Scott Powers, Author at Florida Politics - Page 6 of 269

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 Besides them, he’s into mystery and suspense books and movies, rock, blues, basketball, baseball, writing unpublished novels, and being amused.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

HD 47 push poll question on Iran has both Anna Eskamani and Stockton Reeves incensed

The House District 47 race just went hard-core ugly with a reported third-party push poll call that has both the apparent target, Democrat Anna Eskamani, and the perceived beneficiary, Republican Stockton Reeves, expressing outrage Wednesday.

A pollster in a live-interview telephone call Tuesday night asked if the recipient’s views of Eskamani would change, “if you knew that she was born in Iran and has strong ties to the murderous, anti-American Iranian regime, which is the biggest producer of terror?” said Louis Reale, a Colonial High School teacher who lives in HD 47 and took the call.

Eskamani was born in Florida and has lived her whole life in the Sunshine State. Her parents were Iranian immigrants who fled the anti-American Iranian regime, became American citizens, started and raised a family and pursued the American dream in Florida.

On Wednesday, Eskamani accused Reeves of sponsoring the call, saying, “without surprise, Stockton Reeves has taken a page out of Donald Trump‘s playbook.”

Reeves insisted that is not true, and said he would never condone anyone saying anything like that for his campaign.

“I am very upset,” he said about the reported push poll.

Later, Reeves called back saying he’d called around, trying to see if he could find out who might be behind the poll, and found no one.

“We’re not dong it. I’m not doing it. our consultants are not doing it. … No reputable pollster would ask a question worded the way you read it to me,” he said.

And then he questioned whether there might be other motives behind it, perhaps a backhanded effort to smear him, rather than Eskamani.

Eskamani and Reeves are battling for an open seat in HD 47, which represents north-central Orange County. Incumbent Republican state Rep. Mike Miller is running for Congress.

Reale said on Tuesday night he listened to the pollster’s call on his phone’s speaker, with his wife also listening in. The first few questions clearly sought negative responses toward Eskamani, but were relatively mundane, he recalled. A woman caller asked him how he would feel if he knew about Eskamani’s former employment with Planned Parenthood, her activities as a community organizer, and her various liberal positions.

 Then came the question about Iran.

Reale provided the phone number of the call – from the 813 area code – and Florida Politics called, reaching a full voicemail box with a male name. Florida Politics texted an inquiry to the number but has not received a response.

Eskamani followed up by saying she still believes Reeves was behind the call. She accused him of a history of ugly, negative campaigning, citing mailers his campaign sent out late in the Republican primary season attacking his primary opponent Mikaela Nix.

“If he wants to spread lies about me and lie about his campaign, based on his track record this is how he operates a campaign,” she said.

Reeves strongly disputed that, saying whoever is behind the call “is not supporting me.”

He said that early on a campaign consultant had asked about whether Eskamani’s Iranian heritage ought to be an issue. Reeves said he replied that he did not want it raised, “in any way, shape, or form.”

“What difference does it make?” he said of her heritage.

Quinnipiac poll: Andrew Gillum starts with 3-point lead over Ron DeSantis

Democrat Andrew Gillum is opening the fall Florida Governor’s race with the leanest of leads over Republican Ron DeSantis, according to a new poll released Tuesday from Quinnipiac University.

The poll, the first Quinnipiac has conducted since last Tuesday’s primary, reflects the results of last week’s Public Policy Polling survey: Gillum has an edge built from Florida’s independent voters as partisan voters cling tightly to their nominees.

In the new poll, Gillum drew 50 percent and DeSantis 47 percent, with only 3 percent of voters saying they don’t know or are undecided at this point. The difference is within the margin of error but also marks the second time in two polls this past week in which Gillum, the surprise, upset winner of the Democratic primary, has come out on top versus the longtime Republican favorite.

The remarkably small group of undecided voters nine weeks out was further backed up by a Quinnipiac question that found that very few voters think there is any chance they’ll change their minds between now and the Nov. 6 Election Day.

“Mayor Andrew Gillum came out of his upset victory in the Florida Democratic primary with a head of steam,” Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Poll, stated in a news release.

