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Scott Powers

Winter Park businessman Chris King mulling gubernatorial run

Winter Park businessman Chris King is mulling a 2018 Democratic run for governor in Florida, sources close to him said Monday.

While not highly active in Central Florida political circles, King, president and CEO of Elevation Financial Group in Winter Park has been exploring prospects, with national consultants based in Washington D.C., of an outsider’s run with a mixture of liberal social and business-oriented views.

Adam Smith of the Tampa Bay Times reports that Obama alums Larry Grisolano of AKPD Message and Media and Jeremy Bird of 270 Strategies are closing to joining King’s team.

The son of Marilyn and David King, the latter the Orlando lawyer who represented the League of Women Voters in its successful Fair Districts Amendments legal fights with Florida that forced the state to redistrict Senate and congressional seats, T. Christopher King, 38, runs a company that invests in and manages real estate.

He has spoken at length with the Orlando Sentinel about the need to spur development of affordable housing, and last summer published a guest column in the Sentinel urging Christian churches to embrace the LGBT community, following last summer’s massacre at the popular Orlando gay nightclub Pulse.

King, a Winter Park High School graduate, holds an undergraduate degree in religion, politics and American public policy from Harvard University, where he was elected class marshal; and a law degree from the University of Florida, where he won mock trial competitions.

If King enters the race, he could wind up in a primary battle with several other Democrats, including fellow Orlando-area lawyer John Morgan and former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham of Tallahassee.

King told Smith that “we have to make a decision in the next 30 to 60 days.”

Paul Paulson seeds state Ag Commissioner campaign with $120K

Orlando businessman and former lawyer Paul Paulson has seeded his campaign to run for Florida Agriculture Commissioner in 2018 with a $120,000 personal loan.

Paulson, a state committeeman with the Orange County Republican Party and 2015 candidate for Orlando mayor, entered the agriculture commissioner race in late December, seeking to succeed fellow Republican Adam Putnam, who is term-limited out at the end of 2018.

Republican state Sen. Denise Grimsley of Lake Placid also has entered the race.

New campaign finance reports posted by the Florida Division of Elections show he lent his campaign $120,000 in January. He also spent $32,000, with $18,000 of that going to BEAG Inc. political consulting in Maryland and the rest to J.M. Design of Winter Garden for printing. He did not report raising any other money.

However, Paulson said he has hired a fundraiser and is using his personal money to get the infrastructure set up for a statewide campaign.

“I don’t mind putting my money where my mouth is,” Paulson said.

Grimsley raised $40,700 through the end of January, with about half of that transferred in from her last Senate campaign fund, and the rest coming from scores of donors. She’s spent about $36,000, on a variety of items.

Paulson, whose business is mostly in real estate, lost the 2015 mayoral election to incumbent Mayor Buddy Dyer by 30 points. Still, he’s remained a fixture around the City Beautiful, as a director of the Orlando Marathon, administrator of the Breast Cancer Outreach Foundation, and organizer in various veterans’ groups. He is a former Army combat infantry officer.

Paulson, who grew up on a cattle farm in Minnesota, is a member of the Florida Cattlemen’s Association, raises cattle in east Orange County, and has a citrus farm in Lake County.

Five routes proposed to extend S.R. 408 eastward on tap Thursday

Five possible corridors are being unveiled publicly to possibly expand Central Florida Expressway Authority’s East-West Expressway eastward toward Brevard County and none of them can avoid going through the environmentally- and politically-sensitive area of East Orange County.

The expressway authority will unveil the five Thursday night at a 5 p.m. public workshop at the Eastpoint Fellowship Church on Old Cheney Highway near Bithlo.

The eastward proposed extension of State Road 408, the main expressway running through the center of Orlando and connecting the east and west sides, has been talked about for at least a decade and there remains no timetable for it to actually get built.

One long-held prospect had it essentially using the current State Road 50 corridor as far east as State Road 528, but last year the Florida Department of Transportation told the authority no, because it has plans to widen S.R. 50, also known as Colonial Drive, on its own.

The area is growing in reputation as one clogged with traffic, and the Orlando metropolitan area’s ties to the Space Coast to the east are growing, so pressure is building to build something.

