Scott Powers, Author at Florida Politics - Page 4 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 Besides them, he’s into mystery and suspense books and movies, rock, blues, basketball, baseball, writing unpublished novels, and being amused.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 scott@floridapolitics.com.

Congressional Leadership Fund stumping Saturday for Brian Mast, Carlos Curbelo

More national help is on the way to promote Republican U.S. Reps. Brian Mast of the Treasure Coast and Carlos Curbelo of Miami, with the launch this weekend of “Super Saturday” grassroots efforts organized by The Congressional Leadership Fund (CLF).

That organization has opened up field offices in Mast’s 18th Congressional District and in Curbelo’s 26th Congressional District. And from there, CLF intends to use paid staff and volunteers Saturday to run phone banks and door-to-door canvassing to help the pair a year out from their next re-elections in their swing districts.

The fund is putting similar efforts in 15 other congressional districts across the country, vowing to reach 100,000 voters between them on Saturday.

The CLF expects to have 30 volunteers at its CD 18 office in Port St. Lucie and 40 in its CD 26 office in Miami.

On Thursday, another group, the American Action Network, announced a $2 million national television advertising campaign to assist 28 Republican members of Congress, including Mast and Curbelo.

Both Mast and Curbelo face significant Democratic challenges this year. Pam Keith and Lauren Baer have emerged in CD 18. Democrat Debbie Mucarsel-Powell has come to the forefront in challenging Curbelo in CD 26.

“The fact that our team will personally contact 100,000 voters in one day, across 17 districts over a year out from the midterm elections, is a testament to CLF’s seriousness and commitment to protecting the House Republican majority in 2018,” CLF Executive Director Corry Bliss stated in a news release.

Bliss continued: “With a data-driven field program, CLF is engaging voters early and often on the issues they care about most and sharing how their member of Congress is working on their behalf. By investing in data and a ground game, CLF has time to build real relationships and earn voters’ trust, both of which will pay dividends a year from now.”

CLF contends it is the first super PAC to invest and launch a data-driven national field operation targeting congressional districts. Since February, the organization has been opening field offices and implementing unique, full-fledged campaigns with the goal of building relationships with voters. Each field office is led by a full-time staffer.

CLF has pledged to raise and spend $100 million to protect the House Republican majority in the 2018 midterms.

National group pushes tax reform in TV ads supporting Brian Mast, Carlos Curbelo

The American Action Network is launching a $2 million national television advertising campaign pushing Congressional action on tax reform. The campaign includes two swing districts in Florida, with U.S. Reps. Brian Mast and Carlos Curbelo among those being targeted.

The 30-second spot, “Paycheck to Paycheck,” urges Congress to approve tax reform that gives a “simpler, fairer tax code,” closes loopholes and helps working families. It features a woman from Michigan talking about how difficult it is to make ends meet and appreciating the support of Congress members who plan to vote yes on President Donald Trump‘s tax cut plan.

The commercial begins today and will run for two weeks in 28 congressional districts nationally, including Florida’s 18th Congressional District, now represented by Republican Mast of Palm City, and Florida’s 26th Congressional District represented by Republican Curbelo of Kendall.

Both face significant Democratic challenges this year. Two Democratic challengers, Pam Keith and Lauren Baer, have emerged in CD 18. Democrat Debbie Mucarsel-Powell has come to the forefront in challenging Curbelo in CD 26.

“Fifty percent of American families are living paycheck to paycheck, struggling under an outdated and unfair tax code that works against them every day,” AAN Executive Director Corry Bliss stated in a news release. “The White House and congressional leaders have put forward a plan to make our tax code simpler and fairer with lower rates giving hardworking families a tax cut of $1,200 a year. Congress now has the responsibility to act quickly and give middle-class families like the Skowronskis some tax relief and peace of mind.”

Jason Brodeur spends $18K on 2020 SD 9 race

Republican state Rep. Jason Brodeur still has three years before the 2020 election he’s shooting for, but the Sanford Republican has some money in the bank and he’s been spending money lately to get his messages out, much of it in the form of public service text messages following Hurricane Irma.

Brodeur, who’s aiming to succeed Republican state Sen. Dave Simmons after the 2020 election, reported raising $1,000 and spending nearly $19,000, mostly on messaging, in the latest campaign finance reports posted on the Florida Division of Elections website.

He has raised more than $160,000 so far, including in-kind contributions, and has spent more than $67,000, leaving him with about $92,000.

