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Scott Powers

Rick Scott plans whirlwind tour to press support for VISIT Florida, Enterprise Florida, Hoover Dike

Three days from the prospect of losing funding for his two favorite economic development organizations and his big environmental project, Gov. Rick Scott plans to spend those three days touring Florida to get people to pressure for their salvation.

Scott announced Tuesday his “Fighting for Florida’s Future” campaign, taking him on a whirlwind tour of home cities of lawmakers who might feel pressure to support full funding for Enterprise Florida and VISIT Florida.

And now, with the Legislature hammering out the final details of a budget that dismisses some of Scott’s priorities, the governor is adding a third priority to his tour’s message: $200 million to help fix the Herbert Hoover Dike at Lake Okeechobee.

“There are still a few days left of the Regular Session which means that there is still time for the politicians to do the right thing and fund priorities to protect our environment and keep our economy growing,” Scott stated in a news release issued by his office.

On Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, Scott plans stops in Tampa, Orlando, Palm Beach, Miami, Pensacola, Panama City, Naples, Sarasota, Jacksonville, and the Space Coast.

Exact times, dates and locations have not yet been announced.

In purpose the new tour is not unlike the Florida tour the governor has taken over the past two months as he’s tried to counter the Legislature’s efforts to eliminate Enterprise Florida and significantly cut back VISIT Florida, which key leaders such as Speaker Richard Corcoran have targeted as bloated, out of control and not effective enough after years of limited oversight.

Except for this time, it’s a last-ditch dash. And Scott added Herbert Hoover Dam repair funding.

“The 60 day legislative session is wrapping up this week, and I have been fighting the politicians in Tallahassee for three things to help Florida families — funding for tourism marketing so we can continue to bring record visitors to Florida; funding for proven economic development programs so we can continue to diversify our economy and bring more jobs to Florida; and $200 million to help fix the Dike at Lake Okeechobee so we can protect our environment for future generations,” Scott stated in the release.

“All three of these issues are tied to jobs, but unfortunately the politicians in Tallahassee still haven’t committed to funding these important priorities.”

EMILY’s List to back Gwen Graham in Governor’s race

No sooner has Democrat Gwen Graham entered the governor’s race than she picked up the endorsement of the national women’s candidates support group EMILY’s List.

Graham had also earned the EMILY’s List backing when she ran for Congress in 2014.

“Gwen Graham doesn’t need to tell Floridians that she’s a champion for women and families in her state — her record proves that beyond a doubt,” EMILY’s List President Stephanie Schriock stated in a news release. “While serving in one of the most divisive Congresses in memory, Gwen fought to ensure Florida’s veterans received the health care they deserved, to end gender discrimination in pay, and for affordable college education for Floridians and all Americans.”

Graham’s entry into the race Tuesday morning presents Florida voters with three major early Democratic candidates, including her, Winter Park businessman Chris King, and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum; and one major Republican, Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, who entered the race Monday.

EMILY’s List also is backing four other gubernatorial candidates around the country so far, incumbent Govs. Kate Brown of Oregon and Gina Raimondo of Rhode Island, and candidates Michelle Lujan Grisham in New Mexico and Gretchen Whitmer in Michigan.

 

Gwen Graham: I’m running for governor for ‘love of Florida’

Declaring a love for Florida and its people, as well as outrage over Tallahassee’s lack of emphasis on public education and the environment, Democrat Gwen Graham is running for governor.

In an announcement in Miami Gardens Tuesday morning, Graham, a former congresswoman and the daughter of former Governor and U.S. Sen. Bob Graham, promised that she would end high-stakes testing, work for an increased minimum wage and paid sick leave for Floridians, and take immediate and vigorous steps to protect the state’s environment.

But first, Graham professed a deep love for Florida. No one wants to talk about love, she said, but she will.

“My love for Florida, my love for Florida runs deep,” Graham said in her 20-minute address. “My dreams for Florida run wide. But my patience, my patience for the inaction in this state that I love has run out, and that is why I am running for governor. And that is why I am determined to win.”

