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Scott Powers

Bobby Olszewski earns Mike Haridopolos’ endorsement in HD 44

Republican Bobby Olszewski has received the endorsement of former Florida Senate President Mike Haridopolos in the state House District 44 special election race.

The nod from Haridopolos adds to that of his Florida Legislature fellow leader House Speaker Steve Crisafulli and about three dozen local leaders from west Orange County, where HD 44 is located, who’ve come out in support of Olszewski.

A former Winter Garden commissioner, Olszewski wants to succeed former state Rep. Eric Eisnaugle, who left after this year’s Legislative Session ended two weeks ago because he was appointed to an open judge’s seat on Florida’s 5th District Court of Appeals.

No special election has been scheduled yet, but a primary is likely to be called for mid-summer and a general election shortly after that.

So far there are two other candidates in HD 44, both of whom entered the race before Eisnaugle left office creating the need for a special election. Fellow Republican Dr. Usha Jain Orlando said that she, like Olszewski, would refile for the special election, so that would create a Republican primary. The only Democratic candidate is Paul Chandler of Orlando, who also is committed to running in the special election.

There are a couple of other big-name Republicans who have said they are considering getting in: former Orange County Commissioner Scott Boyd, whose district covered much of the same area as HD 44; and lawyer Will McBride, who is a former U.S. Senate candidate.

“Bobby Olszewski is a community leader who is dedicated to bringing conservative principles to the Florida House of Representatives,” Haridopolos said in a news release issued by Olszewski’s campaign. “I’ve known Bobby for years and I believe there is no one better suited to stand up for West Orange County in Tallahassee. Bobby will dedicate himself to serving his constituents and being an effective voice for his community in the state’s Capitol.”

Knox Medical opening marijuana shop in Gainesville, planning statewide

Winter Garden-based Knox Medical, one of Florida’s seven licensed distributors of marijuana medicines, announced it is opening its first dispensary, in Gainesville with plans to go statewide soon.

In keeping with its strategy of locating dispensaries near hospitals and medical centers, Knox will open its first shop at  3400 SW 34th St., in Gainesville, not far from Shands Hospital, Shands Cancer Hospital at the University of Florida, and the Veterans Administration’s Malcom Randall Medical Center.

A press preview of the dispensary is set for Wednesday, with a public opening on Friday.

After that, an Orlando dispensary is set to open soon, and the company announced it has immediate plans to open marijuana medicine dispensaries in  in Jacksonville, Lake Worth, Tallahassee, and St. Petersburg, “followed by a large statewide expansion throughout 2017 and 2018,” the company announced Monday.

Knox also released artist’s renderings of a prototype, with a staid interior looking more like an optometrist’s shop than a pot shop, and an exterior with a sign declaring, “KNOX Cannabis Dispensary.”

“Knox Medical is working with Florida’s top architects and designers to create an unrivaled dispensary experience that puts the needs and interests of our patients first,” Jose J. Hidalgo, Founder and CEO of Knox Medical and Bruce Knox, Co-Founder and COO of Knox Medical, jointly stated in a news release.

The Gainesville opening comes with approval from the Florida Department of Health under guidelines established from a 2014 law opening up sales of limited marijuana products. It also comes less than two weeks after the Florida Legislature failed to agree on enabling legislation to set guidelines for medical marijuana, based on Amendment 2, the Florida Constitution amendment voters overwhelmingly passed last fall, opening up much broader sales of marijuana products.

“At every stage in this process, from cultivation to processing superior quality medicine, and now to dispensing at these state-of-the-art facilities, our objective at Knox Medical is to redefine excellence in the medicinal cannabis field at every level. We are privileged to serve our fellow Floridians in need who will receive compassionate medical care at Knox Medical’s cannabis dispensaries,” Hidalgo and Knox added in the release.

Gwen Graham gets backing of Amy Mercado, Lori Berman, Barbara Watson

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gwen Graham announced the endorsements of three key Democratic women lawmakers Friday afternoon.

