Scott Powers, Author at Florida Politics - Page 5 of 207

Scott Powers

Scott Powers is an Orlando-based political journalist with 30+ years’ experience, mostly at newspapers such as the Orlando Sentinel and the Columbus Dispatch. He covers local, state and federal politics and space news across much of Central Florida. His career earned numerous journalism awards for stories ranging from the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster to presidential elections to misplaced nuclear waste. He and his wife Connie have three grown children. Besides them, he’s into mystery and suspense books and movies, rock, blues, basketball, baseball, writing unpublished novels, and being amused. Email him at

Gwen Graham raises $660K in February

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gwen Graham raised more than $660,000 in February through her two committees and continued to claim dominance in grassroots financial support, now with more than 15,000 individual contributors.

Graham announced Tuesday that her official campaign raised more than $220,000 in February and her political committee Gwen Graham for Florida raised another $440,000.

The political committee’s haul includes a $250,000 check from her father, former Gov. and U.S. Sen. Bob Graham.

“I believe in Gwen’s leadership, I share Gwen’s priorities, and I know Gwen’s heart for Florida,” he said in a news release from her campaign. “As someone who knows the opportunities and challenges of serving as governor of Florida, this is the very best investment I could make in a stronger future for our state.”

With those February finance tallies, her official campaign now will have raised approximately $2.45 million since she entered the race last May, and Gwen Graham For Florida will have raised almost $3.4 million.

It still keeps her well behind fellow Democratic candidate Philip Levine, whose campaign, bolstered by his own contributions, has not yet released any numbers for February, but which has already spent more money than Graham’s collected on television commercials.

Graham is also behind leading Republican candidate Adam Putnam, whose campaign announced its political committee had raised $440,000 in February, topping $20 million in total income.

Detailed, official reports have not yet been posted by the Florida Secretary of State.

Graham and her campaign focused on the total amount of individual donors as her strength.

“As the Republican politicians in Tallahassee wrap up their 20th session with complete control of the Legislature and Governor’s Office, they proved yet again they work for the special interests, not the people,” Graham said in a news release from her campaign.

“I’m running for governor to work for Florida — to work for our public schools, for our teachers, for our seniors, and for every hardworking Floridian.”

Graham also claimed she so far has attracted more individual donors than each of her primary opponents — former Miami Beach Mayor Levine, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, and Winter Park entrepreneur Chris King — has managed on his home turf, in Miami-Dade, Leon, and Orange counties, respectively.

“I am so proud of the grassroots campaign we’re building. From small-dollar donors across the state to outreach meetings in Democratic and Republican counties, we are building a movement to turn Florida blue in 2018,” Graham stated.

Bob Poe endorses Andrew Gillum in governor’s race

In an endorsement sure to get the attention of Florida’s establishment progressive Democrats, former Florida Democratic Party Chair Bob Poe announced his backing Tuesday of Andrew Gillum for governor.

In a video released over his Twitter account, Poe, a longtime Democratic activist, donor, and fundraiser from Orlando, said he had intended to stay on the sidelines this year until after the primary, but events changed his mind.

“I know all the candidates and I like them personally,” Poe said, referring to the Democrats running, former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, former U.S. Rep Gwen Graham, and Winter Park businessman Chris King, as well as Gillum.

“This year we have a historic and unique opportunity to elect a bold candidate that believes strongly in our Democratic values and isn’t afraid to share them, from the brightest-blue cities, to the deepest-red counties of our state, and everywhere in between,” Poe said. “We shouldn’t accept anything less. And we don’t have to. And that’s why I’m endorsing Andrew Gillum for governor.”

Poe, a fundraiser for Charlie Crist‘s gubernatorial campaign, ran for U.S. Congress in 2016, losing the Democratic primary in Florida’s 10th Congressional District to now-U.S. Rep. Val Demings. An entrepreneur who made a fortune in radio, Poe’s involvement in Democratic politics dates back decades.