Graham, 54, became the third Democrat to formally announce a bid for governor in 2018, following Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum and Winter Park businessman Chris King.

On Monday, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam became the first Republican to announce a campaign.

Standing before Miami Carrol City High School, where she said she spent a “workday” Monday, Graham spent much of her speech blasting the past 20 years of education reform efforts in Tallahassee as degrading students, turning over the schools to what she called the “education industry” intent on making money off high-stakes student tests.

“And as governor, I will not just criticize this culture of teaching to the tests, I will end it,” she said, even if she needs to use a line-veto to do so.

Graham also vowed to commit to technical and career-based training for students beginning in middle school; investing in roads, bridges and mass transit; and pushing to diversify the economy away from tourism and agriculture, and toward new economies, technology, robotics, health care and solar energy, with a new focus on entrepreneurs and home businesses.

She saved her last — and most searing — comments for the environment, accusing Gov. Rick Scott and Republicans of having done more to neglect and pollute it than at any time in history.

“The love we all have begins and ends with our beautiful, beautiful environment,” Graham said. “Our beaches and our waterways and our forests and our wetlands, our springs, and of course and our treasured River of Grass, our Everglades. Over the past six years, it has devastated me to see what Rick Scott and the Tallahassee politicians have done to pollute and ruin our precious land and waters more than any time in Florida history.”

She pledged to use Amendment 1 funds as voters intended “to protect and purchase threatened lands and waters;” as well as ban fracking and fight oil drilling off the coasts.

And she said it is time Florida began giving serious consideration to the long-term and immediate ramifications of climate change.

“We all know, we all know that climate change is real! We live on a peninsula! We live on a peninsula and we are surrounded by water and our coasts are being threatened by rising tides, and our forests are raging with fires.” she decried.

“But instead of facing reality, what does Donald Trump say? He calls it ‘a hoax.’ And what does Rick Scott do? He has promoted the use of the words ‘climate change’ in state government. The Florida we love is running out of time.”

Gwen Graham’s politics molded by father, Florida life

One thing distinguishes Gwen Graham from other candidates (and possible candidates) for Governor — she is a hugger.

Prepare to be hugged, Florida.

Graham, 54, the one-term former Democratic congresswoman from Tallahassee, has little professional political experience, having run for only one election. She won that one by barely a percentage point, taking Florida’s 2nd Congressional District away from Republican U.S. Rep. Steve Southerland, only to give it up when redistricting painted her district red.

Now Graham is entering a race that already has two major Democratic candidates, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum and Winter Park businessman Chris King, and appears wide-open for more, all seeking a shot at something her party hasn’t won in nearly a generation, the governor’s office.

Yet Graham is a woman who grew up in politics, daughter of legendary Democrat Bob Graham who served as governor when she was in junior high and high school, and as U.S. Senator through much of her adulthood.

It’s as close to Florida gets to a Democratic royal family: Her grandfather was a state senator; her uncle, publisher of The Washington Post. The Grahams have been established in South Florida for generations, though she has spent most of her life in Tallahassee.

From her father, she shares moderate positions on many economic issues and her deeply-held liberal viewpoints on Florida’s environment and justice, and a strong alliance with organized labor.

The National Journal rated her the most independent member of the Florida delegation.

Her voting record in Congress showed that mix of moderate economic and foreign affairs politics. And she cast some votes progressive Democrats hold against her, supporting new leadership against U.S. House Speaker. Nancy Pelosi, and for the Keystone XL Pipeline, keeping the military prison open at Guantánamo Bay, and for an attempt to suspend debt relief to Iran.

But on other issues such as her efforts to help restore Apalachicola Bay and the Everglades, to support veterans seeking jobs, women’s rights, children’s issues, she’s been reliable for Democrats.

