Scott Powers, Author at Florida Politics - Page 7 of 268

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 Besides them, he’s into mystery and suspense books and movies, rock, blues, basketball, baseball, writing unpublished novels, and being amused.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

Nancy Argenziano joins Reform Party ticket in governor’s race

Former Republican state Sen. Nancy Argenziano is now the Reform Party candidate for lieutenant governor, the campaign for Reform Party gubernatorial candidate Darcy Richardson announced Thursday.

Richardson’s campaign is filing paperwork Thursday to put Argenziano on the ballot as his running mate this fall.

Argenziano is a former Republican state senator and state representative who also served as chair of the Florida Public Service Commission under then-Gov. Charlie Crist. In 2011, she declared her disenchantment with the direction of the Republican Party and quit, initially trying to become a Democrat. But Argenziano failed to qualify for a Congressional run as a Democrat in 2012 and settled in as an independent.

Now she joined the Reform Party, the organization that dates back to Ross Perot‘s failed attempts to establish a major third party in the 1990s.

Richardson, a former Democrat, is the party’s nominee to run for governor of Florida this year.

“Given the state of our democracy, is there any question we need to make major reforms? I am certain Darcy is up to the task,” Argenziano said in a news release from Richardson’s campaign. “When Darcy asked me if I wouldn’t mind getting back in the trenches, given the state of America and Florida in particular, I said yes – of course!”

Argenziano added that she draws inspiration from the legacy of John McCain, according to the release.

“Nancy’s record speaks for itself, she has been a champion for Florida consumers and is going to be an incredible asset for our campaign,” Richardson said. “Cleaning up the corruption in Tallahassee is no small job. As our next lieutenant governor, Nancy Argenziano will be the special interests’ worst nightmare.”

Stephanie Murphy launches her first commercial of general election

Democratic U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy is launching the first television commercial of her re-election campaign Wednesday with an ad that is largely introductory while presenting her in moderate, aisle-crossing terms.

The freshman congresswoman from Winter Park easily brushed back a Democratic primary challenge Tuesday from progressive Chardo Richardson. She now is focusing on the Republican primary winner, state Rep. Mike Miller, also of Winter Park, for the Nov. 6 election for Florida’s 7th Congressional District.

In her 30-second spot, “Working”, Murphy briefly mentions her backgrounds as a former businesswoman, educator, and national security specialist, and adds that she also has, “run this place too,” as the video shows her at home with her husband and children.

“Through it all, no one cared if you were a Republican or Democrat,” she declares. “You just focused on getting the job done.”

Murphy then stresses her record in Congress, mentioning, without any specific detail, bipartisan efforts she pursued for laws for such causes as improving veterans care, making communities safer, and investing in Florida’s schools.

The Murphy campaign said it is also launching a similar 15-second digital ad.

Brightline gets state approval to sell construction bonds

All Aboard Florida received state approval Wednesday to sell $1.75 billion in federal private equity bonds to extend its private, high-speed, Brightline passenger train system from South Florida to Orlando.

Meeting in Orlando, the Florida Development Finance Corp. board voted unanimously to grant state permission for the financing after more than three hours of public testimony that included opponents warning that the bonds were illegal under federal rules and the project unwise; and proponents arguing that a high-speed passenger train is just what Florida needs, and the private investment is exactly what such bonds were supposed to support.

The sides were drawn mainly with opponents coming from the ride-over counties along Florida’s Atlantic Coast who’ve been upset about potential safety problems from a 110-mph train and the hidden costs that communities will have to bear.

Brightline trains already are running between Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach. The financing package would refinance the $600 million All Aboard Florida already has spent on that system with the lower interest-rate federal private equity bonds, and use the other $1.15 million to upgrade or build new railroad tracks to connect West Palm Beach to the Orlando International Airport.

“The bonds do not pose any risk to taxpayers, counties or the state. … However, these bonds will assist us in financing our system, will generate positive economic impact throughout the state of Florida,” Brightline President Patrick Goddard told the board.

All that’s left holding up the plan now is litigation.

Members of Congress, the Florida Legislature and county and city commissions mainly from the Treasure Coast urged the board to reject the request, while members of Congress, the Florida Legislature and county and city commissions from the Orlando area and elsewhere rooted for the project.

