Scott Powers, Author at Florida Politics - Page 7 of 207

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 Besides them, he’s into mystery and suspense books and movies, rock, blues, basketball, baseball, writing unpublished novels, and being amused.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

Gwen Graham calls on Rick Scott to address reports of Russian interference

With fresh media reports that Russians hacked into and potentially compromised election systems in Florida and six other states in 2016, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gwen Graham called Wednesday for Gov. Rick Scott to take immediate action to protect Florida’s election infrastructure.

“Dangerous Russian interference in the 2016 election is not only confirmed, but it happened right here in Florida. President [Donald] Trump has deliberately and outrageously refused to address these cyber threats and protect our American democracy, so our state must act — Governor Scott must act,” Graham said in a news release from her campaign.

“This is not a partisan issue. Faith in our government depends on confidence that our elections are not influenced by any foreign power.”

In addition to citing the NBC reports from Tuesday, Graham referred to testimony in the past month by U.S. Cyber Command Chief Admiral Mike Rogers and FBI Director Christopher Wray, stating that President Trump has not directed them to defend our country from future Russian cyber attacks on our voting systems.

The Florida Department of State said late Wednesday it was notified by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security that Florida was unsuccessfully targeted by hackers last year. This attempt was not in any way successful and Florida’s online elections databases and voting systems remained secure, the department noted.

Graham contended it must be addressed.

“Governor Rick Scott cannot sit idly by and continue passing the buck to Trump. We can not rely on this president to protect America and our next election from foreign interference,” Graham said. “Scott must immediately direct the Florida Department of State to protect our vote in 2018 to prevent the Russians from tampering with our state elections.”

Scott’s office and the Florida Department of State responded late Wednesday saying they already were addressing the concerns, dating from an earlier report from September about possible Russian interference.

Additionally, Scott’s recomended 2018-2019 budget includes nearly $2.5 million and five positions to enhance cyber security at the Department of State’s Division of Elections, the governor’s office noted.

Graham, a former member of Congress from Tallahassee, faces former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum and Winter Park businessman Chris King in the Aug. 28 Democratic primary for Governor. The leading Republicans are U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis and Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.

Chris King decries loopholes in gun laws, urges special session

Declaring that Florida lawmakers are failing to respond to post-Parkland calls to address guns, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chris King said Wednesday that the people of Florida deserve a special session.

King, a Winter Park businessman, advocated for a ban on military-style assault weapons and comprehensive background checks on gun purchases, and contended that Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students and others responding to the Feb. 15 massacre deserve action on such measures, rather than the “too little, too late” they’re being offered.

He was discussing the scene Monday when a chaotic and emotional two-hour debate at the Senate Rules Committee resulted in dozens of gun control advocates leaving disappointed after senators voted down a ban on assault weapons.

Republicans are pursuing instead packages that would address increasing the purchase age for guns to 21, expanding background checks to all weapons, and, in Gov. Rick Scott‘s proposal, spending up to $500 million on programs ranging from mental health services to tightening school security. But King cited a report by the Tampa Bay Times that suggests even those measures leave loopholes open.

“If our lawmakers fail to pass comprehensive gun safety legislation, they will owe the Stoneman Douglas students and people of Florida a special session to enact real solutions to ban assault weapons and close the loopholes in our gun laws,” King said in a news release issued Wednesday. “The proposals offered by Gov.  Scott and Florida Republicans are too little, too late – their plans have gaping loopholes that would still allow dangerous people to get their hands on deadly weapons.

“Otherwise,” he added, “Florida Republicans will prove themselves as the party of ‘proud NRA sell-outs’ once and for all.”

King faces Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine and former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham for the Aug. 28 Democratic primary in the governor’s contest. The leading Republicans are Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis.

Graham released a similar statement last week, urging a special session.

