Scott Powers, Author at Florida Politics - Page 3 of 169

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 Besides them, he’s into mystery and suspense books and movies, rock, blues, basketball, baseball, writing unpublished novels, and being amused.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

Gwen Graham raises $300K in third quarter

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gwen Graham raised more than $300,000 for her campaign and her independent political committee during the third quarter of 2017, her campaign announced Monday.

Graham’s campaign said it has  amassed more than $3.6 million dollars for the 2018 election campaign, and had more than $2.5 million cash on hand at the end of September. The new money included more than $165,000 for her campaign and over $135,000 for her Our Florida independent political committee.

Graham, a former congresswoman from Tallahassee, is in a battle for the 2018 Democratic nomination with Winter Park businessman Chris King and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum. Going into the third quarter, she led both in the money race, though trailed Republican candidates Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam of Bartow and state Sen. Jack Latvala of Clearwater by sizable margins.

Her campaign said she added 1,000 new donors in the quarter, bringing her total to 8,850 individual donors so far.

“This campaign is about more than winning back the governor’s office. This campaign is about undoing nearly 20 years of damaging one-party rule,” she stated in a news release. “When I’m elected governor, the decades of privatizing our education, paving over our environment and profiting off the backs of the middle class are going to end. I’m proud of the coalition we’re building — thousands of donors from every corner of the state — to turn Florida blue. Together, we will support our public schools, create good paying jobs, and prepare our state for the effects of climate change.”


Bill Sublette calls for continuing Teresa Jacobs’ legacy in Orange County mayors race

Orange County mayoral candidate Bill Sublette called Monday for the next mayor to be someone who can continue Mayor Teresa Jacobs‘ legacy of open government and offer a proven track record for being tough, and then offered what he called “a very aggressive agenda” involving growth, bikes, buses, education, the environment, and crusading for consumers.

Sublette, chairman of the Orange County School Board for the past seven years, offered himself as heir to Jacobs’ legacy, and touted a record of fighting hard during his time in the Florida House of Representatives and leading the school board for what he thought was right. And then he explored a wide range of issues including some that Jacobs and her predecessors all had discussed but struggled to forward, such as expanding Lynx bus service and linking the county’s bike paths for a countyline-to-countyline network.

After he gave a 14-minute speech introducing his campaign, Sublette explained the Lynx bus service expansion by offering a commitment to something the region’s public bus authority has been wishing for for many years: a permanent, dedicated source of tax money.

Sublette, a Republican lawyer from Orlando, faces Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings, a Democrat from Windermere, and Orlando regional chamber of commerce President Rob Panepinto, a Republican from Winter Park, in seeking to succeed Jacobs next year. Orange County Commissioner Pete Clarke, also a Republican, is expected to file soon to run. Jacobs is leaving office due to term limits.

“We need proven leadership at the helm of county government,” Sublette said. “We need leadership with a track record. We need leadership that understands sometimes you have to fight for what is right. I’m perhaps proudest of my role as school board chair that we’ve shown the willingness to fight when necessary.”

He vowed a “very aggressive agenda,” though many of his ideas have been pursued by past mayors, though perhaps not all with with vigor. The dedicated funding for buses issue is different. For decades, the Central Florida Regional Transportation Authority has run its bus system primarily with whatever money its funding partners, Orange, Osceola and Seminole counties, plus the City of Orlando, have been willing to give it each year. With no tax source of its own, it has never been able to envision, much less enact any major expansions of the the bus network serving Central Florida.

Sublette said later he does not know what dedicated tax source Orange County might recommend, but said there are five or six potential options and it is time the county seriously considered them.

‘I know we need it. And I intend for us to tackle that. I think you tackle that by creating a task force to examine the dedicated funding sources that are out there,” Sublette said.

For those who expect task forces to be roads to non-action, Sublette earlier proudly pointed to two he chaired in the early 2000s, one to deal with jail overcrowding, and one, before he was on the school board, to deal with the crisis of confidence in Orange County Public Schools. Both task forces made numerous reform recommendations he said were enacted and led to dramatic improvements in both.