“Neither man was well-known before their primaries, but since then the race has become a center of political attention in the state,” Brown continued. “Now, 97 of 100 voters say they will vote for one of the two men, a highly unusual situation this far from the actual voting. Just as unusual, more than 90 percent of Gillum and DeSantis voters say they will not change their minds and are dead set in supporting the candidate they now favor.”

The poll was conducted last Thursday through Monday of 785 Florida likely voters with live interviews over both landline and cell phones. The margin of error is 4.3 percent, according to Quinnipiac.

Gillum received a “favorable” rating from 46 percent of those surveyed, and an “unfavorable” rating from 33 percent. DeSantis was seen favorable by 45 percent and unfavorable by 43 percent.

Gillum is overwhelmingly carrying Democratic voters, with 93 percent supporting him. Likewise for DeSantis with 92 percent of Republican voters backing him. The difference comes from independent voters leaning toward Gillum, by a spread of 55 percent to 42 percent.

Quinnipiac University Poll is reporting that it found little “Trump effect”: 22 percent of voters said their decision in the race will be more to express support for the president and 24 percent say their vote for governor will be more to express opposition. But 51 percent said Trump is not an important factor in the governor’s race.

At the same time, 47 percent of those surveyed said they approved of Trump’s job performance, while 51 percent disapproved.

The economy was cited as the most important issue by those polled, topping the list at 23 percent. Immigration and health care followed, each cited by 14 percent; gun policy, 13 percent, environment, 12 percent; and education, 10 percent.

First Andrew Gillum ad of the general: recapping ‘a shocker’ as ‘American way’

Democratic gubernatorial nominee Andrew Gillum‘s first television commercial of the general election campaign reminds everyone what “a shocker” his primary victory may have been, but he prefers to call it, “the American way.”

Gillum’s 30-second ad,”American Way” is being launched Wednesday on both television and the internet.

With video following Gillum and his family to several events leading up to his victory party, the ad recounts how surprised everyone in the media appeared to be that the a man who was one of seven children of a construction worker and a school bus driver, who was the only non-millionaire or -billionaire in the field, who led in no polls, won the Democratic nomination.

“This is a shocker,” one anchor says.

“The American way still lives!” Gillum declares, as the video shows him wrapping a hug around his daughter’s shoulders. “And if the state of Florida has to show the rest of the world, then let it begin right here.”

Gillum’s ad is the first fresh shot of the fall campaign in which the Tallahassee mayor is taking on Republican nominee U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis of Ponte Vedra Beach, who won his primary easily after receiving the endorsement of President Donald Trump.

The Gillum campaign said it is starting with a six-figure statewide cable TV buy, plus a separate internet digital advertising buy.

The surprise factor portrayed for the primary election is gone. Several polls in the first week following the primary have shown Gillum breaking out ahead of DeSantis in a tight race.

Florida, schools getting $95.8 million for Puerto Rico students

Florida and county school districts are receiving $95.8 million in federal reimbursements to cover costs of taking in thousands of students from Puerto Rico who fled the island for Florida after Hurricane Maria last year, the office of U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy announced Tuesday.

The money is coming in through the U.S. Department of Education to Florida, and then much of it will be distributed to county school districts. The money became available through Murphy-led bipartisan efforts to get the funds included in the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018, approved in February, her office reported in a news release.

Under the plan, Florida will retain $47.7 million and distribute another $46.8 million to 52 county school districts to cover costs they incurred when absorbing the influx of displaced students who moved to Florida after Hurricane Maria closed schools and made much of the island uninhabitable last September.

Orange County Public Schools, which took in the most displaced students, about 4,000, will receive the largest federal reimbursement grant, about $12 million. Other school districts set to get at least $1 million include Osceola County, which will receive about $5 million; Broward County, $4.4 million; Miami-Dade County, $4.2 million; Collier County, $3.1 million, Palm Beach County, $1.8 million; Polk County, $1.7 million; Seminole County, $1.7 million; Volusia County, $1.4 million; Hillsborough County, $1.4 million; Lake County, $1.2 million; and Pinellas County, $1.2 million.