Consequently, only a handful of the strongest right-wing or left-wing groups scored her exceptionally well or horribly bad on their respective political agendas, while others often crossed over to give her at least a little, but restrained love.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, typically reserving high marks for Republicans, scored her a 75, as did the Associated General Contractors of America. She received only a 39 from progressive Common Cause and just 64 from the American Civil Liberties Union.

Nevertheless, Defenders of Wildlife gave her an 83; the Human Rights Campaign, 100; Club For Growth, 7; and Freedom Works 16.

One issue she’s carved out clearly is support for women and women’s health. Planned Parenthood gave her 100, while National Right to Life, a 0. And last time she ran, Emily’s List backed her.

Gwen Graham also has inherited much of her father’s image and connections and is someone able to bring in a Bill Clinton or a Joe Biden to campaign for her, and able to attract some of the top mainstream Democratic political operatives to work with her.

While in office, she also picked up on her father’s “workday” events, regularly spending a day working someone else’s job in Florida, in a hotel, a textile factory and elsewhere.

But while her father’s calling card was his handshake, Gwen Graham’s is the hug. A self-professed serial hugger, Graham fashions a matronly image to governing.

Graham is twice-married, currently to Steve Hurm, general counsel to the Leon County Sheriff’s Office. She has three young-adult children, Sarah, Graham, and Mark, from her previous marriage, and spent several years as a stay-at-home mother before going to work at Leon County Public Schools as a chief labor negotiator. Previously she had briefly practiced law in both Tallahassee and Washington D.C.

Hurm, a career law enforcement officer, has been battling Stage 4 prostate cancer, and Graham, who first declared a strong interest in running for governor last summer, put off a final decision until he was able to progress through treatment.

Federal budget bill deal offers $296M for Puerto Rico Medicaid

The $1 trillion stop-gap budget deal congressional leaders have struck to keep the federal government open through September includes $295.9 million to shore up Medicaid in Puerto Rico, U.S. Rep. Darren Soto‘s office said Monday afternoon.

That’s a little less than halfway between the $500 million congressional Democrats such as Soto were pushing for, and the $146 million opening offer from Republican negotiators.

There is no indication that there are any strings attached to the money that would threaten, through delay or repeal, provisions in last year’s PROVESA Act creating debt relief mechanisms for the island government, “as far as we know,” according to Soto’s Communications Director Iza Montalvo.

That point is critical for many Puerto Ricans in pushing for relief for the island. Many throughout Central Florida reacted with angst last week to reports that additional Medicaid money could come only with a trade-off of reduced debt relief.

Puerto Rico is suffering from separate but related crises. The money in the budget deal replenishes a dwindled Puerto Rico Medicaid fund. It’s a key part of the commonwealth’s struggling, federally under-funded [compared with states] health care system, which has led doctors and other medical professionals to flee the island in droves because they can’t get paid. But the other crisis arises from $75 billion in government debt the commonwealth has declared it cannot pay, which has led to widespread cutbacks and even closures of schools, hospitals, utilities, police, fire, and other public services.

Bill Nelson, Debbie Wasserman Schultz vow bipartisan opposition to drilling

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson and three Florida members of Congress, Democrats U.S. Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Ted Deutch, and Republican Vern Buchanan sounded an alarm Monday against President Donald Trump‘s potential interests in oil and gas drilling off Florida’s coasts and said they’re gathering bipartisan support in opposition.

Nelson, Wasserman Schultz of Weston, and Buchanan of Longboat Key announced they intend to file bills Monday to tighten protections set in drilling moratoria, adding they already have four other Florida Republican co-sponsors, and hope to get the entire Florida delegation. The bills are a reaction to an executive order Trump signed Friday, re-examining prospects of oil and gas drilling along the Atlantic.

The trio of Democrats gathered Monday at the Nova Southeastern University Oceanographic Campus in Dania Beach, joined by Richard E. Dodge, executive director of Nova’s National Coral Reef Institute, to profess the dangers offshore drilling can pose to Florida’s ecology and beach tourism economy. They offered plenty of horrific remembrances of the Deepwater Horizon spill of seven years ago.