“The board here is about economic development for the entire state of Florida overall,” FDFC Board Chair Daniel Davis, president of the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce. “From our standpoint, in terms of economic development, I haven’t heard anyone that’s out of the economic development field here today say this is a bad idea. … And I see that as the goal of what we are here for as the board.”

That wasn’t an entirely accurate observation, as critics of the project, including representatives of the group Citizens Against Rail Expansion in Florida, raised concerns about the financial viability of All Aboard Florida, citing economic studies. But mostly their concerns focused on whether the Treasure Coast counties ought to be burdened with the high risks and expenses they predicted so that South Florida and Orlando could be connected by high-speed trains running through their communities.

Politics divided much of the hearing, but mostly along geographic, not party lines. Democratic state Rep. Amy Mercado and Democratic U.S. Reps. Darren Soto and Val Demings joined forces with fellow Central Florida lawmakers Republican state Reps. Jason Brodeur, Mike Miller, Rene Plasencia and Tom Goodson and others in support; while Republican U.S. Reps. Brian Mast and Bill Posey, Republican state Sen. Debbie Mayfield, and Republican state Reps. Erin Grall and MaryLynn Magar, among others, urged the board to reject All Aboard Florida’s financing plan.

CARE-Florida attorney Steve Ryan sought to convince the board that a Congressional hearing last spring, featuring Mast and Posey, concluded that the deal was not structured as federal law requires, and is illegal. His group and Martin and Indian River counties already are suing in federal court to get the proposal declared illegal.

Ryan charged that politics was fast-tracking the train, and he suggested that Gov. Rick Scott may be behind it, with a potential conflict of interest from his personal investment portfolio, outlined in his federal financial disclosure reports this summer.

“We now know that the governor is an investor in Fortress Investment Bank which owns the railroad, and of course he had to know that when he made the investment. So the whiff that people on the Treasure Coast have gotten is that the deal is done; that the powers that be have decided that this should be the way it should go,” Ryan said. “But from a legal standpoint, you should await the decision of the United States District Court before you decide this issue.”

Mayfield also implied that the project was being politically expedited, charging that the board was considering the request without having key information that she charged All Aboard Florida still is withholding.

“Frankly I’m a little surprised that despite being short on details, you scheduled this meeting for the day after a primary election, which I find to be troubling. It continues to show a pattern by the FDFC to hold these meetings with little or no input from the public,” Mayfield said. “It seems All Aboard Florida is setting the board’s agenda.”

In fact, there were scores of speakers from the public, many of them from Orlando, heralding the project.

“The potential of the cities of Tampa, Oralndo and Miami to be connected is a game-changer,” Mercado said, alluding the prospect that All Aboard Florida’s next phase might be to connect Orlando to Tampa.

“This not only creates 2,000 jobs and $2.4 billion in economic impact directly because of Brightline, but it creates billions of dollars of jobs and job opportunities in Miami, West Palm, Orlando and throughout our state,” Miller said.

Candidate withdrawal notices spark concerns over HD 47 primary results

Were some Republican voters put under the impression that one of the two Republicans running in Florida’s House District 47 primary Tuesday had dropped out?

And might that impression have confused some voters to the point that they didn’t vote, possibly changing the outcome of the election?

Mikaela Nix, who lost that primary to Stockton Reeves VI, is raising those concerns, and her campaign is pursuing the questions – short of any formal actions at this point – with the Orange County Supervisor of Elections Office.

In at least some precincts, all voters, Republican or Democrat, apparently were handed paper notices informing them, “A candidate in the race for the office of State Representative District 47 has withdrawn resulting in an unopposed candidate race. A vote cast in this race will not change the outcome as the remaining candidate is deemed to be ‘nominated’ for that race,” according to Nix’s campaign.

That initial written notice from the elections office did not say whether the candidate who dropped out was on the Democratic side, or the Republican side. In fact, the candidate who dropped out, Lou Forges, was a Democrat. That left Anna Eskamani as the unopposed Democratic nominee, though Forges’ name remained on Democratic primary ballots. Nix and Reeves still were in competition for the Republican nomination Tuesday.

