Scott Powers, Author at Florida Politics - Page 4 of 154

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 Besides them, he’s into mystery and suspense books and movies, rock, blues, basketball, baseball, writing unpublished novels, and being amused.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

David Smith pulling away in early HD 28 campaign fundraising

Republican David Smith raised about $9,000 in July, while his Republican primary opponent Chris Anderson raised no money and Democrat Lee Mangold brought in about $1,100 during the month, giving Smith a commanding money advantage seeking what will be an open seat for House District 28.

Smith, a retired U.S. Marine colonel and consultant from Winter Springs, who has lent his campaign $50,000, has a combined contributions and personal loans total of almost $112,000, though he has spent about $15,000, according to the latest campaign finance reports posted by the Florida Division of Elections.

HD 28 represents northeast Seminole County including Sanford, Oviedo and Winter Springs.

Anderson, a Seminole County deputy sheriff from Longwood, made an adjustment of negative $300 in his contributions in July with the withdrawal of a check from Focus Strategies, bringing down his total raised to just over $9,600. With expenses, he had $8,400 in the bank at the end of July.

Mangold, a Casselberry owner of cyber security business, raised $830 in the month for a total of just over $4,100. With expenses, he finished the month with about $3,700 in the bank.


Stephanie Murphy lets immigration reform shirt do the talking

Democratic U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy is showing off her roots and making a pitch for immigration reform.

The freshman congresswoman from Winter Park was “the girl rescued at sea,” as a campaign mailer dubbed her last year, a refugee with her family from Vietnam in the 1970s, and a proud U.S. immigrant. And she’s an advocate of immigration reform.

So she’s modeling a shirt from the nonpartisan immigration reform group,, an organization started by the technologies industry including Microsoft, Facebook, DropBox, Airbnb and others.

She posted her picture wearing the “I Am An Immigrant” t-shirt on social media with the message, “#IAmAnImmigrant and proud of it. Our nation’s diversity is its strength. Opportunity and freedom keep the American dream alive.”

Pete Boogaard, communications director for replied, “We’re grateful to Congresswoman Stephanie Murphy for participating in the “I Am An Immigrant” campaign, a powerful movement that encourages people to celebrate their heritage and share what it means to be an immigrant in America. Nearly everyone in America has an immigrant story, and “I Am An Immigrant” is particularly important at this moment in time given the uncertainty facing many immigrants, including Dreamers and DACA recipients. We are also We’re thankful to Congresswoman Murphy for her continued support of Dreamers and for DACA, which is under threat of repeal.”

Francis Rooney joins the ranks of python hunters

U.S. Rep. Francis Rooney earned a new title Thursday: Python hunter.

The Republican congressman from Naples, who has asserted leadership in the Florida delegations’ efforts to address Everglades problems, announced he bagged five pythons Thursday night, the invasive snakes clogging up the South Florida ecosystems.

Rooney captured the beasts while he participated in the South Florida Water Management District’s ‘Python Elimination Program’ in Big Cypress Swamp. Sometime between 10 p.m. Thursday and 1 p.m. Friday, he bagged two adults and three hatchlings.

“My reason for hunting invasive Burmese pythons in the Everglades was to bring national attention to the damage caused by these devastating predators, which prey on native wildlife across South Florida,” Rooney stated in a news release issued by his office. “We all have a vested interest in restoring and protecting the Everglades and these invasive species are a serious problem.”

“After last night, there are five less invasive pythons alive to menace the Everglades ecosystem,” Rooney added.

The concern is about more than pythons, he continued.

“Killing off these pythons is important, but is only part of the solution to the ecosystem’s plight. I am working every day, all the time, to increase funding for the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan and will continue to raise awareness every way possible, including hunting pythons, about the Everglades, our state and national environmental treasure,” Rooney said.

Dan O’Keefe, SFWMD Governing Board chairman, welcomed the congressman to the program.

