Staff Reports – Page 5 – Florida Politics

Staff Reports

Jacksonville Bold for 3.23.18 — Five months to go

Readers may note a focus on campaigns in Jacksonville Bold this week.

With the Legislative Session over, we are now heading into campaign season.

While Gov. Rick Scott seeks the right time to launch his bid for the U.S. Senate against Bill Nelson, facing no primary competition if he does so, pretty much everyone else is looking to move to the next level.

DeSantis condo conundrum

POLITICO reported recently on a Jacksonville connection to a condo Rep. Ron DeSantis rented in the redrawn Florida’s 6th Congressional District after 2016’s redistricting moved boundaries south.

Condo conundrum for candidate Ron DeSantis: he said the rent was fair.

“As a result, DeSantis — now running for governor — decided to move into a Flagler County condo whose owners include Kent Stermon and Matt Connell, both executives at Total Military Management. That Jacksonville-based company serves as a third-party relocation service for U.S. military personnel,” the POLITICO piece contends.

“Ron DeSantis temporarily moved into the condo of a friend while he looked to buy a home in Flagler County,” DeSantis spox Brad Herold told POLITICO. “He paid upfront and above market value.”

Stermon and Connell have donated $60,000 to DeSantis’ political operations since 2012.

Supplementary reading —As prosecutor, did Ron DeSantis go easy in child porn cases?“ [Spoiler alert: No.]

Gun issues continue playing in CD 5

POLITICO picked up the baton of previous reporting Florida Politics and other outlets did on the gun positions of incumbent U.S. Rep. Al Lawson and challenger Alvin Brown in the Democratic primary in Florida’s 5th Congressional District.

Will the gun issue topple Al Lawson in Washington? Alvin Brown hopes so.

The donation from the National Rifle Association that Lawson had previously reported was an error from staff, which got the code wrong, per POLITICO (this is a story the Lawson campaign has been pushing for some weeks now).

“Lawson’s record on guns and Brown’s onslaught against him in Florida’s 5th Congressional District underscores just how toxic guns are as a political issue in Democratic politics, where guns weren’t viewed as such a net negative before the Feb. 14 high school shooting. For instance, in 2005, every Democrat in the Florida Senate — including Lawson — voted for Stand Your Ground, which passed the chamber unanimously,” POLITICO notes.

Brown’s team believes that guns will be a defining issue in this primary, and will continue to work it. This week, they trumpeted an endorsement from “Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.”

One wonders if the discussion in this campaign will ever move beyond guns.

Rutherford backs $1 a day wages for detainees

One dollar a day for people working in private prisons? Per the Laredo Morning Times, Florida’s 4th Congressional District Republican John Rutherford is one of 18 congressional defenders of the wage that was originally set in 1978.

$1 a day is A-OK for GEO Group inmates … and John Rutherford concurs.

“Alien detainees should not be able to use immigration detention as a means of obtaining stable employment that will encourage them to pursue frivolous claims to remain in the country and in detention for as long as possible,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta, and acting ICE director Thomas Homan.

Washington state is suing GEO Group for the wages, which violate minimum wage in the state; additionally, inmates in Colorado and California are suing GEO separately.

The Congressmen assert that higher wages would “provide an unnecessary windfall to the detainees and drain the federal government of limited taxpayer resources.”

GEO Group has contributed to Rutherford’s political efforts since 2016.

Third Democrat files in CD 4

Though Rutherford won the race in Florida’s 4th Congressional District with 70 percent of the vote and already has $183,000 cash on hand, Democrats are nonetheless lining up to run against him.

A third Democrat in the CD 4 race, Joceline Berrios, filed to run this month.

Joceline Berrios is the latest Democrat to enter the race.

Berrios wants stricter gun laws, Medicare for All, and the impeachment of President Donald Trump.

Berrios will have a competitive primary.

Ges Selmont, a lawyer making his home in Ponte Vedra Beach, rolled out his campaign for the Democratic nomination in Florida’s 4th Congressional District in recent weeks also.

The third candidate in the race, author Monica DePaul, has been running for several months.

All three campaigns lack a real structure currently, and have yet to report fundraising; with this in mind, the quarterly reports due next month bear watching.

Bax defends MMJ rule-making

Amendment 2 was approved by 71 percent of Florida voters in 2016, yet nearly two years later, the Office of Medical Marijuana Use is still workshopping rules. The road show came to Jacksonville Tuesday afternoon.

Beleaguered Christian Bax believes the MMJ rule-making process is moving apace. Many doubt that.

Christian Bax, the director of the program, noted that the rule-making process would go through the spring and summer. He said that he didn’t think that the department needed further guidance from the Legislature.

The department continues to issue notices and workshop rules at an acceptable pace, with 13 rules noticed last month, he said. That said, he understands why the Legislature would withhold pay for senior staff in DOH next fiscal year. Bax says the “department shares frustration with the timeline.”

Putnam talks opioids in Jacksonville

In a campaign capacity in Jacksonville Wednesday afternoon, Agriculture Commissioner and Republican gubernatorial hopeful Adam Putnam hosted an opioid roundtable.

