Scott Powers – Page 6 – Florida Politics

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 Besides them, he’s into mystery and suspense books and movies, rock, blues, basketball, baseball, writing unpublished novels, and being amused.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

Three Republicans, one Democrat qualify to challenge Stephanie Murphy

Republicans state Rep. Mike Miller, Scott Sturgill, and Vennia Francois, and Democrat Chardo Richardson all qualified for the ballot with hopes of taking on incumbent Democratic U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy in Florida’s 7th Congressional District.

All five candidates, including Murphy, qualified for the ballot by sending in $10,440 checks.

So on August 28 CD 7 voters in Seminole County and north and central Orange County will have both a Republican primary, with Miller, Sturgill, and Francois; and a Democratic primary, with Murphy and Richardson.

Another Republican who had filed, Patrick Weingart, did not qualify for the ballot.

Murphy is a first-term congresswoman from Winter Park, a businesswoman and former instructor at Rollins College.

Miller is a two-term member of the Florida House from Winter Park, who had served on the staffs of U.S. Sens. Connie Mack and Mel Martinez.

Sturgill is a Sanford businessman who previously ran for the Florida House in 2014.

Francois is an Orlando lawyer who also served on Martinez’s staff, as well as that of U.S. Sen. George LeMieux.

Richardson is an Air Force veteran and former head of the Central Florida Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.

Orange County mayoral candidates offer subtle differences on outreach, transportation

Orange County can expect the next mayor to create more outreach to the Hispanic community, more efforts on   developing affordable housing, simplifying licensing, and focus more on coordinating public transportation, though to varying degrees.

At a debate Friday morning at the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Metro Orlando, Orange County Commissioner Pete Clarke, Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings, and Winter Park entrepreneur Rob Panepinto all could do more, particularly in offering assistance to the burgeoning influx of Puerto Rican migrants.

They are all vying for Orange County’s most powerful elected job, mayor of Orange County, seeking to succeed Teresa Jacobs.

Much of Friday’s debate found general agreement among the trio, yet still highlighted the different themes each of the candidates has built his campaign around: Clarke’s push to provide services through partnerships with non-profit organizations, Demings experience with decades in public service and reputation for bringing people together, and Panepinto’s pledge to  bring new, entrepreneurial ideas to the office.

Clarke proposed several reforms seeking to streamline government, particularly across independent agencies, such as creating reciprocity in licensing and registration efforts between Orange County and such agencies as the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority and the Central Florida Expressway Authority.

He also vowed to create an Orange county “welcome wagon” office specifically focusing on Hispanic newcomers and businesses relocating to Orange County from Puerto Rico or Latin America. Both Panepinto and Demings also showed interest or support for a Hispanic outreach office in the county.

That led to a bolder proposal from Panepinto, who proposed that the coordination and money problems facing the bus service, Lynx, the commuter train railroad, SunRail, and the toll road agency, the Central Florida Expressway Authority.

He talked about the critical need to get SunRail extended to the airport and to have later hours and weekend service, and to get Lynx better connected. But they don’t have money. The expressway authority has money.

“I think there is an opportunity to have the expressway authority, Lynx and SunRail work much closer together,” Panepinto offered. “There’s been some talk about how toll money can be used to feed Lynx. It is a strategic conversation. It is going to involve the state and a lot of jurisdictions. But I actually think there is the opportunity to have the organizations come closer together…. I think may be a better move for us in the longterm to solve this issue.”

Clarke also called for some conversation about  consolidation – but between Lynx and SunRail for a possible dedicated source of tax dollar funding, possibly as a sales tax or property tax, particularly to build some east-west rail service.

He did not commit to supporting such a dedicated tax himself, but said it would have to be a community decision.

Demings agreed that there should be a conversation on finding a funding source, adding, “and we have to look at public-private partnerships.”

Demings, with a career in law enforcement including as sheriff and Orlando chief of police, took a deep view of the concerns and funding challenges the county faces in having to provide school resource officers – armed security – required at Orange County Public Schools.

“We’re going to see a public safety paradigm shift now because we are going to have to put law enforcement officers more on the campuses. There’s not enough money by the way from what the governor brought forward. So the county is going to have to fill that gap. It is going to be millions of dollars,” Demings said. “Unfortunately, we do live in a world now where we see individuals carrying assault rifles, so it’s going to be costly to now arm our law enforcement officers with better firepower and other protections to deal with those issues.