Venezuelan exile leaders seeking humanitarian intervention

Venezuelan exile leaders meeting in Orlando Tuesday declared an international humanitarian intervention must occur in Venezuela soon or, they warned, their country would be “lost forever” to “gangsters” starving the people while working with drug cartels, Hezbollah, Iran, China, and Russia.

“People are starving,” said Carlos Molina Tamayo, a former Venezuelan Navy admiral in exile in Spain from the Venezuelan governments for much of the past 19 years of dictators Hugo Chávez and Nicolás Maduro. “Socialism is not working in Venezuela.”

He, former Venezuelan Army general Julio Rodriguez, now of Miami, and Venezuelan political opposition leader Jean Pierre Chovet, now of West Palm Beach, gathered in Orlando Tuesday to do more than just denounce socialism in their home country. The trio said they are part of a network of leaders in exile pushing internationally now to build support for international humanitarian intervention, even if that intervention has to be armed, which they said they believe it will have to be.

“We are a small group. We are spreading the word for the rescue of Venezuelan democracy, we call Venezuela libre, we are bonding, making synergy with all the groups of Venezuelans in the world, in order to combine to sensitize the Democratic countries in the world to help us to return Venezuelan democracy,” Molina Tamayo said.

They came to Orlando because the Central Florida region is home to an estimated 140,000 Venezuelan exiles and Venezuelan-Americans, said local Venezuelan activist and Orlando radio talk show host William Diaz.

Molina Tamayo and Rodriguez charged that much of the economy propping up Maduro’s government now is drug money laundered through government-owned oil companies, and that the regime has become totally corrupt. They said it has welcomed in the Palestinian Hezbollah, as well as elements from Iran and drug cartels from Colombia, all of whom Molina Tamayo declared are “highjacking” the country. China and Russia are negotiating for military bases there as well, he said.

So Molina Tamayo and Chovet said there is a window of about six months before they feared a humanitarian intervention would no longer be possible. Chovet said they were part of a group of exile leaders, including an exiled Venezuelan supreme court, with desire to return with nine different action plans to restore democracy and stabilize the economy.

They urged Americans to not put any faith in Maduro’s announced elections, saying there is no true opposition to his regime, because anyone opposing what Maduro is doing is either in jail or in exile.

“We don’t believe in negotiations. We don’t believe in dialogue with them. We don’t believe in any election he can propose,” Chovet said. “The new alternative is humanitarian help, assistance, because we need a lot of help in many ways. Health. Food. Investments. And the protection of our people.”

Molina Tamayo predicted a humanitarian intervention would lead to a collapse of the Maduro regime.

They praised Florida Gov. Rick Scott‘s executive order banning any business doing business with the state of Florida from also doing business with Venezuelan companies, and said that sanction and other economic sanctions from the United States, Europe, other Latin American countries, and elsewhere were having affect.

But, “The sanctions haven been doing a great job but they are not enough,” Molina Tamayo said.

Anna Eskamani draws backing from National Iranian American Council

Democratic House District 47 candidate Anna Eskamani, an Orlando native born of Iranian immigrants, has garnered the national endorsement of the National Iranian American Council Action, her campaign announced Tuesday.

Eskamani is just the second candidate the organization has endorsed this cycle, after a congressional candidate in California. NAIC Action is a political action organization related to the National Iranian American Council, and committed to “advancing peace and championing the priorities of the Iranian-American community” and to “maximize the political influence of Iranian Americans and the pro-peace community.”

Eskamani is seeking election to what is expected to be an open seat in HD 47, with Republican incumbent state Rep. Mike Miller running for Congress. Two Republicans are running for the seat, Stockton Reeves VI of Winter Park and Mikeala Nix of Orlando.

“We’re excited to announce our endorsement of Anna Eskamani, who is running for the Florida House in District 47,” Jamal Abadi, executive director of NIAC Action, stated in an email blast. “Her connections to the Iranian-American community, and the issues that affect us, run deep – she has organized activists locally against [President Donald] Trump’s Muslim ban and would become the first Iranian American ever elected to the Florida legislature!”