The biggest expenditure in the latest report, through the end of September, was $15,000 to a New Jersey company, which allowed him to send — via texts to cell phones — public service updates on power and hurricane response information to 66,000 people of Seminole County following Hurricane Irma, which knocked out more than half the county’s power on Sept. 10-11.

His Democratic opponent, Frederick James Ashby II of Oviedo, reported raising $80 in September and spending $322. Ashby primed his campaign with an $1,100 personal loan in July. With that, he has raised $1,525 and spent $1,240, principally on yard signs.

Marco Rubio after Equifax hack: companies should be reporting quickly

Citing the recently disclosed mammoth hack of the Equifax credit ratings company that had occurred last spring, Florida’s Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio sent a letter to the Security and Exchange Commission Wednesday urging it to require companies to make prompt disclosures of hacks that could affect consumers.

Rubio said in his letter to SEC Chairman Jay Clayton that he believes companies that hold Americans’ personal information must be held to a higher standard of security and reporting, lest Americans be exposed to identity theft without being informed in a timely fashion.

Equifax announced Sept. 7 that it had a “cyber security incident.” The announcement revealed a hacking effort that netted personal information on more than 140 million Americans dated as early as May and was discovered and plugged by the company in July. In that period, hackers were able to steal identity and financial information on more than 140 million Americans. The company acknowledged the hackers were able to obtain names, Social Security numbers, birthdays and addresses on those clients, and driver license numbers on many.

Credit card numbers were stolen for 209,000 people and certain “documents with personal identifying information” for 182,000, the company announced.

“This breach, and others like it, have made Americans vulnerable to identity theft and scams,” Rubio wrote to Clayton. “The reality of our data-rich 21st century requires that we take security guardrails very seriously, and ensure the federal government is upholding the trust Americans need for their full participation in the national economy.”

“For this reason, I write to urge that, to the maximum extent consistent with the law, the Securities and Exchange Commission require companies to promptly disclose significant hacks of material impact that make Americans vulnerable to identity theft,” Rubio implored.

Rubio declared that companies holding Americans’ personal information should be held to a higher security standard.

“In recognizing this, I urge that you prioritize transparency actions for Equifax so that consumers can be aware of their status with adequate time to take appropriate remediation steps,” he concluded.

Bill Nelson sponsors bill to ban bump stocks for assault weapons

Saying, “they are for killing,” Florida’s Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson sponsored a bill Wednesday to ban so-called “bump stocks” like the ones Las Vegas police say Stephen Paddock used in his deadly slaughter Sunday night in Las Vegas.

“I’m a hunter and have owned guns my whole life,” Nelson stated in a news release. “But these automatic weapons are not for hunting, they are for killing. And this common-sense bill would, at the very least, make it harder for someone to convert a semi-automatic rifle into what is essentially a fully-automatic machine gun.”

The move was one of many gun law reform efforts renewed by Democrats in the wake of Paddock’s massacre Sunday night of 58 concert goers with a fast, steady flow of long-range bullets that also wounded more than 500.

On Monday gubernatorial candidate Chris King vowed to push for gun reforms. In Orlando, state Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith announced he had filed a state bill banning the sale of assault weapons and high-caliber magazines, a companion bill to the one state Sen. Linda Stewart, also of Orlando, filed more than a month ago. U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel of West Palm Beach called a press conference for Friday where she intends to introduce a federal bill outlawing those items and bump stocks.

Nelson’s bill also was sponsored by Democratic U.S. Sen. Diane Feinstein of California, with 25 co-sponsors, including Democratic U.S. Sens. Chuck Schumer of New York, Chris Murphy of Connecticut, Cory Booker of New Jersey, Kamala Harris of California, and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, plus independent U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont.

The legislation would ban the sale, transfer, importation, manufacture or possession of bump stocks, trigger cranks and similar accessories that accelerate a semi-automatic rifle’s rate of fire.

While a typical semi-automatic rifle can fire at a rate of between 45 and 60 rounds per minute, a fully-automatic weapon can fire at a rate of 400 to 800 rounds per minute, Nelson’s office stated in the release.

The bill makes clear that its intent is to target only those accessories that increase a semi-automatic rifle’s rate of fire. Legitimate accessories used by hunters would be exempt. The bill also contains exceptions for lawful possession of these devices by law enforcement and the government.

