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Scott Powers

John Newstreet qualifies by petition, second Democrat enters HD 44 race

Businessman and Kissimmee chamber of commerce executive John Newstreet has qualified by petition as a Republican candidate running in the special election to fill the Florida House District 44 opening for west Orange County.

And in the same district, a second Democratic candidate now has filed, Nuren Durre Haider of Orlando, who is vice chair of the Orange County Democratic Executive Committee. Haider ran unsuccessfully last year for a seat on the Orange County Commission.

Newstreet collected 350 valid petition signatures, 54 more than needed, to become the third Republican candidate to qualify in the race, which now officially is on for a Republican primary on Aug. 15.

Fellow Republican Winter Garden businessman Bobby Olszewski qualified by petition last week, and fellow Republican Dr. Usha Jain qualified earlier this week. Businessman Bruno Portigliotti, also a Republican, has filed his intents to run, as has Democratic businessman Paul Chandler.

Neither Chandler nor Haider has filed any signatures yet, nor has Portigliotti. Once Chandler and Haider qualify, that would also force an Aug. 15 Democratic primary. The general election is set for Oct. 10 to fill the seat, vacated when former state Rep. Eric Eisnaugle resigned to take a judicial appointment.

Newstreet only filed less than a month ago.

“The support we are receiving from the voters in District 44 has been overwhelming and unexpected this early in the campaign,” Newstreet stated in a news release issued by his campaign. “They understand we need a conservative in Tallahassee, someone who has a lifetime of service to veterans and the community with a track record of creating jobs.”

Rick Scott: hope for a free Cuba better for Florida than current thaw

Readying to join President Donald Trump in Miami Friday for the president’s expected reinstitution of economic sanctions on Cuba, Florida Gov. Rick Scott indicated in Orlando Friday morning that he is ready to support such a move.

At a jobs announcement in Orlando, Scott said he’s convinced the long-term economic advantage of democracy and economic freedom in Cuba is preferable for Florida to any business opportunities and other relationships opening due to the thaw and lifting of economic sanctions that President Barack Obama initiated.

“I’m going to fight for Cuban families to have freedom,” Scott said. “Long-term, that’s good for every Cuban family that’s come here.”

Scott would not respond to press inquiries allowing that Cuba’s regime had survived more than 50 years of strict U.S. sanctions without moving to democracy, and wondering Trump’s vision might be different from that long-standing U.S. policy. Scott said he was looking forward to hearing what the president proposes.

“I’ve spent a lot of time with President Trump to let him know about the importance of democracy and freedom in Cuba. He’s known that all along,” Scott said. “I look forward to hearing exactly what he’s going to say today. I believe it is something that is going to push democracy and freedom.”

Scott insisted Obama’s policy didn’t work. He cited Cuban President Raul Castro‘s human rights crackdowns over the past two years, including almost daily arrests and detainments of the “Ladies in White” protesters. Scott did not directly respond to questions about whether he thought the Obama policy had helped Florida businesses, or improved situations in which Cuba was cooperating on such matters as human trafficking.

“Barack Obama capitulated. Raul Castro hasn’t changed. He’s gotten worse,” Scott said.

“The reality in this: more democracy in Latin America means more jobs in Florida, whether that’s through our ports, or whether that’s through people doing business here… we need more democracy,” he added.


Rick Scott signs HB 7069, shifting education from ‘traditional public schools’

Surrounded by House Speaker Richard Corcoran and many of his members in a small, Orlando Catholic school dedicated to special needs students, Gov. Rick Scott signed House Bill 7069 into law, initiating major shifts in how Florida provides education.

While the education omnibus bill offers changes for all kinds of schools in Florida, from requiring recess to reducing mandatory testing, it accelerates state tax dollar funding for-profit and nonprofit charter and private schools, expands parents’ abilities to chose schools, and tightens Tallahassee’s controls over what local school boards can and cannot do.

Democrats almost universally opposed HB 7069, to the point of declaring it to be sabotage of Florida’s public school system. Joined by public school teachers, parents, PTAs, administrators and many school board members, they had urged for weeks that Scott veto the bill.

“What this legislation does today is it helps all students, which is important,” Scott declared, a few moments before signing HB 7069, ending weeks of speculation of whether he would sign or veto the controversial measure since Corcoran and his team pushed through a dramatic rewrite on the last day of the Legislation Session.