Eskamani, whose mother was born in Tehran and father in Tabriz, before they each immigrated to the United States and eventually met in Orlando, added the following statement in the news release:

“We are a nation of immigrants, and my story is not unlike that of many other fellow Americans, or of those who aspire to become American citizens one day. My personal identity and experiences compel me to be a passionate advocate for all people, and to push back against political agendas that marginalize and attack people because of how they look, talk, or who they worship. I will always stand up to bigotry and hate, and thank NIAC Action for bringing a national spotlight to our campaign and movement.”

Mike Fernandez leads letter signed by scores of business leaders opposing sanctuary cities bill

Miami health care magnate and longtime Republican supporter Miguel “Mike” Fernandez and more than 100 other business leaders and other prominent figures have signed and published online a letter declaring the “sanctuary cities ban” effort in the Florida Legislature to be a “misguided and potentially dangerous path.”

The letter is addressed to Gov. Rick Scott, House Speaker Richard Corcoran, and Senate President Joe Negron, declaring opposition to House Bill 9,  and its counterpart Senate Bill 308, but its appearance is mainly a rebuttal of Corcoran, the principal power, money, and face behind the effort to ban sanctuary cities in Florida.

With Corcoran’s backing of it as a top priority, HB 9 was approved along party lines in the House in early January. The Senate version, though, is close to dead this Session.

The business leaders declared in their letter, published Tuesday morning on the Immigration Partners and Coalition (IMPAC) Fund home page, that the legislation is anti-immigration, could cripple portions of the state’s economy, could force schools and universities to act as immigration enforcers, and would “erode public trust in our communities between immigrants and law enforcement authorities by turning Florida into a ‘show me your papers’ state.”

They compared it to Arizona’s experience, saying that state lost $141 million in direct tours spending and suffered a 2 percent annual reduction in the state’s gross domestic product after passing similar legislation 10 years ago.

Among the signers of the Florida letter are Fernandez, chairman, MBF Healthcare Partners; Steve Ross, chairman and chief executive officer of Related Companies and principal owner of the Miami Dolphins; Narendra Kini, president of Miami Children’s Hospital; Bob Dickinson, retired chief executive officer of Carnival Cruise Lines; and more than 110 others.

“Now is not the time to push anti-immigrant policies that will disrupt our workforce, hurt job growth, and tear innocent families apart,” Aida Levitan, chairwoman of US Century Bank, stated. “Now is the time to focus on policies that will protect our state’s children to ensure the horror they experienced last week is never repeated.”

Corcoran has spent, through his Watchdog PAC political committee, more than a half-million dollars on television commercials in Florida demonizing sanctuary cities, pushing for passage of the legislation, and, presumably, expanding his own political profile as a probable Republican gubernatorial candidate who is making sanctuary cities opposition a top campaign issue.

Just Tuesday, Corcoran lashed out at Florida senators, declaring that they are “not real conservatives” for failing to move forward with SB 308.

With less than two weeks remaining in the Legislative Session, SB 308 has not gotten through committees, and the Senate sponsor indicated he does not expect it to pass.

Corcoran, a Land O’ Lakes Republican, appeared Tuesday on Laura Ingraham’s nationally syndicated talk-radio show to discuss legislative efforts in response to the Feb. 14 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. Corcoran cited the stalled “sanctuary cities” measure as an example of difficulties he’s faced in trying to eliminate “gun-free” zones in places like schools.

In the past couple of decades, Fernandez has donated or arranged for millions of dollars of contributions to Republican candidates, the party, and causes. In the past year or two, however, he has broken with the party on several points, including its support of President Donald Trump, the current assault weapons fight, and now the sanctuary cities debate. He has contributed to Democrats.

The letter declares that “Florida’s business leaders and job creators depend on the entrepreneurship, optimism, and innovative spirit of our hardworking immigrants. Immigrants are significant contributors to the Florida economy. They currently represent over 25 percent of our workforce and employ over 500,000 fellow Floridians,” and notes that immigrant labor is particularly important for reconstruction efforts in the wake of Hurricane Irma.

