Scott Powers, Author at Florida Politics - Page 4 of 207

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 Besides them, he’s into mystery and suspense books and movies, rock, blues, basketball, baseball, writing unpublished novels, and being amused.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

Central Florida Expressway Authority moves ahead with study of contentious Split Oak road

In a move with long-range ramifications for huge developments in Central Florida, road networks linking to the Space Coast, and promises assumed in the state’s nature preservation efforts, the Central Florida Expressway Authority Thursday moved ahead with a study of how best to push a new road through or around the state’s Split Oak Forest Wildlife and Environmental Area.

The expressway authority’s board heard dozens of impassioned speakers ranging from leading environmental activists and affected homeowners to former Orange County Chair Linda Chapin and current Orange County Commissioner Emily Bonilla. They highlighted the needs and drawbacks of a road that one day is likely to be key to a huge new transportation network serving tens or even hundreds of thousands of future homes – and the prospect that a beloved and highly sensitive environmental area might be breached, and the state’s preservation pledge broken, to build that first road.

The area of southeast Orange County and northeast Osceola County already is being prepped for the first project, Sunbridge, of what is expected to be several decades worth of developments that would turn much of the Mormon Church’s Central Florida holdings, the 300,000-acre Deseret Ranch, into a huge new community by the end of the 21st century. Just about the entire area is vacant ranch land now, but it’s going to need roads.

That development, and already emerging longterm growth and traffic pressures in that region and on the Space Coast, led the Florida Legislature last year to expand the expressway authority to include Brevard County to the east, pegging the authority as the player to provide roads merging Central Florida to the Space Coast.

The first major road moving in from the west would be the planned extension of the Osceola Parkway from where it now ends south of Lake Nona, to head west and south well into the Deseret Ranch area, to link up with the Sunbridge Parkway coming in from the north, to serve the Sunbridge development now underway. Yet the Osceola Parkway extension has a limited corridor and difficult options. They could require it to either go through Split Oak, a nature preserve created under Florida’s Preservation 2000 program of the 1990s, or through existing neighborhoods, forcing eminent domain takings of mostly large, estate-style exurban homes.

On Thursday the board voted unanimously to approve a project development and environment study on the various alternative alignments, including the apparent favorite 1A, which would run the road through Split Oak, and also options that would go through neighboring housing areas, most notably the Lake Ajay Village. As a new board member whose home district has much to gain but not much at risk in the Split Oak controversy, Brevard County Commissioner Jim Barfield made the motion.

Chapin, the godmother of much of the longterm growth planning done in Orange County and of the Split Oak preservation deal, from her tenure as county chair in the 1990s, warned the board that it might be setting a precedent, certainly for Central Florida and possibly for all of Florida. She warned members against allowing developers to play “Let’s Make a Deal” with public lands in exchange for growth, and cautioned that if they go the route of carving up a nature preserve for legitimate public interest, they better make sure they get a really good deal from developers.

Sunbridge developer Tavistock Development Co. Vice President Clint Beaty in fact offered to continue talks with everyone as long as necessary, and urged the board to hit the pause button if it felt necessary.

But the board was ready to move forward.

“With the growth coming, that’s the big elephant in the room. Nobody up here is going to stop the growth that is coming,” said Expressway Authority Board Chairman Fred Hawkins Jr., chair of the Osceola County Board of Commissioners.

“I think we are at a moment in time where there is general agreement that we need this road for a variety of reasons that were put forward,” said Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, another board member. “If in fact we need this, there is no reason to put it off five years or ten years when we’re going to be probably more restricted or limited in our options to actually accomplish it.”

Still, Dyer and others wanted to know more about the legal power the expressway authority might have with the Split Oak conservation charter.

They apparently soon may find out, because environmental activists wanting to stop the road from going through Split Oak are not only wondering the same thing, they’re preparing to go to court to find out.

Valerie Anderson, president of Friends of Split Oak Forest, Inc. and Chuck O’Neal, president of Speak Up Wekiva, Inc., said Thursday they intend to sue. They hope and intend to pursue the action all the way to the Florida Supreme Court to answer the question of whether state preservation covenants are in perpetuity, or can be, as O’Neal derided, tossed aside anytime a local government wants to build a new road.

“If you can put roads through the most protected conservation lands that there are in the state of Florida, those conservations mean nothing,” Anderson said.