Nix’s campaign consultant, John Dowless, reported the matter to Orange County Supervisor of Elections Bill Cowles.

On Wednesday Cowles confirmed, saying only, “We have heard from the consultant on the issue and we are going from there.”

Dowless also indicated the campaign has taken the concerns to a private election attorney.

According to a Facebook post from Nix, someone complained about the non-partisan candidate withdrawal notice on Tuesday. She writes that the elections office then began distributing a new, partisan notice clarifying that the drop-out was in the Democratic primary. But Nix wrote that was she understood that the new notices apparently did not get distributed into all precincts in the district.

There were 1,785 undervotes in the HD 47 contest, meaning that many Republicans took ballots but did not mark a vote in the HD 47 Republican primary. Undervotes are common, but the undervote counts in three other contested Orange County Florida House primaries ranged from 406 to 857, Dowless noted.

Nix lost by 1,309 votes.

“Not a sore loser or anything, but this official ‘election notice’ caused a lot of confusion at the polls. We had about 1,700 undervotes (meaning people skipped voting in my primary), which was double the number of undervotes to other House races,” Nix wrote on Facebook.

American Bridge launches first anti-Ron DeSantis ad of the fall

Calling Ron DeSantis a “yes man” for President Donald Trump, the Democratic super PAC American Bridge is launching the first attack ad of the Florida fall governor’s race, with an internet video mocking DeSantis’s praise for the president.

The 54-second video, “DeSantis: Trump’s Yes Man,” signals that while Democratic gubernatorial nominee Andrew Gillum may be vowing to not make Trump much of an issue this fall, outside Democratic groups will be more than happy to do so on Gillum’s behalf.

The video shows clips of DeSantis praising Trump, each followed by clips of Trump saying or doing something that mocks DeSantis’s statement. The issues run from Trump’s frequent golf outings to his relationship with Russia President Vladimir Putin.

American Bridge, closely associated with the Democratic Party and heavily funded by New York billionaire George Soros, contends in a news release that the ad is part of a campaign aimed at painting DeSantis as someone focused on appeasing Trump, “not helping Florida families.”

It begins running Wednesday on social media in Tampa, Orlando, and Miami and American Bridge said it is targeted to swing voters.

“Ron DeSantis has been a spineless yes-man for Donald Trump in Washington, and he’d continue to be one as Governor,” American Bridge spokesperson Zach Hudson stated in the news release. “Ron DeSantis voted for Trump’s tax giveaway to the wealthy, supported Trump’s plan to take away health care from millions of Floridians, and seems more interested in defending Trump from a Washington television studio than improving the lives of Florida families. This November, Florida voters will elect a Governor who will finally put Florida first, not a Trump yes-man like Ron DeSantis.”

New Republican ad depicts Bill Nelson as ‘Democrats’ puppet’

The New Republican PAC, set up last year by Republican Gov. Rick Scott, is going after Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson with a new television commercial depicting him as a puppet for the Democratic Party, and always supporting tax increases.

Starting Wednesday, the ad appears statewide on both television and the internet, according to a news release from New Republican, which Scott set up as a super PAC and then formally cut ties with so that he could run against Nelson in this year’s U.S. Senate race.

The 30-second commercial “Puppet” also picks up a theme begun in Scott’s campaign commercials, painting Nelson as “confused,” an unspoken implication that the 75-year-old Senator could be struggling with mental stability issues, an assertion that Nelson’s campaign has declared, “the worst kind of dirty politics.”

As the video animates Nelson held up by puppet strings, the narrator begins, “Why are Democrats spending almost $50 million to re-elect Bill Nelson? Simple. They control this confused puppet nearly 90 percent of the time.”

The text asserts Nelson’s voting record in supporting Democratic bills, and also votes on tax bills,  providing detail that Nelson’s campaign has repeatedly refuted as factually inaccurate.

But the commercial drives home the point that Democrats and Nelson support taxes.

“Job-killing income taxes. Taxes that hurt our seniors and the middle class. He voted for all of them,” the narrator declares. “Bill Nelson: Washington Democrats’ ol’ reliable puppet.”