The former congresswoman has picked up the endorsements of state Reps. Amy Mercado of Orlando, Barbara Watson of Miami Gardens, and Lori Berman of Lantana.

Graham is campaigning against fellow Democrats Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum and Winter Park affordable housing developer Chris King, striving for the 2018 primary nomination for governor.

Mercado, vice chair of the House Progressive Caucus, said in a news release issued by Graham’s campaign that the congresswoman “stood up for our shared values in Washington.”

“She voted to defend Obamacare, co-sponsored legislation to raise the minimum wage, and worked to protect Florida’s environment,” Mercado continued. “She has the courage to fight for our priorities and the experience to get things done.”

Watson, of Miami Gardens, said she was impressed when Graham spent a work day two weeks ago teaching and serving lunch at Carol City Senior High in her district.

“It showed me she cares about every student, regardless of their zip code or background. After years of Republican attacks on our public education system, we need a governor who will end high-stakes testing and the current system of demoralizing school grades,” Watson said in the release.

Berman, who sponsored legislation supporting the Equal Rights Amendment in Florida, cited Graham’s grasp of issues facing Florida women.

“She knows that women should get equal pay for equal work. She knows that women can be trusted to make their own decisions,” Berman stated in the release. “I look forward to partnering with Gwen, as Florida’s next governor, in fighting for policies that help Florida’s women and further our values.”

Graham called the trio great people and great friends.

“They’re fighting every day against the education industry that degrades our schools and the Tallahassee insiders who do nothing to help middle-class folks but don’t hesitate to threaten our water and land with fracking,” Graham stated in the release. “I’m so proud they are standing with me – together, we are going to fully fund our schools, protect our water and natural resources and have a real economic plan that creates real jobs.”

Equality Florida launches Pulse commemorative action campaign

Florida’s largest LGBT advocacy group Equality Florida is launching a #HonorThemWithAction campaign in advance of the June 12 commemoration of people killed, wounded and affected by the Pulse nightclub massacre.

The effort at this point aims at creating online rallying opportunities for people interested in contributing time and action to the myriad events being planned for June 11 and 12 both in Florida and nationally, and to find ways to unite in resistance to discrimination and hatred of gays, said Equality Florida Public Policy Director Hannah Willard.

Equality of Florida launched a website,, as a starting point, along with encouraging the use of the hashtag in social media.

It’s also part of an ongoing effort to remind people that Pulse was targeted because it was a gay nightclub, and the night of the massacre was Latin night.

“The Pulse massacre was a shooting in a popular gay nightclub on Latin night in the middle of Pride Month, and the victims were overwhelmingly LGBTQ and Latinx young people,” Willard said in a news release issued by the organization. “We have to name the communities that were attacked, and we must ensure the lasting memorial is the real change of uprooting anti-LGBTQ hatred, discrimination and violence in our culture.”

She and Nadine Smith, Equality of Florida’s executive director, noted that an outpouring of involvement occurred in the days and weeks following the massacre, with more than 850 events around the country. They are seeking to get organizers of those events recommitted, and to help interested people plug in.

A national LGBTQ march is planned for the National Mall in Washington D.C. on June 11, with regional and local marches projected for around the country.

Stephanie Murphy: Russian interference in U.S. elections ‘direct assault on our democracy’

Democratic U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy renewed her call Friday for independent, non-partisan investigations into Russia’s involvement in last fall’s elections, calling the Russian activities “a direct assault on our democracy.”

Speaking at the Winter Park Chamber of Commerce in her hometown, the freshman congresswoman pressed her background, interests and house committee assignments in national security to express her concerns about Russia’s role, and her questions about President Donald Trump‘s firing Tuesday of FBI Director James Comey, who was investigating it.

“I’m alarmed by the consensus view among our intelligence community that the Russian government interfered in our democracy. And here’s what we know: that Russian President Vladimir Putin personally ordered an influence campaign, in an attempt to sway our presidential election,” she said. “But what we don’t know is who, necessary, was involved, and whether Americans were actively participating or had knowledge of the Russian activities.