Murphy’s district, Florida’s 7th Congressional District, covers Seminole and north and central Orange counties. She’s seeking re-election this year against Republican state Rep. Mike Miller, who, like Murphy, is from Winter Park.

“I’m proud to have secured these federal investments in our young people, helping to support Florida school districts who did the right thing and took in students displaced by Hurricane Maria,” Murphy stated in the release. “After last September’s hurricanes, tens of thousands of American families from Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands relocated to Florida, and thousands of children and youth enrolled in our schools after the school year had started. This required the State and counties to spend more money than they anticipated spending at the start of the school year. As a result of our effort in Congress, the federal government is now making our state and our school districts whole again.”

In addition to providing funding for K-12 schools, the Murphy-led initiative provided a total of $75 million in funding for colleges and universities around the country that enrolled displaced students, her office stated.

She recently announced that the U.S. Department of Education allocated nearly $5 million to eight colleges and universities in Florida, including nearly $2 million to the University of Central Florida.

Mike Miller, Maria Elvira Salazar named NRCC ‘Young Guns’

State Rep. Mike Miller and Maria Elvira Salazar have been named “Young Guns” by the National Republican Congressional Committee, qualifying them for the committee’s highest level of Young Guns campaign support for their runs for Congress in Florida.

Miller, of Winter Park, is running in Florida’s 7th Congressional District against Democratic U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy of Winter Park.

Salazar, of Coral Gables, is the Republican nominee for the open seat in Florida’s 27th Congressional District. She’s facing Democrat Donna Shalala of Miami this fall.

Miller and Salazar are among 12 candidates nationwide that the NRCC added for its Young Guns program in this latest move. The NRCC now has 23 Young Gun candidates identified for the 2018 election.

“We have no shortage of compelling candidates in our Young Guns program,” NRCC Chairman Steve Stivers stated in a news release. “I’m thrilled to support this impressive, diverse group and look forward to welcoming them to Congress, where we can continue working to protect our communities and ease Americans’ cost of living.”

Central Florida Republicans start House general campaigns with strong financial edges

Several Central Florida Republican Florida House candidates entered the fall general election with solid financial advantages over their Democratic challengers.

That was the case with several House incumbent members seeking re-election and also is the case for David Smith who is running to win an open seat for Florida’s House District 28. It’s not the case with Democrats, excepting Anna Eskamani.

Neither Smith, a Winter Springs business consultant, nor Democratic nominee Lee Mangold, a Casselberry cyber-security business owner, had a primary challenge in HD 28 in northeast Seminole County. So both enter the fall stretch without having had to spend much, and Smith enters with a decided advantage in campaign cash.

Smith, who lent his campaign $85,000 to start, also had raised $146,000 through more than 1,300 contributions. Even though he spent considerably this year he still came through last Tuesday’s primary season with $136,118 left in the bank, according to the most recent campaign finance reports available through the Florida Division of Elections, covering activity through Aug. 23, the final report before the primary.

Mangold entered the general election campaign season with $15,265, built from a fairly robust 367 donations, plus $10,000 he lent his own campaign, minus more than $21,000 he has spent so far on his campaign.

Smith’s $120,000 campaign finance advantage was the third-best cushion heading into the fall election of any Central Florida Florida House candidates, behind only Democrat Eskamani and Republican state Rep. Bob Cortes, who also did not have primary challengers.

In House District 47 race in Orange County, first-time candidate Eskamani of Orlando reported having raised more than $309,000 in her official campaign fund and another $36,000 in an independent political campaign, putting her about $300,000 ahead of Republican nominee Stockton Reeves VI of Winter Park, who had to win a primary to enter the fall campaign. On Tuesday she reported that her next reports will put her over $350,000 raised. Reeves, who had to win a tough Republican primary, entered the fall with about $41,000 in his account.

Cortes, of Altamonte Springs, enters the fall campaign with $135,081 in the bank for the HD 30 race in south Seminole and north Orange counties. His Democratic opponent, Maitland City Councilwoman Joy Goff-Marcil, emerged from a highly competitive three-way Democratic primary with just $3,657 left in her campaign account.