At the same time, pressure is building to build nothing.

The expressway authority’s latest proposals follow five routes, within roughly a half-mile north or south of S.R. 50, extending from the current last leg of S.R. 408 to roughly where S.R. 50 and S.R. 528 meet between the hamlets of Bithlo and Christmas. The farthest northern corridor roughly follows Lake Pickett Road until it reaches the swampy pasture areas east of Bithlo, then turns south to S.R. 50. The farthest southern route would cut through the Avalon Park community, follow the Econlockhatchee River corridor south, and then turn east to S.R. 528.

All five would require new bridges across the Econonlockhatchee River and all five would enter the pasturelands east of Bithlo, both considered highly-sensitive environmental areas.

Developments in that area – particularly involving the FDOT’s plans to expand S.R. 50, sparked huge political battles in 2016. One large development, titled The Grow, in the Lake Pickett-Econlockhatchee River area, got approved by the Orange County Board of Commissioners, while another, called Sustany, got rejected. Along the way, anti-growth advocate Emily Bonilla got elected to the board of commissioners, upsetting longtime commissioner Ted Edwards, who had voted yes for both developments.

That grassroots opposition – hoping to retain the rural, environmentally-fresh and largely-undeveloped character of Orange County east of the Econlockhatchee River, remains a powerful voice. Bonilla has begun longterm plans to find ways to preserve the area’s character.

The expressway authority is beginning project development and environmental studies on five alternative routes that would push a multi-lane divided, controlled-access toll road eastward through the area.

Spokesman Brian Hutchings said there are no timetables for development of the road, and the no-build option will remain on the table.

Is Orlando a ‘sanctuary city?’ What’s a ‘sanctuary city?’

No one has identified Orlando as one of the “sanctuary cities” providing safe havens for undocumented immigrants while sustaining conservatives’ wrath and potential funding cuts from President Donald Trump‘s orders, but when the question comes up, Orlando responds with a puzzle.

“While it’s not clear exactly what the definition of a “sanctuary city” is, it is clear what Orlando is,” the office of Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer responded Friday, in a statement, to a question about a sanctuary city status. “In Orlando, diversity and inclusion are a vital part of our way of life.”

Sanctuary cities can be difficult to identify because they do not have to be overt. Those that use city ordinances or written executive decisions to discourage or ban police from detaining undocumented immigrants, or from turning them over to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials, and to make sure all city services are extended to all residents regardless of immigration status, are obvious. Others, which discourage or decline to detain or turn over undocumented immigrants, while seeking to extend all services, based on policies or in-house legal interpretations, can have the same impact without codifying the practice.

And cities can pursue such policies to various lengths.

Last month Trump signed an executive order blocking sanctuary cities from qualifying for certain federal assistance.

Dyer, a Democrat, has not made any statements suggesting the city was informally pursuing sanctuary policies, but he also has not refuted the idea.

Orange County Republican Chairman Lew Oliver said he had not heard nor seen anything suggesting it was happening, adding, “My sense is it’s not the kind of thing our mayor or our city would be interested in doing.”

Still, the city’s statement, while making no explicit claims to any sanctuary policies, at least embraces some of the values of sanctuary.

“We have a long history of advancing policies that embrace diversity and celebrate our various cultures, including establishing a non-discrimination ordinance over 40 years ago,” the statement continues, citing various non-discrimination programs.

“This has made our City stronger and a more prosperous place for everyone.”

The statement also discusses how the city responded as united following the June 12 massacre at the popular gay nightclub Pulse, declaring, “we embraced and supported each other, no matter religion, race, ethnicity or sexual orientation. We responded together as one Orlando, a united Orlando.”

“As a City, we remain focused on continuing to find ways to work together to overcome hate, intolerance and injustice and embrace diversity, equality and fairness in Orlando and throughout the nation,” the statement continued. “Part of this effort means ensuring we remain a City and a government that values diversity in all that we do, continuing not to focus on immigration enforcement, but on being the best place in America to live, work, play and raise a family.”