The environmental community is united in its love of Split Oak but not united in its opposition to the plan. Charles Lee, director of advocacy for the Audubon Florida‘s Central Florida Policy Office, urged the board to aggressively pursue options to get Tavistock and others to piece together 1,500 acres of mitigation land, including some critical uplands, to swap for the affected portion of Split Oak

Board member Brenda Carey, a Seminole County commissioner, and Atlee Mercer, chair of the Osceola County Expressway Authority, which originated the Osceola Parkway extension plan and other road network plans before handing them off two years ago to the Central Florida Expressway Authority, insisted that roads can be built to minimize impact on environmentally sensitive lands, on long, high bridges with carefully engineered drainage, and that this could and should be done at Split Oak.

Mercer a former Osceola County commissioner, reminded the board that it was looking at plans for a whole network of new roads out of Osceola County heading northeast and east, preparing for the Deseret growth and essentially for a longterm merger of the Orlando-Kissimmee metropolitan area and the Space Coast of Brevard County.

“These roads haves been talked about for almost 30 years. We had a plan. We vetted it entirely. We passed it at our board. We passed it on to you. You chose to revisit it. That’s OK. I get it. But don’t lose site of that plan,” Mercer said. “I’m here to say that this road, this connection, is critical to the long-term health of Central Florida and the East Coast. And it needs to be constructed because it is an integral part of that southern beltway.”

But why here? the supporters of Split Oak demanded.

“Just because you can doesn’t make it right, especially when it’s been made very clear that you shouldn’t,” said longtime environmental activist Gretchen Robinson of Orlando. “Split Oak Forest is the canary in the coal mine, ladies and gentlemen. As Split Oak Forest goes, so go all conservation lands in Florida, and so goes the public trust. The public trust works like this: we the public entrust you a governing entity with taking care of something precious and vulnerable and irreplaceable.”

Sabato’s Crystal Ball pushes assessments of CD 7, CD 16 in Democrats’ direction

Concluding that all the recent special elections and other factors are putting Democrats in a good position, the political assessment service Sabato’s Crystal Ball is pushing its views of the congressional races involving Republican U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan and Democratic U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy in the direction of improving chances for Democrats.

In updates of congressional race assessments announced Thursday morning, Sabato’s Crystal Ball changed its rating of Murphy’s Florida’s 7th Congressional District from “Leans Democratic” to “Likely Democratic,” and changed Buchanan’s Florida’s 16th Congressional District from “Safe Republican” to “Likely Republican.”

Sabato’s Crystal Ball made such changes up and down the board nationally in anticipation of a “Blue Wave” this fall, nudging the assessments of 26 races all in the Democrats’ direction, starting with a special election coming up next week in western Pennsylvania, which is being changed from “Leans Republican” to “Toss Up.”

Larry J. Sabato’s Crystal Ball is run out of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, assessing federal elections. In the new report update, Murphy, of Winter Park, and Buchanan’s chief Democratic opponent, Sarasota attorney David Shapiro, have improved chances based on what’s been happening since the 2016 general election and the consequential anticipated trend into the fall, according to the report issued Thursday.

“Democrats have been consistently overperforming Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential performance in special elections held since Donald Trump’s election,” Kyle Kondik, Sabato’s managing editor, said in a news release issued Thursday morning. “My colleague Geoffrey Skelley has been tracking these elections, which are mostly for state legislative seats but also include a handful of congressional specials, and he calculates that Democrats have been running on average 13 points ahead of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 margin in the nearly 90 races held so far featuring a Democrat and a Republican.

“That speaks to the overall political environment, which clearly favors Democrats right now,” Kondik added.

Murphy has a primary opponent, Orlando lawyer Chardo Richarson, but the matchup for the seat representing Seminole County and north-central Orange County is likely to be her re-election effort versus a Republican challenge from either Sanford businessman Scott Sturgill, or Winter Park state Rep. Mike Miller. CD 16 has several other candidates, but the match expected there is Buchanan and Shapiro.

In discussing the chances for Murphy and other Democratic incumbents seeking re-election, Sabato’ Crystal Ball stated, “We’re upgrading every single Democratic incumbent to at least the ‘Likely Democratic’ category, and moving several Democratic incumbents off the competitive board altogether. That’s not to say one or more won’t fall back into a more competitive category later this year — certainly someone very well could in the event of a strong, late-breaking Republican candidacy or a major gaffe or scandal — but for now every single Democratic incumbent seems like at least a decent favorite in the fall.”

As for Buchanan’s chances, the report called CD 16, stretching from south Hillsborough County through Sarasota County, a “deep sleeper Democratic target.”

Chris King raises $265,441 in February

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chris King raised $265,411 in February for his campaign and his political committee combined, his campaign announced Thursday.

The campaign raised $201,091 during the month and his political committee Rise and Lead raised $64,350, according to his campaign.