“In all those years in politics, I’ve never seen a candidate quite like Andrew,” he said.

He cited Gillum’s efforts, in college, to take on then-Gov. Jeb Bush on affirmative action issues, in pushing through gun ordinances in Tallahassee and then withstanding legal challenges from the NRA, and in Gillum’s efforts to walk with protesting students following the Feb. 14 massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

“He’s the real deal,” Poe said. “Andrew’s the candidate we’ve been waiting for.”

Philip Levine placing another nearly $2 million in TV ads

Expressing frustration with what the Florida Legislature is doing with guns and schools, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Philip Levine is placing another nearly $2 million buy for statewide TV commercials this month, his campaign announced Monday.

The commercials will continue for a while with his “We Will” spot that launched in late February on a $750,000 statewide-buy, declaring the Feb. 14 massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School “a wakeup call we can’t ignore.” By mid-March that likely will be replaced by a new TV commercial, his campaign indicated.

Levine is running against former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, and businessman Chris King for the Aug. 28 Democratic primary nomination. He is the only Democrat to air TV commercials yet, and his buys already have gone over $4 million prior to March. The leading Republicans are Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis.

The latest TV buy will be split between Levine’s independent political committee “All About Florida” and his official Levine for Governor campaign. All About Florida will be spending $630,000 to continue running “We Will” through about March 11, while the official campaign will spend about $1.3 million on TV commercials for the rest of the month. All the commercials will run statewide, in either English or Spanish, depending upon the stations.

“As the Republican Legislature continues their political double talk on legislation, Mayor Philip Levine has made it clear that the time is now to enact sensible gun safety reforms that take Florida from having the weakest gun safety laws in the nation to the strongest,” declared a statement released by campaign consultant Christian Ulvert. “The Mayor opposes efforts to arm teachers with weapons and reaffirms the public’s call for an assault weapons ban, raising the age to 21 for gun purchases, and universal background checks, in addition to closing any loopholes.”

In the current “We Will” commercial Levine expresses his goals of “reasonable gun regulations, better background checks, and a permanent ban on assault rifles.”

The commercial begins with Levine standing next to a school bus saying, “When we send our children off to school, we want to know they’re safe. But here in Florida, despite 14 school shootings in 8 years, we still have some of the weakest gun laws in the nation. And the tragedy at Stoneman Douglas High is a wakeup call we can’t ignore.

Democrat Neil Henrichsen enters HD 27 race in Volusia County

Democrat Neil Henrichsen, a former chair of the Duval County Democrats and founding member of Henrichsen Siegel law firm, has filed to run for House District 27, seeking to take on Republican incumbent state Rep. David Santiago of Deltona.

Henrichsen, 55, of Deltona, is the second Democrat into the race. But the other, Tyran Rayaad Basil, has raised little money and has shown minimal campaign activity — especially given his early start last April.

In Henrichsen, Santiago may be drawing a competitor with both deep ties to the state Florida Democratic Party and to fundraising. Henrichsen opened his law firm in Jacksonville but among the expansions is a Daytona Beach office, and Henrichsen said he has had a home in Volusia County for more than 10 years. The district covers south and west Volusia, including the cities of Deltona, Orange City and Debary, which essentially are suburbs of Orlando.

He is a past chair of the Duval Democratic Executive Committee and a past vice chair of the Florida Democratic Party County Chairs Association, and also has been active in Democratic Party politics in Volusia. His law firm focuses on labor, employment, civil rights, and civil litigation, with offices in Jacksonville, Daytona Beach, Miami, New York, and Washington D.C.

“Volusia County has always been a big home … and that’s a seat that should be Democratic,” he said. “It has a handful more registered Democrats and a representative in Santiago who has not done a lot for the district or the state.”

Henrichsen said he expects Santiago to be vulnerable for his vote. Two weeks ago, with survivors of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School massacre looking on in the gallery, Santiago was against allowing floor debate on House Bill 219, which would prohibit the sale, transfer or possession of assault weapons or large-capacity ammunition magazines.