Orange County, Orlando’s alter-ego covering the entire county population with its own ordinances, is clearer. It does not have sanctuary city policies, Mayor Teresa Jacobs said earlier this week in an interview with the Orlando Sentinel. Jacobs responded to questions after a dozen or so immigration proponents and others urged the Board of County Commissioners Tuesday to consider adopting sanctuary policies. She said immigration policy was above the county’s authority, and that she believes “cities may find a way to try to intervene in the immigration debate,” Congress and the federal government need to address it.


Carlos Smith, Alexandra Miller, Dana Young push new greyhound bill, banning steroids

Decrying that racing dog owners are “doping greyhounds,” state Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith joined state Rep. Alexandra Miller and Dana Young Friday in another effort to tighten regulation of dog racing in Florida, with a bill explicitly banning the use of steroids.

Smith, the Orlando Democrat, and Miller, the Sarasota Republican, introduced House Bill 743 Thursday, replacing an earlier version Miller had introduced. Young, the Tampa Republican introduced Senate Bill 512 last month. On Thursday, it was referred to the Senate Committees on Regulated Industries, Rules, and Appropriations.

The two bills were unveiled Friday as a bipartisan effort banning anabolic steroids on greyhound racing dogs.

The trio asserted that female racing greyhounds are routinely given injections of anabolic steroids, or testosterone, to prevent the loss of race days and push their bodies beyond natural limits.

“We know they are using steroids,” Smith said. “They are doping greyhounds. It’s inhumane.”

A release issued by Smith’s office contended that the practice is outlawed in several countries but allowed in Florida. It sites the industry handbook Care of the Racing and Retired Greyhound as a warning of serious side effects including virilization and aggression, and that steroid use has been shown to have a negative effect on dogs’ heart function, and is linked to liver, kidney and cartilage damage, gastrointestinal problems and shock.

It’s not the first time for the effort. It and other greyhound reform bills have stalled in recent sessions as the Legislature has struggled with issues of “decoupling” greyhound racing from other forms of gambling allowed at tracks, notably card games.

Smith predicted this would be the year lawmakers seriously address decoupling, freeing track owners from having to offer dog racing if they want to offer more lucrative forms of gaming.

He said there are 19 racetracks in the United States and 12 are in Florida, and described wider abuses he’d like to see addressed, ultimately including the end of greyhound racing.

“Most track owners don’t want to race greyhounds anymore. The only reason they are doing it is because they are required to by law in order to run their card tables,” Smith said.

Tom Grady

Jeff Atwater’s surprise departure makes CFO job the hottest in state

Never mind who’s running for Governor in 2018, Floridians want to know which Republicans are in the running for Florida Chief Financial Officer now that CFO Jeff Atwater announced he is leaving this year, with speculation starting with Tom GradyTom Lee, Will Weatherford and Teresa Jacobs and including seven or eight others.

Grady, a securities lawyer who is a former state representative who also has held several positions in state government, is widely reported as a close friend of Gov. Rick Scott, who will select a replacement for Atwater for the nearly two full years left in the term.

Weatherford, a venture capital and business consultant, is a former Speaker of the House who draws praise from the Florida Chamber of Commerce, and who recently announced he’s not running for Governor.

Jacobs is the Orange County Mayor and a former banker who always sounds like she’s already someone’s chief financial officer, and who reportedly has been exploring a possible state run for that job in 2018 when she’s term-limited from the mayor’s office.

Names tumbling around Tallahassee  – some with more spin than others – also already have included Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, former Speakers Steve Crisafulli and Dean Cannon, state Sens. Jack LatvalaAaron BeanJeff BrandesLee and Lizbeth Benacquisto, state Rep. Jim Boyd, former state Sen. Pat Neal, and Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera.

Atwater was once a widely-speculated candidate for Governor himself, but that buzz cooled to nothing and on Friday he surprised much of Florida’s political establishment by announcing that he’s planning office to become vice president for strategic initiatives and chief financial officer at Florida Atlantic University after the Florida Legislative Session.

Besides overseeing the states’s financial operations and financial and insurance regulations, as well as the state fire marshal’s office, the job is a full-voting position on the Florida Cabinet. It’s normally filled by statewide vote, for a four-year term, and Atwater was to be term-limited out with the 2018 election.

Atwater’s office’s imminent availability is so fresh almost no one has had time to actually declare interest in it. No one has filed to run in 2018.