“Joining this hunt is a worthy challenge,” O’Keefe stated in the release. “Having also experienced the program firsthand by participating in a live hunt, I cannot say enough about the tremendous work of our bounty hunters working long hours and enduring the harsh summer elements to rid the Everglades of this destructive python threat. “

“Eliminating one snake from the Everglades is much more than a single kill.” O’Keefe explained, “It’s the prevention of 40 to 50 more snakes by destroying a large female carrying 40 to 50 eggs; and, it’s the countless number of native Florida animals spared from the jaws of these killing-machines.”

Gwen Graham talks July 4 party presence, climate change, ‘fire and fury’

In a matter of minutes Thursday night in Lake Mary, gubernatorial candidate Gwen Graham went from indignation over Gov. Rick Scott‘s climate change policies to laughing at why President Donald Trump used the words “fire and fury,” to near tears in explaining her presence at a July 4 party with Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump.

The moments, coming during a question and answer session with the Seminole County Democrats, illustrated how well Graham can be received by Democrats with her familiar Democratic messages, and yet how her background of old money still leaves her having to defend herself to skeptical progressives.

Earlier, Graham covered numerous policy positions in rapid fire, from support for a minimum wage increase to a call to reintroduce the arts, extra curricular activities, and technical training into schools, during a 13 minute speech to the Seminole Democratic Executive Committee.

Then during the subsequent question and answer period she really loosened up, calling Scott’s [and President Donald Trump‘s] climate change positions “criminal” and making fun of them, and then becoming emotional when challenged to explain how her she could distance herself from the influence of money if she goes to parties with people like Kushner and Ivanka Trump.

Graham has responded previously, primarily in a written statement, to questions about the ritzy party and its odd-bedfellow guest list of Democrats and Republicans, along with other rich and famous people.

On Thursday, she laid it out in a very personal and emotional manner, and took it live, as one woman webcasted her response on Facebook Live. Graham’s voice began to break as she described the relationships between herself and her cousin who threw the party, Lally Weymouth, and the rest of the family, including Gwen Graham’s parents, former Gov. Bob and Adele Graham, and Weymouth’s late parents, Philip and Katherine Graham.

It was important for her parents and her to attend, she explained.

And she had no idea PresidentTrump’s daughter and son-in-law would be there too, she insisted.

“I was there to take care of my parents,” she said. “I did not talk to them [Trump and Kushner.] I did not approach them.”

“I’m sorry to get emotional,” she added, “but it was hurtful to see these attacks come. This was about family for me. I love my cousin. I love my family. It was important for me to be there for family. And by the way, the moment I saw Ivanka and Jared I was, ohhh, gosh. I stayed away, on the other side of the tent.”

That led to a follow up question, pressing her on whether “big money, dark money, big corporations” would be a part of her. She denied influence, but would not dismiss the need for money.

“In order to run for office you have to raise a lot of money,” Graham said. “You know how much money I have to raise, I’ve been told, in order to be competitive with Republicans? Quite a bit. So, I mean, I’m not sure which groups you’re referring to, what you’re talking about, I haven’t taken any corporate money, if that’s what you’re talking about.”

Moments before she was expressing outrage with Scott, and making fun of Scott and Donald Trump

“It is criminal what Gov. Scott has done in Tallahassee to ignore the biggest threat to Florida, which is rising sea levels. Rising sea levels, we are on a peninsula! We have water all around us! There is no state, there is no state in the nation that is more impacted by climate change than Florida,” she said. “So what we need to do is planning for what is inevitable. The water is already here. Everyone saw what happened in Miami Beach.

“We need to prepare for it. We need to recognize it. We need to deal with it. We need to be putting money into infrastructure projects,” she continued. “We need to make sure we do all we can to move to renewable energy in this state, to do our part.”

She said as governor it would be her responsibility to immediately start developing plans to deal with rising sea levels.

“You can deny the use of words, but you cannot deny the reality on the ground. You know what now? Guess who recently said we’re not gong to allow the use of the words climate change in the federal government? Donald J. Trump. Also known as Rick Scott’s BFF.”