Among other items in his agenda:

– Continued emphasis on fighting crime. “We are the premier tourist destination in the country if not the world, but crime is still a driving concern of those in our neighborhood, and those in our tourist corridor.”

– Balancing growth which he called inevitable with management of growth, only allowing growth “where we have an established infrastructure. We need to make sure we protect and cherish our natural resources, and we need to have lines in the sand beyond which we will not allow growth.”

– Expansion of bike paths, walkways and sidewalks throughout the county. Sublette is an avid bicyclist himself. “There’s no reason somebody shouldn’t be able to get on a bike in our community and bike all the from the East Orange Trail to the West Orange Trail without ever leaving a dedicated bike path.”

– Addressing traffic and gridlock with better systems of timing our traffic signals and planning for our road networks.

– Tackling “multi-generational poverty” by going after jobs for the working poor, and a transportation network with “frequent, regular bus service, so our working poor can get on buses and get to those jobs.”

– Hardening of power utility infrastructure, bury power lines, do better jobs with drainage systems and retention ponds. “We need to understand that we are going to continue to get hit with hurricanes.”

Gwen Graham vows to enact clean power plan

With President Donald Trump‘s announcement Monday he would be ending the federal clean-power plan initiated by his predecessor, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gwen Graham vowed she would enact a “Florida clean power plan” to continue to seek carbon reductions and increase renewable energy.

Graham and her Democratic rivals, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum and Winter Park businessman Chris King all have previously vowed to resist attempts to role back carbon emissions plans, and to pursue clean energy in Florida, and in particular to support and promote expansion of solar power in the Sunshine State.

Now Graham says she’ll specifically stick to the goals former President Barack Obama had set with his federal order, to work toward a 32 percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2030, compared with what Florida was producing in 2005. That would require significant decreases in coal-fired power. She said that would save the average consumer $85 a year in power bills.

“Donald Trump and the politicians in Tallahassee have their heads in the sand. Our state is already feeling the effects of climate change and sea level rise — a single hurricane just destroyed countless homes, took dozens of lives and knocked out power across our entire state,” Graham stated in a news release issued by her campaign. “I was proud to support President Obama’s Clean Power Plan in Congress, and, as governor, I will fight for Florida to enact a clean power plan to meet those goals.”

Arguing that an aggressive and comprehensive renewable energy policy would combat climate change, protect clean air, create jobs, and lower energy prices, she added, “Florida can’t afford to wait for the federal government to act. As governor, I will implement a renewable energy standard, cut carbon emissions and create clean energy jobs.”

According to the Energy Information Administration, renewable energy accounts for less than 2.5 of Florida’s energy portfolio, the news release stated.

“As governor, I will work with Democrats and Republicans to cut the regulatory red tape that prevents homeowners from purchasing solar energy and I will appoint PSC commissioners who understand the threat of climate change and the need to support clean energy,” Graham said. “It’s not just crucial to combating climate change, it makes economic sense. We can protect our beaches from oil drilling, our water from fracking and make the Sunshine State the Solar State, all while creating good paying jobs.”

Parties ante-up in HD 44 special election

The Florida Democratic Party has come to the late aid of its replacement nominee Eddy Dominguez in the House District 44 special election to be decided Tuesday, but the Republican Party of Florida also came through for its nominee Bobby Olszewski.

The latest campaign finance reports, the first reflecting Dominguez’ late entry and the last to be filed before tomorrow’s general election vote, show that Democrats, both state and Orange County parties, provided Dominguez with $7,600 worth of in-kind campaign help last week, a couple weeks after he was nominated.

That marked delivery on a promise from the party to help out, a promise Dominguez’s predecessor, Paul Chandler, complained was going unfulfilled when he withdrew last month. The party also helped arrange a get-out-the-vote effort Saturday, the last day of early voting. Republicans crushed Democrats overall in eight days of early-voting for the special election, but on Saturday Democrats had a big day, turning out 225 voters, to the Republicans’ 190.