“And it’s also a challenge for our children. I have a granddaughter in the public schools, and even she sometimes is concerned about what happens in our schools,” Demings said.

For much of the campaign, Panepinto has been the one most focusing on the income inequality in Central Florida, calling for the county to be more aggressive in preparing for and seeking higher-wage jobs, as the starting point for all other issues.

“There is so much positive here, so much potential, it is easy to see, the growth, the jobs, the inclusiveness, the diversity, downtown. But we are also a community that is continually at the lowest end in terms of average wage,” he said, also adding concerns about housing, transportation and children living in poverty. “And so I feel at this point in time we need people who have other skill sets to solve some of these issues than those who spent their entire lives in government and in politics.”

Demings offered the line of the day, after arguing that “there is no substitute for training and experience:”

“I assure you there will be drama-free leadership from Mayor Jerry Demings,” he said.

Jaha Dukureh, female genital mutilation victim, activist, Nobel Prize nominee, set to graduate from UCF

A young woman who underwent female genital mutilation as a baby and then led a crusade against the practice as an adult, and was nominated this year for the Nobel Peace Prize, is graduating Saturday from the University of Central Florida.

Jaha Dukureh, 28, will be telling some of her story as a guest speaker Saturday at a pre-graduation event at UCF, and then she’ll be walking the stage to receive a master’s degree in nonprofit management.

She told her story through a documentary, “Jaha’s Promise,” and through her work over several years to bring attention and pressure to end the practice of female genital mutation, still widely performed in much of West Africa.

Dukureh also had her story, from her own experience as a baby to her global activism today, detailed in an in-depth feature published this week on UCFToday, the UCF News Service site. Dukureh was born in Gambia and given the mutilation operation when she was a baby, a procedure that involved cutting and sewing together her genitalia. She has suffered from it her whole life, but did not learn she’d undergone the procedure until she was 15 when she was forced into an arranged marriage with an American. She had to undergo surgery in the United States to reopen her.

Dukureh since has divorced him, remarried, had children, gotten a bachelor’s degree from Georgia Southwestern State University, and then come to UCF. Along the way, she began her crusade to save other girls from her fate and received worldwide acclaim for it.

She is the founder of the nonprofit Safe Hands For Girls, leading the effort.

This year she was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize by Norwegian politician Jette Christensen, who met her at a film festival in her own country, UCF reported.

Linda Stewart endorses Gwen Graham in governor’s race

Orlando Democratic state Sen. Linda Stewart is throwing her support behind Gwen Graham in Florida’s Governor’s race.

“I’ve seen the damage that 20 years of one-party Republican rule in Tallahassee has caused. They’ve neglected our environment, they defunded our public schools, and they gutted our gun laws. We need strong leadership, focused on the needs of Floridians, and that’s why I’m proud to support Gwen Graham for governor,” Stewart stated in a news release issued Friday by Graham’s campaign.

Stewart, also a former Orange County Commissioner and state representative, has led the fight for an assault weapons ban in the state Senate. She’s also working to secure funding for a Pulse Memorial in Orlando. And In addition to her leadership on gun safety, Stewart has been an advocate for the environment and higher education.

Graham faces Winter Park entrepreneur Chris King, former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum in the Democratic primary fight to run for governor.

“After Pulse, Rick Scott and the Republicans in the Legislature offered their thoughts and prayers — and then failed to act. They turned their heads and did nothing to prevent another mass shooting or to stop the daily violence that plagues communities across Florida,” Graham stated in the release. “Despite opposition, Senator Linda Stewart has fought for bold proposals to stop gun violence. She has stood strong for the environment and education, and I admire her leadership under pressure. As governor, I will work with her to pass universal background checks, ban military-style assault weapons, and secure funding for a Pulse Memorial.”

Poll: A Patrick Murphy-David Jolly ticket reflects Democrats’ desire for the middle

A newly commissioned poll suggests that Democratic voters are seriously interested in a “unity” ticket that would be led by former U.S. Reps. Patrick Murphy, a Democrat, and David Jolly, a Republican, in Florida’s gubernatorial race.

The poll’s more significant ramification, however, may be that Florida’s Democrats may prefer a compromising moderate Democrat to a staunch progressive idealist.

The poll by Frederick Polls, an outfit that Politico points out was Murphy’s pollster, puts a Murphy-Jolly ticket atop the Democratic field, taking 21 percent, compared with 17 percent for Philip Levine and 12 percent for Gwen Graham, with Andrew Gillum and Chris King showing in for support.