Official reports have not yet been posted by the Florida Secretary of State. Through the end of January the campaign had raised just over $2 million and through  February 15 Rise and Lead had raised just over $1.2 million.

King’s campaign is announcing Thursday that it and the political committee have now raised a grand total of $3,492,133, and have a combined total of $1,760,061 left in the bank.

“Our campaign continues to build momentum as voters hear Chris’s message of fresh ideas and new leadership to take on the corrupt culture in Tallahassee,” Campaign Manager Zach Learner stated in a news release. “Chris’s bold progressive values are standing out in this wide-open race and our strong financial support shows our message is resonating with the voters.”

King faces former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum in the Aug. 28 Democratic primary for the nomination to run for governor.

Andrew Gillum raises $245K in February for gubernatorial bid

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum‘s campaign announced Wednesday that in February he raised more than $105,270 through his official campaign account and another $140,250 for his political committee, Forward Florida.

The net haul of nearly a quarter million dollars gives Gillum, the mayor of Tallahassee, his third-straight six-figure money month, leading the campaign to declare it is building momentum.

“Mayor Gillum is taking on the fights and issues that matter, and his courageous stands are resonating with our supporter,” Communications Director Geoff Burgan said in a statement issued Wednesday by the campaign. “Last month he took Speaker Richard Corcoran head on, in the first debate of the governor’s race, over his divisive anti-immigrant TV ad and won, and he’s been on the frontlines with Marjory Stoneman Douglas’ students and families fighting for gun safety reforms. Floridians need a governor who isn’t afraid to stand up for those who need a voice in this fight, and they’re going to elect Andrew Gillum to do that in November.”

His detailed campaign finance reports have not yet been posted by the Florida Division of Elections. Gillum finished January with about $1.1 million raised and about $400,000 of that left in his official campaign, and with just under $1 million raised and just under $200,000 left in his political committee.

Gillum faces Winter Park businessman Chris King, former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, and former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham of Tallahassee for the Aug. 28 Democratic primary nomination to run for governor.

Corcoran is not officially a gubernatorial candidate, but is expected to enter the fray soon. The other leading Republicans are Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis.

Chris King attacks Gwen Graham’s record on guns; she calls attack ‘predictable but sad’

Saying the Democratic Party needs a gubernatorial nominee with the passion to be “transformational” in addressing gun legislation, Chris King on Wednesday went after poll-leader Gwen Graham, contending that when she was in Congress she “never supported an assault weapons ban.”

Speaking in Tallahassee Wednesday, King said the party needs “a champion for gun safety and for a ban on weapons of war.”

“Gwen Graham, who is a good person, but in my view has not demonstrated a record that is passionate about eliminating weapons of war from our streets. In Congress, Congresswoman Graham never supported an assault weapons ban,” King told reporters.

Graham’s campaign disputed King’s assertion that she lacks passion to pursue an assault weapons ban, saying she had been on the front lines pushing for gun reform, including in Orlando and in Washington following the June 12, 2016, massacre at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub. She dismissed King’s affront as a “small attack.”

“These attacks are predictable, but sad. Democrats attacking fellow Democrats won’t do anything to solve the mass-shooting crisis,” she said in a written statement. “That’s a choice my opponents are making — all I can tell you is, it was a lot harder beating an NRA-endorsed Republican congressman  [U.S. Rep. Steve Southerland] and nearly $300,000 in NRA money spent against me than dealing with these small attacks from fellow Democrats.”

King and Graham also are competing with Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum and former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine for the Aug. 28 Democratic primary. All four have come out with strong positions seeking bans on assault weapons. King mentioned neither Gillum nor Levine, though he did say the Democratic field was full of tough candidates.

King contended that the call of students and families touched by the massacre at Marjory Stoneman High School in Parkland included a call for addressing assault weapons, and that the legislation that has emerged has fallen far short. He said the state needs a Democratic governor, “and we have had them in the past, we have had Democratic governors from LeRoy Collins to Lawton Chiles,” who “created a political climate around issues they felt strongly about.” (In those historical references, King may have implicitly included but didn’t specifically mention Gov. Bob Graham, Gwen Graham’s father.)

“This was a massive incident of gun violence. And our one-party state government … has not even been willing to debate, to debate, the discussion on banning the sale of weapons of war in the state of Florida. I feel so strongly about this issue, and I would be a governor that, if I could not do this legislatively, I would work to use the bully pulpit to do it through the amendment process,” King said.

“I believe the next governor of Florida has to be transformational, and has to be transformational on the issue of gun safety. They have to have an appetite, an energy, a passion for this because this is a tough issue,” King said. “This is going to be a hard change to make in the state of Florida. The forces against us are tough. But I believe I’m that candidate.”