Dominguez also reported $7,000 in in-kind staff and consulting from various Democratic-oriented consultants and workers.

Still, Republicans did better, at least directly from the party. They provided Olszewski with $9,500 worth of in-kind support, with $7,500 of that coming last week.

That’s in addition to the $23,000 worth of polling the party sponsored for Olszewski’s campaign in August and early September, before Dominguez entered the race.

Chandler resigned Sept. 13, and the Orange County Republican Party appointed Dominguez to replace him Sept. 18.

The latest finance reports were through last Thursday and were posted Monday morning by the Florida Division of Elections.

Dominguez was able to raise $6,507 in cash, including $2,000 from himself and his wife. He went into the weekend with $3,600 left to spend.

Olszewski raised $21,200 cash in the four-week period ending last Thursday and went into the homestretch with more than $30,000 left to spend. Overall, Olszewski raised more than $127,000 and spent more than $93,000 since entering the race in April. Much of that money was raised and spent to win what turned into a bruising Aug. 15 primary against three other Republican candidates.

Anna Eskamani announces Dick Batchelor’s endorsement in HD 47

Longtime Orlando civic fixture Dick Batchelor is endorsing Democrat Anna Eskamani in the House District 47 race, her campaign announced Monday.

Batchelor served in the Florida House of Representatives in the 1970s and ’80s and since has been both a consultant and lobbyist professionally and an appointee, by both Democrats and Republicans, to numerous civic boards and commissions throughout Central Florida.

“I have known Anna for years, and have always respected her hard work and tenacity. She is a fearless leader who cares deeply about our community,” he said in a news release issued by Eskamani’s campaign. “As a former state legislator, I cannot think of someone better to represent us. I am proud to endorse Anna V. Eskamani for Florida House District 47 and will do my part to help her win.”

Eskamani, an Orlando-based executive with Planned Parenthood and community activist, faces Republican Stockton Reeves, a Winter Park businessman and longtime Republican supporter.

The district covers much of north and central Orange County including downtown Orlando. Republican incumbent state Rep. Mike Miller is running for Congress, rather than for re-election.

“Both Dick and his wife Andrea have played pivotal roles in shaping and serving Central Florida. Dick’s support of my candidacy speaks to the intergenerational movement we are building and I am honored to have him standing by my side as we pave our path to victory in November 2018,” Eskamani said in the news release. “As Democrats we must unite our voices and say enough is enough. We will stand together — say what needs to be said and we will do what needs to be done. And we will not stop until we have secured the promise of freedom for everyone.”

Republicans dominated early, mail-in voting in HD 44 special election

Republican voters swamped Democratic voters in early and mail-in voting for the House District 44 special election, possibly signaling an easy victory Tuesday for Republican Bobby Olszewski over Democratic replacement candidate Eddy Dominguez.

Early voting ended Saturday night, and 1,114 Republicans showed up at early-voting locations during the eight-day period, while 708 Democrats voted there, despite a big late Saturday push.

There also were 295 votes cast by independent voters and minor party members.

With that, Republicans accounted for 53 percent of the early voters, in a portion of election voting polling that Democrats most-commonly win. Democrats accounted for just 33 percent.

The advantage was similar for mail-in votes, though those are still coming in. Most commonly, Republicans lead in that segment of voting.

Of the 5,505 mail-in votes had been counted through Sunday night, 2,845 came from registered Republicans, and 1,717 from registered Democrats, plus another 943 from independents and members of minor parties.

That means Republicans provided 52 percent of the mail-in votes, and Democrats, 31 percent.

The overall voter turnout through Sunday night was 6.1 percent.

Polls open throughout HD 44 at 7 a.m. Tuesday morning for the general election voting.

Dominguez, of Dr. Phillips, was a late addition, and his name does not actually appear on the ballot. Paul Chandler was the Democrats initial nominee, but he withdrew in September, and Dominguez was selected to replace him. A vote for Chandler is counted as a vote for Dominguez.