Republican state Reps. Scott Plakon of Sanford in Seminole County’s House District 29 and Bobby Olszewski of Winter Garden in Orange County’s House District 44, who also had no primary challenges while their Democratic opponents did, also emerged into the fall with sizable money advantages.

That wasn’t the case across the board. Several incumbent Florida House members who had primary challengers enter the fall campaign a bit financially spent, including state Rep. Thad Altman of Indialantic in District 52 in Brevard County, who spent so much to win his primary that his autumn opponent, Democrat Seeta Begui of Melbourne, a first-time candidate, actually starts the fall campaign with more than a $3,000 campaign money advantage in the bank, according to reports through Aug. 23.

None of the Democratic members of the Florida House seeking re-election enter the fall with much financial advantage.

First-time Republican candidate Ben Griffin of Orlando was given $50,000 by the Republican Party of Florida to run against Democratic state Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith of Orlando in House District 49 in Orange County, and Griffin raised only another $3,260 on his own. Still, Smith starts the fall campaign with only a $15,476 advantage.

In House District 48 in Orange County, Democratic state Rep. Amy Mercado‘s Republican opponent has raised no money, but she hasn’t raised much either. So Mercado, of Orlando, enters the fall campaign with a $17,262 campaign finance advantage over George Chandler of Orlando.

Among the other Central Florida races for the Florida House:

— Plakon entered the fall HD 29 campaign in Seminole County with $98,541 in the bank, compared with $8,582 for Democrat Tracey Kagan of Longwood.

— Republican state Rep. Jennifer Sullivan of Mout Dora entered the fall campaign for HD 30 with $53,827 in the bank in the House District 31 race in Lake and Orange counties, compared with $6,264 for Democrat Debra Kaplan of Eustis.

— Republican state Rep. Mike La Rosa of St. Cloud had $81,894 in his campaign account entering the fall House District 42 race in Osceola County, compared with $25,392 for Democratic challenger Barbara Cady of Kissimmee.

— Olszewski came into the fall with $120,166 in the HD 44 contest, while former state Sen. Geraldine Thompson of Orlando, who had to win a Democratic primary, enters with $9,532, according to reports through Aug. 23.

— Republican state Rep. Rene Plasencia of Orlando had to spend big to stave off a primary challenger, and so he entered the fall with just $36,309 to defend his House District 50 seat in east Orange County and north Brevard County, while Democrat Pam Dirschka of Titusville came into the fall campaign with $7,745 in the bank.

Tyler Sirois of Merritt Island, who also had to spend big to win a Republican primary. He came into the fall House District 51 race in north Brevard County with just $12,460 in the bank, compared with $7,152 for Democrat Mike Blake of Cocoa.

Anna Eskamani clears $350K in her fundraising for HD 47

Democrat Anna Eskamani has raised more than $350,000 in her bid for Florida House District 47, her campaign announced Tuesday.

The amount, according to her campaign, is an extraordinary total for a first-time candidate to a Florida House seat. It speaks to both her campaign’s fundraising prowess and to the unusual phenomenon of her campaign, which has drawn national attention as a 28-year-old progressive, landing Eskamani on the covers of national magazines for her run for a relatively obscure political position.

Yet, it does not necessarily reflect her chances of victory in a purple district in which she’s facing an experienced political hand in Republican nominee Stockton Reeves VI, who last week dispatched his Republican primary rival Mikaela Nix in tough and highly contentious battle.

The two are battling over a seat held by Republican state Rep. Mike Miller who is running for Congress. It has flipped twice in the past three elections, serving north and central Orange County including downtown Orlando.

Eskamani’s declaration that she has topped $350,000, from 2,200 individual donors, includes at least $309,000 into her official campaign and another $36,000 into her independent political committee, People Power For Florida, according to the latest posted state campaign finance reports. Those totals do not include her most recent contributions since Aug. 23 for her official campaign.

“I never thought I would run for office one day,” Eskamani stated in a news release issued Tuesday. “My drive to hold politicians accountable and fight for Florida families is grounded in my lived experiences and the personal loss of my Mom when I was thirteen years old. I want to build a state where no kid loses their parent, and no parent loses their kid. This is personal for me, and I am honored to be paving the way for the next generation of leaders in Florida.”