“Welcome to paradise,” Nelson said. “We want to keep that paradise.”

Nelson and Wasserman Schultz said they have all of Florida’s Democratic members of Congress and hope to get Florida’s Republican House members to sign on as co-sponsors, and that they already have commitments from Republican U.S. Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Brian Mast, Francis Rooney, and Matt Gaetz.

One uncertainty, however, is whether Republican Sen. Marco Rubio will sign onto Nelson’s bill.

Nelson said he has spoken with Rubio, but “he has not signed on yet.”

The current federal bans on oil and gas leases and drilling off both the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Coast extend until 2022. But Trump’s executive order on Friday rescinds a President Barack Obama order banning sonic testing for oil and gas on the Atlantic side, and also orders the U.S. Department of Interior to reassess the oil and gas prospects there.

The bills would require that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Coast Guard weigh in as well, and sets other precautions, such as requiring NOAA to carry out a long-term marine environment monitoring and research program for the Gulf of Mexico. It also would extend the Gulf-side ban through 2027.

Buchanan, a lifelong opponent of drilling off the Florida coast, declared in a news release, “Florida’s beaches are vital to our economy and way of life. Our coastal communities depend on a clean and healthy ocean.”

The sponsors said Trump’s order puts Florida’s coastlines at risk, signaling a desire to open the areas up to oil and gas leases.

“The oil boys will not stop. They think they have a friend in the White House. This is the opening salvo,” Nelson said of Trump’s executive order.

Wasserman Schultz called drilling along Florida’s coasts potential “environmental and economic suicide” for Florida.

“So let me be crystal clear: Florida’s bipartisan congressional delegation locks arms to defend our coast. We are drawing a unified line in the sand,” Wasserman Schultz said.

As Orange County mayor’s race awaits major candidates, can Rich Crotty run again?

As the future race for Orange County mayor continues to be a mystery involving potential major candidates still thinking about it but none yet committing, one name that keeps coming up raises questions of precedent and interpretation of curious language differences in the county charter.

Former Orange County Mayor Rich Crotty, who served two-plus terms leading the county’s administration over the past decade, is considering running again. He’s thinking about reclaiming the office that he held for ten years, between the brief tenure of Mel Martinez and the current tenure of Mayor Teresa Jacobs.

Crotty told FloridaPolitics.com that he is being “strongly encouraged” to run for the 2018 opening. Jacobs is certainly barred from running for re-election, by the charter’s term-limit language.

Crotty’s potential candidacy is like that of at least a couple of others — notably Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings or former Florida Speaker Andy Gardiner — with weight is so intimidating that other potential candidates are sitting back, waiting to see if they do or don’t, before stepping in.

No major candidates have entered the race yet. The seat is non-partisan, so, though party affiliations will be critical to lining up support, and potentially in winning votes, they won’t appear on the ballot.

But unlike Democrat Demings, Republican Gardiner, Republican Orange County School Board Chair Bill Sublette, Democratic Orange County Property Appraiser Rick Singh, Democratic Orange County Tax Collector Scott Randolph, former Republican Orange County commissioners Scott Boyd and John Martinez, and other talked-about Orange County mayoral candidates including Orlando’s chamber of commerce chair Rob Panepinto, a Republican, and former Republican Clerk of Courts Eddie Fernandez, Crotty’s possible candidacy might be challenged on a legal interpretation.

The Orange County Charter has untested language about whether someone can run for a third term as mayor, and no one has ever tried.

Current Orange County Attorney Jeffrey Newton, and the lawyer who wrote that language in the late 1980s, Linda Weinberg, both said they believe the door is open to a third term because it is nonconsecutive.

Others who might not want to see Crotty in the race, might challenge that, arguing that the language seems to limit the mayor to two full terms.