Andrew Gillum says he won’t be taking bait on Donald Trump

In his first major, nationally-televised interview after his stunning victory Tuesday, Democratic gubernatorial nominee Andrew Gillum vowed to avoid chasing President Donald Trump bait in this fall’s campaign against Trump-backed Republican gubernatorial nominee Ron DeSantis.

Instead, in a Wednesday morning appearance on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, the Tallahassee mayor pressed the campaign theme that led him to upset the far-better-known and far-better-financed Democrats: appealing to disenchanted Floridians about issues in their lives.

“We believe we’ve got to talk to Floridians, and largely to Floridians who have chosen not to participate in the political process because they don’t believe in it anymore,” Gillum said. “Talking about Donald Trump, and reminding folks of how bad he is and how unqualified he is for the job that he holds, doesn’t do anything to assure that they’re able to make ends meet, it doesn’t do anything to assure they get access to health care, a good education system, and 21st-century transportation, and a clean and good environment.

“What we’re going to do, however, is to stay very, very super-concentrated on what are the experiences, the everyday experiences of people in this state, and what we as the next governor can do to make their lives better,” Gillum said.

Gillum’s appearance follows his surprise victory built on the same messages, after he barnstormed the state’s churches, union halls and other small gatherings seeking to inspire voters who don’t normally turn out, who don’t show up in polls of “likely primary voters,” to turn out this time. They did, turning almost all the polls on their ears: Gillum 34 percent; Gwen Graham, 31 percent; Philip Levine, 20 percent; Jeff Greene, 10 percent.

“We focus on the people. first. who have been let down so many times by our political system,” Gillum said. “And in order for a candidate like me to win, I’ve got to be able to turn out those voters who are highly skeptical of the political process, don’t feel like it works for them anymore, and are looking for a champion, a voice. They want to be seen. They want to be heard. They want to see themselves reflected.

“And I think that’s what we did in this primary race, and I think that’s going to be critical to winning in the general. And that applies to rural Florida, suburban Florida, urban Florida,” he continued. “If your kids are being high-stakes tested, if you’ve gotta work multiple jobs, if your number-one concern is going bankrupt over an illness that could impact you any day of the week, then you want a governor like me that’s going to focus on that.”

Gillum did briefly take Trump bait, talking about how he believes Florida Puerto Ricans who fled Hurricane Maria feel disrespected by him, and how Haitian refugees feel disrespected.

“Without a doubt, we know that Donald Trump looms in the shadows here,” Gillum said. But then he said he did not want to focus on him.

He also briefly mentioned DeSantis, and also insisted he would not be taking the bait from him either.

“Ron DeSantis can talk about race, and liberalism and whatever he wants to. I’m going to be clearly focused on the issues that confront everyday Floridians.

George Soros-backed Latino PAC: We spent $500K to help Darren Soto

The George Soros-backed Latino Victory Fund declared Tuesday evening that its independent campaign spending to support U.S. Rep. Darren Soto reached $500,000 entering today’s Democratic primary against his challenger former U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson in Florida’s 9th Congressional District.

That amount, which Latino Victory Fund described as “an investment,” bought more than 500 television spots that have aired in recent weeks on Spanish-language television stations and networks in Central Florida; commercials on Spanish radio stations; Spanish-language social media; several mailers targeting Hispanic audiences in CD 9; and other campaign advertising and grassroots organizing efforts on Soto’s behalf, the group spelled out in a news release issued Tuesday evening.

The Latino Victory Fund efforts might wind up being an unexpected weapon pushing Soto over the top if he defeats Grayson in Tuesday’s primary, which has been bruising, contentious, and by most accounts, close. The fund’s late-Tuesday announcement spelling out details of efforts on Soto’s behalf certainly suggests that.

Earlier Tuesday, Soto’s staff expressed fresh confidence in his chances to defeat Grayson, the district’s congressman for two terms before Soto, specifically because Soto’s campaign was seeing high turnouts of Hispanic voters, a constituency he identifies with and probably needs to win, but which has been notoriously unreliable in past elections.

When he first was elected to Congress in 2016, Soto became the first member of Congress from Florida who was of Puerto Rican heritage.