“So make no mistake about it, Russian attempts to sway our election constitutes a direct assault on our democracy, and they can’t go on,” she said. “And we have to take action to prevent this type of interference again.”

Murphy delivered a broad-based speech in which she also talked about the need to fix, not replace the current health care system, making sure to provide access and also to find ways to bring down costs to small businesses and individuals. The comments harkened to concerns she heard raised earlier this week in a Sanford Chamber of Commerce meeting, but also reflect some of her policy statements that have called for finding ways to reduce costs.

She also raised her concerns about North Korea, and noted that the CIA just announced creation of a broad intelligence review committee that mirrors what she pushed for in a bill she introduced last month. Yet she criticized the Trump White House’s “lack of tiered strategy” for North Korea and other foreign affairs matters.

Those comments and many others were drawn from a theme Murphy raised about she said she’s hearing from constituents, about growing uncertainty.

“The overarching theme delivered to me by nearly every constituent in my district is uncertainty. They recognize that progress in Central Florida and the nation has seen over the last few years… But I think with Congress in disarray, the war in the Middle East still ongoing, growing threats in North Korea, health care facing dramatic changes, that people are feeling uncertainty and concern,” she said.

“Uncertainty isn’t good for families and seniors, and it definitely isn’t good for businesses and the stock market, and it’s definitely not good for our allies like Israel, who depend on a strong and stable America,” she said.

But she offered optimism based on the American people, saying “our brave service members, diplomats and intelligence officers will always do what it takes to keep us safe…. I also think the hard-working spirit of the American people will overcome any obstacle. We are a nation that is already great, and it’s because of the internal fortitude and American values.”

But she also pressed on about the “crisis in our government” she centered on Trump, the allegations about Russia, and Comey’s firing.

“The timing of this termination is unusually suspect, and I think we need to know. We need to follow the facts where they lead, and we can hold those who broke the law, accountable, and protect the sanctity of our elections and get back to governing,” she said.

Daniel Webster endorses Bobby Olszewski in HD 44 race

Republican House District 44 candidate Bobby Olszewski has picked up another endorsement in his quest to win the special election this summer, with the backing of Republican U.S. Rep. Daniel Webster.

Webster represented the area of HD 44 in southwest Orange County for decades, as a member of the Florida House, the Florida Senate, and a member of Congress, until congressional redistricting forced him to move a few miles into Lake County to run in another district in order to stay in Congress.

His endorsement gives Olszewski’s campaign another shot of steam as other potential Republican candidates, including Will McBride and Scott Boyd, contemplate jumping into what will be a short campaign season. Earlier this week Olszewski, a former city commissioner in Webster’s former hometown of Winter Garden, received the endorsement of former Florida House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, to go along with dozens of endorsements from local officials in western Orange.

No dates have been set for the special primary and general elections, which are now needed because of the resignation of Republican state Rep. Eric Eisnaugle, who was appointed last week to a judge’s open seat on Florida’s 5th District Court of Appeals.

Paul Chandler of Orlando is running for the Democrats. Another Republican is in the race, Dr. Usha Jain, who, like Olszewski, ran unsuccessfully last year for Boyd’s opening seat on the Orange County Board of Commissioners.

Webster and Olszewski have known each other for many years.

“I have represented this community as a U.S. Congressman, a Florida State Senator, and a former speaker of the Florida House so I’m proud to support my friend Bobby Olszewski for State House District 44,” Webster stated in a news release issued by Olszewski’s campaign. “Bobby is a man of faith and a true conservative who truly sacrifices his time, treasure, and talents to serve west Orange County. He will be a great advocate for all of us in Tallahassee and I fully endorse his candidacy.”