Olszewski, of Winter Garden, won a bruising Republican primary on Aug. 15 against three other candidates. He’s a former Winter Garden commissioner.

Orange County mayoral candidate Rob Panepinto seeks to amplify entrepreneurial efforts

Somewhere along the way, Rob Panepinto‘s pursuit of the American dream in Orlando took subtle turns toward something about more than just business and personal success, toward social responsibility and support for other entrepreneurs.

The Republican venture capitalist from Winter Park who is president of the board of Orlando’s regional chamber of commerce, Orlando Inc., last week entered the Orange County mayor’s race for 2018, seeking to succeed term-limited Mayor Teresa Jacobs. That looked to many as if Panepinto would be the business interests’ candidate, up against some well-known and influential veteran politicians, Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings, School Board Chairman Bill Sublette, and, presumably, County Commissioner Pete Clarke.

Yet while Panepinto is passionate about promoting traditional Central Florida business interests such as the tourism and service sectors, in an interview last week with he came off as far more passionate about what many of his business and nonprofit interests are really all about: supporting entrepreneurship, and promoting business and nonprofits that make differences in people’s lives.

Panepinto, a 50-year-old Republican, conceded Central Florida is behind the curve when it comes to developing an entrepreneurial base. But he said that the private sector, the University of Central Florida, Rollins College, local governments and the community are coming together to address that.

“I think it needs to be amplified because I think that’s a big part of this economic diversification that needs to happen,” Panepinto said.

“But by the way, the next group of companies, the ones that are past the startup stage, the $5 million to $20 million companies, that are our next group of high-growth companies, they also need our focus and attention. And there’ve been some efforts there as well. So there are some pockets of some really good stuff going on. I think it needs to be consolidated and amplified, so that the broader community begins to understand how important this is in where we need to be in the next 20 to 25 years,” he said.

A New Yorker, Panepinto and his wife Stacey moved their family and dreams to Orlando in 1993 because Central Florida seemed to them to offer a better lifestyle for themselves and their children. A business he joined in Winter Garden grew and became Connextions, a successful software innovator in health care technology and business processing solutions. He became president, and the company was purchased by UnitedHealth in 2011 for an undisclosed sum. Earlier this year TeleTech bought it for $80 million.

Panepinto now has founded Florentine Strategies, his primary business, which provides support, strategic consulting, and investment capital for health care, social enterprise, and technology companies; and is in leadership roles for CTW Global, which he describes as a “social innovation consulting” company working with nonprofits such as Clean the World Foundation, Global Soap Project, and Clean the World Asia; and Health Hero, which he describes as a health engagement and behavior change technology company.

He’s also chief executive officer and chairman of the Central Florida Social Enterprise Accelerator; chairman of the Central Florida Foundation, and of Entrepreneurs In Action; and a board member of the Center for Advanced Entrepreneurship at Rollins College; Canvs, a nonprofit co-working space for entrepreneurs in downtown Orlando; the FireSpring Fund, which provides seed money for such entrepreneurs’ companies; and the Central Florida Zoo.

“I’ve had the opportunity to see the community through, certainly, building a business and raising a family here, so certainly I see it as a citizen. Being the chair of the chamber, and with the OEP [Orlando Economic Partnership,] and being the chair and vice chair of the Central Florida Foundation, you get to see the community through the business eyes, and the nonprofit eyes, and how that interacts with the public sector,” he said.

“So for me, what I’ve seen is, I’ve been in the room for a lot of these conversations, there is a lot that is wonderful about this community,” he said, stressing its position as the tourist capital of the world, its youth, and its diversity. He also said he’s convinced there is “a sense of energy about what we can become.”

But there is a flip-side, he noted.