He then went after Graham, saying that several major mass shootings occurred while Graham was in Congress, including the San Bernardino shooting of 2015. King said that 151 House Democrats sponsored or cosponsored a bill to ban assault weapons, and that another 24 Democrats joined after the Pulse massacre. [In fact, House Resolution 4269, the “Assault Weapons Ban of 2015,” had a total of 149 cosponsors, all Democrats, including the 24 who signed on in the two weeks immediately following the Pulse mass murder.]

“As far as I can tell, Congresswoman Graham, when she was serving there, never added her name as a cosponsor,” King said.

She didn’t.

However, her campaign contended she has had a long record, otherwise, of pushing for gun law reforms, including regulation of armor-piercing bullets; that she had, two weeks after the Pulse massacre, come to Orlando where she called for taking weapons of war off our streets; and had, last summer, become the first candidate for governor to release a full plan for gun safety, including banning large-capacity magazines and assault weapons.

Philip Levine raises $450K in February, adds his own $800K check

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Philip Levine‘s campaign and political committee combined to raise $450,000 and he added another $800,000 of his own, bringing his total funds raised to more than $10 million, he announced Wednesday.

Levine, the former mayor of Miami Beach, contended that he now leads his nearest competitor in the Democratic primary race by nearly a two to one ratio in the money race. That includes $4.65 million of his own money, either donated to his independent political committee All About Florida or loaned to his official campaign.

His grand total of more than $10 million “continues to dominate the rest of the Democratic primary field,” read a statement released by his senior advisor, Christian Ulvert.

Levine faces former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, Winter Park businessman Chris King, and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum in the Aug. 28 Democratic primary nomination for the governor’s race.

“As Mayor Levine aggressively visits every part of the state, he continues to see growing support because Florida Democrats are excited about his progressive vision and his commitment to fight for the values we need in our next Governor. Mayor Levine is the only candidate who has shown that he not only talks the talk; he also walks the walk,” Ulvert stated in a news release.

Ron DeSantis says he raised $2 million in February for gubernatorial campaign

Republican gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis is reporting that his campaign and independent political committee combined raised more than $2 million in February.

DeSantis, the Republican congressman from Ponte Vedra Beach, announced Wednesday that his official campaign raised $471,000 and his Friends of Ron DeSantis political committee raised $1,616,000 during the month, giving him a 50-day tally of more than $5.4 million in the two funds. That includes $2.4 million transferred to the political committee from another political committee, Fund for Florida’s Future.

The Florida Secretary of State has not yet posted returns from either his campaign nor the political committee.

DeSantis’ campaign stated Wednesday that they now have a combined $5.2 million cash on hand. In January the campaign had raised more than $131,000, while the political committee had raised $3.2 million.

DeSantis is seeking the Aug. 28 Republican primary nomination to run for Governor, competing with Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.

Anna Eskamani reports her HD 47 funds have topped $200K

Democratic Florida House District 47 candidate Anna Eskamani reported Tuesday that her official campaign and her independent political committee combined have now cleared the $200,000 level in contributions.

Eskamani, seeking to succeed Republican state Rep. Mike Miller, has raised $184,400 in her official campaign fund. Her camp said in a news release Wednesday that People Power for Florida, her independent political committee, has drawn $24,250.

Her campaign raised $15,816 in February, the eight-consecutive month it reached five figures in donations, and finished February with about $139,000 in the bank. The latest reports for People Power for Florida have not yet been posted by the Florida Secretary of State. Through January that committee had brought in only about $3,200, and had spent about half of that.

Eskamani, of Orlando, is gearing up to face one of two Republicans seeking the seat, which represents north-central Orange County including Maitland, Winter Park, downtown Orlando, and neighborhoods around it.

Neither Stockton Reeves VI of Winter Park nor Mikaela Nix of Orlando has announced February campaign finance results, and their reports have not yet been posted by the Florida Secretary of State. However, both of them held their campaign kickoff fundraisers in February. Reeves came into the month having raised $11,000 since last summer and has lent his campaign $90,000, so his campaign entered February with about $95,000 in the bank. Nix entered the race in late January, and her only campaign finance activity at that point had been $100 she put into her account to start.

Eskamani’s campaign now has received more than 1,600 donations since she entered the race last July.

“This is more than just a moment, this is a movement,” she said in a news release issued by her campaign. “I am an Orlando native and a daughter of working class immigrants who lost her mom to cancer at age 13. I never thought I would run for office one day, let alone raise more than $200,000 from over 1,600 individual donations in just eight months.