“Anti-immigrant legislation in any form is a threat to Florida’s reputation, our public safety, our ability to welcome tourists and recruit new workers, and ultimately, our economy,” the letter declares. “We encourage you to bring all stakeholders to the table to find common ground and address our state’s challenges in a way that promotes pro-business, pro-immigrant, and pro-public safety policies.”


Some material from the News Service of Florida was used in this post

‘Brazil is back!’ declares Orlando airport director

In an economic wave sure to splash throughout the tourism economies of Orlando and Florida, projections and airline activity indicate that a rebounding Brazilian economy is expected to show up big at Orlando International Airport this year, officials said Tuesday.

“Brazil is back! And this resurgence from our third largest international market brings a welcomed boost to the local economy,” Phil Brown, CEO of the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority, said in a news release Tuesday.

Brown’s declaration comes after news of economic projections showing a strong rebound in Brazil this year from an economic recession, along with news of airline seat statistics indicating that Brazilian visitation is on track to shatter record numbers.

Brazil long has been the third biggest market for international tourists coming to Orlando, behind Great Britain and Canada. But Brazilians’ visitation dropped sharply in recent years because of that country’s economic woes. And the loss of many Brazilian tourists has been a weight on the rising Orlando and Florida tourism industry.

According to the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority, scheduled airline seats from Brazil to Orlando this year now number 486,000. That’s more than 30 percent above the record of 361,000 set in 2016. GOAA also cited a Reuters report forecasting that Brazil’s GDP would increase 2.3 percent in 2018, compared with 0.7 percent in 2017, citing growth in local demand, continuing improvement in household spending and increases in investments and capital expenditure.

Part of the anticipated visitation increase also is supported by, an increase in the numbers of airlines flying between Orlando and Brazil, and an increase in the number of Brazilian cities to which they will connect. GOL Airlines is coming to Orlando this year, connecting with the new Brazilian destinations of the capital Brasilia and the historic north coast city of Fortaleza. LATAM airlines also is adding service to Fortaleza this year. LATAM, Azul, and Delta already provide service between Orlando and Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo, Recife, and Belo Horizonte.

“With the recent additional seats from Brazil, the projected economic impact for 2018 is nearly $1 billion, up 111% from 2013,” Brown added.

Democrat Joy Goff-Marcil enters HD 30 race

Democrat Joy Goff-Marcil, a lawyer who is on the Maitland City Council and serves as vice mayor, has entered the contest to run for Florida House District 30.

Goff-Marcil is the second Democrat in the race, joining Clark Anderson of Winter Park, seeking to take on Republican state Rep. Bob Cortes of Altamonte Springs this year.

A lawyer working primarily in probate law, she’s been a Maitland resident since childhood. She was first elected to the Maitland City Council in 2013, and re-elected in 2016 without opposition. Prior to running for office, she’d been a longtime advocate for school and health care issues in the area. She served as regional coordinator for the Florida Department of Health’s “Communities Putting Prevention to Work” program.

Goff-Marcil, 49, attended Maitland Middle School, graduated from Winter Park High School, earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from Florida State University, and a law degree from Stetson University, according to her Maitland City Council biography. She and her husband Rich Marcil have three children.

She filed her candidacy papers on Feb. 16.

District 30 covers south-central Seminole County and north-central Orange County.

Orange County voters might not see a Democrat for Sheriff on 2018 ballot

Orange County voters might not have the choice to vote for a Democrat for the position of sheriff this year even though it is a partisan office and Democrats dominate the county’s voter rolls.

There are two registered Democrats, Orlando Police Chief John Mina and retired Florida Highway Patrol Maj. Jose “Joe” Lopez, running for sheriff in Orange County. But neither will appear on November’s ballot as a Democrat. Mina already is running as an independent, and Lopez would have to change to independent status to stay in the race this year.