“We continue to be at the bottom among most major metropolitan areas in terms of average wage. We have an issue with cost of housing, particularly rental properties, and we’re a community with the third-highest percentage of millennials in terms of population,” he said. “That’s an issue we need to address, more effectively, more aggressively. And clearly, there are types of social issues along with the type of economy we’ve been.”,

Panepinto said the answer is not to do anything to disrupt the service and tourism industries, which he said the community relies on now and will continue to rely on as it develops other sectors. What’s needed, he said, is a strategic vision for building out the future economy that looks to broaden and deepen it. The vision has got to look ahead, he said, five, 10, and 20 years, a vision that focuses on bringing up average wages, and deals with an affordable housing challenge where, today, he said, 80 percent of renters are paying 50 percent of income in rent.

“I really do truly believe that, because you’re going to effectively need government to work very closely with the business sector, with citizens in the community, with the broader region, and with the other nonprofits and social service companies, you need someone who comes with a lot of experience to be able to understand how those things really work together,” he said.

“And that’s really what drove me into the race.”

Darren Soto: Congress understands Puerto Rico plight

U.S. Rep. Darren Soto spent the early part of the week touring Puerto Rico and then on Thursday met with the House Natural Resources Committee, leaving convinced that the island is in desperate straights and that the administration of President Donald Trump still has not come to terms, but that Congress has.

In an interview with Friday, Soto said many parts in the island still have not seen any federal officials, let alone airdrops of food, water and supplies. And he expects it to be many months before the society is even minimally functional again in many parts of the island outside of San Juan.

“We’ve had much better success in getting Congress to understand the devastation than we have in getting the Trump administration to do so,” Soto said.

The Natural Resources Committee oversees American territories, including Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Soto, an Orlando Democrat who is of Puerto Rican descent, is a member, as well as a member of the Subcommittee on Indian, Insular and Alaska Native Affairs, which more specifically oversees the territories.

He said he met with the committee informally, and everyone recognized that Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands were in dire condition.

“That’s the good news in all this,” Soto said, noting that he expects Congress to pass an emergency $29 billion FEMA package for hurricane relief to Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, with Puerto Rico getting $10 billion of that.

“Keep in mind it took over 90 days for the tristate area [New Jersey, New York, Connecticut] to get their FEMA relief from Hurricane Sandy, and it took more than that for Louisiana to get relief from Hurricane Katrina. So the fact that we’re getting this hurricane relief package out in an expedited manner is the positive news in all of this,” he said.

But, he said, the news reports and social media stories about relief aid not getting out of the ports and into the more remote portions of the island are true. Those areas he visited had no electricity, water in the streets, and people lining up before dawn to get what little food was available.

Soto also called attention to the U.S. Virgin Islands, which he did not visit, but about which, he said, he has been briefed on numerous times. Soto said the Virgin Islands were in as bad shape, with no schools or hospitals standing, and, he said, the additional burden of a local government that was not responding well.

“One of the big things we [on the Natural Resources Committee] all agreed to do is we need to stand united for both Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands on this, because we’re worried that the Virgin Islands will be left out. But everything needs to be rebuilt,” Soto said.

But he said he remains convinced that the Trump administration does not understand the “damage or the heightened sense of the urgency of the need.”

Airdrops must be massively increased, for starters, he said. That, he said, has been a demand through multiple sources.

“I believe there just hasn’t been the leadership from the top, to urge that to happen. We have a three-star general there, [Army Lt. Gen. Jeffrey] Buchanan, but he can only work with the assets he’s given, and he still takes orders from the president,” Soto said.

“If President Trump said today, ‘Bring down 500 helicopters and get them out to all these towns immediately,’ it will happen,” Soto added. “But to the best of my knowledge, unless something has changed over the last day or so, it still hasn’t.”

He said Congress can, and he expects will, put pressure on the president to do more, through letters, committee hearings “and potentially policy over the next few weeks, to force the administration’s hand.”

Trump campaign Florida chief Karen Giorno seeks national Republican post

Karen Giorno, a former Donald Trump campaign senior adviser and Florida campaign director, announced Friday she is a candidate to be the state’s National Republican committeewoman for the Republican National Committee.