She emerged from last Tuesday’s primary season — she was unopposed after a Democratic challenger dropped out — with more than $254,000 in the bank. Reeves, who donated $94,000 to his own campaign, entered the post-primary period with about $41,000 in the bank.

Democrats join Andrew Gillum, vowing to ‘bring it home’

Gubernatorial nominee Andrew Gillum‘s rallying cry — “bring it home” — may be embraced by the entire Democratic Party as it heads into the fall elections.

Democrats — including Bill Nelson, Sean Shaw, Nikki Fried and Jeremy Ring — rallied in Orlando Friday to kick off statewide fall campaigns.

Gillum, just days removed from his surprising primary upset, repeated his oft-told tale about how his grandmother used to send him to school with the message about the education he was to receive, advising him to “bring it home.”

With those cabinet candidates and dozens of other Democratic officeholders and hopefuls — including former Gillum opponents Gwen Graham, Philip Levine, and Chris King — in the crowd of a packed union hall in Orlando, the chant thundered.

Bring it home.

The refrain highlighted a two-hour rally at the International Union of Painters & Allied Trades Local 1010 Union Hall in Orlando, as Democrats from Party Chair Terrie Rizzo down through the list of speakers declared this would be the year the party changed its losing ways in state elections. This was the year things would be different from the past twenty.

Of course, much the same was said four years ago, albeit perhaps with less sincerity, at the exact same union hall, in a near-identical post-primary party rally, which launched the failed 2014 fall campaigns of Charlie Crist, George Sheldon, Will Rankin and Thad Hamilton.

In many ways, this rally was Gillum’s coming out party after an 18-month campaign that didn’t put him up top until Tuesday’s win. However, by Friday he was clearly a party leader.

Ring entered the fall campaign for state Chief Financial Officer. Fried did so for Agriculture Commissioner. Shaw, Attorney General and Nelson for re-election to the U.S. Senate.

But they all spoke as much about Gillum as themselves. So did Graham, Levine and King.

“I asked to be here to speak before Andrew so that I could introduce Andrew and say that all those things that Rick Scott has done in the last eight years, we’re going to reverse that with Andrew Gillum!” Nelson declared, referring to his opponent in the U.S. Senate election.

In praising Gillum, Ring held nothing back.

“The amazing Andrew Gillum is the most electric, electric candidate I’ve ever said. And he’s going to bring us all to victory,” Ring said.

“Andrew Gillum is dynamic,” added King. “Andrew Gillum is the talent that our party has waited for so long.”

In the backdrop of the positivity on Friday, however, was the ongoing FBI investigation into corruption in Tallahassee.

Gillum has maintained for months that he is not implicated in the probe, but Ron DeSantis, his Republican opponent, already is making a campaign issue out of the matter.

The DeSantis campaign, which paints Gillum as a “socialist,” on Friday released an email accusing the Democrat’s brother, Marcus, of being involved in the FBI investigation.

“Something’s up. And the voters of Florida deserve answers from Andrew Gillum, preferably before the FBI gives them to us,” DeSantis communications director Stephen Lawson said in an email.

When asked about the corruption probe by reporters Friday, Gillum reiterated that he is not the subject of the inquiry and emphasized that he is willing to provide any information sought by the federal investigators, before pointing the finger at Trump.

“I believe that the difference between Ron DeSantis as how we address the FBI is, we have said, should there be any wrongdoing, we welcome them into our government to get to the bottom of it. I believe that they are clear on what their target is, and that should come to a conclusion soon,” Gillum said Friday.

But amid investigations involving Trump’s 2016 campaign and associates, DeSantis and Trump’s response to the FBI “is to undermine them, cut them off at every turn,” Gillum said.

“Even the president has gone so far as to suggest a ‘deep state.’ That is not how we handled it. We said, you’ve got an important job to do. Nobody wants more to make sure that any actions that are taken that are inappropriate, illegal, or inconsistent with the laws of this state, that people are held fully accountable. That’s my position on it. And I’ll do whatever I can, as mayor, to ensure that they get access to whatever they need in order to bring that to a conclusion,” he said.