Henrichsen also expects to go after Santiago on homeowners insurance in a county that’s been hit hard by hurricanes, and for being too tightly tied to the Florida Chamber of Commerce and its agenda.

Marco Rubio, Bill Nelson push bipartisan bill to tighten reporting on gun background checks

When someone fails a background check while attempting to purchase a gun, that should be reported to state law enforcement as a possible precursor to criminal gun activity, under a bill being pushed by Florida’s U.S. Sens. Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson and a bipartisan group of several other key U.S. senators.

Republican Rubio, Democrat Nelson, Pennsylvania Republican U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, and Delaware Democratic U.S. Sen. Chris Coons announced Monday they will sponsor a bill called the “NICS Denial Notification Act” which will help alert state law enforcement agencies to allow them to enforce existing laws against individuals who attempt to purchase firearms but have no legal right to do so.

The legislation also is backed by Texas Republican U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, South Carolina Republican U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, Illinois Democratic U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth, and Missouri Democratic U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill.

“The Parkland shooter was able to carry out this horrific attack because of multi-systematic failures,” Rubio said in a news release issued by his office. He tied the bill to the Feb. 14 massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and to reports that the alleged shooter’s intentions should have been clear to law enforcement officials.

“While we work to ensure that our background check system contains the critical information necessary to be able to conduct an effective background check, we must also ensure that federal and state authorities are successfully communicating with one another when it comes to dangerous individuals and their attempts to acquire firearms,” Rubio continued. “The NICS Denial Notification Act would not only require federal authorities to flag background check denials for state-level authorities, it would also hold these federal officials accountable. This would be a strong step forward in preventing future tragedies. I urge my colleagues to immediately support this bipartisan legislation so that the president can swiftly sign it into law.”

A similar bill, House Resolution 4471, was filed in the U.S. House of Representatives last year by Illinois Democratic U.S. Rep. Mike Quigley. It’s gone nowhere — despite a bipartisan group of 13 cosponsors.

When convinced felons, fugitives, domestic abuses and others banned from legally purchasing firearms fail a background check through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System database, they often violate federal and state laws, the release notes.

However, the federal government rarely prosecutes any of these individuals, the release adds. What’s more, 37 states and the District of Columbia all rely on the FBI to do some or all of their background checks, and generally are not made aware when prohibited persons fail the checks.

Individuals who are willing to “lie and try” to buy a gun may be dangerous and willing to obtain guns through other means, the release notes. As a result, these states and D.C. may lack critical law enforcement intelligence that they could use to try to keep their communities safe.

“Efforts to reduce gun violence are only as good as the systems in place to prevent prohibited individuals from obtaining guns,” Nelson said in the release. “This bill is just another commonsense way to further those efforts to keep our communities safe from gun violence. I hope we can continue this conversation and continue to work together on comprehensive gun reform.”

The bill also would require the U.S. Department of Justice to publish an annual report with statistics about its prosecution of background check denial cases, so that Congress and voters might hold federal officials accountable.

The effort already has been endorsed by the Fraternal Order of Police; Major Cities Chiefs Police Association; Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association; National District Attorneys Association; National Domestic Violence Hotline; National Coalition Against Domestic Violence; Everytown for Gun Safety; and the Giffords Foundation, according to the release.

Tom Stroup withdrawing from Orange County Sheriff’s race

Tom Stroup, a retired police captain, is withdrawing from the Orange County Sheriff’s race.

He made the announcement on Facebook over the weekend.

Stroup was the only Republican in the race. His withdrawal will leave Orlando Police Chief John Mina and retired Florida Highway Patrol Major Jose “Joe” Lopez as the only current candidates. Both Mina and Lopez are registered Democrats, but each changed from Republican last year. 

Mina officially is running as an independent in the partisan election, and Lopez is expected to also switch to an independent run.