Stephanie Murphy calls Donald Trump’s North Korea rhetoric ‘reckless,’ calls on him to stop it

U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy, a chair of the Democratic Caucus’ National Security Task Force, called President Donald Trump’s North Korea rhetoric “reckless” Wednesday. She and other task force leaders sent him a letter urging him to knock it off.

Murphy, of Winter Park, and the other two task force chairs made it clear they recognize that North Korea’s “dangerous and destabilizing actions are the root cause of tensions between North Korea and the international community,” yet also declared that they believe Trump’s “reckless rhetoric and muddled messages to allies have made the problem worse.”

Those comments were made in a press release the caucus issued Wednesday, and Murphy repeated them in a Facebook post later.

In the letter itself, Murphy and her fellow chairs U.S. Reps. Seth Moulton of Massachusetts, and Jimmy Panetta of California informed Trump they believe he’s making matters worse. The letter also spells out what they believe he should be doing with regards to North Korea, insisting on diplomatic negotiations, while increasing and actually enforcing economic sanctions.

“Nevertheless, we believe your rhetoric in response has been counterproductive, escalating an already dangerous situation.”

The letter also told Trump they believe he is mismanaging U.S. alliances with East Asian countries including South Korea, and is failing to fill key staff offices in the U.S. State Department that deal with the Koreas and other East Asian countries, calling the matters “self-inflicted wounds.”

The Democratic National Security Task Force chairs’ letter advised Trump they believe can chart a course that avoids both “capitulation to or catastrophic war with North Korea.”

“Rather than using reckless rhetoric and sending muddled messages to our allies, the U.S. should pursue a comprehensive strategy toward North Korea that consists of economic pressure, strong and steady diplomacy, and credible deterrence and defense,” it states.

The Democrats called on Trump to increase and enforce economic sanctions, and enhance diplomatic negotiations, citing, as a role model, President Ronald Reagan‘s efforts to deal with the Soviet Union.

They also urged him to establish crisis-management channels with North Korea to clarify intentions and minimize the risks of misunderstandings that could lead to war.

“Responsibility for addressing the serious threat from North Korea lies squarely with the Trump administration,” Murphy, a former Defense Department intelligence analyst, stated in the news release. “I am concerned by the President’s approach to date, which has been characterized more by tough talk than by strong, smart, and steady actions that make our country and our allies safer. U.S. policy toward North Korea should consist of economic pressure, strong and steady diplomacy, and credible deterrence and defense.”

Senate Commerce and Tourism Committee plans hurricane talk

The Florida Senate Commerce and Tourism Committee will take up hurricane effects and recovery efforts across the business community in Florida at its first meeting of the 2018 session, Chairman Bill Montford announced Wednesday.

That is assuming the committee’s hearing is not postponed because of a hurricane. Very early projections of Tropical Depression 16 forming off the coast of Central America on Wednesday afternoon have it becoming Hurricane Nate and hitting Florida — right near Tallahassee — Sunday.

Montford, a Tallahassee Democrat, set the discussion with Hurricane Irma in mind, taking place roughly a month after that storm hit Florida.

“Hurricane Irma was a catastrophic storm, the likes of which Florida has never seen,” Montford stated in a news release issued by the Senate Democrats’ office. “We continue to face the long and complicated process of recovery statewide, from our businesses and tourist industry, the school systems, to agriculture and infrastructure, there was not an entity left untouched.”

“It is important that we focus on fully understanding the impacts so that the Legislature can stand with local governments, businesses and citizens on the road to recovery,” he continued. “I have invited several representatives from the business community, as well as the governmental entities that focus on commerce and economic development to our first meeting. I also welcome all of my Senate colleagues to attend and participate in the panel discussion if they have questions specific to their districts. Vice Chair [George] Gainer [a Panama City Republican] and I are committed to ensuring that Hurricane Irma will not stunt economic development in Florida.”

The panel Montford assembled for Monday’s hearing will consist of representatives from the Florida Chamber of Commerce, Florida United Businesses Association, CareerSource Florida, Visit Florida, Florida Small Business Development Center Network, and the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity.

The Senate Commerce and Tourism Committee will meet at 3:30 p.m. Monday.

 

Pam Keith gets backing of VoteVets in CD 18 race

Democratic Congressional District 18 candidate Pam Keith has received the endorsement and backing of VoteVets, a progressive-politics organization dedicated to helping elect military veterans to Congress and other levels of government, her campaign announced Wednesday.