Some material from the News Service of Florida is used in this article, with permission.

Central Florida hoteliers back Manny Diaz, Dana Young, Stockton Reeves

The Central Florida Hotel and Lodging Association announced five new endorsements following Tuesday’s primaries, including state Sen. Dana Young and state Rep. Manny Diaz for the Florida Senate and Stockton Reeves VI for the Florida House.

The association, a powerful interest group in Central Florida’s tourism-based economy, also announced endorsements of Pete Crotty for the Orange County Commission’s District 3 seat and Melissa Byrd for the Orange County School Board District 7 seat.

On Tuesday neither Young nor Diaz, both Republicans, had primary opponents, and neither are running in districts in Central Florida, yet the area’s hoteliers offered their backing. Young now faces Democratic state Rep. Janet Cruz in the contest for Senate District 18. Diaz will go up against Democrat David Pérez for the Senate District 36 seat.

Reeves defeated Mikaela Nix in the Republican primary and now faces Democrat Anna Eskamani in the House District 47 race.

In the county elections Tuesday, Crotty finished second to Mayra Uribe. Since neither got a majority of votes on Tuesday, the two are headed to a Nov. 6 runoff election.

Byrd finished first in the Orange County School board election Tuesday. Since she did not get a majority, she and second-place finisher Eric Schwalbach move on to the Nov. 6 runoff.

This past spring the hotel association announced earlier endorsements including Jerry Demings for mayor and Teresa Jacobs for school board chair. Those two and others won Tuesday while most backed by the hoteliers moved on to the Nov. 6 election. The group said there may be more post-primary endorsements coming.

Mike Miller starts CD 7 campaign in striking distance of Stephanie Murphy

Republican state Rep. Mike Miller is starting his campaign within striking distance of Democratic U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy.

A new poll from St. Pete Polls taken Thursday shows Murphy with 47 percent of voter support and Miller with 46 percent, with just 7 percent undecided. Miller’s competing to unseat Murphy from her Congressional District 7 seat.

The poll puts the gap between the congresswoman and the state representative, both from Winter Park, inside the poll’s margin of error of 4.7 percent.

Miller, the two-term state lawmaker, easily won a contentious primary to run in CD 7, which covers Seminole County and north and central Orange County stretching through downtown Orlando. Murphy is the freshman member of Congress who won an upset victory in 2016 in a district that Republicans had held forever, then easily brushed past a left-wing challenge in the Democratic primary Tuesday.

Both parties desperately want this district, which is now solidly purple but trending toward a slight Democratic lean in voter registration. National Democratic and Republican organizations and donors will be weighing in heavily heading toward the Nov. 6 election.

StPetePolls, commissioned by Florida Politics, conducted a random telephone survey of 435 registered voters Thursday.

According to the poll, Murphy actually has a lead in Seminole County, the district’s most reliable Republican base, while Miller leads in Orange County, where the district’s Democratic base is strongest. Murphy leads among Seminole County voters 50 to 44, while Miller leads in Orange County 48 to 43.

Miller’s House District 47 is entirely inside Orange County, while Murphy has been representing both counties for the past two years.

Each has strong favorability ratings in both counties, with Murphy having an edge with stronger name recognition. Overall, 50 percent of the voters said they have favorable opinions of the congresswoman, while 29 percent said they have an unfavorable view, and 21 percent have no opinion. For Miller, 42 percent said they have a favorable opinion of him, 24 percent said they have an unfavorable opinion, and 34 percent have no opinion.

The poll shows Murphy solidly leading Miller among independent voters: 57 percent favor her, 34 percent favor him. Otherwise, both of them are holding within their parties. Murphy has 78 percent of Democrats’ votes in the poll; Miller gets 77 percent of Republicans.

Within the small demographic subsamples, there weren’t many significant differences between the two, but there were two groups showing dramatic preferences: 88 percent of black voters want Murphy; 68 percent of young voters, under age 30, want Miller.

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