Stroup, 60, retired in 2015 after 30 years of service. He entered the race in January to succeed Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings, who is running for Orange County mayor. He’ll have to resign his current post, opening up a special election for sheriff.

Stroup said he is leaving the race so he and his family can focus on community activities.

“As I write this letter my first thoughts are how grateful I am for all of the unbelievable support from my family my friends and the citizens of Orange County. After much prayer and discussion with my wife, my family, and my friends I have decided that I will not continue my bid for the office of Orange County Sheriff,” he wrote. “My wife and I are very involved and committed to several community volunteer programs in addition to our family commitments and do not currently have the required time to dedicate to an effective election campaign.

“I will, however, continue to pursue other opportunities to serve my community in public service. Once again, thank you for all of your support. I would also like to extend the best of luck to the remaining candidates.”

UCF presidential search concludes this week

University of Central Florida Provost and Executive Vice President Dale Whittaker gets his turn in the hot seat Tuesday morning in the university’s search for its next president, set to be concluded Friday.

Whittaker, who has been with UCF for four years, joins three other finalists in the hunt to succeed retiring President John Hitt, along with University of Akron President Matthew Wilson, University of North Dakota President Mark Kennedy, and Purdue University Executive Vice President Suresh Garimella.

Whittaker will have his turn in a UCF community open forum discussion at 11 a.m. on Tuesday at the student union [in the Pegasus Ballroom,] at which he’ll make a presentation and answer questions from the audience. Wilson had his forum last Friday, and Kennedy and Garimella will have theirs on Wednesday and Thursday.

The UCF Board of Trustees will then interview the finalists, review feedback from the campus visits, and select a president-elect on Friday. The Florida Board of Governors will vote on the selection March 28 or 29.

More than 30 people applied for the job, only a dozen or less had credentials close to what the search committee hoped to see. There were no politicians in the applicant pool.

Hitt completed his 26th year as president last week. He intends to stay until June 30.

UCF trustee David Walsh, who chaired the search committee, described the group of finalists as outstanding.

“Board of Trustees Chairman Marcos Marchena charged us with leading a ‘comprehensive, transparent and inclusive’ search … and I am confident we delivered on his charge,” Walsh said in a news release issued by the university. “We represent students, faculty, staff, alumni, parents, trustees, community leaders and the Florida Board of Governors. We hosted four listening sessions on campus and in the community to solicit feedback about the search. Our online survey generated more than 1,400 responses.”

More on the finalists:

– In addition to his leadership roles, Whittaker also is a professor of civil, environmental and construction engineering. He has been Hitt’s right-hand man the past four years. Prior to that, he held several leadership posts at Purdue and Texas A&M University, topped by a stint as Purdue’s acting vice president for student affairs. He received his bachelor’s degree from Texas A&M, and his master’s degree and doctorate in engineering from Purdue.

– Wilson has been president of Akron for about 18 months, and interim president for a few months prior. He was credited with righting the ship there after the university lurched into financial problems. Wilson has a law degree from Temple University and a bachelor’s degree from the University of Utah, and was a professor of law at Akron. He also had served as dean of the Akron School of Law and held several leadership positions in Temple’s Japan campus.

Kennedy has been president of North Dakota for almost two years. He holds a master’s degree in business administration from the University of Michigan and bachelor’s degree from St. Johns University. Previously he served as the director of and professor at the George Washington University Graduate School of Political Management.

Garimella is executive vice president for research and partnerships and the Goodson Distinguished Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Purdue. He has earned a doctorate in mechanical engineering from the University of California at Berkeley, a master’s degree from Ohio State University, and a bachelor’s degree from Indian Institute of Technology, Madras, India. He has held other leadership positions at Purdue and the U.S. Department of State, including as a senior fellow for energy and climate partnership of the Americas at the Department of State.

Amy Mercado, Carlos Smith hear opinions on schools and guns bill

What are progressive Democrats to do when faced with an omnibus school safety and guns bill that has a few things they like but doesn’t have any of the major provisions they’ve insisted on, and also includes something that they worry might be a poison pill?