Speaking of Trump, she segued, “When Donald J. Trump said, ‘fire and fury’ [declaring what America’s response would be if North Korea made any more threats,] who watched Game of Thrones Sunday night?

“That’s where he got it! That is where! The fire and the fury! He got it from Game of Thrones! I love that show!”

Gwen Graham pledges public education as her priority, blasts Richard Corcoran

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gwen Graham pledged Thursday to a number of educators and parents concerned about public education that she would make public education her top priority.

While meeting with a roundtable of teachers, former teachers, public education advocates, and parents in an Orlando restaurant Thursday, Graham blasted Republican efforts to promote charter schools, which she said was at the expense of public schools, and renewed her vows to abolish testing and school grades and bring back technical education.

“I give you my commitment, as governor this is going to be my priority,” Graham said. “I’m going to work on this every day. And we’re going to start from day one.”

Graham, the former congresswoman and former schools lawyer from Tallahassee, faces Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum and Winter Park developer Chris King seeking the Democratic primary nomination to run for governor in 2018. Adam Putnam is the only major Republican running, though others, including House Speaker Richard Corcoran, U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, and Senate Appropriations Committee Jack Latvala are mulling runs.

At the round table and later speaking with reporters, Graham blasted Corcoran in particular for cutting the deal that led to passage of House Bill 7069 in the Special Legislative Session this summer, a bill she characterized as a Republican attack on public education in order to promote private charter schools.

“What I believe is going on is a desire to privatize our school system, and strip resources away from schools that desperately need additional resources. They don’t need to have what 7069 has done, which is to take funding away from Title I schools, to strip away options for school districts if it gets a C or a D grade,” she said.

“And don’t even me started on the grading, because we’re going to end the grading of schools,” she added. “Everywhere I go I hear how damaging it is to the schools, the school districts, the kids themselves. There’s no point to it other than as a way to diminish and demoralize schools that are working so hard, and eventually strip the funding away from schools so we can privatize them.”

And then she turned to Corcoran personally, noting that his wife Anne founded a charter school.

“The legislators that behind this are making money,” she said. “They financially benefit from what he is doing to the detriment of nine out of ten kids in Florida who go to public schools.”


John Newstreet urges court to consider potential for nullified votes if Paul Chandler is disqualified

Describing the potential for legal chaos and a “sore loser” from Tuesday’s Republican primary to seek to invalidate next Tuesday’s primary, Republican House District 44 candidate John Newstreet sought Thursday to intervene in a lawsuit that seeks to disqualify the only Democrat running, Paul Chandler.

Newstreet filed a motion with Florida’s 2nd Judicial Circuit Court in Tallahassee Thursday seeking to be recognized as an intervener in a lawsuit filed Tuesday that alleges Chandler is not qualified to be a candidate and should be thrown off the ballot by the court.

The lawsuit, filed Tuesday by Windermere lawyer Charles Hart, a Republican, alleges that Chandler voted in Missouri last year, making him a Missouri legal resident last year. Florida law requires Florida Legislature members to have been Florida residents for at least two years before taking office, so if Hart can convince a judge that Chandler was a Missouri resident last year, the judge could find Chandler ineligible to run in Florida this year, and invalidate his candidacy.

That could lead to the prospect that Tuesday’s Republican primary could be invalidated and thousands of votes already cast could be nullified, because Florida statutes and case law are unclear about what should be done if a closed party primary is held, and then there is no need for a general election where everyone can vote, Newstreet warned in his brief.

Newstreet faces Bobby Olszewski, Usha Jain, and Bruno Portigliatti in Tuesday’s special election Republican primary. All of them and Chandler hope to replace Republican former state Rep. Eric Eisnaugle in representing southwest Orange County in the Florida House of Representatives. Eisnaugle quit in the spring to take a judicial appointment.

If Chandler is disqualified by the court because of Hart’s lawsuit, then Florida law could forbid the Orange County Democratic Party from replacing Chandler. If that happens, then there would be no need for a general election because the only candidate left standing would be the winner of the Republican primary, which is open to only Republican voters.

