Scott Powers – Page 7 – 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 Besides them, he’s into mystery and suspense books and movies, rock, blues, basketball, baseball, writing unpublished novels, and being amused.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

Alan Grayson accuses Darren Soto of ducking debates; Soto says he’ll do them

Saying that several potential debates are under discussion for the two Democrats running in Florida’s 9th Congressional District, former U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson is accusing incumbent U.S. Rep. Darren Soto of ducking them Tuesday.

According to the Grayson campaign, multiple media outlets — including Spectrum cable’s Channel 13 News13 and WDBO-FM News Talk Radio — have inquired, with a wide array of times and places, about getting the two Democrats face-to-face. Grayson’s campaign is dubbing Soto “No-Show Soto” for not accepting.

Soto’s campaign denies any ducking and said debates would happen.

“Congressman Soto will do debates and forums,” Harry Kruglik, Soto’s campaign spokesperson, said Tuesday in a written statement. “We’ll be finalizing and releasing the debate and forum schedule next week.”

Grayson held the CD 9 seat for two terms before running for the U.S. Senate in 2016, rather than seeking another term that year. Soto, a former state senator, won in 2016, first defeating Grayson’s wife Dena Grayson and Grayson’s former aide Susannah Randolph in a primary, before dispatching Republican Wayne Liebnitzky in the general election.

Liebnitzky is lined up this year to meet the winner of the August 28 Democratic primary between Soto and Alan Grayson.

CD 9 now covers Osceola County, much of south Orange County, and much of south Polk County.

“It comes as no surprise that ‘No-Show Soto’ is unable to defend his endorsement by the NRA, his two votes against impeachment, his vote to prosecute abortions as murder, or his ‘open-mindedness”’on eliminating Social Security,” Grayson said in a written statement issued by his campaign on Tuesday. “He’s an elephant in donkey’s clothing.”

Grayson has been attacking his Democratic successor, with such references to votes against the interests of progressive Democrats.

Soto has disputed Grayson’s spins on the bills in question, and contended that some date back a decade anyway. Soto was endorsed by the NRA in 2010 when he was in the Florida House of Representatives, and received an “A” grade from the organization, though he has since disavowed any support from the group while pushing for gun control as a congressman.

Grayson once got a “B” from the NRA, Soto’s campaign countered. Grayson also has disavowed the NRA calling it “ruthless” and noting it had run ads against him in a campaign.

Soto also is running up an impressive list of endorsements by progressive groups that had become wary of Grayson, including endorsements from the Human Rights Campaign, Planned Parenthood and Florida Young Democrats, groups that would take issue with the positions Grayson’s campaign cited for Soto.

On Tuesday Soto also rolled out another, the endorsement of the League of Conservation Voters Action Fund, which works to elect candidates who will support sound environmental policies.

Adam Putnam, Scott Sturgill, Ashley Moody, Matt Caldwell win Seminole GOP straw poll

Congressional candidate Scott Sturgill, gubernatorial candidate Adam Putnam, Attorney General candidate Ashley Moody, and Agriculture Commissioner candidate Matt Caldwell were the top choices Monday night in a straw poll conducted during the Seminole County Republican Party hobnob.

Sturgill is facing fellow Republicans state Rep. Mike Miller and Vennia Francois and easily defeated both of them among nearly 300 votes cast during the Seminole Republican Executive Committee’s gathering at the Altamonte Hilton in Altamonte Springs. Sturgill, of Sanford, picked up 170 votes, or 60 percent, while Miller of Winter Park attracted 105 votes and Francois of Orlando grabbed just eight votes.

They’re vying for an August 28 Republican primary to run in Florida’s 7th Congressional District, which includes all of Seminole County and a large swath of north and central Orange County, where Miller and Francois live. They hope for a shot at Democratic incumbent U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy of Winter Park.

Putnam also coasted to an easy victory over U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, whose 6th Congressional District abuts Seminole County. Putnam, Florida’s Agricultural Commissioner from Polk County, picked up 146 votes to DeSantis’ 77. Six other Republicans each picked up at least one vote, led by Bob White‘s 19.

For the Republicans’ U.S. Senate nomination, Gov. Rick Scott has only nominal competition, and he crushed it. Scott got 230 votes while Rocky De La Fuente got 38.

Moody, the former circuit court judge from Tampa, was in a much tighter competition for the Attorney General’s nomination among participating Seminole Republicans. She drew 119 votes while state Rep. Frank White of Pensacola picked up 106.