Democratic state Reps. Carlos Guillermo Smith and Amy Mercado of Orlando laid that out as their dilemma Saturday during a town hall meeting in Orlando. The meeting included high school students, survivors of the 2016 massacre at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub, along with school representatives, teachers, a mental health organization and Orange County School Board Member Daryl Flynn.

Smith and Mercado heard what sounded like universal opposition to provisions in the House school safety and guns bill that would authorize teachers and other school employees to become gun-carrying marshals, a provision that the two lawmakers agreed they could not support.

And the bill doesn’t come anywhere near what Smith and Mercado have been pushing for their two years in the Legislature, bans on the sales of assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines.

Yet there are the provisions, in the current bill, providing funding for mental health services, and for school counselors, as well as the bill’s limited gun reforms, including raising the minimum age for purchases, and the banning of bump stocks.

Is this a take-what-you-can-get and fight for the rest later moment? Smith and Mercado sought constituents thoughts, heading into Monday’s beginning of a hectic final week.

With dozens of amendments already on file on the House side and an uncertain direction for the Senate’s version during Saturday’s special session, Smith and Mercado acknowledged they did not know the language of every amendment. Mercado noted that she has an amendment awaiting the House version to make sure potential school marshals aren’t covered by “Stand Your Ground” protections allowing them to shoot someone just out of fear.

But many of the items in the bills have been sought for years.

“There’s going to be a lot of things in this bill that we don’t like, but there are some things that we do like. Anything that is funding for mental health, as Representative Mercado and I said, there have been a lot of people yelling for that for a long time,” said Eric Welch, executive director of National Alliance on Mental Illness of Greater  Orlando. “So anything that is funding for mental health… that we can get behind is certainly something that the mental health community can get behind.”

Many of the most powerful thoughts came from Pulse survivors talking about what they have suffered and what they have sought since that June 12, 2016, massacre in Orlando, and from students invited into the discussion from Orlando’s University High School, who spoke of how they have been affected by the Feb. 14, 2018, massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

“It should not have to be that when I go to the bathroom in 7th period, and I’m concerned that, what if something happens and I’m in the bathroom? That’s not OK,” said University High student Athena Jain-etienne.

“I will provide in the future for my children so they will not have to have this concern… that they are not coming home,” she added.

Democrats’ Orlando billboard proclaims ‘Rick Scott did nothing’ after Pulse

Democrats have launched billboards in Orlando and Tallahassee that declare that Gov. Rick Scott did nothing to address gun safety following the June 12, 2016, Pulse nightclub massacre in Orlando.

The Florida Democratic Party has leased two billboards, and the one in Orlando went live Friday. The message charges that the Republican governor’s commitment to addressing gun violence since the Feb. 14 massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School lacked in the days following the Pulse mass shooting.

Specifically, the 612 days that transpired between the two tragedies.

The Democrats’ message is one of several in rotation on that particular digital billboard in Orlando. It cites an editorial published in the Sun-Sentinel of South Florida and presents this message to drivers heading westbound on Colonial Drive toward downtown Orlando:



–The Sun Sentinel”

The billboard faces the route downtown from one of Orlando’s largest Hispanic communities, Azalea Park. Many of the 49 people murdered at Pulse were Hispanic as the mass murder occurred during the popular nightclub’s Latino night. That east-side community was particularly hard hit.

The Tallahassee billboard will go up at Magnolia Road and Mahan Drive, facing inbound traffic, and go live on Sunday.

“Rick Scott’s long record of opposing common-sense gun safety measures shows exactly who he is: a self-serving politician who says one thing and does the opposite — while Floridians pay the price,” Florida Democratic Party Executive Director Juan Penalosa said in a news release announcing the billboards.