Yet the result might be more about Florida Democrats desire to see unity in the spirit of “getting things done” than any explicit support for Murphy and Jolly, who’ve been dropping hints about a unity ticket after spending much of the past year touring together on a bipartisan two-man show against hyperpartisan politics.

The question as Frederick Polls, of Arlington, Va., posed it was:

“Some people are urging Patrick Murphy to run for Governor and pick David Jolly, a moderate and independent former Republican Congressman, as his Lt. Governor running mate. They say it would be a clear sign Murphy would be a different kind of Governor who would work together with reasonable Republicans in Tallahassee to set aside Florida’s old, partisan politics and get things done for Florida. In this case, who would you vote for in the Democratic Primary for Governor?”

The survey was of 750 likely Democratic primary voters, taken April 23-28 through a mixture of landline and cellphones.

Murphy and Jolly both ran for the U.S. Senate two years ago. Jolly, who was then a Republican Congressman from Clearwater, pulled out when U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio decided to run for re-election after all, while Murphy, then a Democratic congressman from Palm Beach Gardens, lost to Rubio in the general. Since then, the two have united in their message that partisan politics have ruined Congress, touring college campuses and other venues in Florida and nationally.

The central question that put a Murphy-Jolly ticket atop the Democratic field was not the only one suggesting that Florida’s Democratic voters want someone seeking the middle.

Voters picked, 70-22, “a moderate Democrat who is willing to work together with reasonable Republicans to get things done,” over “a who is committed to fighting for true progressive policies without compromise.”

Before they were asked about the unity ticket the voters were asked just about the four announced candidates, plus Murphy, and Murphy finished tied with Graham for second, with 14 percent, while Levine grabbed 20 percent.

Even with that, and with Gillum and King, 44 percent of voters still declared they are undecided.

Julie Wraithmell tapped to lead Audubon Florida

Julie Wraithmell becomes the new executive director of Audubon Florida and the newest vice president at the National Audubon Society, the national organization announced Thursday.

Wraithmell’s appointment follows her five-month stint as interim executive director while Audubon undertook a nationwide search for the post. She  succeeds Eric Draper, who was tapped in November 2017 to lead the Florida State Parks system.

As head of Audubon Florida, Wraithmell will oversee five conservation priorities including water, coastal conservation, restoring America’s Everglades, climate change, and wildlife and wildlands.

“Julie is what’s best about Audubon. She uses science to guide decisions; she is highly collaborative and is driven every day to make a conservation difference. This also is why she is widely recognized all over the Sunshine State as a top conservation expert. We are excited to have her lead Audubon’s important work in Florida and to take that work to the next level,” David O’Neill, National Audubon Society’s chief conservation officer, stated in a news release.

Joining Audubon in 2005, Wraithmell led statewide conservation and wildlife policy initiatives, built Audubon Florida’s coastal conservation program, coordinated Audubon’s response to the Deepwater Horizon disaster, and helped secure millions in funding for protecting Florida’s land and water resources. In 2015, she received the Callison Award, National Audubon Society’s highest staff honor.

Prior to Audubon, Wraithmell served eight years as a biologist at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

“I grew up in Central Florida and consider Florida my lifelong home. This state and its wildlife are deeply ingrained in who I am,” Wraithmell stated in the release. “I am honored to have the opportunity to work for Florida’s natural resources every day, with the most dedicated and effective network of staff, volunteers, and chapters in Florida.”

FEMA extends Puerto Rican transitional housing to June 30

Puerto Rican evacuees from Hurricane Maria’s wrath last fall have been granted another six weeks of federal assistance to live in emergency motel shelters in Florida, U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy announced Thursday.

The latest extension, through June 30 according to social media posts Thursday afternoon from the Winter Park Democrat, means that families who migrated from the island to Florida, or to other states, will have federal assistance to stay long enough for their children to complete the school year.

Gov. Rick Scott also applauded the extension Thursday afternoon.

The extension also means the families living in motels and paying their rents with Federal Emergency Management Agency vouchers, because there is little  available affordable housing, will not face a last-day crisis, at least not any time soon. That happened on April 20 when FEMA agreed to extend the program through May 14 on the very day that the previous extension was set to expire. Hundreds of families were reportedly packed up and being told to leave, with no place to go, on the day the extension was approved.