Caldwell had no such trouble convincing Seminole Republicans to pick him. The state representative from North Fort Myers got 103 votes, while state Sen. Denise Grimsley of Lake Placid drew just 49, and Mike McCalister of Plant City got 43. Former state Rep. Baxter Troutman finished a distant fourth with only 23 votes.

In local races, Joe Durso topped Amy Lockhart 172-102 in the race for the Seminole County Commission District 4 seat; Cade Resnick topped Alan Youngblood 155-86 for the Seminole County School Board District 1 seat; and Amy Pennock beat Bobby Agagnina 150-40 for the School Board District 4 seat, with several other candidates getting handfuls of votes.

Jay Inslee, Jim Clyburn, Bill Nelson headline Democrats’ event

The Florida Democratic Party has announced the speaker lineup for the 2018 Leadership Blue Gala to include Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, U.S. House Assistant Minority Leader Jim Clyburn, and Florida’s U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson.

“We are so excited to welcome Leader Clyburn, and Chair of the Democratic Governors Association Governor Jay Inslee to speak to Florida Democrats, as we look to elect a Democratic governor for the first time in 24 years,” Florida Democratic Party Chair Terrie Rizzo stated in a news release. “This weekend couldn’t come at a more important time. We are so excited for this opportunity for Democrats across the state to come together to strategize, train, and prepare to turn Florida blue in 2018.”

The sold-out event is being held Friday through Sunday in Hollywood and will include grassroots training, strategy meetings with Democratic caucuses and clubs, and Saturday night’s gala.

Their event is running almost simultaneously with the Republican Party of Florida’s Sunshine Summit, set for Orlando for Thursday through Saturday.

“Florida has long seen the harmful effects of failed Republican policies, and after eight years of Rick Scott, Florida is ready to elect a Democrat to lead their state,” Inslee stated in the Democrats’ news release. “Florida Democrats are fired up to take back the governorship and win up and down the ballot. I’m so honored to speak with Florida Democrats about working to win this critical gubernatorial race, re-electing Senator Bill Nelson, winning races up-and-down the ballot, and moving our nation forward.”

Democratic legislators and candidates from across the state will speak at the event, including the five gubernatorial candidates, Andrew Gillum, Gwen Graham, Jeff Greene, Chris King and Philip Levine, as well as special guests like Marjory Stoneman Douglas teacher Kat Posada.

Chris King pledges workforce development for space industry

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chris King allowed that a new wind of success and hope has breathed new life into Florida’s space industry on the Space Coast in the last few years of Republican Gov. Rick Scott‘s administration.

So what’s a Democrat to do?

Plenty, King said Monday after touring space industry sites and meeting with a group of Florida aerospace leaders organized by the Economic Development Commission of Florida’s Space Coast.

King expressed strong support for what he called “the privatization of space” underway. He also laid out his vision that sees the burgeoning space vessel manufacturing and launch industry as one in desperate need of more workforce development, mainly through strategies that can underserved populations of workers, providing diversity that the rocket companies want.

“One, two, and three I would argue is workforce development, workforce, and workforce,” King said. “What I believe I would [address] and which they elaborated more forcefully, is: the constraint to their growth, constraint to the growth of their companies, like Boeing, Northrop Grumman and Lockheed was workforce, a competent workforce. So largely that was the conversation.”

That observation is not too different from those made by both Republican Adam Putnam and Democratic rival Philip Levine after they had their meetings on space with the EDC of Florida’s Space Coast earlier this year. But King enunciated differences with the space development platforms each of them discussed after their meetings.

King disagreed with Levine’s vision of the area being Florida’s “Silicon Valley,” arguing that the needs and future likely were more focused on a vocational workforce, not one with engineering and higher degrees. He noted that Putnam has also stressed technical education, but said “I’m trying to provide more access to it.

“My job, I argued, was to build the talent pool,” King said. “We talked heavily about my plan for free community college because they argued heavily that the vast majority of their jobs are not the highest in engineers, but they are technical in training.”

The Space Coast’s space industry has still not recovered to the levels of prosperity and space jobs it enjoyed during the long run of the NASA space shuttle program, which shut down after 20 years of good times in 2011, shedding thousands of jobs. Since then, though, the EDC, the state’s space-industry development arm Space Florida, and others including NASA itself have been moving toward creating a space industry largely operated by and serving private industry, not the government.

There have been some big successes with big plants opened by the rocket company Blue Origin, the spacecraft company Boeing Space, and the satellite company OneWeb, and SpaceX’s large investments in infrastructure to support dozens of launches a year, as well as expansions by the old guard, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and United Launch Alliance, plus numerous small support companies. But the jobs so far have returned in the dozens and hundreds, after they vanished by the thousands in 2009-12.

