational, with varying degrees of restrictions. Nationally more than 200 rivers are in the system, covering about 12,700 miles, representing less than one half of one percent of the nations rivers, according to the U.S. National and Wild Scenic Rivers Office. In Florida, just two rivers are enrolled, the Wekiva River in Central Florida, and the Loxahatchee River along the Treasure Coast.

The Kissimmee River bill news drew strong applause from the largely environmentally-conscious crowd. Otherwise, Soto and several other Democratic officials who participated in the town hall, including state Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, Orange County Commissioner Emily Bonilla, Orange Soil and Water Conservation District Chairman Eric Rollings and Supervisor Daisy Morales, and an aide to state Sen. Linda Stewart, all of Orlando.

Their news on environmental legislation was mixed at best, but hopeful for environmentalists, who led applause for the officials’ promises to fight against fracking, offshore oil and gas drilling, protection of Florida’s springs, and restrictions on growth east of the Econlockhatchee River.

Soto noted that in particular he has joined bipartisan Florida support for a variety of measures ranging from extending the ban on oil and gas drilling off Florida’s Gulf Coast, seeking money for Everglades restoration, and pushing for recognition of and programs to address global warming and the projected sea level rise that would hit Florida hardest. But in none of those measures does bipartisan support extend much beyond the Florida congressional delegation.

 

Val Demings, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen spend Mother’s Day with women troops in Iraq, Afghanistan

Orlando’s U.S. Rep. Val Demings and Miami’s U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen made a week-long visit to visit troops in Afghanistan and Iraq this week, including a Mother’s Day visit at which Demings was able to deliver cards from students in her Florida’s 10th Congressional District.

Demings, a Democrat, and Ros-Lehtinen were part of a bipartisan group of members of Congress to make the tour to conduct oversight of U.S. operations in Afghanistan and Iraq with a focus on the contribution, efforts, and concerns of women in the United States Armed Forces and local women.

“This was my first trip to Afghanistan and Iraq, and it was such an honor to meet with our female troops and commanders, and see firsthand the difference they are making in Afghanistan and Iraq all while protecting our homeland,” Demings stated in a news release issued by her office.

The delegation met with U.S. female service members, toured local businesses, participated in roundtables with Afghan Female Police and Soldiers, met with Iraqi women leaders, and humanitarian leaders. Others in the group in clouded U.S. Reps. Martha Roby, an Alabama Republican; Susan Davis, a California Democrat; Susan Brooks, an Indiana Republican; and members of the House Armed Services Committee.

“I’m encouraged by the work being done through USAID to enhance and further the lives of women in Afghanistan and Iraq. We must continue to invest in these important programs, that help to enrich the lives of families and give them hope for the future,” Demings stated.

The Mother’s Day cards were delivered to women in the service.

“We just wanted to show them how much we appreciate the sacrifices they make to serve us, not just on Mother’s Day, but every day,” Demings said.

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