“I have been holding politicians accountable and pushing for common sense policy for the last ten years of my life,” she added. “It’s about time women like me march from our neighborhoods and into the Florida House.”

Carlos Smith’s $1M Pulse memorial amendment draws some Republicans, but fails

An attempt by Orlando Democratic state Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith to get the state to provide $1 million to help build a Pulse nightclub memorial in Orlando drew some crossover votes from Republicans (including many from Central Florida) but failed in the House Tuesday night.

The proposed amendment, which would have added $1 million for the Pulse memorial to the $1 million for a Parkland memorial already included in House Bill 7026, the “Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act,” was voted down 67-49.

The proposal got yes votes from all Democrats, and eight Republicans, including five from Central Florida: state Reps. Bob Cortes of Altamonte Springs, Mike Miller of Winter Park, Bobby Olszewski of Winter Garden, Rene Plasencia of Orlando, and Scott Plakon of Longwood. They joined Smith and other Central Florida Democratic state Reps. Bruce Antone of Orlando, Kamia Brown of Ocoee, John Cortes of Kissimmee, and Amy Mercado of Orlando. Republican state Reps. Heather Fitzenhagen of Fort Myers, Chris Latvala of Clearwater, and Holly Raschein of Key Largo also voted yes.

Among the Central Florida delegation voting against the $1 million for the Pulse memorial fund were Republican state Reps. Jason Brodeur of Sanford, Mike La Rosa of St. Cloud, David Santiago of Deltona, and Jennifer Sullivan of Mount Dora.

The OnePulse Foundation has been planning and raising money for a major memorial and museum on the site of the former popular Orlando gay nightclub where 49 people were murdered in the early morning hours of June 12, 2016.

Smith, who has been intensely outspoken in trying to get the Florida Legislature to address Pulse alongside its efforts to address the Feb. 14 massacre at Douglas High School, declared on Twitter late Tuesday night that he was disappointed, but he expressed thanks “to the 8 Republicans who voted YES.”

“49 deeply symbolic votes in support of remembering our 49 angels,” Smith added.

David Richardson goes after Donna Shalala in CD 27 Democrats’ field

Welcome to the contest for Florida’s 27th Congressional District, Donna Shalala, whose flak already from Democratic rivals over her candidacy now has drawn a video attack Wednesday from the campaign of state Rep. David Richardson, accusing her of inaction on health care reform.

“I say, come on in Donna,” Richardson declares in a one-minute video released Wednesday, welcoming the Clinton-era health and human services secretary into a Miami-area race that already has more than a dozen Democrats and Republicans seeking to succeed Republican U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.

In the video, Richardson charges Shalala, who also served as the president of the University of Miami for 15 years, with inaction in the debate over single-payer health care during the administration of President Bill Clinton, and for taking a seat on the board of directors for UnitedHealth Group from 2001-2011.

Since Shalala first started sending signals of her intention to run for the CD 27 seat, others also have come after her too. Mary Barzee Flores said last month that Shalala is “compromised” by her ties to health insurers and homebuilders, as well as her treatment of low-wage employees at UM. Republicans are portraying her as “elitist, disconnected, and delusional.”

“Donna had an opportunity many years ago to be a champion for Medicare For All, but she chose not to do so. When she left government service, she went through the revolving door that we often hear about and landed in one of the biggest health insurance companies in the country,” says in the video.

“Then when [Barack] Obama became President, she lobbied Secretary [Kathleen] Sebelius against Medicare For All. Now she wants to represent progressives in Congress? I don’t think so,” Richardson continues.

Richardson is the only candidate in the race advocating for a single-payer healthcare system and the expansion of Medicare, for which he called on the first day of his candidacy, according to a release issued Wednesday by his campaign.

“In Tallahassee, I introduced legislation requiring a Medicare For All healthcare system when no one else would touch it. We need to send someone to Washington who will fight against our rigged, for-profit healthcare system – not someone who benefited from it. I have been fighting for Medicare For All since day one of my campaign and I’m still waiting for others in the race to join me. The people of our district want a bold, progressive champion who is not afraid to challenge the status quo.

“What they don’t want is a ‘Donna-come-lately.”

The CD 27 field already was crowded before Shalala’s entry, and Richardson thus far has topped what has been a very aggressive effort for campaign money, raising more than $1 million so far. Former journalist and Democrat Matthew Haggman is not far behind, reporting more than $900,000 raised through the end of 2017, while Democrats Ken Russell, Barzee Flores and state Sen. José Javier Rodríguez all topped a half-million dollars, and Democrat Kristen Rosen Gonzalez and Republican Bruno Barreiro each has pulled in more than a quarter million dollars.

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