For Florida to address workforce shortages and longer-term needs anticipated due to the rapidly growing and changing space industry, King said community colleges have to be the solution. Early in his campaign, he proposed free community colleges, saying Florida should consider the model set by Tennessee.

“I would argue we’re often thinking one or two years ahead and that Florida needs a plan that creates the workforce of five and ten years ahead. In a changing economy with automation and new technologies, my belief is the community college system is the conduit, the infrastructure by which we can keep pace,” King said. “And we scale it.”

And it can address broadening the opportunities, he added.

“I asked them [the space industry leaders] what does a Democratic governor bring to this that Gov. Scott didn’t? How really could I be different?” King said. “And they, I think, acknowledged that we can do so much better for underserved populations and that for Florida, a diverse state, there hasn’t really been a great support to bring the underserved, Title I students, lower-income students, community college students.

“And they saw that will ultimately hurt them and their companies if we don’t figure that out,” King said.

King also said he is more open than some of the other candidates toward offering economic incentives, particularly in attracting the managers, engineering and headquarters operations that the space businesses mostly keep in Washington state, California, Colorado, and Virginia.

“The candidate King, the governor King, is so much more excited about using incentives when I’m moving headquarters and I’m moving management jobs, moving a flagship, and so that was the delicate balance is what I was weaving, and I think they [the space industry leaders] understood,” King said.

Orlando ends use of facial recognition software

The city of Orlando announced Monday it has ended its pilot project for the police to use Amazon Rekognition facial recognition software but held the door open for possible further use even as the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida called it a potential invasion of residents’ privacy, free speech and due process rights and demanded the city end its use.

The city’s pilot with Amazon regarding the potential viability of their Rekognition technology ended last week, according to a written statement issued jointly by the city and the Orlando Police Department.

“Staff continues to discuss and evaluate whether to recommend continuation of the pilot at a further date. At this time that process in still ongoing and the contract with Amazon remains expired,” reads a joint statement. “The City of Orlando is always looking for new solutions to further our ability to keep our residents and visitors safe. Partnering with innovative companies to test new technology – while also ensuring we uphold privacy laws and in no way violate the rights of others – is critical to us as we work to further keep our community safe.”

That statement came after the ACLU of Florida sent a letter Monday to Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer and members of the Orlando City Commission, but referred to an action that took place before the letter was sent.

“People should be free to walk down the street without being watched by the government,” Nancy Abudu, legal director ACLU Florida declared in that letter.

“Face surveillance in Orlando threatens this freedom, particularly where government agencies deploy it without community debate, without local legislative oversight, and without rules to prevent abusive use,” she continued.

After the project was publicized in May revealing that Orlando police were using the Amazon software in a pilot project to see how it works, controversy erupted. Orlando Police Chief John Mina vowed it would never be used to track random people.

The ACLU conducted a six-month investigation and obtained records revealing that Amazon was working with law enforcement agencies on both U.S. coasts to push its face surveillance product, including the Orlando Police Department.

Abudu also argued that she and the ACLU are particularly concerned because the city launched the project without any public consideration.

“The City Council has allowed the use of this technology by the Orlando Police Department without inviting public debate, obtaining local legislative authorization, or adopting rules to prevent harm to Orlando community members,” said Abudu. “People should be able to safely live their lives without being watched and targeted by their government. We demand the City of Orlando to uphold that standard and end the use of a tool that threatens public safety, and that will endanger the rights of communities of color, protesters, and immigrants.”

Philip Levine

Philip Levine opening Orlando campaign office

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Philip Levine is opening an Orlando office, the third Democratic gubernatorial candidate to hang a shingle in the City Beautiful.

Levine’s campaign office formally opens Tuesday at 5 p.m. at 646 West Colonial Dr., a couple miles down Colonial from the East Colonial offices of his Democratic rivals Chris King and Gwen Graham, which are just about a block apart.

Republican gubernatorial candidate U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis also has his primary campaign office in Orlando.

Levine, the former Miami Beach mayor, already has regional offices in Kissimmee, Tampa, and St. Petersburg in the I-4 Corridor.

Also in the race are Democrats Andrew Gillum, who’s holding a town hall meeting in Orlando a couple hours after Levine’s office opens, and Jeff Greene; and Republican Adam Putnam.

Ten Central Florida house seats set for primaries August 28

Ten seats in Central Florida’s portion of the Florida House of Representatives will have primaries on August 28, with four Republican and six Democratic in-party battles set by Friday’s ballot qualifying.

The big primary battles among Republicans are preparing for two open seats now held by Republicans, and among the Democrats for four places where they see prospects to knock off incumbent Republicans.