They both used to be Republicans. And they both switched and joined the Democratic Party last year — too late to be able to qualify to run this year as Democrats.

Officially, the office doesn’t come up again for re-election until 2020, so both Mina and Lopez would be OK if that’s when the election took place. Demings, who was just re-elected in 2016, is running for Orange County mayor this year. He is expected to stay in that race [for which he’s the early favorite] and therefore submit his resignation by June 8, to take effect in December. That would open up his sheriff’s office to special elections this year for a two-year term, with partisan primaries set for August 28 and a general election for Nov. 6.

Florida law says a candidate has to wait 365 days to run as a partisan after joining a party.

Mina switched his party affiliation on Sept. 1, 2017, becoming a Democrat four days too late to be able to run in the 2018 Democratic primary. Two weeks ago, he filed to run for sheriff as an independent candidate.

Lopez switched his party affiliation on Dec. 19, 2017, becoming a Democrat months too late to run under the party. Nonetheless, on Feb. 1 he filed to run for sheriff as a Democrat. He would have to switch to independent status by the June qualifying period to be on a ballot this year, Orange County Supervisor of Elections Bill Cowles said.

Lopez said on Monday he was considering an independent run. But he also held out the prospect that Demings might change his mind. So, Lopez said he is considering not officially revising his status unless and until he officially has to, and that would not be until Demings submits his resignation.

That’s not a problem for the third candidate in the contest. Retired Orange County Sheriff’s Capt. Thomas Stroup has been a Republican at least since 1994, which is how far back the county’s electronic records go.

If any other Republicans enter the race, there would be an August 28 primary, and Stroup would be in it. If not, or if he wins such a primary, he can appear on the Nov. 6 ballot as a Republican.

Meanwhile, if any other Democrats decide to get into the race, they could grab the Democrats’ track onto a November ballot that also could feature Republican Stroup and independents Mina and Lopez.

Normally, Democrats can expect a huge advantage in Orange County. Party members currently hold all county constitutional offices: sheriff, supervisor of elections, clerk of courts, tax collector, comptroller and property appraiser. Forty-two percent of the county’s voters are registered as Democrats, and 27 percent as Republicans. Independent voters make up 31 percent of the Orange County electorate.

All nominations clear Senate Ethics and Elections Committee

With little opposition raised — except for Democrats’ votes against three recent appointments to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission — the Senate Ethics and Elections Committee recommended Monday that the chamber back all 89 appointments and nominations awaiting confirmation.

The committee’s favorable recommendations include Florida Secretary of Environmental Protection Noah Valenstein, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Executive Director Phillip Eric Sutton, Secretary of the Department of the Florida Lottery Jim Poppell, Florida Secretary of Management Services Erin Marie-Geraghty Rock, and Florida Secretary of Transportation Michael Dew.

Of them, Valenstein received a bit of grilling from Democratic Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez of Miami on Everglades restoration and from Democratic Sen. Victor Torres on fracking; and Dew was grilled by Torres and Rodriguez on local projects, and particularly hard by Republican Sen. Tom Lee on longterm funding plans, given concerns about trends in transportation. But both earned unanimous recommendations of approval, as did almost every nomination before the committee Monday.

For a while, Lee laid into Dew, all but accusing the transportation head of not convincing him that the department was doing enough to prepare for rising popularity of electric cars, the ensuing decline of gasoline taxes, and the consequential potential for major revenue and budgetary crunches for Florida’s transportation systems.

As Lee questioned him on the technology and consumer trends toward less gasoline, and the state’s population and transportation trends, Dew kept assuring that those were items that his staff kept track of, but that he could not offer the committee any specifics.

Lee pressed for the department’s projections, and Dew responded, “I’ll have to get back to you on that.” Lee pressed for whether and when gas tax revenue might fall below increasing Florida needs, and Dew responded, “I’d have to plot that out.