Governor’s race candidates drawing big checks

Three Democrats and one Republican running so far for the 2018 Florida governor’s race are starting out with war chests built with big checks, from such sources as August A. Busch, George Soros, David King and Wayne Hogan, mainly cut to their independent political committees that have no limits.

Republican Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam leads the pack — by far — but had an enormous head start on the others. Putnam’s Florida Grown PC opened in March 0f 2015, followed by Democratic Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum‘s Florida Forward PC in March of 2016, and former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham‘s Our Florida PC, and Winter Park businessman Chris King‘s Rise and Lead, Florida PC, earlier this year.

Still, with just 2017 figures tallied, Putnam’s Florida Grown has pulled in 120 checks of $10,000 or more; while Gillum’s Forward Florida has 21; Graham’s Our Florida, 19; and King’s Rise and Lead, five.

All the numbers reported here are through the end of April, posted Thursday on the Florida Division of Elections’ website.

King, who built wealth through a company developing affordable housing, has the biggest check so far, $1 million to his official campaign committee, from himself. Only he and Gillum have been officially in the race long enough to report official campaign committee donations, which normally are limited to $3,000 checks, except from the candidate. Gillum’s biggest official campaign committee check is just that, $3,000.

King raised $1.38 million in his official campaign committee, including another check from himself for $62,000, and $422,000 in his Rise and Lead independent committee. His father, attorney David King, also has contributed $166,000, and Winter Park accountant Thomas Beck, $47,000, to Rise and Lead.

But the independent committees are where the bulk of the candidates’ early money sits.

Putnam, who officially filed to run last week, had raised $11.4 million in his Florida Grown committee over the past 26 months, with $9.8 million of that coming in checks of at least $10,000. This year that committee has raised $3,96 million on checks of at least $10,000 to Florida Grown, which has raised a grand total of $4.58 million, on a total of 1,118 individual contributions this year.

The 2017 checks to Florida Grown are topped by FP&L’s $250,000 in January, and the Florida Chamber of Commerce’s political action committee Florida Jobs PAC’s $150,000 in February. The Florida Chamber of Commerce PAC also cut two $100,000 checks, in February and April.

Another 15 individuals, companies and PACs have donated $100,000 apiece, including Disney Worldwide Services, the Associated Industries of Florida’s AIF PAC, Anheuser-Busch Breweries heir August A. Busch of St. Louis, and several agriculture interests including U.S. Sugar Corp. of Clewiston, Vero Beach citrus magnate William Becker, Myakka City industrial farmer John Falkner, and Peace River Citrus Products of Arcadia.

Gillum, who entered the race in early March, has the most-active official campaign fund, with more than 5,439 donations totaling $413,000, and consequently the greatest number of small donations. So far, he’s received 4,609 donations of less than $100 in that fund, compared with 233 for King, and 1,354 in Putnam’s Florida Grown PC.

Gillum’s Florida Forward PC, which he opened a year before, has taken only seven checks under $100. That committee has received 21 checks of at least $10,000, totaling $495,000 of the $665,000 Florida Forward has raised.

Tops among Gillum’s big donors are New York billionaire liberal-cause rainmaker George Soros, who donated $100,000 at the end of March; his son Alex Soros of New York, who donated $50,000 the same day; and Hollywood TV and movie producer Norman Lear, who donated $50,000, also on March 31.

Graham, who also officially filed last week, had raised $679,000 since early February in her Our Florida PC. Nineteen checks of at least $10,000 accounted for much of that, $645,000.

Those checks are topped by $250,000 she transferred into that committee from her congressional campaign committee in February. After that, airport construction magnate James Finch of Lynn Haven, health care software entrepreneur Michael Singer of Alachua, and attorney Wayne Hogan of Jacksonville, a former congressional candidate, each contributed $50,000.

As for the states of origin for the money, Gillum has shown the most ability to raise money outside of Florida, particularly in California and New York. His official campaign has drawn 282 checks from California totaling $39,000, and 213 from New York, also totaling about $39,000. He also has 104 checks from Georgia, totaling about $10,000.