Keith, a Navy veteran and labor lawyer from Palm Beach Gardens, is now in a Democratic primary battle with Lauren Baer, a former senior official in the Obama administration. They both want to take on Republican U.S. Rep. Brian Mast in the district stretching from northern Palm Beach County through much of Florida’s Treasure Coast.

Mast is an Army veteran.

“Pam is someone who always dreamed big, but did so with an eye on serving others,” Jerry Green, U.S. Army veteran and Florida veterans coordinator for VoteVets, stated in a news release issued by Keith’s campaign. “That’s the kind of mindset we need in Washington, right now. Service over self. Anyone can see why she’s going to make an excellent Congresswoman.”

VoteVets states that it has helped elect dozens of veterans since the organization formed in 2006, providing both direct contributions and indirect support through the organization’s own advertising for its endorsed candidates. Among those it has or is backing are U.S. Sens. Jack Reed of Rhode Island, Gary Peters of Michigan and Tammy Duckworth of Illinois,

“I joined the Navy to defend the freedoms our nation stands for and to protect those who look to the powerful for justice,” Keith stated in the release. “Now, I’m running for Congress because Brian Mast has forgotten the oath we both swore. He has ignored the people who need him most, and weakened our country by supporting the actions of Donald Trump. I’m proud to have VoteVets on my side in this important fight to bring real leadership back to the Palm Beaches and Treasure Coast.”

After joining the Navy in 1997 Keith served as a judge advocate general. She volunteered to serve as regional defense counsel and officer in charge of Naval Legal Service Office Detachment in Bahrain, working with military units that were overseeing Saddam Hussein’s compliance with sanctions and weapons inspections. Back in the United States, she served as the first-ever JAG assigned to the Computer Network Security Task Force. She is the daughter of former Ambassador Kenton Keith, who was one of the first black naval officers to serve on the USS Midway.

Linda Stewart: ‘It’s not too early’ to talk about gun reform, ‘It’s too late’

Casting aside any criticism politicizing tragedy, Orlando state Sen. Linda Stewart, Orlando state Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith and a statewide coalition demanded talks Wednesday on gun law reforms, particularly on their bills banning sales of semi-automatic weapon and high-capacity magazines in Florida.

Democrats Stewart and Smith filed such bills last session, in the memory of the Pulse massacre in Orlando, but they were never heard by committees. They filed again for this session. Stewart, with Senate Bill 176, filed in August and Smith, with House Bill 291, which he filed Tuesday — just two days after the Las Vegas massacre.

“And now I’m having the same feedback: ‘Oh, it’s just too early to talk about this,'” said Stewart, whose district represents the Pulse nightclub area.

“It’s not too early. It’s too late!” she declared.

Stewart and Smith were joined by Democratic state Sen. Victor Torres, representatives of the Florida Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence — which is led by the League of Women Voters of Florida — and survivors and family members of the victims of the Pulse shooting, which left 49 dead and 53 wounded. They gathered in front of the Orange County Courthouse to demand the Florida Legislature at least hold hearings and votes on SB 176 and HB 291, as well as provide public debate on both sides and records of where Florida lawmakers stand.

The bills also call for comprehensive universal background checks on gun purchases.

“It’s time for bold, unapologetic action,” Smith said.

Smith said he, Stewart and the coalition had been planning this press conference for weeks, and decided to go forward after the Las Vegas shooting.

“Some might think it’s insensitive for us to have this press conference today. It would be more insensitive not to move forward with this legislation,” Smith said.

The coalition, formed days after the Pulse massacre, includes more than 100 groups of varied interests ranging from the Association of Florida Colleges, Doctors for America, Equality Florida, dozens of churches and temples, the Newtown [Conn.] Action Alliance, and a dozen city mayors and other local officials.

“America has been turned a battlefield. It does not have to be this way. But we have legislators and members of Congress who would rather listen to the gun lobby than the voters who put them into office. That is unacceptable,” said Patricia Brigham, First Vice President of the League of Women Voters of Florida. “We heard them over and over again after the Las Vegas massacre, the same thing we heard after the Pulse massacre: ‘Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families.’

“We don’t elect them for their thoughts and prayers,” she added. “We elect them to make law. And it’s high time they started passing laws to protect citizens from gun violence that is becoming frighteningly mobilized.”

Darren Soto: Congress must quickly approve robust relief package for Puerto Rico

After touring Puerto Rico earlier this week, U.S. Rep. Darren Soto declared the island is in emergency need of robust emergency federal funding, not just to assure full federal relief efforts from Hurricanes Maria and Irma, but to keep the commonwealth’s government operating in a place where almost no one can work.

