Scott Powers, Author at Florida Politics - Page 7 of 169

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 Besides them, he’s into mystery and suspense books and movies, rock, blues, basketball, baseball, writing unpublished novels, and being amused.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

Adam Putnam: renewed push for technical education key to fixing economic woes

A lot of Florida’s economic weaknesses and longterm economic security can be treated with a bigger, more focused attention on vocational and technical education, Adam Putnam told a gathering of business leaders at the Florida Chamber of Commerce’s conference in Orlando Wednesday.

Given just enough time, he surmised, to talk about just one issue in any depth, the Republican gubernatorial race frontrunner chose his ongoing crusade to push for a rethinking of Florida’s education policy, one in which students are advised and steered early on, in middle school and certainly by high school, to consider preparing for the trades rather than for college.

It would be better for many students, and better for many businesses, he argued, considering how many high-skill jobs go unfilled in Florida because of the skills gap, a gap discussed earlier at the Florida Chamber of Commerce’s 2017 Future of Florida Forum, held Wednesday and Thursday at the J.W. Marriott Orlando Grande Lakes resort.

“If we’re serious about rebuilding the middle class in Florida, if we’re serious about diversifying our economy, in aviation, logistics, ship building, heavy equipment operation, construction, high-tech manufacturing, agriculture, we have to produce a workforce that understands what they can earn –  starting in middle school and high school, before we pressure them into student-loan debt for a degree they don’t want and can’t use,” Putnam said.

Putnam, Florida’s agriculture commissioner, was shown earlier Wednesday in a Florida Chamber of Commerce poll to have commanding leads over other Republican candidates and potential candidates for governor, and clear leads over all Democratic contenders in this early stage of the 2018 election.

After his 13 minutes of remarks at the forum, Putnam said his proposals to re-emphasize trades education from middle school through community college, including “supporting community colleges like we really mean it,” are key to resolving many of Florida’s economic weaknesses. He said that is why he chose that theme for his chamber address.

“It’s the key to rebuilding the middle class. It’s the key to rural economic development as well as inner-city economic development. It’s the key to lifting average incomes in Florida and keeping our younger people in Florida, instead of moving away to other places,” Putnam said in post-speech comments to FloridaPolitics.com.

Linda Stewart, Victor Torres, Randolph Bracy urging U.S. senators to help Puerto Rico

Three state senators from Orlando, Linda Stewart, Victor Torres and Randolph Bracy have sent a letter to Florida’s U.S. Sens. Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson to do all they can to help the people of Puerto Rico.

Both Rubio, a Republican, and Nelson, a Democrat, have been highly active on that front.

Rubio is sending his own staff to the island and pledged a second visit soon after touring the Hurricane Maria devastation on Monday.

Nelson took to the Senate floor Tuesday to urge his colleagues to quickly take up and pass an aid package to help those affected by the recent hurricanes in Florida, Texas, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

“We need to act with urgency and purpose to aid Puerto Rico in their time of need,” Nelson said. “In a crisis, all that matters is saving lives and giving people the resources they need to get back on their feet.”

Rubio just visited the island devastated by Hurricane Maria and took to Facebook Live Tuesday to urge help for Puerto Rico, where he said the situation, especially outside San Juan, “is catastrophic.” Later he met with Vice President Mike Pence and Puerto Rico Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González and said he would take to the floor of the Senate Tuesday night to “rethink how we can respond” and accelerate aid. He said he would send four members of his staff to San Juan and hoped to return himself in a few days.

Also Tuesday, U.S. Rep. Darren Soto, an Orlando Democrat, took to the floor of the House of Representatives to describe what he called a “humanitarian crisis happening in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.” He called on President Donald Trump  to take immediate action and mobilize all resources possible, and urged Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin to promptly bring forth a FEMA Supplemental Package to include Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Stewart, Torres and Bracy, all Democrats, urged a “swift federal response that uses every available tool at the disposal of the federal government.”

The request continued, “it is the sole responsibility of America’s federal government to provide the necessities of life for millions of its citizens in the hour of their greatest need.”

“We request that you use the full weight of your office to ensure the federal government, by utilizing its disaster relief agencies and military logistical capabilities, to swiftly secure the island of Puerto Rico so emergencies supplies and volunteer relief organizations can begin sending much needed supplies and volunteers to support the residents,” the trio wrote.