Meanwhile, five other seats are lined up for November showdowns between one Republican and one Democrat.

Two other races already have been decided, as Democratic state Reps. John Cortes in House District 43 in north Osceola County and Kamia Brown in House District 45 in western Orange County drew no opponents and won. In House District 46, Democratic state Rep. Bruce Antone has all but won but still must go into the November election because a write-in candidate qualified to challenge.

The most intriguing primary matchup for Democrats emerges in House District 44, where five Democrats jumped in wanting to take on Republican state Rep. Bobby Olszewski, and then started dropping out. The third withdrawal, Eddy Dominguez, occurred this week, leaving former state Sen. Geraldine Thompson and activist Melanie Gold, both of Orlando, remaining for the Democrats’ primary.

Olszewski gets the HD 44 Democratic primary winner in November election to represent southwest Orange County.

A winnowing of potential candidates also occurred in House District 27, in western Volusia County, leaving Democrats Neil Heinrichsen and Carol Lawrence, both of Deltona, set to meet in a primary after another Democrat dropped out.

Republican state Rep. David Santiago of Deltona will meet the HD 27 Democrats’ winner in November.

In House District 29, lawyer and social worker Darryl Block of Lake Mary faces lawyer Tracey Kagan of Longwood in the Democratic primary, again after another Democrat dropped out.

Republican state Rep. Scott Plakon of Longwood will get the Democrats’ HD 29 primary winner in November for that north-central Seminole County district.

In House District 30, Clark Anderson of Winter Park, Maitland City Commissioner Joy Goff-Marcil, and newly-entered Brendan Ramirez of Orlando all have qualified for the Democratic primary.

The winner will face Republican state Rep. Bob Cortes in the November election for HD 30, covering south-central Seminole and north Orange.

House District 47 is the only seat that will see primaries for both parties, thanks to the late entry of Lou Forges on the Democrats’ side this week. Forges, of Apopka, meets Anna Eskamani of Orlando on the Democrat side, while Mikaela Nix of Orlando meets Stockton Reeves VI of Winter Park in the preliminaries. The seat will open up with the departure of Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Miller.

In House District 50, covering part of east Orange and north Brevard County, incumbent state Rep. Rene Plasencia of Orlando will meet George Collins of Orlando in the Republican primary.

The Republicans’ HD 50 primary winner meets Democrat Pam Dirschka of Titusville in November.

In House District 51, an open seat representing central Brevard, Republicans Tyler Sirois, and Cocoa Mayor Henry Parrish will meet in the Republican primary, with the eliminations of two other Republicans who also had filed for that seat. It’s opening up with the departure of Republican state Rep. Tom Goodson.

The HD 51 Republican primary winner faces Democrat Mike Blake of Cocoa in November.

In House District 52, incumbent state Rep. Thad Altman of Indialantic meets Matt Nye of Melbourne in the Republican primary for the central-Brevard district.

Democrat Seeta Durjan Begui gets the winner of that HD 52 Republican primary in November.

In House District 53, covering south Brevard, Democrats Phil Moore of West Melbourne and FiorD’Aliza A. Frias of Palm Bay meet in the Democratic primary.

The winner of the Democrats’ HD 53 primary will face incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. Randy Fine in the general election.

The head-to-head general elections set for the November 6 general election include:

— Republican David Smith of Winter Springs versus Democrat Lee Mangold of Casselberry, battling for the open seat for Florida’s House District 28, covering eastern Seminole. That’s an open seat, being vacated by Republican state Rep. Jason Brodeur.

— Republican state Rep. Jennifer Sullivan of Mount Dora will meet Debra Kaplan of Eustis battling for House District 31, covering northern Lake County and a piece of northwest Orange.

— Republican state Rep. Mike La Rosa of Saint Cloud will meet Democrat Barbara Cady of Kissimmee for House District 42 covering east and central Osceola.

— Democratic state Rep. Amy Mercado of Orlando will face Republican Scotland Calhoun of Orlando for House District 48, including parts of south and east Orange.

— Democratic state Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith of Orlando will face Republican Ben Griffin for House District 49, covering parts of north and east Orange.

Dennis Baxley, Dorothy Hukill and Kelli Stargel avoid primaries in Central Florida state Senate runs

Republican state Sens. Dennis Baxley, Dorothy Hukill, and Kelli Stargel all managed to avoid Republican primaries as they seek re-elections in their Central Florida districts this fall.

With qualifying for the ballot closed at noon and nearly all the elections officially updated to final status, Baxley of Ocala, whose Senate District 12 covers Lake County and a broad swath of West Central Florida, will be in a showdown with Democrat Gary McKechnie of Mount Dora in November. Both qualified for the ballot, as did a write-in candidate.