On April 18 Murphy, U.S. Sens. Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio, four other members of Congress from Florida, Democrat Darren Soto of Orlando, Republican Carlos Curbelo of Kendall, Democrat Kathy Castor of Tampa, and Republican Dennis Ross of Lakeland, as well as U.S. Rep. Jenniffer González-Colón of Puerto Rico, all signed a letter urging FEMA to extend the program through June.

They also urged Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló to seek the extension. FEMA could not extend the program without a formal request from the governor of the area affected, Puerto Rico.

On April 24, Rosselló told FloridaPolitics he would ask FEMA to extend the program through June, in part so that Puerto Rican migrant families with children could at least get through the school year.

“Pleased to report that FEMA will be extending the Transitional Shelter Assistance program for displaced Puerto Rican families in Florida and other states through June 30,” Murphy posted on Facebook Thursday afternoon. “This will give families more time to find permanent housing and won’t result in children being evicted during the school year. Another successful bipartisan effort! Thank you to Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello for seeking the extension.”

Said Scott, in a press release: “Florida has done everything possible to help our neighbors in Puerto Rico with their continued recovery from Hurricane Maria. Over the past seven months since Maria made landfall, we have remained in constant communication with Governor Ricardo Rosselló and his leadership team and I have made five trips to Puerto Rico to offer our full assistance and guidance. Florida remains the only state with a Host-State Agreement with FEMA to help families from Puerto Rico.

“I also recently spoke with FEMA Administrator Brock Long about our joint efforts to make sure we are doing everything possible to help those who evacuated here. This includes keeping the FEMA case managers I requested on the ground across our state to offer assistance. I’m glad to hear that FEMA is once again extending Transitional Sheltering Assistance (TSA) for the many families from Puerto Rico in the Sunshine State and we continue to stand ready to assist in any way possible,” Scott added.


Darren Soto calls for election battle about ‘respect and dignity’

Digging in for a potentially bruising primary battle, Democratic U.S. Rep. Darren Soto kicked off his 2018 re-election campaign Thursday with a rally at which he called for an election about “respect and dignity… humility and service.”

The call appeared as a response to Tuesday’s news that Soto now faces his predecessor Democratic former U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson in a primary battle for Florida’s 9th Congressional District. Grayson already has shown his fighting form, attacking Soto’s record and commitment to progressive causes.

“People are sick of nasty politics and I plan to rise above it once again,” Soto said, without mentioning Grayson by name. “As First Lady Michelle Obama once famously said, ‘when they go low, we go high.'”

The reference could only be to Grayson, as the only Republican in the field, Saint Cloud businessman Wayne Liebnitzky has largely refrained from attacking Soto, except on policy debates.

In a 12-minute speech in Kissimmee with a handful of supporters beside him, including state Sen. Victor Torres and state Rep. John Cortes, who both represent Kissimmee, Soto laid out some of his positions, efforts, and accomplishments on issues ranging from Puerto Rico relief and recovery to Social Security. Some of the statements sounded, in part, like rebuttals to Grayson’s opening criticisms on Tuesday.

Yet Soto’s speech also was offered as an affirmation of the freshman congressman’s first 16 months in office.

And he pledged a positive campaign and called for a united Democratic party.

“Like in 2016 we face another major Democratic primary,” said Soto, who beat Grayson’s wife Dena Grayson, among other Democrats, in the 2016 primary. “And it has already become nasty. As with back then, I will continue to run a positive and inspiring campaign. We’ll focus on the issues that matter to us as Democrats.”

Soto highlighted his efforts to help with hurricane relief in both Florida and Puerto Rico, and a whole host of progressive policies from supporting labor unions to supporting the gay community, from advocating to reinstate the assault weapons ban to sponsorship of a sexual harassment bill, and from opposing the Republican tax reform bill, to opposing President Donald Trump‘s wall.

In particular, Soto focused on his environmental record, noting he is the only Florida member of Congress with a 100 percent rating from the League of Conservation Voters, saying, “many of you know I am thrilled to lead the charge for the Florida delegation to keep oil drilling off our shores, to protect our waters and beaches, to save the Everglades, and to protect critical wildlife corridors.”