Adam Putnam is talking opioids throughout the state; Jacksonville was Wednesday’s stop.

Putnam heard about Jacksonville’s own efforts on this front, as the city deals with an overdose crisis that has led to action on the local level.

Fentanyl — and diluted acetyl fentanyl — is the primary local issue, with the diluted analog potentially lowering the user’s tolerance and possibly creating another overdose death crisis down the road.

Another complicating factor that could rear its head in the coming months: the current use of fentanyl to cut cocaine.

Read more here.

Gillum talks black women’s vote

Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, a Democratic primary candidate for Governor, spoke in St. Augustine Saturday about the importance of the black female vote.

Andrew Gillum on the campaign trail in St. Augustine.

Engaged turnout among black women was a contributing factor to the Democrats taking a Senate seat in Alabama last year; to that end, Gillum and other Democrats believe that the model can be replicated even in a campaign not involving Roy Moore as the GOP standard-bearer.

Gillum, who just landed after a red-eye from California, noted that while black women are the pillar of the black community, they “can’t save this republic alone.”

To that end, the full power of the Democratic Party must back them, Gillum said.

Gillum extolled education as a way out of “intergenerational poverty,” describing how even guidance counselors and lunchroom ladies “stood in the gap on behalf of many of us,” helping to “build strong communities.”

Gillum noted that his mother was “doing things to ensure we got by,” a reality that sometimes-precluded thinking about big picture political concepts.

The lines elicited applause.

Gillum’s remarks kicking off a panel moderated by Congressional District 5 Democratic candidate Rontel Batie and House District 13 Democratic hopeful Roshanda Jackson were brief, but crowd-pleasing.

On Monday, Gillum talked to Duval Democrats, hitting many of the same themes and lines.

Cummings/Willey redux

Travis Cummings, the Republican incumbent in HD 18, this month drew a familiar Libertarian challenger, Ken Willey, in his re-election bid.

The odds are with Cummings, who drew over 81 percent of the vote when the two faced off in the general election in 2016.

 

Travis Cummings (left), talking with future Speaker Rep. Jose Oliva.

Cummings has just under $85,000 cash on hand, and will again face no opposition on the primary ballot.

To put that number in perspective, Willey raised just over $2,000 during his 2016 campaign.

The major population center in HD 18, a district by and large in Northern Clay County, is Orange Park, a Jacksonville-area bedroom community.

Cummings was once mayor of Orange Park.

Locals bemoan arts budget cuts

Though there were only $64 million in budget vetoes in Gov. Scott’s final budget, Jacksonville area arts advocates felt the ax, per WJCT.

The cruelest cuts may be in arts funding.

“So while nearly 500 organizations are splitting $2.6 million, the legislature approved more than $4 million in arts and culture projects for just nine organizations. But Scott vetoed six of them Friday, including the largest arts and culture award: $1.6 million toward expanding and renovating the military museum at Camp Blanding.”

“For smaller organizations, it’ll mean less access to their programs, and it will mean fewer programs,” said one arts advocate.

“Compared to this session’s $2.6 million for arts grants, last year the legislature approved nearly $25 million for the 2017-2018 fiscal year. The year before it was $32 million.

Brosche seeks cooperation with Curry

Can Jacksonville City Council President Anna Brosche and Mayor Lenny Curry get along?

Skeptics say no; per WJCT, however, Brosche says yes.

“We’re both very passionate about the city of Jacksonville and our responsibilities — what we believe is best for Jacksonville. At the end of the day, there’s no reason why we can’t work together. We’ve had meetings,” she said. “We’ve met since the forced meeting on Feb. 14, and we may see things differently.”

Can’t we all just get along?

Brosche also discussed the controversial decision to require oaths at JEA special committee meetings.

“I think we were aware of our options going forward and I do have a hard time connecting with people being afraid to tell the truth. That’s what we were after,” she said. “We were after consistently administering the oath to everyone that came forward, so no one was singled out.”

JEA CEO Paul McElroy will be subpoenaed March 29 after having refused to take the oath. Meanwhile, Curry’s chief administrative officer, Sam Mousa, offered emailed responses to the committee’s questions.

Marijuana changes deferred

Ordinance 2018-75 would revise extant code relative to medical cannabis. However, it has been delayed for two weeks.

Cannabis conundrum will wait two weeks for resolution.

The code was formulated in response to “Charlotte’s Web” low-THC cannabis being the single legal strain, and after an extended period of debate, processing and dispensing were allowed in commercial districts, with permitted cultivation in agricultural regions.

The ordinance would change things, allowing dispensaries anywhere in the city, including within 500 feet of a school. The previous zoning categories would be revoked.

The bill was in the Neighborhoods, Community Services, Public Health and Safety committee Monday, and there were questions galore.

“This bill puts our code in compliance with Florida statutes,” said a representative from the office of general counsel. “The statute prohibits cultivation and processing facilities within 500 feet of a school” but allows a dispensary given a waiver within 500 feet.

Counties do have the right to ban dispensaries entirely if they have no ordinances on the books. But because there was an existing ordinance, bill sponsor Matt Schellenberg said the county could not ban dispensaries, even as individual cities have done this.