“We further request the federal government prioritize restoring essential services needed for the full operation of all airports, seaports and ground transportation infrastructure, as well as public utility services such as potable water systems, sewer service and electric power generation in Puerto Rico to facilitate the delivery relief supplies.”

Chris King calls for ‘modernized’ voting systems, automatic voter registration

Declaring it is time for Florida to “modernize” it’s voting systems, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chris King unveiled a policy statement Tuesday calling for universal voter registration and for voters to vote anywhere in their county.

King, a Winter Park-based developer of affordable and senior housing, rolled out a seven-point voting and elections plan Tuesday to mark National Voter Registration Day during a speech at Florida State University. The address was the first of his campus college tour, which also includes stops Tuesday at the University of Florida and the University of North Florida.

His Every Florida Voter Plan include calls for the abolition of gerrymandering, restoration of certain non-violent felons’ voting rights and some proposals aimed at making voter registration and voting easier.

King is battling with former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham of Tallahassee and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum for the Democratic nomination to run for governor in 2018. Both of them also have expressed strong support for the restoration of voting rights, and abolition of gerrymandering. The leading Republican candidates are state Sen. Jack Latvala of Clearwater and Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.

“Our government should work for ordinary people, not special interests and those in power,” King stated in a news release issued by his campaign. “The first step to restore our democracy is to put that power back in the hands of the people of Florida.

“But expanding voter registration and increasing access to the polls are not enough to increase voter participation,” King added. “Past candidates and elected officials from both parties have failed to give Floridians a reason to get out and vote. This campaign will be different. It will be unafraid of fighting for a new fair and Florida-focused economy that lifts up all Floridians, and championing fresh ideas to give people a reason to stand and be counted.”

King’s voter plan includes a handful of Democratic standards adopted by most of the party’s candidates, including his Democratic primary rivals, such as restoration of rights, expansion of early voting and same-day voter registrations. It also calls for technological advances and automatic voter registration, meaning registrations of eligible voters would be automatically recorded as they sign up for any state services, unless they chose to opt out.

He proposed updating Florida’s voting infrastructure to allow universal online voter registration. He also suggested that voters should be able to vote at any polling place in their county on Election Day, just as they can currently vote at out-of-precinct polling places in early voting periods.

“Florida should end the antiquated voter registration system that hasn’t kept up with a mobile, modern society,” King’s campaign stated in the news release.

The statement said King would provide a path to the restoration of civil rights “for more than 1.6 million nonviolent offenders who have served their time, paid their debts to society, and have earned a right to be contributing members of their communities again.”

“Florida simply cannot systematically disenfranchise millions of its citizens any longer,” the release stated.

For King, the gerrymandering position comes from close to home. His father David King was the lead attorney who argued and won redistricting cases on behalf of the League of Women Voters in Florida that forced Tallahassee to redraw congressional and state senate districts. In those suits, judges found the state’s congressional and Florida Senate districts were created through gerrymandering that had been banned by the 2010 Fair Districts amendments to the Florida Constitution.

“Voters should pick their elected representatives, not the other way around,” the release stated. “For too long, Republicans in the state legislature have tried to gerrymander districts. The people of Florida deserve a leader in Tallahassee who will fight for Fair Districts during upcoming redistricting.”

Bobby Olszewski raises $55K in latest HD 44 report, has $27K for special election

Republican nominee Bobby Olszewski raised $55,000 including about $24,000 in in-kind services from the state party after winning an Aug. 15 primary and had about $27,500 left for his contest with replacement Democratic nominee Eddy Dominguez, at the time of the latest campaign finance reports.

Those reports, through Sept. 7, showed the Republican Party of Florida jumped in with polling and campaign staff for Olszewski after he defeated John Newstreet, Bruno Portigliatti and Usha Jain in the GOP primary to fill the vacant seat for Florida’s House District 44, covering southwest Orange County.

Olszewski, a businessman from Winter Garden, also received 21 $1,000 checks from business interests since that primary, including from various political committees representing the Florida Chamber of Commerce, Walt Disney World, the Central Florida Hotel & Lodging Association, and Rosen Hotels. Several of those groups supporting Olszewski had backed Newstreet in the primary.