For Scott and Corcoran, the architect, the bill declares a major shift from continuing reliance on what Republican state Rep. Michael Bileca of Miami described as continuously-failing “traditional public schools.” If Corcoran is the architect of HB 7069, he credited Bileca and Republican state Rep. Manny Diaz Jr. of Hialeah for being the engineers, finding the ways to make it work.

The supporters of traditional public education put up an almost universal opposition.

House Democratic Leader Janet Cruz of Tampa called the bill “an assault on public schools.” State Rep. Shevrin Jones of West Park called it “politics over people.” Democratic state Sen. Linda Stewart of Orlando called it “an unwise experiment in education policy opposed by our state’s teachers, parents, professional administrators and superintendents.” Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gwen Graham declared it to be a “massive step toward turning Florida’s public school system into a public school industry designed to benefit corporations and powerful interests.”

But Scott, Corcoran and others called the bill Florida’s best hope.

“It is the greatest pro-family, pro-parent, pro-teacher session that we have had in the history of the state of Florida,” Corcoran said. All those things that we had listened to and heard, whether it is too much testing, whether we’re testing too much, whether it’s recess for kids in K-5, whether its pay raises for our highly-effective and effective teachers, whether it’s taking care of children with disabilities and giving them those funds to make those decisions themselves.

“We finally went in and said, ‘Hey, we’re the third-largest state, in the richest country in the world, and we have 195 failure factories, 340 if you just count a single year, the year we’re in right now, those are kids who are being robbed of dignity and hope, and a chance at a world-class education and a future in this world,” Corcoran said. “We go in there, and we address it, and we allow those kids an opportunity to come in go to a school, regardless of ZIP code, regardless of where they fall on the wealth scale.”

Little was said of the critics who say the bill will drain more away from the traditional public schools, including control. But Scott and the others have heard the criticism for weeks, since Corcoran unveiled the massive HB 7069 on May 9.

“If we didn’t have any critics, if we didn’t have people fighting back against us, we weren’t doing anything. This really does something to change the status quo,” Diaz said.


Republican Chris Anderson, deputy sheriff, Army veteran, enters HD 28 race

Seminole County Deputy Sheriff Chris Anderson has filed to run as a Republican in Florida House District 28, bringing an tough but achieving life story into a primary for the open seat serving northeast Seminole County.

Anderson, 35, enters the race professing an unusual background for a house candidate in Seminole. As a child raised by a single father who abused drugs and died of AIDS, Anderson graduated high school, joined the U.S. Army, served in Afghanistan, and then came home to start a family and serve in the Seminole County Sheriff’s Office.

“There’s every reason why I should have been in the back seat of a police car, rather than as a deputy sheriff in the front seat today,” Anderson stated in a news release issued by his campaign. “I attribute the difference to faith, hard work and the belief that we live in a country where anyone can achieve the American Dream if we set our minds to it and never give up.”

He’s facing Winter Springs businessman David Smith for the Republican nomination. Lee Mangold, chief executive officer and co-founder of GoldSky Security, is running for the Democrats, for a seat being vacated by term-limited Republican state Rep. Jason Brodeur.

Having grown up with a single parent who struggled with life altering substance abuse, Anderson expressed understanding of and pledged to tackle “dinner table” issues that face families.

In the news release, Anderson recalled times of bathing with toilet water, doing homework by candle light and going to bed hungry. He also recalled, as a teenager, intervening in one of two times his father attempted suicide, after his father grew deeply depressed after learning he had contracted AIDS.

After his Army enlistment, he retired as a disabled combat veteran and became a deputy sheriff. He and his high school sweet heart Ebony Anderson have been married 15 years, and have a son and two daughters.

His law enforcement background has included human resources background investigations, major case management in death investigations, tactical fugitive apprehension operations, criminal investigations, crisis negotiations, law enforcement training programs and criminal street gang investigations and training.

“I am committed to working hard for the future of all Floridians and their families and tackling the dinner table issues that affect us all – helping families put food on the table, saving money for our children’s education, and keeping our communities safe,” Anderson stated. “By promoting and defending our conservative principles of low taxes, limited government, more freedom and the Constitution – including our Second Amendment rights – we can build a more prosperous Florida for all.”