“Nonetheless, Intervenor harbors legitimate concerns that this action may ultimately serve, presumably inadvertently, as a vehicle by which a “sore loser” candidate in the House District 44 Republican special primary election may seek a “second bite at the apple” by attempting to retroactively invalidate the validly conducted primary election, replacing it with a universal primary while throwing out thousands of validly cast votes and disenfranchising thousands of Central Florida voters,” Newstreet suggested.

Chandler and the Orange County Democratic Party are seeking to make sure he stays on the ballot. Short of that, Orange County Democratic Chairman Wes Hodge said there is a prospect that Chandler could resign his candidacy, which should allow Hodge to pick a replacement candidate.

However, if the court rules Chandler ineligible to be a candidate, Florida law states that he cannot be replaced.

Newstreet’s brief, written and submitted by Winter Park attorney Wade Vose, makes several legal arguments against any efforts at that point that would seek to invalidate Tuesday’s Republican primary.

It also argues that “there is no cause ford the Court to take any action on this case prior to the conclusion of that election, and to do so could be highly prejudicial to the conduct of that election.”

The law forbidding replacement of a disqualified candidate was meant to be punitive to the candidate’s party, but it would in fact punish voters instead, it argues.

If the judge rules Chandler ineligible after Tuesday’s primary, there would never be a point in time in which there are multiple candidates from one party and no candidates from outside that party, the requirement for a universal primary election, it argues.

Florida law spells out four explicit reasons that a primary election can be invalidated, but the subsequent disqualification of the other party’s candidate is not among those reasons, it argues.

Case law warns that “courts must take care in post-election challenges to avoid disenfranchising voters without clear statutory warrant,” it argues.

Finally, it notes, “there is a general and compelling interest in maintaining the integrity of the electoral process and preventing voter confusion,” it argues.

Bobby Olszewski TV ad highlights positions in HD 44 Republican primary

Bobby Olszewski has launched a television commercial in Orlando that highlights several of his issues positions in the special Republican primary for House District 44 in Orange County.

The 30-second spot, dubbed, “Vote Bobby O,” the commercial begins with brief footage of President Ronald Reagan, as a narrator declares, “Republicans want a leader who will get things done. Robert ‘Bobby O’ Olszewski is that conservative leader.”

He faces Usha Jain, John Newstreet, and Bruno Portigliatti in next Tuesday’s Republican special primary election. They all seek to fill the seat vacated by Republican former state Rep. Eric Eisnaugle to represent the southwest portion of Orange County. Eisnaugle stepped down this spring.

The winner would face Democrat Paul Chandler in an Oct. 10 special general election. Chandler’s candidacy is being challenged in court, though, and that action has the potential to lead to further challenges of the Republican primary.

Olszewski said the spot has been up since last week.

After the introduction, the commercial shows Olszewski with U.S. Rep. Dan Webster, who was the area’s congressman, state senator and state representative for decades before moving to Lake County to switch congressional districts in 2016, and the narrator notes that Webster endorsed Olszewski.

The commercial then, in rapid fire, declares that Olszewski opposed tax and fee increases, stood up for prayer in public, opposes funding for sanctuary cities, seeks to cut regulations, and will “stop politicians wasteful spending.”

“Conservative Republican Bobby O: Less talk, more action,” the narrator finishes.

Lawsuit seeks to invalidate Paul Chandler’s HD 44 candidacy, could jeopardize whole special election

A lawsuit was filed in Tallahassee seeking to invalidate the candidacy of House District 44 Democrat Paul Chandler – an action that could put the entire special election in jeopardy.

The complaint, filed just at the end of the business day on Tuesday in Florida’s 2nd Judicial Circuit by Charles Hart of Windermere against Chandler, Orange County Supervisor of Elections Bill Cowles and Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner, alleges that Chandler voted in Missouri last November, which would make him a Missouri resident last year, ineligible to run for state office in Florida this year

If a judge agrees with that allegation and strikes his candidacy, the move would leave Democrats without a candidate for the Oct. 10 general special election. There also are no qualified write-in candidates. The four Republican candidates are the only others qualified.