“The county mayor shall be elected for a term of four years and shall be limited to two full consecutive terms,” is how the Orange County Charter states it.

That is distinctly different from the language written on the term limits of county commissioners, and commissioners have run for three nonconsecutive terms.

The commissioners’ charter language reads:

“A county commissioner who has held the same commission district office for the preceding two full terms is prohibited from appearing on the ballot for re-election to that office.”

So was the mayor’s term limit language written differently, in order to limit the mayor differently?

As Weinberg recalls, no.

“While the language is quite different, they both essentially provide that the elected official is limited to two consecutive terms and then cannot run for re-election during the next election cycle,” she stated, responding to a question from Orlando-Rising. “However, there is nothing that expressly prohibits either a commissioner or the mayor for running for election to the same office at a future time. And indeed, there was never any discussion or intent to prohibit a mayor from ever seeking the office again after having served his or her two terms.

“I believe the language is different because that section related to the mayoral terms has not been modified since the original charter, whereas the section related to terms for county commissioners has been modified on a number of occasions [we went to single-member commission districts and redistricting,]” she continued.

“I suspect that a lawyer involved in the re-drafting process felt like they could draft that provision more clearly.”

Donald Trump order reassesses drilling off South Atlantic coast

President Donald Trump signed an executive order Friday afternoon to have Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke reevaluate oil and gas drilling prospects along a number of areas of America’s outer continental shelf including the South Atlantic Ocean.

Those include areas along the Florida coast and southeast U.S. coast where oil and gas drilling are currently banned, under a moratorium that Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson and Republican then-U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez pushed into law in the past decade.

That ban is set to expire in 2022.

Trump’s executive order targets the entire outer continental shelf. In a release, the White House argued that it potentially could be tapped for up to 90 billion barrels of oil and more than 300 trillion cubic feet of undiscovered natural gas deposits.

“I am going to lift the restrictions on American energy, and allow this wealth to pour into our communities,” Trump declared in the release.

Reaction was swift from some quarters in Florida.

Nelson and Democratic U.S. Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Weston and Ted Deutch of  Boca Raton called a press conference for Monday to detail opposition plans to any drilling off the Florida coast.

Wasserman Schultz and Republican U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan announced they intend to file a bipartisan bill Monday to extend the moratorium for five more years, matching a bill Nelson introduced earlier this year.

Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, a Democratic gubernatorial candidate, called out Gov. Rick Scott for supporting Trump, and then promised to work tirelessly to protect Florida’s shores and ecosystem.

“President Trump is threatening Florida’s economy, beaches, waterways and natural resources with today’s executive order expanding offshore drilling,” Gillum stated in a news release issued by his campaign. “It’s shameful that Governor Rick Scott is speaking at a political event supporting President Trump when the Administration is so recklessly threatening the very fabric of Florida’s economy.”

House votes to strip away local regulations of vacation rental homes

Local governments that went too far in trying to crack down on or drive out vacation rental homes now face the prospect that they may not be able to do anything to specifically regulate such properties.

The Florida House of Representatives approved House Bill 425 Friday 63-56, essentially re-instituting a 2011 ban on cities or counties imposing any ordinances that would treat vacation rental homes any differently from any other house, condominium unit, or apartment in their communities.

The vote came after more than an hour of passionate debate between those who, like the bill’s sponsor Republican state Rep. Mike La Rosa of St. Cloud, believe that the heart of the matter is property rights, a person’s freedom to make money off his property; and those who, like Republican state Rep. Sam Killebrew of Winter Haven, believe it’s a matter of home rule, for cities and counties to decide what is best for their communities.

“I think we’ve heard enough of hypothetical circumstances, of ridiculous ordinances. I just want to close with a very simple question, a very simple thought: Is it possible to have too much freedom?” La Rosa inquired in closing. “Is this a referendum on that freedom? If it is, then I’m OK with that.”

The companion measure, Senate Bill 188, has cleared all its committees.