Val Demings tries new route to get anti-terrorism money for Orlando

Orlando Democratic U.S. Rep. Val Demings has attached an amendment to a Homeland Security bill hoping for another route to get anti-terrorism money for Orlando and other cities left out of a federal grants program.

On Wednesday Demings got the amendment into House Resolution 2825, the Department of Homeland Security Authorization Act of 2017, during a U.S. House Homeland Security Committee hearing, to create a new avenue for anti-terrorism grants to at-risk cities.

Such money has been distributed to cities the department ranks as having the highest risks for terrorism, providing multi-million grants for law enforcement to beef up anti-terrorism capabilities. Orlando received such grants several times through 2014, but hasn’t qualified since.

Demings and others in Florida’s congressional delegation have argued that the department’s criteria don’t adequately take into account such things as the many millions of visitors the City Beautiful hosts each year. Congress members from other cities such as San Antonio had joined Demings in previous efforts to get Homeland Security to reassess its criteria.

The new program, outlined in Demings’ amendment, would permit cities and jurisdictions that previously received anti-terrorism grants to apply for new funding under a new program, to sustain counter-terrorism training and equipment. It would be a competitive grant program, and would authorize at least $39 million for the purposes of allowing high-risk urban areas that were previously eligible.

“Earlier this week, we observed the one-year anniversary of the Pulse nightclub attack. The preparation that led to our local first responders’ successful response was created through previous grant investments, particularly the Urban Area Security Initiative,” Demings stated in a news release. “Unfortunately, the old UASI funding that is supporting some capabilities in Orlando will soon expire, and despite the Pulse nightclub attack, Orlando is, once again, an unfunded UASI.

“This legislation would help ensure that Orlando does not lose ground on preparedness,” she continued. “I believe we have no greater obligation than to keep the people that we represent safe from harm.”

She also offered two other amendments that were adopted into the bill by the committee, with the backing of the chair, Republican U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas, who also backed her grant program amendment.

– Her second amendment would require the Government Accountability Office to perform an independent review of the risk formula and award processes for the urban areas grant program.

– The third would authorize funding for the Transportation Security Administration to continue to staff airport security exit lanes with federal Transportation Security Officers.

Ron DeSantis on Morning Joe: shooter may have been beyond change

Florida’s U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, a third-baseman on the Republican’s baseball team who encountered James Hodgkinson moments before the Illinois Democratic activist shot up the practice field, said Thursday he was skeptical that any changed rhetoric would have stopped the shooter.

Appearing on the Morning Joe TV show on MSNBC, DeSantis recounted again, as he did Wednesday, how he and U.S. Rep. Jeff Duncan of South Carolina were finished practicing at the Alexandria, Va., park, and in a car, ready to go back to Washington, when they were approached by a man they later identified as Hodgkinson, and that he asked them if there were Republicans or Democrats on the field.

DeSantis, of Ponte Vedra Beach, said he and Duncan had no idea that Hodgkinson was bent on a shooting rampage that would critically wound their colleague U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana and wound four others before he was shot dead by law enforcement at the scene. They did not see a gun, and left before it began, DeSantis said.

On Morning Joe, DeSantis characterized Hodgkinson as a “bad guy” full of “virulence and hatred,” and expressed doubt that any changes in the heat of political rhetoric would have changed him or others like him.

“I think we’ll have to see whether this event is indicative of any larger issue. This is a bad guy. I  think clearly he had a lot of hate and rage building up, and he decided to attempt a mass murder,” DeSantis said. “And whether he was caught up in the overall climate or not… I’m a little bit pessimistic that anything much is going to change.”

DeSantis said he received a call in his Congressional office afterwards in which someone praised the shooting and declared hope that President Donald Trump would be next. He said a colleague received an email that stated, “One down, 217 to go.”

The congressman representing Florida’s 6th District – a candidate for a while last year for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate, and rumored to be considering a run for Florida governor – said divided political rhetoric has long fueled America’s policy debates, to good ends.

“I look around here: we do have tough debates, but I’m not sure that if Congress thinks if a little bit of the debate is made a little bit more civil, that it’s going to change a guy like that. I’m just skeptical that would make a huge difference,” DeSantis said, then added, “Not saying we shouldn’t do it; but this guy clearly was troubled.”