Gillum has 3,815 checks from Floridians, good for $268,000.

His Florida Forward committee shows a similar pattern, though dominated by those big Soros and Lear checks. Four checks from New York brought in $165,000, and seven checks from California brought in $121,000. From Florida, Forward Florida has received 46 checks for about $287,000. The committee also has gotten $41,000 out of Massachusetts, and $37,000 out of Georgia.

Relative to what he’s drawn from the Sunshine State, Putnam has done very little out of state fundraising, with at least 3,055 checks from Floridians, totaling more than $10,800,000, in his Florida Grown PC. He has gotten $157,000 out of Missouri, including that big Busch donation, on eight checks; and more than $50,000 from Georgia, Pennsylvania, New York, and New Jersey, on a handful of checks.

Likewise, King and Graham have drawn relatively little from out-of-state.

Graham’s Our Florida PC has gotten 27 of 32 checks from Florida, tallying $623,000 of her $679,000. Another check came in from Washington D.C. for $20,000; two came in from Rhode Island totaling $20,000, and one from Utah for $10,000.

King’s official campaign committee has received 403 of its 480 checks from Floridians, worth $1.31 million of that committee’s $1.38 million total. He’s gotten seven checks each from Colorado and North Carolina, totaling $18,000 and $11,000 respectively. His Rise and Lead PC has received no out-of-state checks.

Judge dismisses suit challenging All Aboard Florida; both sides see victory

A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit challenging a federal decision supporting All Aboard Florida for its high-speed passenger train project, and both the train company and its opponents hailed the ruling as a victory.

U.S. District Judge Christopher R. Cooper dismissed as moot Wednesday the law suit that Indian River and Martin counties brought against the U.S. Department of Transportation alleging that the federal agency should not have allocated up to $1.75 billion in non-taxable private activity bonds to help finance a railroad project from West Palm Beach to Orlando.

The company, now known as Brightline, intends to start private passenger trains from West Palm Beach to Miami this year, and plans to extend the line northward, then westward to Orlando some day.

But after the lawsuit was filed, the company withdrew its request for the $1.75 billion in bonds and filed for and received a new allocation for $600 million, largely to finance the West Palm Beach to Miami route. Because the U.S. Department of Transportation’s award of $1.75 billion is gone, the challenge is moot, Brightline argued, and Cooper agreed.

This is the third suit against All Aboard Florida that has been dismissed on such grounds. In a statement released Thursday, the company said:

“All Aboard Florida believes Judge Cooper properly dismissed the case, and we appreciate his thoughtful review and articulation of the facts and the law. This is another loss in a series of lawsuits that has cost Treasure Coast residents almost $6 million. We look forward to working with the Treasure Coast in a cooperative and more productive fashion as we advance this important infrastructure project.”

But opponents said the wording of Cooper’s decision should send a warning to All Aboard Florida/Brightline about any future attempts to raise money for the northern route.

The two counties had argued that federal officials failed to fully assess environmental impact of the proposed train route through their counties on the northern route, which they contended was a violation of the National Environmental Policy Act.

Cooper appeared to agree with that concern, according to an interpretation issued by the All Aboard Florida opposition group, Citizens Against Rail Expansion in Florida.

“For these reasons, the Court’s earlier ruling casts considerable doubt on whether DOT would adhere to any previous suggestions that PAB allocations are categorically excluded from NEPA’s coverage,” Cooper wrote. “And even if DOT were to do so, Plaintiffs could readily call it to the carpet by renewing their lawsuits in this Court.”

And citing the different policies under former President Barack Obama and President Donald Trump, Cooper predicted that it would be unlikely the U.S. Department of Transportation would take the same action.

“Any decision on a future application by AAF will be made by entirely different officials in the new administration. While the new administration has not publicly opined on the AAF project (as far as the Court is aware) its early actions with respect to publicly-funded rail transp01iation in general suggest that it might take a different track,” he wrote.