“He broke his promise and did nothing to make Floridians safer from gun violence after the Pulse tragedy because he was more concerned about looking out for his political interests and the agenda of his gun lobby backers. Now he’s ignoring the clear calls from Parkland students and gun safety advocates by refusing to back an assault weapons ban.“

The Sun-Sentinel editorial that the billboard cited criticized Scott and President Donald Trump‘s responses to the Parkland shooting, as well as Scott for refusing to consider a ban on assault weapons in the wake of the Pulse shooting.

It didn’t explicitly refer to the period between Pulse and Parkland or enumerate the days.

The editorial stated: “After Sandy Hook, Pulse, the Fort Lauderdale airport shooting or any other mass shooting, Scott did nothing on guns or school safety.”

Scott’s office responded Friday with the following statement: “Following the terrorist attack at the Pulse Nightclub, Governor Scott proposed and took action on ways to make our state safer against threats of terrorism. The Governor proposed and then signed $5.8 million for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to add 46 counterterrorism agents to the Terrorism Task Forces. This year, the Governor also proposed $1.3 million to the FDLE for incident command vehicles and emergency ordinance disposal vehicles to strengthen counterterrorism and intelligence efforts.”

With train bills dead, safety study language appears in Senate budget offer

With the derailment of bills seeking state regulation of the private Brightline passenger train system, state Sen. Debbie Mayfield has gotten language inserted into the Senate budget plan that would authorize a safety study of the train.

The budget proposal includes new language that would authorize a transportation research center at the University of South Florida to conduct a study of the safety of high-speed passenger rail that is planned to one day extend from Miami to Orlando, and an overview of whether state officials can regulate such systems.

The overview specifically would have to include assessments of whether Florida can review and identify any road and street crossings that would need to be improved for safety reasons, and whether Florida can then require specific improvements.

The language appears after the fate of Mayfield’s Senate Bill 572 and its counterpart in the Florida House appears clear. The bills are dead, as SB 572 stalled in the Senate Community Affairs Committee and House Bill 525, sponsored by Republican state Reps. Erin Grall of Vero Beach and MaryLynn Magar of Tequesta, never got out of the station. Those bills sought to require Florida to practice regulatory oversight and control over the Brightline system.

Mayfield, of Melbourne, was not immediately available Friday to discuss the budget language.

Brightline officials and their political allies have maintained that trains always have been under the regulatory purview of the federal government, and that it’s not appropriate for the state to get involved. They also insist their system already is being assembled to the highest possible federal requirements for high speed rail, even though their trains technically are not high-speed trains.

Brightline, formerly known as All Aboard Florida, began running passenger train service in January between West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale with trains that can reach a maximum speed of just 79 mph. The next extension, to Miami later this year, will go no faster. The company’s longterm plans call for a train from West Palm Beach to Orlando that could go 110 mph up the coast and 120 mph between Cocoa and Orlando International Airport. Officially, under federal guidelines, the more rigid rules for high-speed rail is for trains that exceed 125 mph.

Much of the opposition to the train has come from the Treasure Coast, where many people and political figures are concerned about the trains passing through urban areas and crossing scores of streets and roads at speeds up to 110 mph. Brightline has not announced any plans for any stops in cities Martin, St. Lucie, Indian River, or Brevard counties.

Mayfield, a Melbourne Republican, has become particularly urgent in her calls for state regulatory control since revelations in recent months that several people already have been killed by Brightline trains along the lower-speed tracks in Palm Beach and Broward counties.

In every case, however, the incidents involved pedestrians or bicyclists who ignored warning lights, train whistles, and other obvious signs of an oncoming train and stepped or peddled around or under crossing gate arms, onto the tracks, into a train’s path.

The Senate budget language calls for the USF Center for Urban Transportation Research to study any passenger rail operation in Florida where at least one  segment of the train’s route would have the train travel at least 80 mph. Brightline currently is the only operation that would qualify.

The language instructs the USF center to submit a report by Nov. 1 to Gov. Rick Scott, the president of the Senate, and the speaker of the House of Representatives.

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