That money helps Olszewski to prepare for an Oct. 10 special election that initially was to be against Democrat Paul Chandler.  Chandler withdrew two weeks ago and last week the Orange County Democratic Party selected Dominguez, a businessman from the Dr. Phillips community, to be a replacement candidate. Chandler’s name remains on the ballots, but Dominguez will collect those votes.

Because Dominguez only just entered the race, he has not filed any campaign finance reports yet with the Florida Division of Elections.

Olszewski has raised a total of $106,000 since entering the race in early April, but spent most of that for the primary.

 

Stephanie Murphy joins Climate Solutions Caucus

Winter Park’s U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy has joined the bipartisan Congressional Climate Solutions Caucus that was founded by and is led by Republican U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo of Kendall and Democratic U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch of Boca Raton.

Murphy is one of six new members added – three Democrats and three Republicans – to a caucus that now numbers 29 Republicans and 29 Democrats, and includes six of Florida’s 27 members of Congress.

The caucus’s stated goal is to push common-sense solutions that address the root causes of climate change and mitigate its threats.

“Climate change poses a threat to Florida’s economy and our way of life, but it also presents an opportunity for the state to step up and lead on this issue,” Murphy stated in a news release issued by her office. “Clean air and water shouldn’t be a partisan issue, which is why I’m proud to join the bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus. By working together across party lines, we’re leading the fight to reduce our carbon footprint, create well-paying clean energy jobs, and support research that addresses the threat to our communities. Florida must continue to lead the way in the development of alternative and renewable energies, and I’m working to ensure our beautiful state lives up to its full potential.”

From the start, the caucus has carefully walked the bipartisan line, bringing Republicans to a forum to acknowledge and address climate change, and Democrats to a forum where they can share the discourse with Republicans. In addition to Curbelo, the caucus includes Florida Republicans Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Miami and Brian Mast of Palm City. In addition to Deutch and Murphy, the caucus includes Florida Democrat Charlie Crist of St. Petersburg.

Deutch and Curbelo spoke out about the recent devastating hurricanes as evidence that climate change needs bipartisan attention.

“These new members are joining the caucus amid a devastating hurricane season, where major storms are gaining strength from the warmer waters in the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico,” Deutch stated in a news release from his office. “We are witnessing the serious impacts of climate change right in front of our eyes. More and more members of Congress believe we need to respond to climate change right now, and I’m thrilled that they turn to the Climate Solutions Caucus as a forum for open and constructive dialogue.”

Added Curbelo, “The real-world implications of sea level rise have been on display for all to see in Texas, Florida and the Caribbean following Hurricanes, Harvey, Irma and Maria. I’m grateful these members are willing to step up and turn their concern into action by joining the Climate Solutions Caucus. This growing bipartisan coalition will be critical to ensuring Congress makes finding solutions to this issue a priority.”

In addition to Murphy, the new members are Democratic U.S. Reps. John Larson of Connecticut and Nydia Velázquez of New York; and Republican U.S. Reps. Pat Tiberi of Ohio, Chris Collins  of New York, and Jack Bergman of Michigan.

Marco Rubio, Mel Martinez, Connie Mack III headline Mike Miller fundraiser

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, former U.S. Sens. Mel Martinez and Connie Mack III, and former Lt Gov. Toni Jennings headline a long host list for a congressional campaign fundraiser for state Rep. Mike Miller of Winter Park this week.

The Thursday evening, $500 per person fundraiser at the Country Club of Orlando aims to boost Miller’s campaign to first defeat fellow Republican candidate Scott Sturgill, a Sanford businessman, and then to take on Democratic U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy in the 2018 election.

The list of dozens of hosts, featuring Jennings and Martinez, two popular and once-powerful figures in Central Florida politics, also includes numerous current and former local Republican power brokers such as timeshare magnate David Siegel, airports board chairman Frank Kruppenbacher, attorney Marcos Marchena, financier Phil Handy, and former Walt Disney World President Dick Nunis.

Former U.S. Reps. Ric Keller and Connie Mack IV, and former Florida House Speakers Dean Cannon and Steve Crisafulli. also are among the listed hosts.

Miller, of Winter Park, hopes to re-flip Florida’s 7th Congressional District seat that Murphy won from Republican former U.S. Rep. John Mica of Winter Park, who had served the district for 24 years before Murphy came along. The district covers Seminole County and north and central Orange County.