Chris King campaigning for Jon Ossoff for Georgia race

Democratic Florida gubernatorial candidate Chris King is crossing a line – a state line – to help out a fellow Democrat in the hottest race in the country.

The King campaign announced Wednesday he is cosponsoring a phone bank in Miami on Thursday to raise money and support for Jon Ossoff, who is running for the open U.S. House of Representatives seat in Georgia’s 6th Congressional District.

King, of Winter Park, is joining the Miami Downtown Dems for the Ossoff phone bank, at the office of the Service Employees International Union in Miami, an effort which could win him some supporters in South Florida.

King is in a Democratic battle for the nomination to run for governor in 2018 with Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum and former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham of Tallahassee.

Ossoff is in a battle with Republican Karen Handel for a longtime Republican seat in the Atlanta suburbs that polls show is airtight heading toward next Tuesday’s special election. They’re seeking to replace Republican former U.S. Rep. Tom Price, whom President Donald Trump appointed to be U.S. Health and Human Services secretary.


Conservative group forms to oppose Florida’s death penalty

A handful of Republicans and Libertarians gathered in Orlando Wednesday to announce formation of a conservative group to oppose Florida’s death penalty, yet tried hard to distance themselves from controversial and progressive anti-death penalty State Attorney Aramis Ayala, whose office was only 30 feet away.

The group Florida Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty is an offshoot of a national group Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty seeking to get death penalty laws repealed state-by-state.

“We believe the death penalty is inconsistent with our core conservative values,” said Marc Hyden, national advocacy coordinator with the group.

On Wednesday Hyden was joined by several Republican public defenders and Libertarian and Republican activists, including public defenders Rex Dammie for Florida’s 10th Judicial Circuit, James Purdy, for the 7th Judicial Circuit, and Mike Graves for Florida’s 5th Judicial Circuit; and Brian Empric, former vice chairman of the Florida Federation of Young Republicans.

They argued that Florida’s death penalty law is on the verge of being overwhelmed as the Florida Supreme Court is remanding as many as 200 cases back for new sentencing phases, after the laws were struck down twice in the past two years.

They brought four principal arguments that they said should place conservatives in opposition to Florida’s death penalty: that it is fiscally irresponsible, costing twice as much per case as a non-capital murder trial; that it is not an appropriate function of limited government; that it is against many conservatives belief in the sanctity of life; and that there are too many possibilities of wrongful execution of an innocent people.

Those are some of the same arguments Ayala made in March when she made her controversial declaration, from a spot just a few feet away, that she would not pursue the death penalty in Florida’s 9th Judicial Circuit, covering Orange and Osceola counties.

Yet Hyden and others at Wednesday’s press conference never mentioned Ayala by name during their presentations. Afterwards, they tried hard to disassociate from her, insisting they had never had any contact or connections with her or any of the progressive groups supporting her, and that their agendas were different.

That denial was called into question during the press conference by the father of one of the murder victims in an Orange County case. Rafael Zaldivar, father of slain Alex Zaldivar, who was murdered by Bessman Okafor, pressed Hyden and others to acknowledge that progressive anti-death penalty rainmaker George Soros had backed Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty’s parent organization, Equal Justice USA.

Hyden said he was unaware if Soros had donated to Equal Justice USA, but insisted that the group has a broad contributor base and that donors have included conservative rainmaker Charles Koch. He argued that if Soros and Koch agreed on something it must mean that opposition of the death penalty draws both progressives and conservatives, which he said was the point of their press conference.

Zaldivar was unconvinced, calling the Florida group “a fake conservative group” and claiming it is controlled by Soros, who also invested heavily in electing Ayala last summer.

“This is a group that travels around the country pushing their agenda. They’re not even from here,” Zaldivar told reporters later. “They’re not conservatives at all. They’re a bunch of fruitcakes, basically.”


Gwen Graham releases climate change, environmental policy statement

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gwen Graham is releasing a three-part policy statement on dealing with climate change and Florida’s environment, starting with Florida pursuing compliance with the Paris Accords, something her two Democratic rivals have also endorsed.