In Senate District 14, covering much of the Space Coast, Hukill of Port Orange is in, as is Democratic challenger Mel Martin of Cocoa. Another Democrat, Brandon Maggard, appears to have dropped out as he has not filed any paperwork in months. But the Florida Division of Elections was slow Friday updating some races and still listed Maggard as “active” after 5 p.m. Friday, even though qualifying closed at noon Friday.

In District 22, covering Polk County and part of Lake County, Stargel, of Lakeland will get the winner of a Democratic primary. Former Circuit Judge Bob Doyel of Winter Haven and former state Rep. Ricardo Rangel of Auburndale will be battling in the August 28 Democratic primary for that honor.

Orlando Democratic guberatorial debate canceled

The Orange County Democratic Party has canceled efforts to have a gubernatorial debate in Orlando next Tuesday because Philip Levine and Gwen Graham would not agree to participate.

Orange County Democratic Chair Wes Hodge expressed regret over the last-week cancellation he announced Friday and that voters in Orange County “will not have the opportunity to hear from the candidates seeking to be their governor in one open, public forum.”

Hodge said Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum and Winter Park entrepreneur Chris King had committed weeks ago, but not former U.S. Rep. Graham nor former Miami Beach Mayor Levine. The fifth candidate, newly-entered Palm Beach businessman Jeff Greene, also had recently committed, his campaign said.

“Regrettably the Orange County Democratic Party has been forced to cancel the planned Democratic gubernatorial debate scheduled for next Tuesday, June 26th, due to an inability to secure all of the candidates for the event,” Hodge said in a statement. “We have been working hard over the past six weeks to make this event a success, and I would like to thank all of our volunteers who worked to make this happen. It is unfortunate that the voters of Orange County will not have an opportunity to hear from the candidates seeking to be their Governor directly in one open, public forum.”

The debate was being planned for Barnett Park on Orlando’s west side, for a 7 p.m. forum.

“The Democratic Executive Committee will be working to find another way to connect our voters directly with our five candidates seeking the governor’s office, and hope to announce another event in the near future,” Hodge added.

Gillum and King blasted their rivals for not being willing to join them. The first four Democratic gubernatorial candidates have debated three times, and Gillum and King have done well, getting strong reviews for their performances. But now Levine and Graham are showing signs of pulling ahead in polls heading toward the August 28 primary.

Gillum said he’s going to come anyway.

“It’s critical that Orange County voters hear about our priorities for this state, and since my opponents refuse to join me for a debate, I’m looking forward to hosting a town hall in its place on Tuesday night,” Gillum said in a statement. “Floridians need to know where we stand, and who we stand for.”

King said it was too bad that neither Orlando nor Jacksonville are getting to see the Democrats go head-to-head.

“Politics and politicians, as usual, have failed progressive values and ordinary Floridians for too long and Democrats deserve to judge for themselves whether the other candidates for governor offer a fresh vision and a break from the past. That’s why I’m disappointed that some candidates in this race have refused invitations to debate in Orlando and Jacksonville,” King said in a statement. “We must compete in every corner of our state and take no one for granted, and that means making sure Spanish language, African American, Caribbean and other diverse media outlets are included as well.”

Levine’s campaign responded with a reminder that the Democrats initially had agreed to five debates, even though that included none in Orlando or Jacksonville.

“Our campaign worked successfully with the Florida Democratic Party on a number of agreed-upon debates and forums. After weeks of negotiations, all campaigns agreed to five debates, including a statewide televised debate that will air in Orange County,” Christian Ulvert, senior advisor to the campaign, said in a statement. “The Mayor is excited and proud to continue to share his vision for Florida and his progressive record of accomplishments directly with voters in the upcoming three debates and town halls.”

Orange County mayoral race becomes 3-man contest it always was

The non-partisan Orange County mayoral contest was already a slugfest between Jerry Demings, Rob Panepinto and Pete Clarke.

With three minor candidates dropping out (or failing to qualify for the ballot), the race for Orange County mayor Friday is now the same three-person contest it mostly has been, pitting Orange County Sheriff Demings against businessman Panepinto and Orange County Commissioner Clarke.

Those three qualified Friday for the August 28 election ballot, while Robert Melanson withdrew and Jose Colom and David Quiros failed to qualify as the window closed at noon.

The non-partisan contest between the three is to succeed outgoing Mayor Teresa Jacobs, who is term-limited and running for Orange County School Board.

If no one gets at least 50 percent of the vote in August, the top two will move on to a Nov. 6 runoff.

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