Darren Soto signs call to suspend Jones Act, ease FEMA rules for Puerto Rico

U.S. Rep. Darren Soto has signed on to a letter urging the federal government to suspend the 1920 Jones Act governing shipping and ease FEMA cost-sharing rules during Puerto Rico’s recovery process from Hurricane Maria.

The Jones Act requires all ships moving supplies to Puerto Rico from American ports be American and American-crewed.

The letter initiated by U.S. Rep. Nydia Velázquez, a Democrat from New York, asks Homeland Security Acting Secretary Elaine Duke, asks that the federal government suspend, for one year, the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, also known as the Jones Act, for shipping into Puerto Rico so that the island can more easily receive oil, power grid equipment and other critical supplies.

Soto, an Orlando Democrat, was one of seven cosigners.

“The island is now facing an unprecedented uphill battle to rebuild its homes, businesses and communities. Temporarily loosening these requirements – for the express purpose of disaster recovery – will allow Puerto Rico to have more access to the oil needed for its power plants, food, medicines, clothing, and building supplies,” the letter argues.

The letter also requests that a FEMA requirement for local cost-sharing on relief efforts be waived for Puerto Rico because the island and its government already were in deep economic trouble before Maria hit.

“Puerto Rico’s current economic conditions have already pushed the local government’s financial resources to the breaking point. Requiring cost-sharing during this critical time could take local resources away from providing the essential services many citizens need,” the letter states.

“Hurricane Maria has taken a significant toll on the Island, its infrastructure and its residents. The Federal Government has the duty to ensure these American citizens are provided the relief they need. By granting these temporary waivers, DHS can ensure we are doing everything we can to help American families in need,” the letter concludes.

Bipartisan Florida for Puerto Rico legislative effort assembled

State Reps. Rene Plasencia and Bob Cortes announced the creation of a bipartisan legislative team starting with two dozen Florida lawmakers seeking ways to assist Puerto Rico in its recovery from Hurricane Maria.

Besides Cortes and Plasencia, Central Florida Republicans who both have Puerto Rico heritage, the “FL2PR Response Team” also includes Republican David Santiago of Deltona and Orlando Democratic state Sen. Victor Torres and Democratic state Rep. Amy Mercado, whose families also trace to Puerto Rico.

Much of the Central Florida delegation signed on, also including Republican state Reps. Mike Miller, Mike LaRosa and Scott Plakon, and Democratic state Reps. Carlos Guillermo Smith and John Cortes.

Outside of Central Florida, state Sens. Oscar Braynon, Anitere Flores and Jose Javier Rodriguez, and state Reps. Jose Oliva, Robert Asencio, Jose Felix Diaz, Jackie Toledo, Paul Renner, Julio Gonzalez, Matt Caldwell, Manny Diaz, Danny Burgess, Janet Cruz, and Daisy Baez.

The group is making connections with public and private entities from Florida to provide materials needed to achieve both short- and long-term infrastructure reconstruction, a press release from Plasencia and Cortes announced. The team will coordinate assistance for the delivery of disaster supplies to help speed up infrastructure repair and will help Puerto Ricans evacuating the island with issues like education, healthcare, documents and job placement.

FL2PR Response Team also will be assisting evacuees from Puerto Rico who are relocating to Florida by connecting citizens with agencies and private sector. This will include job placement opportunities with partners like NBC Universal, Disney, Sea World, and Walmart, as well as other organizations that will be joining the effort soon the release stated.

“All Americans, especially those of us with roots in Puerto Rico, are watching the devastation with broken hearts,” Cortes stated in the release. “If you have lost all your material possessions and your livelihood, political affiliation makes no difference to you. I’m honored to work with my colleagues from both sides of the aisle and these great corporate partners to help with this effort.”

“Since many Puerto Ricans already have family members in Florida, it makes sense that many will be looking to relocate here to rebuild their lives while the island’s infrastructure is literally being rebuilt,” Plasencia stated. “This effort represents an opportunity for Floridians to reach out in a very real way to offer a helping hand to our brothers and sisters in Puerto Rico who are facing such huge challenges from Maria’s impact.”

Darren Soto defends fundraiser as not affecting his efforts for Puerto Rico

While Puerto Rico got hammered by Hurricane Maria, U.S. Rep. Darren Soto defended his re-election campaign fundraiser he is holding Wednesday night in Kissimmee, home to Florida’s most concentrated Puerto Rican population.