CD 9 has Central Florida’s greatest concentration of Hispanic residents, and Puerto Ricans are by far the biggest ethnic group, and growing fast in the past five years. Today the Puerto Rican communities centered in CD 9 are among the largest in the continental United States. Soto has made Puerto Rico and the Puerto Rican communities in Central Florida major focuses.

Latino Victory Fund pointed that out as important for its support for him.

“Darren Soto has fought for Florida families as an effective advocate in Congress. Now it’s our turn to fight for him,” Cristóbal J. Alex, Latino Victory Fund president, stated in the news release. “We were pleased to have managed one of the most sophisticated, multifaceted political programs to defend Darren Soto, the only Puerto Rican member of Congress from Florida, and to have built Latino political power along the way that will have a positive impact beyond today’s election.”

Soto is one of more than 30 Democrats whom Latino Victory Fund is backing in federal and state elections around the nation, including Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, who’s running for Congress in Florida’s 26th Congressional District; state Sen. Annette Taddeo, who’s seeking re-election in Senate District 40; state Rep. Janet Cruz, who’s running for the Florida Senate in Senate District 18; and Brendan Ramirez, who’s running in the Democratic primary Tuesday for House District 30.

The political action committee counts Soros, the New  York billionaire who finances Democrats, liberal causes, and political candidates of color across the country, as its biggest single benefactor for the current election cycle, thanks to the $500,000 he has donated to the group in the past year. But he’s not single-handedly carrying the committee, as he has done with other political committees he funded. Latino Victory Fund also lists numerous other five- and six-figure donations from other political committees, labor unions, law firms and individuals, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Beyond the direct political expenditures, Latino Victory Fund is reporting that it invested $50,000 in research into the rapidly changing demographics in Florida, and to engage newly arrived Puerto Ricans, including through polling and focus groups. The organization also hosted a high-profile fundraiser for Soto, offering him a national audience, and played a significant role in obtaining the endorsement, for Soto, from San Juan, Puerto Rico, Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz, according to the release.

Tyler Sirois, Thad Altman win House primaries in Brevard County

Tyler Sirois easily won the Republican primary for Florida House District 51, putting him in position to try to keep a fairly safe Republican seat while state Rep. Thad Altman had a little more trouble but prevailed against a Republican primary challenge for his seat next door.

Sirois defeated Cocoa Mayor Henry Parrish 62 percent to 38 percent Tuesday night.

That clears the way for Sirois to meet Democratic nominee Mike Blake, a teacher who is himself a former Cocoa Mayor, in the Nov. 6 election in a district that has a strong Republican voter base in northeast Brevard County. Incumbent Republican state Rep. Tom Goodson is leaving because of term limits.

Meanwhile, Altman defeated Matt Nye 56 percent to 44 percent to end the primary challenge in House District 52 in central Brevard County. Altman moves on to meet Democrat Seeta Durjan Begui in November.

Stockton Reeves grabs Republican nod in HD 47

In what became in the closing weeks a bruising Republican primary battle, Winter Park businessman Stockton Reeves VI defeated Mikaela Nix to win the chance to try to hold onto the Florida House District 47 seat for Republicans.

Reeves, largely representing more traditional business interests in Winter Park and Central Florida, defeated upstart Mikaela Nix, a lawyer, 55 percent to 45 percent Tuesday after the two had battled for weeks about each other’s police records, voting records and past histories in elections.

Reeves, a longtime fixture in Central Florida politics and a former political consultant who now runs a company that helps first responder agencies plan their facilities, gets a fresh start now heading toward the November election.

The seat represents north-central Orange County, including most of Winter Park, the downtown Orlando area, and surrounding neighborhoods. The seat is held by Republican state Rep. Mike Miller, who Tuesday won the Republican primary nomination to run for Congress in Florida’s 7th Congressional District.

But the district is trending Democrat.

And up next for Reeves is Anna Eskamani, a Democrat whose fundraising prowess has been almost unmatched among first-time candidates in Central Florida, and rivaled only by the national publicity she’s been able to gain, identified as a rising star in progressive politics in cover stories in magazines like Time and Atlantic.

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