Giorno’s candidacy comes after the Republican Party of Florida’s previous national committeewoman, Sharon Day, stepped down in August to serve as U. S. ambassador to Costa Rica.

“I congratulate my friend Sharon Day as she begins her new role as United States Ambassador to Costa Rica and thank her for her leadership and contribution to the RPOF and the RNC,” Giorno said in a statement she released. “I am excited to run for National committeewoman and offer my talents to the Republican Party as we continue to build on our victory from the November 2016 election.”

Giorno’s career has spanned three decades in the political world, as a consultant and operative working with presidential candidates and campaigns, four American presidents, and the governor of Florida. She was the first female state director for the Donald J. Trump for President Campaign, serving that role in Florida from October 2015 to March 2016.

After leading that historic primary win, Giorno was promoted by Trump to the position of southeast regional political director, overseeing the delegate operations of eleven states from March to June 2016.

Once the national campaign was in full swing, she was again promoted by Trump to senior campaign adviser and Florida chief strategist from July to September 2016 to prepare the state for the general election. As the campaign shifted gears once more, she was elevated to the national leadership team and moved to Trump Tower in New York City as a senior adviser and director of voter engagement for Trump coalitions. In that role, Giorno was responsible for mobilizing targeted voter blocks and women voters in the pivotal swing states.

“In these challenging times, our core beliefs are being tested every day, and I intend to fight with the same passion, energy, and drive used to help guide the President to his historic victory in the Florida primary, the Florida General Election and across this great nation,” Giorno said.

“I have the organizational, strategic, and fundraising skills honed over three decades in politics, that will help advance our Conservative Agenda and lead the way to new Republican victories in Florida and throughout the 50 states.”

Matt Haggman appears to top CD 27 field with $512K haul in third quarter

Declaring the fundraising success is an expression of “how change happens,” first-time candidate Democrat Matt Haggman‘s campaign is reporting Friday that he raised $512,000 in the third quarter for his run in Florida’s 27th Congressional District, in a crowded field vying for an open seat.

Haggman, a Coconut Grove resident who is a former program director at Miami’s Knight Foundation and a former award-winning investigative reporter at the Miami Herald, appears to have topped the field in fundraising for the third quarter of 2017 in the CD 27 contest. He and a bevy of other candidates seek to succeed Republican U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who is retiring.

His campaign is reporting that Haggman raised $512,000 in just two months, August and September, and he entered October with $469,000 in the bank. That includes no loans from the candidate, and all the money was raised through individual donations, the campaign reported.

That’s the most reported by any of the candidates in that race so far, even though the field includes some high-profile political veterans.

The Federal Election Commission has not yet posted campaign finance reports for the third quarter, which ended Sept. 30.

“This is how change happens–by people across the community coming together and stepping up,” Haggman stated in a news release issued by his campaign. “Now more than ever, we need a new approach that engages our diverse community and is focused on delivering results. I will be a congressman willing to take on President [Donald] Trump and willing to fight to create opportunities for everyone, which is what I have done in our community throughout my career. While talent is everywhere, opportunity is not, and our campaign is about coming together to fix that.”

The other candidates include Democrats state Rep. David Richardson, state Sen. José Javier Rodríguez, Miami Beach Commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez, Michael Hepburn of the University of Miami, and Mark Anthony Person, and Republicans Doral Vice Mayor Bettina Rodriguez Aguilera, businessman Bruno Barreiro, and retired Miami-Dade Circuit Court judge Mary Barzee Flores.

Earlier this week Richardson’s campaign reported raising $500,000, but half of that was a loan from Richardson. Flores’ campaign reported she had raised $300,000, and Rodríguez’s, $280,000.

Haggman’s campaign noted that he led the field in fundraising for the quarter–even though he did not enter the race until August 1. It also contended that $512,000 is the most raised by any CD 27 candidate in a single quarter in at least 20 years.

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