Said Brandes in a tweet Friday, “I haven’t talked to the governor yet, but if I was asked, I would carefully consider it.”

Grady, from Scott’s hometown of Naples, has been looking around. He recently was interviewed for the open president’s post at Florida Gulf Coast University, and last cycle talked briefly about running for Congress in Florida’s 19th District. Last year he declined an opportunity to become the state’s insurance commissioner. He’s on the state board of education, is a former commissioner of financial regulations and a former interim president of Citizens Property Insurance Corp. the state-chartered insurer of last resort.

Once this is done there may be another opening on the cabinet, as state Attorney General Pam Bondi remains a widely-speculated prospect to move on to Washington as part of President Donald Trump‘s team.

Report cites Orlando, Miami, for having large undocumented immigrant populations

Miami and Orlando are among the biggest homes in the United States to unauthorized immigrants, according to a new report from the Pew Research Center.

The report, base on 2014 data analyzed by Pew, estimates that there are 450,000 undocumented immigrants in the Miami-megaplex that includes Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach, ranking the metro area as the fifth largest, behind New York, Los Angeles, Houston and Dallas, but ahead of Chicago and Washington D.C.

In the Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford metropolitan area, the report estimates 110,000 unauthorized immigrants, ranking 19th nationally. The Orlando is the nation’s 25th largest metro area.

Pew reports that its analysis shows that the nation’s unauthorized immigrant population is highly concentrated, more so than the U.S. population overall. In 2014, the 20 metro areas with most unauthorized immigrants were home to 6.8 million of them, or 61 percent of the estimated nationwide total. By contrast, only 36 percent of the total U.S. population lived in those metro areas.

The analysis also shows that unauthorized immigrants tend to live where other immigrants live. Among lawful immigrants – including naturalized citizens and noncitizens – 65 percentage lived in those top metros. But not all major metropolitan areas house major populations of unauthorized immigrants.

The Tampa-St Petersburg-Clearwater metro area has about 75,000; Cape Coral-Fort Myers, 35,000; Naples, 30,000; and Jacksonville, Sarasota-Bradenton, and Lakeland-Winter Haven about 20,000 each, according to the Pew report.

Marco Rubio re-sharpens condemnation of Putin and any U.S.-Russia deals

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio continued his sharp attacks on Russian President Vladimir Putin Thursday calling any potential grand deals “immoral” and “fantasy” while positioning himself to be in staunch opposition to any agreements President Donald Trump may want with Russia.

On Thursday, speaking at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing entitled, “The United States, The Russian Federation and the Challenges Ahead,” Florida’s Republican senator condemned prospects of a grand deal between the Trump administration and Putin involving ISIS, sanctions over Russian hacking, and Ukraine, calling it “a really stupid deal” that would have no chance of forwarding American interests.

Rubio has long been a leading critic of Putin and has made no secret of his strong disagreement with Trump on any warmth Trump may have toward the Russian president, or any prospects for deals. For every tweet Trump has issued defending Putin, Rubio has called out human rights abuses by the Russian leader.

Last fall Rubio was one of the first and most ardent Republicans to disavow any damaging information being leaked about Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton because Rubio was convinced by intelligence reports that the information came from Putin. And last month Rubio severely grilled Trump’s secretary of state nominee Rex Tillerson over his views on Russia, demanding to know if Tillerson would call Putin a war criminal.

Still, Tillerson, who has long, direct business dealings with the Russian government, refused to do so, and Rubio voted to confirm his nomination anyway.

On Thursday Rubio resumed his position as one of the Senate’s most outspoken critic of Putin and any relationship he might have with Trump or Tillerson.

Rubio’s comments came in reference to a “grand bargain” that could ask Putin to fight ISIS in exchange for the lifting of U.S. sanctions against Russia for its cyberattacks against the U.S. and annexation and occupation of Ukrainian territory.

“I think this whole notion of a grand bargain, where they are going to help us kill terrorists and fight ISIS in exchange for lifting sanctions, is a fantasy,” Rubio said in response to comment from two witnesses, former NATO Supreme Allied Commander Europe Gen. Philip Breedlove, USAF (Ret), and Julianne Smith, senior fellow at the Center for New American Strategy.