Soto, a Democrat from Orlando, said he’s been in constant contact with Puerto Rico officials and readying federal financial support for the country’s recovery following both Hurricane Maria and Hurricane Irma, and that those efforts will not be affected by Wednesday night’s event.

His fundraiser, starting at $100 for individual donations and going up to $1,000 donations for hosts, is set for 6 p.m. at the Seasons Florida Resort in Kissimmee.

Soto has touted his Puerto Rican heritage and advocated for Puerto Rico and Puerto Ricans in Florida while in Congress. His district, which includes southern Orange County, eastern Polk County and all of Osceola County, has an estimated Puerto Rican population in the hundred thousands.

Hurricane Maria crossed onto the island Wednesday morning as a Category 4 storm and reports of  widespread damage and flooding are pouring from the island. The storm is expected to continue to ravage Puerto Rico well into the night.

Criticism of his decision to go forward with the fundraiser has been widespread on social media. Republican Wayne Liebnitzky, who faced Soto in the 2016 election and is campaigning for a rematch in 2018, called Soto’s decision “in poor taste.”

“I think it’s absolutely shocking, disgraceful,” Liebnitzky said. “That event needs to be cancelled. He needs to postpone it to a later date.”

Soto defended the event as not relevant to his efforts to help Puerto Rico.

“I have been in hourly contact with [Puerto Rico] Gov. [Ricardo] Rosselló‘s office, spoke at length with our House Appropriations Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen today in Jacksonville about Puerto Rico, FEMA funding, and am leading letters to ensure full financial support of Puerto Rico’s recovery over the next few days,” Soto said in a message to Orlando-Rising.com.

“Our efforts and readiness to advocate for an effective federal response will not be affected by an Osceola event with local Democratic activists,” he added.

Republicans flip registration in Polk, Volusia, continue statewide gains

Republicans are boasting they have taken voter-registration edges over Polk and Volusia County Democrats, continuing a trend of trimming a once sizable advantage for Democrats statewide.

With Polk and Volusia counting slightly more Republicans than Democrats in registration data recorded through August 31, the Republican Party of Florida says it’s flipped 12 counties to a Republican advantage in two years.

But it’s not just in those counties.

Democrats in August 2013 had more than 500,000 statewide registered voters over Republicans. With the latest count, the Democrats advantage was cut nearly in half to just 275,000.

Florida has grown, and so have the parties. There now are 12.8 million registered voters in Florida, compared with 11.8 million in August 2013. While both major parties have more registered voters than ever, Republicans’ growth has kept up with the state population, the Democrats’ has not.

Independent voters and third parties made up the difference, growing in proportion to the state population (faster than either major party), taking share away from Democrats statewide.

In August 2013 Democrats boasted 39.6 percent of all registered Florida voters, but just 37.5 percent in August 2017.

Republicans saw their share slip some from 2013 through 2015, and then grow back. But August numbers reflected the same proportion of Florida voters, 35.4 percent, as they had in August 2013.

That still means a 2.1 percent registered-voter advantage for Democrats. Yet it was twice that, 4.2 points, in 2013.

Republicans since January 2016 have taken voter registration leads in 12 counties: Baker, Bradford, Columbia, Gulf, Hardee, Holmes, Okeechobee, Pinellas, Polk, Suwannee, Volusia and Washington.

Republican Party of Florida State Chairman Blaise Ingoglia said several factors were leading to the advances, notably a return to training local executive committees and volunteers on voter registration, and emphasizing it. He said when counties tip, it creates momentum, and he predicted the party’s advantage in Polk and Volusia to grow like it has in other counties.

The Florida Democratic Party did not respond to an inquiry about the latest voter registration numbers.

“You’re going to see a lot more people register Republican than they were before, at a faster pace, because people are going to start realizing that Democrats can’t get elected in those counties, and the only primaries that will happen will be on the Republican side,” Ingoglia said.

Republicans now hold voter registration advantages in 40 of Florida’s 67 counties.

Yet Democrats have command of most of the big, urban counties, giving them the statewide advantage. Of the seven counties with more than a half million registered voters, Democrats are in control of six, and only behind Republicans in Pinellas, which flipped to GOP strength last year.

Republicans are dominant in voter registration in mid-size counties. Of 25 counties with between 100,000 and 500,000 registered voters, Republicans have an advantage in 21, including Polk and Volusia.

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