“The stories that you’re reading and seeing from Puerto Rico are all true,” the Orlando Democrat, who is of Puerto Rican descent, stated in a release issued late Tuesday. “Our fellow American citizens are facing unthinkable tragedies. I saw people all over the city waiting in long lines for groceries and gas, most areas lacked electricity, cell phone service, and functioning traffic lights. Debris still covered many roads. Most buildings sustained minor or major damage. Hopefully President [Donald] Trump’s visit today will tell him what I already saw firsthand: the damage is real and people need our help.”

In related news, U.S. Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart and Debbie Wasserman Schultz announced they are leading a bipartisan push to urge the Trump administration to send Congress an official request for additional disaster relief funding. The letter was co-signed by 21 of Florida’s 27 members of Congress, including Soto, as well as more than a dozen other members of Congress from other states.

Soto issued a lengthy report on his findings that ranged from the widespread obvious problems [an island without electricity, cell phone service and massive destruction]; to pending problems, such as the government’s anticipation that it will run out of operating money in two to three weeks; to minor issues that could result in public health matters, such as ad-hoc trash dumps appearing everywhere because there is no refuge service.

In tours that included briefings from Federal Emergency Management Agency officials, Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rosselló, local officials, and aid workers, Soto reported that he confirmed that relief supplies are moving slowly and said that many people in the interior told him they have never seen federal relief workers, let alone supplies.

He said FEMA officials told him the agency will need $1.7 billion to cover its operations for the next six months, and that the government of Puerto Rico has only enough money to operate for another two to three weeks.

Among findings and observations Soto mentioned in his report:

Damage estimates across the island run from $40 billion to $70 billion, more than 100,000 homes were completely destroyed, and “vast parts of the transportation, communication and electric infrastructure will need to be rebuilt,” Soto reported.

– “The official death toll stands at 16. Several sources believe the death toll related to Hurricane Maria will ultimately be much larger due to lack of medical supplies and treatment, lack of potable water and food, as well as the continued harsh living conditions.”

– “Known transportation obstacles include lack of cell phone service, clogged roadways, no street lights and lack of available local truck drivers (many were still dealing with the disaster themselves).”

– “A substantial force of military transportation professionals is desperately needed. In the meantime, hundreds of containers of essential food, water and medical supplies will continue to be slowly transported to the hardest hit communities.”

– “It was apparent from the air that thousands of homes had been destroyed, and few had received blue tarps. Flooding had begun to subside but many neighborhoods were still very wet. Due to high winds, most trees were destroyed or leafless.”

– “Many brick and mortar businesses still appeared to be closed. Since many residents operate small businesses out of their homes, many of these were also affected.”

– “Hurricane Maria decimated the banana crop and damaged the coffee plants. Various agricultural structures such as chicken coops and barns had also been destroyed.”

– “We flew over the Guajataca Dam, and observed that it had been breached on the right side, had flooded adjacent roadways and was overflowing the river. Numerous homes are in danger of flood damage should the river continue to rise.”

– “While in the air, I saw no other helicopters flying, no military vehicles driving around, and no federal personnel. Rural towns will continue to suffer if resources and personnel are not dispatched to these areas.”

– “The pilot pointed out a disturbing trend of large trash piles beginning to form in empty lots on the side of roads and next to rivers. This growing trash problem coupled with rotting debris could pose a major potential health hazard if not corrected soon.”

In addition to Wasserman-Schultz, a Weston Democrat; Diaz-Balart, a Miami Republican; and Soto; the letter calling for emergency funding was signed by U.S. Reps. Al Lawson, a Tallahassee Democrat; Vern Buchanan, a Longboat Key Republican; Francis Rooney, a Naples Republican; Carlos Curbelo, a Kendall Republican; Kathy Castor, a Tampa Democrat; Stephanie Murphy, a Winter Park Democrat; Ted Deutch, a Boca Raton Democrat; Val Demings, an Orlando Democrat; Tom Rooney, an Okeechobee Republican; Charlie Crist, a St. Petersburg Democrat; Frederica Wilson, a Miami Gardens Democrat; Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Miami Republican; Alcee Hastings, a Miramar Republican; John Rutherford, a Jacksonville Republican; Brian Mast, a Palm City Republican; Lois Frankel, a West Palm Beach Democrat; Dennis Ross, a Lakeland Republican; and Gus Bilirakis, a Palm Harbor Republican.

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