The policy statement also calls for Florida, if Graham is elected governor in 2018, to ban fracking and oppose any expansions in offshore oil drilling, and invest in a clean-energy economy, starting with solar energy.

The trio of positions is not new for Graham. Neither of her Democratic rivals, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum and Winter Park affordable housing developer Chris King, disagree with her. Since opening her campaign Graham has sought to establish herself as a staunch environmental candidate, as in the tradition of her father, when he was governor 30 years ago.

King also has sought that ground.

With her new statement, Graham goes into further detail, expressing urgency following President Donald Trump‘s decision to have the U.S. withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement.

“Florida is already suffering from the harms of climate change today. Rising waters threaten our beaches and coastal cities, droughts put our water supply at risk, and forest fires are raging across the state,” Graham stated in a campaign news release. “Yet, despite all the science and even plain old common sense, President Donald Trump is embracing disaster by withdrawing our country from the Paris Agreement. Let me be blunt: ignoring climate change will drown Florida’s future.”

Among her proposals:

— She vowed to implement a renewable energy standard that makes Florida less reliant on fossil fuels and continues President Barack Obama‘s Clean Power Plan to transition away from coal

— She promised to appoint commissioners who “believe in science” and consumer advocates to Florida’s Public Service Commission to give solar companies a chance at competition with the corporate utilities

— She assured she would work with Democrats and Republicans in the legislature to end Florida’s ban on power purchasing agreements to give consumers and homeowners more choice in where their electricity comes from

Graham was the first candidate to vow that Florida would join Washington, New York, and California in an alliance to uphold the Paris Accord, though King and Gillum quickly followed.

She said joining the states’ climate alliance will mean working to cut carbon emission and investing in renewable energy.

Graham argued that fracking — an oil and gas exploration technology that involve the injection of hydraulic fluids to crack rock and access underground reserves — and oil drilling threaten Florida’s natural resources, including beaches and the Everglades.

She cited her work with Florida’s Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson to pursue a ban on oil drilling, and her support for Obama’s Clean Power Plan to shut down and clean up coal-fired power plants. She also contended she has a record of standing with local governments opposing fracking, which has been frequently cited for causing contamination of ground water.

Graham also declared Florida must embrace and invest in green technology and renewable energy.

“As the rest of the world and even other states move forward on fighting climate change, under Rick Scott and 20 years of Republican rule, Florida is falling behind,” Graham stated. “Renewable energy accounts for less than 3 percent of energy generation in Florida, our state has no renewable portfolio standard, and we are one of few states that outright bans power purchase agreements, which makes it harder for homeowners and small businesses to install solar panels.”

Stephanie Murphy named as a chair of Dems’ national security group

Congressional Democrats have formed a new national security task force within their caucus and picked Winter Park’s U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy to be one of the three chairs.

The Democrats in Congress announced the task force Tuesday, intended to “advance smart, strategic, and strong national security policies focused on protecting the United States, the American people, and our interests abroad,” according to their press release.

Murphy was appointed as one of the chairs along with U.S. Reps. Seth Moulton of Massachusetts and Jimmy Paneta of California.

Murphy, a freshman who is a former Department of Defense intelligence analyst, is a member of the House Armed Services Committee. In her five months in office, she has aggressively sought to establish national security chops, with several national security speeches and several national security bills, including one Democrats universally applauded that would keep White House advisor Steve Bannon off of President Donald Trump‘s National Security Council.

She also has introduced two bill proposing national security intelligence organizing for U.S. interests in North Korea and in the whole Pacific-Asia rim. She also introduced a bill, endorsed last week by the moderate Blue Dog Democrats Caucus, which would require the White House to report to Congress any transfers of classified information to enemy states.

“The United States faces a wide range of threats, whether from terrorist groups like ISIS or nations like North Korea. It has never been more important to develop and implement national security policies that are smart, strategic, and strong,” Murphy stated in the news release issued Tuesday by the House Democratic Caucus.”

The caucus stated that the new task force will, “through substantive policy discussions, provide a forum for members to identify solutions to our most pressing security challenges and communicate these solutions to the American people in a clear and compelling way. The task force will also take concrete actions to bolster Democratic positioning on national security and hold the Trump administration accountable.”

The task force will hold its inaugural meeting on June 21, where members will meet with former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

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