That could mean that next Tuesday’s Republican primary election – with early and mail-in voting already well underway – could be challenged. That’s because with no non-Republicans running in October, the primary would have to be opened to all voters, which it was not.

Chandler issued a statement Wednesday that read:

“I have been a resident of Orange County for over two years. My 2012 Florida state ID remains valid. This is an attempt to bring Trump-style reality TV politics to Orange County and distract from the real issues that my campaign is working to address, like health care, education, and jobs.”

Neither Hart, a Republican who was rumored this spring to be interested himself in running for the seat himself, nor his attorney, Roger Beaubien of Tallahassee, could be reached for comment Wednesday afternoon.

Chandler has been awaiting the outcome of next Tuesday’s Republican special primary election to find out whom he would face. Republicans running are Bobby Olszewski, John Newstreet, Bruno Portigliatti, and Usha Jain.

Cowles said he had not been served, and said he is not the legal election officer, because it is a state election. He said a court, or the governor, is going to have to tell him what to do about hosting the elections, if Chandler’s candidacy is successfully challenged.

Portigliatti said he and his staff had only just become aware of the lawsuit, and said it sounded like someone’s “desperate attempt to affect the outcome.” He said he and his staff were weighing their options on how to respond.

Meanwhile, he said, “We’re very focused on winning on Tuesday, and awaiting the outcome on Tuesday.”

Olszewski said the lawsuit does not change what he and his campaign are doing. “We’re focused on our positive, conservative message and reaching voters for great results on Tuesday,” he said.

Alan Byrd, spokesman for Newstreet’s campaign, suggested they may be preparing to fight anything that might invalidate the election.

“John Newstreet is a firm believer in the democratic process our forefathers created with fair elections. More than 3,500 Republicans have voted in this election to date. They have participated in their American right to vote. To have a court invalidate their choice simply cannot happen and we plan to fight to protect their votes,” Byrd said. “If it is true that the Democrat candidate is not qualified to be on the ballot, we would hope he withdraws from the election immediately and ends this cloud hanging over this election today.”

Orange County Democratic Chair Wes Hodge expressed confidence that Chandler’s candidacy is valid and will withstand the challenge. He charged the Republicans as playing “dirty tricks” in an election that already has seen plenty of dirt thrown between Republicans.

“Paul has been a resident of Orange County since April of 2015, so we’re confident he is eligible to run to represent the constituents of House District 44,” Hodge said. “This is an example of more dirty tricks by Republicans to try to maintain control of the Florida Legislature. And hopefully the courts will agree that Paul is a resident and is eligible to run and the voters will have their say on Oct. 10.”

The lawsuit contends that Chandler voted on Nov. 8, 2016, in St. Louis County, Mo., making his voter registration valid there, and therefore making him a legal Missouri resident.

The complaint cites Article III, section 15(c) of the Florida Constitution as saying a Florida legislator shall be “an elector and resident of the district from which elected and shall have resided in the state for a period of two years prior to the election.”

Chandler filed to become an Orange County voter on Jan. 4, 2017. His voter registration record shows his legal address is in Lake Buena Vista, in HD 44. He has said he has maintained residencies in both Florida and Missouri, where his medical records consulting company has offices, but that Lake Buena Vista has been his home for several years.

Voter turnout in HD 44 special election primary favoring central precincts

With a week left before voters in Florida’s House District 44 decide who will be the Republican nominee seeking to fill the vacant seat, nearly 3,000 votes have been cast, with a large portion of them coming from the Dr. Phillips and Windermere areas of the sprawling southwest Orange County district.

Through Tuesday, 2,940 votes have been cast, and more than 30 percent have been cast in just six of the 38 precincts, according to data posted at the end of the day by Orange County Supervisor of Elections Bill Cowles. The vote totals include mail-in votes and early voting, which began on Saturday and runs through next Saturday.