Friday’s debate, as had happened in several committee meetings, brought up horror stories faced by local cities, towns and counties where the vacation rental home market is exploding, often leading out-of-state and foreign investors to buy up houses, remodel them for 10 or 12 bedrooms, and turn them into mini hotels, rented out by the night, in the middle of residential neighborhoods.

And those horror stories included the anecdotes of out-of-control there for a few nights, turning the block into party central.

“That person is not a neighbor,” said Democratic state Rep. Patrick Henry of Daytona Beach.

But the debate also focused, as La Rosa sought, on the average home owner renting out a bedroom, or the whole house, a couple or a few times a year, to generate some income in what otherwise might be difficult economic times.

And it focused on the track record of several cities and counties that, in the eyes of La Rosa and many other lawmakers, even those opposing HB 425, had gone too far, imposing draconian ordinances and fines relating to vacation rental homes.

“This allows people to use their properties to sustain them,” said Republican state Rep. Frank White of Pensacola.

Throughout Florida, the vacation rental property business has been booming. In 2011 the Florida Legislature passed a law first cracking down on local ordinances. But in 2014 the Legislature concluded it had gone to far, and rolled back some of that 2011 ban on local control. The balance seesawed again, with complaints that cities and counties were going too far. This bill reverts back to 2011.

Meanwhile, companies like Airbnb and Home Away, as well as numerous vacation rental property chains, have dramatically increased their numbers of host homes, and of visitors using them instead of hotels.

That includes lawmakers.

Earlier Friday, state Rep. Rene Plasencia was featured in a promotional video released by Airbnb in which he and his wife extolled the virtues of vacation rental homes, including the one they rent in Tallahassee during Legislative Sessions.

Republican state Rep. Michael Grant of Charlotte alluded to the fact that many lawmakers, like Plasencia, rely on vacation rental homes, to have homes-away-from-home when they’re in Tallahassee for days, weeks, or months at a time.

“I don’t want to stay in a hotel during session, members,” Grant said. “I don’t know how many of you own a home up here. I don’t know how many of you rent a home up here. But I would suggest we could get a quorum of members who are, by definition, under many local statutes, a short-term rental.

“And so members all I can say is if it is about property rights, there is only one conclusion, and that conclusion is to protect the person who owns the asset,” Grant concluded.

Rene Plasencia stars in Airbnb promotional video

Republican state Rep. Rene Plasencia and his family are starring in a new promotional internet video released Friday by the vacation rental home marketing giant Airbnb.

The minute, 41-second video shows interviews with Plasencia, his wife Marucci Guzman, and her daughter [his stepdaughter,] in scenes at vacation homes they have rented through Airbnb in Georgia and Tallahassee, as Plasencia and Guzman sing the praises of Airbnb.

They talk about the price, convenience, and other advantages of renting lodging through Airbnb, rather than hotels, for both pleasure trips and extended stays in Tallahassee for Florida Legislative Session business.

“Yeah, I would definitely recommend Airbnb for other travelers for either,” Plasencia says. “Really, for fun.”

Among the shots in the video are scenes from Plasencia’s and Guzman’s February wedding at the rustic cabin they rent regularly in Georgia.

The video also features the homeowner of the house Plasencia and Guzman rent in Tallahassee, identified as Quincie, who talks about the friendship she’s developed with them. So the video also aims at promoting to future Airbnb homeowner clients.

“Well, that’s the bonus. It’s just not all about the money,” Quincie says of the friendship.

Plasencia was not immediately available Friday to discuss the video.

He was not paid for the video, according to Airbnb.

Plasencia abstained from voting yesterday when the House of Representatives considered House Bill 425, which would have assisted Airbnb’s business, by imposing a statewide deregulation of local ordinances restricting vacation rental homes. The House voted down two amendments to the bill, without Plasencia’s votes.

He is not on any of the three committees that held hearings and voted in favor of HB 425.

HB 425 now is up for a third reading and House vote.

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