He was not alone in his sharp condemnations of Russia and Putin. Committee Chairman Sen. Bob Corker, a South Carolina Republican, and ranking member Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland also did so.

“For starters, I think it’s borderline immoral because it basically views the Ukraine situation as a bargaining chip to be used as part of a broader deal. In essence, an asset that we can give away in exchange for something broader, which I don’t think the Ukrainians are going to go for it to begin with and I don’t think there’s support for it in Ukraine,” Rubio continued. “But this talk about fighting against ISIS – that’s what Putin says he’s doing now. Obviously why would we have to cut a deal to get him to do what he claims to already be doing?

“First of all, you can’t pressure him because you die and if you try to there is no media. So we are going to try to cut a deal with a guy who thinks he’s winning, has no internal pressure, and wants us to give up everything in exchange for him doing what he claims to be doing anyway,” Rubio added. “So maybe I am a little harsh, but I think that’s a really stupid deal.

“What do you think?”

“Agreed,” Smith replied. “The grand bargain mythology is really getting, for lack of better word, laughable.”

“Senator, I agree,” said Breedlove.


Bill Nelson blasts Tom Price’s Medicare record

Saying that U.S. Rep. Tom Price‘s views on Medicare vouchers and eligibility would be bad for senior citizens, Florida’s Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson vowed Thursday to vote against affirming his nomination to be Donald Trump‘s secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services.

Nelson charged that Price’s support for a Medicare voucher system would lead to increased out-of-pocket costs for seniors’ medical bills and his support to raise the eligibility age to 67 would break promises to people paying into the system.

Price is a Republican from Georgia. Nelson declared his intention to vote against Price during a Senate floor speech Thursday afternoon.

“Our country deserves an HHS secretary who will uphold those promises, not inflict deep cuts that alter the financial security Medicare provides Americans in their later years,” Nelson stated in his speech. “And so for these reasons and others, sometime in this next 11 and a half hours when we vote, I’m going to vote no on this nominee. There’s too much at stake for our seniors to give this nominee the control over these programs.”

Nelson is picking his battles. In addition to opposing Price, Nelson has voted against Rex Tillerson for secretary of state, Betsy DeVos for secretary of education, Mike Pompeo for CIA director, and Jeff Sessions for attorney general. Nelson has voted yes to affirm James Mattis for defense secretary, John Kelly for homeland security secretary, Nikki Haley for U.N ambassador, and Elaine Chao for transportation secretary. He also voted yes for Wilbur Ross as commerce secretary in a committee vote, though Ross has not yet come up for a full U.S. Senate vote.

Stephanie Murphy lands counter-terrorism, military-readiness committee posts

Freshman U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy‘s professional background in the U.S. Department of Defense has led her to pick up two subcommittee posts overseeing military counter-terrorism and readiness efforts, her office announced Thursday.

Murphy, the Winter Park Democrat who was appointed earlier this year to the House Armed Services Committee, has been assigned to seats on that committee’s subcommittees for Emerging Threats and Capabilities, and Readiness. Murphy once worked as a defense analyst within the U.S. Department of Defense.

The Emerging Threats and Capabilities Subcommittee is responsible for overseeing counter-terrorism programs and initiatives and counter proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Additionally, this subcommittee oversees U.S. Special Operations Forces, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency), information technology and programs, force protection policy and oversight, and related intelligence support.

The Readiness Subcommittee oversees military readiness and training, logistics and maintenance issues and programs, military construction, installations and family housing issues, and the military base closure process. It also oversees civilian personnel, energy security, and environmental issues that affect Department of Defense.

Murphy representas Florida’s 7th Congressional District, covering all of Seminole County and north-central and northeast Orange County, including Maitland, Winter Park and much of Orlando.

“The security of the American people must be our top priority, and I will use my experience at the Pentagon and my roles on the Armed Services Committee to ensure our men and women in uniform have the training, resources, and support they need to keep us safe,” Murphy stated in a news release issued by her office. “Florida is home to numerous active-duty, reserve and National Guard installations and plays a strategic role in our nation’s defenses, so it is important that Florida has a strong voice in Congress as we set defense and military policy. We must also ensure that we are taking care of our veterans and military families who deserve our full support.”

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