The Republican primary special election day is Aug. 15 for HD 44.

Those six high-vote precincts spread through the central part of HD44, around the Windermere/Lake Butler area and the adjacent Dr. Phillips community, largely affluent neighborhoods, which are homes to three of the four candidates, John Newstreet, Bruno Portigliatti, and Usha Jain.

Two of those precincts, 128 and 113 in the Dr. Phillips area, already have reached 11 percent voter turnouts.

The fourth Republican candidate, Bobby Olszewski, hails from the northern part of HD 44, from the areas of the western Orange County suburbs of Winter Garden (his hometown,) Oakland and Ocoee. Voting has been slower there so far, with turnouts mostly ranging from 5-7 percent combining early-voting and mail voting. The combined turnouts mostly have been in the 8-11 percent range in the Windermere/Lake Butler and Dr. Phillips precincts, according to the Supervisor of Elections Office data.

Few people are voting in the southern precincts of the district. Part of the reason for that is much of that region is occupied by Walt Disney World and tourist district businesses, hotels, and time-shares, as well as pockets of Walt Disney World employee housing. Still, even the voter rates are low in many of the southern precincts, with many running 2 or 3 percent so far. One precinct stretching along International Drive and including numerous apartment complexes, Precinct 124, has 1,007 Republican registered voters, but just 25 of them had cast votes early or by mail through Tuesday.

Olszewski, Newstreet, Portigliatti, and Jain seek to replace former state Rep. Eric Eisnaugle of Windermere, who quit the seat this spring to take a judicial appointment. The winner of next Tuesday’s primary will face Democrat Paul Chandler in an Oct. 10 special general election.

Bob Cortes blasts Public Service Commission for Seminole water rate hike

State Rep. Bob Cortes is speaking out about a rate hike approved by the Public Service Commission last week.

The Altamont Springs Republican believes the hike will double water and sewer rates for western Seminole County residents.

“This decision, which doubles rates for western Seminole residents, demonstrates that the Public Service Commission is not standing on the side of consumers,” Cortes said of the decision the commission made Aug. 3. “Without a compelling case from Utilities Inc. and despite a public hearing where citizens expressed their concerns, the PSC moved ahead with a decision that would clearly impose an unfair burden, especially for seniors on fixed incomes.”

The commission approved the new rate structure and some other issues for Utilities, Inc. of Florida, in a long-standing rate case that is complex because the company owned several water and sewer utilities around the state and brought in a comprehensive proposal.

A commission spokeswoman said Tuesday the commission staff has not yet worked out what the new rates would be, and that information would not be available until late this week at the earliest. She provided a list of Utilities, Inc. of Florida’s current rates for its 17 systems in Florida, three in Seminole, which show the Seminole rates currently are in the midrange of what the company charges.

Cortes said there are more than 10,000 Utilities, Inc. of Florida customer households and businesses in Seminole County.

Part of the case and the petition for increases involved quality of service problems for Utilities, Inc. of Florida at some of its local utilities, and the commission cited several as being low quality. The company sought rate increases to cover capital investment in its petition to upgrade aging infrastructure and to replace aging water main piping for systems in Seminole, Orange, Pasco and Pinellas counties.

While approving the package and the rate increases last week, the commission reduced the quality of service rating from satisfactory to marginal for six of the company’s systems,

Cortes and other lawmakers from the service areas — including state Rep. Scott Plakon and state Sen. David Simmons from Seminole — had argued against the rate increases at public hearings earlier this year and in correspondence. Seminole County Commissioner Lee Constantine also was active in opposing the Seminole rate increase.

Cortes said he is not done. He said he is following up with a letter to the commission rebuking it for failing to follow the policy positions expressed by the Florida Legislature to ease burdens on consumers.

“They have a valid point they need upgrades, but the way they are doing it is an outrage,” Cortes said.

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