Declared CARE Florida:

“CARE FL congratulates Martin and Indian River Counties for their legal efforts and considers this lawsuit a resounding win for the residents of the Treasure Coast and North Palm Beach regions. AAF’s insatiable need for public subsidies continues and the decision in this matter doesn’t advance their quest.”

Wayne Liebnitzky blasts Darren Soto for ‘BananaRepublicans’ tweet

Republican congressional candidate Wayne Liebnitzky called out Democratic U.S. Rep. Darren Soto by charging that a tweet the congressman sent using the hashtag “BananaRepublicans” is divisive and beneath the office.

On Wednesday, Soto, of Florida’s 9th Congressional District, covering parts of Orange, Osceola and Polk counties, tweeted criticism of President Donald Trump‘s firing of FBI Director James Comey that declared “#Trump & #BananaRepublicans are destroying our democracy. Need #IndependentProseuctor to investigate #RussianHacking.”

In a Facebook post responding, and then in an interview, Liebnitzky, who lost to Soto last November and is seeking a rematch in 2018, said he should be ashamed of using a reference insulting Republicans in the district.

“Is calling the Republican Party the ‘#BananaRepublic’ professional and the way that an elected official should be carrying himself? Last time I check U.S. Rep Darren Soto, some of your constituents are Republicans,” he wrote. He ended his own post with the hashtag #politicsasusual.

In an interview, Liebnitzky said the country needs someone who fights against partisan rancor, not someone who fosters it.

“Once you represent people, you’ve got to say this partisan politics is horrible,” Liebnitzky said. “It has gotten worse.”

Soto responded Thursday by explaining his reference was to those Republicans in power who are standing behind or staying silent on the controversial firing of Comey.

“President Trump firing someone investigating his office was akin to a dictator from a third world country,” Soto said. “And so that term was used specifically to highlight the outrageous nature of firing the man who is investigating you.” nabs three honors in Green Eyeshade Awards received three honors in the Society of Professional Journalists’ Green Eyeshade Awards, highlighting the best journalism of 2016 throughout 10 states of the southeast United States.

Martin Dyckman received a second-place award for online serious commentary for his columns exploring the problems with Florida’s death penalty laws.

Jim Rosica received a third-place award for online business reporting for his stories on gambling in Florida.

Scott Powers received a third-place award for online political reporting for his stories on Central Florida politics.

The Green Eyeshade Awards, open to journalists from West Virginia through Louisiana, received more than 900 entries for awards that included breakouts for newspapers, magazines, television, radio, and online reporting, and for student journalists. publisher Peter Schorsch hailed the awards as a breakthrough for his organization, in its first foray into journalism competitions.

“I would have never thought when I launched my local political blog that one day we would be competing with the major traditional news organizations, especially in categories like business reporting,” Schorsch said.

In Dyckman’s category, online serious commentary, the first place award went to Mary C. Curtis, a North Carolina journalist, for her columns published in Roll Call, The Undefeated, The Root and NPR. Andre Perry, a Louisiana journalist writing for The Hechinger Report, took third.

In Rosica’s category, online business reporting, Charles Elmore of the Palm Beach Post took the top honor, and Tom Hudson, of WLRN Public Radio and Television in South Florida, took second.

In Powers’ category, online political reporting, the WLRN staff took first place, and the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting took second.

The other top online awards winners were:

The Palm Beach Post won first place in the online digital media presentation.

Treasure Coast Newspapers/ won first place for online deadline reporting.

The Chattanooga Times Free Press won first place awards in both online non-deadline reporting and online investigative reporting.

Memphis Magazine won first place for the best online blog.

Alabama Media Group won first place for both online sports reporting and online sports commentary.

WLRN, WUSF of Tampa and WMFE of Orlando jointly won first place for online specialty site.

The Tampa Bay Times’ PolitiFact won first place for online public service journalism.

The Florida Center for Investigative Reporting won first place in online videography.

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