Afterwords, speaking with the press, Soto took issue with one of Grayson’s points of criticism, when the former congressman accused Soto of ignoring the call by House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi to vote against a funding bill unless the Republicans agreed to extend the DREAMers Act. Soto maintained that he always has been a strong supporter of that act, and still intends to pursue “a clean bill” providing legal status to young, undocumented immigrants. But he noted that the funding bill he voted for included money for Puerto Rico and Florida hurricane relief. The bill passed.

“Grayson attacked me for that. That’s a key difference. I’m willing to cross the aisle for the betterment of our state, along with half the Democrats, and half the Republicans,” Soto said. “And I stand in favor of Puerto Rico, and he obviously stands against the disaster relief.”

Soto also disputed Grayson’s claim that he has accomplished nothing. Soto offered he was behind numerous bills and amendments that have been approved.

“This is a diverse district. It’s Democratic leaning but not overwhelmingly so. So while I will continue to fight for progressive values, and I got the endorsement of my peers in and in the progressive caucus as a result, it also takes reaching across the aisle to work on issues that matter to the district, like disaster relief, like citrus greening, like protecting our environment,” Soto said. “We passed dozens of amendments.”

Florida Chamber of Commerce endorses Adam Putnam for governor

The Florida Chamber of Commerce on Thursday endorsed Republican Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam to be the state’s next governor.

Putnam joined Chamber leaders Thursday morning at a press conference at the Rosen Plaza Hotel in Orlando, billed as a “special announcement.” The news came amidst a Chamber conference on poverty and prosperity. 

“I am proud to have the support of the Florida Chamber of Commerce,” Putnam said. “The Florida Chamber has a long and proven history of supporting businesses across the state, and I look forward to working alongside the Florida Chamber to ensure Florida continues to build on its legacy as the most business-friendly state in the nation.

Putnam promised “as governor” to focus on vocational, career and technical education in middle and high schools to better prepare students for the workforce.

“Together, we will continue to strengthen our workforce and provide opportunities for our young people to ensure Florida remains as the best place to do businesses,” Putnam said.

Among those with Putnam were former Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford, chair of the Florida Chamber Political Council; Tracy Duda Chapman, chair of the Florida Chamber Board of Directors; and Mark Wilson, president and chief executive officer of the Florida Chamber of Commerce.

From Wilson: “Adam Putnam is the leader Florida needs to keep Florida’s momentum going. Adam Putnam knows Florida best, and I know without a doubt he believes in free enterprise and economic opportunity for every single Floridian.”

Putnam faces U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis in the Republican primary fight, with Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran waiting in the wings to possibly enter the fray.

The leading Democrats are former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, and Winter Park businessman Chris King.

Last week, the Florida Chamber endorsed Gov. Rick Scott in his Republican bid for the U.S. Senate.

Amol Jethwani, Anna Eskamani named ‘champions’ by progressive group

Democratic Florida House candidate Anna Eskamani is one of 70 candidates nationwide named as “champions” by the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, identifying candidates around the country deemed as fighting for progressive priorities, her campaign announced Thursday.

Also named a champion in Florida was Democrat Amol Jethwani of Gainesville, who is running for Florida House District 21. Eskamani, of Orlando, is running in Florida House District 47.

“The candidates on our champions list are running great campaigns powered by the grassroots, not corporate interests,” the political action committee stated on its webpage.

Progressive Change Campaign Committee, was founded in 2009, and is described as having been closely allied with U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, the Massachusetts Democrat. It raises money and provides it to the campaigns it is supporting.

Eskamani is seeking to succeed state Rep. Mike Miller of Winter Park, who is not seeking re-election. Also vying for the seat are Republicans Winter Park businessman Stockton Reeves VI and Orlando lawyer Mikaela Nix.

Jethwani is seeking to take on incumbent Republican state Rep. Charles Clemons of Newbury. So is Democrat Jason Haeseler of Gainesville.

Eskamani and Jethwani were the only candidates selected in Florida.

“Our 2018 Champions across the country are committed to solving big problems affecting their communities,” said Marissa Barrow, a spokesperson for the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, stated in a news release issued by Eskamani’s campaign. “Selected for their bold vision, these candidates are highly capable leaders ready to make change.”

“Our campaign to take back Florida State House District 47 is more than just a moment; this is a movement, powered by the people of Florida,” Eskamani stated in the release. “For the past ten years, I have committed my life’s work to holding politicians accountable while empowering my community and protecting our rights. Our election will be historic, and it feels good knowing that we have PCCC members by my side.”

Show Buttons
Hide Buttons