Finally, Lee seemed to lose all patience when Dew appeared to hedge on even accepting what Lee was proposing, that trend lines meant there is or will be an inevitable disparity between the state’s tax revenue and transportation expenses.

“So you don’t know there is a dramatic disparity? You’re the secretary of the Department of Transportation, and you you’re telling don’t know that there has been a disparity in the amount of gas tax raised per capita over the past 20 years in this state?” Lee challenged.

“Senator, I know that trend is there, I just don’t want to quote you a figure incorrectly,” Dew offered.

“So, again, what is it you recommend we do?” Lee demanded.

‘”My recommendation is that we continue to watch the problem,” Dew responded. “It’s something we have to watch for right now, but it is not going to be a ‘tomorrow’ problem.”

With that, Dew got an 8-0 vote recommending his confirmation.

The only nominees who did not get unanimous support were three recent appointees to FWC, who previously had been flagged for criticism in a report in the Tampa Bay Times because none of them appeared to have any previous background in wildlife conservation.

The panel’s three Democrats, Torres, Rodriguez, and Oscar Braynon of Miami Gardens all voted against supporting the appointments of Gary Lester, vice president of community relations at The Villages; Gary Nicklaus, 48, son of golfing great Jack Nicklaus; and Sonya Rood, 53, wife of developer and former Bahamas ambassador John Rood, who is also former chief financial officer of the Republican Party of Florida. They each got 5-3 approvals from the committee.

New bills propose gun controls, school law enforcement frameworks, Sunshine exemptions

A set of three new proposed bills in the Florida House announced Monday seek to make significant changes in the state’s gun laws.

Among the proposals: Raise the minimum age for buying a gun in Florida to 21, expand the three-day waiting period to cover the purchase of all firearms, ban “bump stocks,” and create new frameworks of law enforcement, educational, social, and mental health programs to address school safety.

The bills also would create a “restraining order” provision in Florida law that would allow law enforcement officers to seize firearms from individuals who have been deemed to have made “credible threat of violence against another person.”

The proposals also would ban anyone committed for mental health treatment from possessing firearms.

The bills also rewrite many of the requirements for how law enforcement agencies and schools share and track information and respond, and create wide-ranging exemptions to Sunshine Laws, keeping secret the identities of school marshals, school shooting victims, and activities of the special commission investigating the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School mass murder.

The bills, Proposed Committee Bills 18-06, 18-07, and 18-08, were filed with the Florida House Appropriations Committee, as the legislative framework to the school safety reform packages announced last Friday by state House Speaker Richard Corcoran. On Friday he and Senate President Joe Negron, Gov. Rick Scott, and others announced the packages in response to the Feb. 15 crazed-gunman mass shooting at Douglas High that killed 17 people and upended Florida.

PCB APC 18-06 is the omnibus bill, running 67 pages. It addresses gun control measures, and creates frameworks for schools and law enforcement, including new units within the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the Florida Department of Education, including a Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Commission, and provides for student crime watch programs and other societal responses to potential threats to school safety.

PCB APC 18-07 and PCB APC 18-08 deal with creating Sunshine Law exemptions for meetings of the Douglas High commission, and identities of school marshals, reporting parties in school safety matters, or victims in any acts of mass violence.

Under PCB APC 18-06, bump stocks, used to turn assault weapons into rapid-fire guns, would be banned. The minimum age for anyone to buy a firearm in Florida would be raised to 21. The state’s three-day waiting period for the purchase of handguns would be expanded to include all firearms.

Law enforcement would be given the power to temporarily seize firearms from people deemed to have threatened others, with the opportunity to extend that seizure if a judge can be convinced to issue a restraining order.

Anyone adjudicated as being mentally defective or court-ordered into hospital treatment for mental illness would be banned from possessing firearms.

The bill also would make a number of changes in the responsibilities of law enforcement agencies and schools. The position of school marshals would be created for someone given extensive training and then authorized to act “to the extent necessary to prevent or abate an active assailant incident on school premises.”

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