This bill, which only applies to the city of Jacksonville, will be deferred, with multiple Council members having questions about how to bring the local ordinance in line with state law.

JEA Straw Ballot bill pushed back

Ordinance 2018-141 would set a public straw vote referendum on the November 2018 ballot regarding selling more than 10 percent of JEA. The bill is sponsored by two council Democrats who have issues with the process so far on the grounds of transparency and other woes: John Crescimbeni and Garrett Dennis.

No shenanigans, or else, says John Crescimbeni.

Transportation, Energy and Utilities chair Al Ferraro moved to defer one cycle so it can sync up with 2018-142, another referendum bill that would require the approval of a sale of 10 percent or more of JEA.

A bill sponsor was skeptical of Ferraro’s motives.

“If I detect any shenanigans on delaying 141, we’ll have to do it the hard way and get petitions,” vowed Crescimbeni. “I’ll give it another couple of cycles, but we’re on the clock.”

A citizen’s initiative, asserted Crescimbeni, would have a time-prohibitive impact.

This bill comes back, presumably, in two weeks.

Meanwhile, Councilmen Matt Schellenberg and Bill Gulliford met to discuss the pros and cons of a JEA sale Wednesday.

The JEA Board also intends to set up its own select committee to explore what a sale means.

Fentanyl-laced cocaine latest OD trend

A representative of the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department noted in a Monday meeting of a City Council panel that ‘fentanyl-laced cocaine’ is a rising overdose trend.

Fentanyl has a new vessel, warns Bill Gulliford and the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue.

Jacksonville currently has a pilot program treating overdose victims, offering them treatment after the case of overdoses.

The program tests for 17 different adulterants, spanning a wide pharmacological range.

Previous concerns have been fentanyl-based heroin, suggesting that street dealers are finding new markets.

Councilman Bill Gulliford, who pushed for this program, notes that the program seems to be working.

However, the new lacing presents a new worry.

“Cocaine laced with fentanyl is prevalent now. In recent toxicology reports, every sample of cocaine had fentanyl in it,” Gulliford said. “The scary part of this is it’s becoming more widespread. There are incidents of this used in counterfeit Xanax.”

Gulliford noted that young people often combine Xanax and alcohol, and urged that parents warn kids about the potentiality of a new, dangerous alteration being marketed to them.

Peppers leaves KHA board, isn’t salty

Joseph Peppers‘ bid for the CEO slot in Jacksonville’s Kids Hope Alliance has been controversial, given he was on the new board.

A resignation tendered Sunday evening should remove some of that controversy.

“After careful prayer and consideration,” Peppers wrote, “I have decided to submit my resignation from the Kids Hope Alliance Board. I am making this decision to ensure the Kids Hope Alliance gets off to a great start and that its integrity and reputation remain completely without blemish.”

Joe Peppers steps back from the Jacksonville’s Kids Hope Alliance.

“I am honored to remain a candidate for the CEO position. If the board and the mayor believe that I am the best person for the job, I will do my best to represent the organization, the board, and the city of Jacksonville in the very best light which it so deserves,” Peppers added.

Peppers’ appointment process to the board was also notable.

Councilman Garrett Dennis had a sharp exchange with a member of Curry’s staff during Dennis’ interview of Peppers.

Dennis thought it was irregular that the Mayor’s Office was “babysitting nominees,” and Dennis and Curry had words after the interview, per Dennis.

The Kids Hope Alliance interviewed candidates Friday for the ongoing search for a permanent CEO and Peppers was among them.

Appointed 

Gov. Scott announced the appointment of J. Palmer Clarkson to the Jacksonville Port Authority.

Clarkson, 61, of Jacksonville, is the president and chief executive officer of Bridgestone HosePower. He succeeds Joseph York for a term through September 30, 2021.

The appointment is subject to Senate confirmation.

Fiorentino Group moves to Southbank

Government relations firm The Fiorentino Group will be staying in downtown Jacksonville but will soon be operating from the 13th floor of Riverplace Tower, on the Southbank of the St. Johns River.

For more than a decade, the Fiorentino Group has leased space on the Northbank, in The Carling building at 31 W. Adams St.

The Fiorentino Group is pulling the trigger on a move to Southbank.

President Marty Fiorentino told the Jacksonville Daily Record that recent growth requires more space for the firm. Moving close to the Rogers Towers law firm, which runs out of Riverplace Tower, made sense, he said.

“We have a strategic alliance with the Rogers Towers law firm,” Fiorentino said. “We think that will be great synergy.”

The nine-person Fiorentino team will add another person in the next few months, as well as two more staff members in its Tallahassee office.

“We just came off a great legislative session,” Fiorentino said.

Since the Carling lease expired, he expects the move to happen sometime in May.

NE Florida circuit judge fights removal

A Northeast Florida circuit judge accused of inappropriate conduct during a 2016 election campaign and on the bench should not be removed, his attorney argued This week to the state Supreme Court.

As reported by the News Service of Florida, Judge Scott DuPont, who sits on the 7th Judicial Circuit bench, faces removal after a recommendation of a hearing panel of the Florida Judicial Qualifications Commission. The 7th Judicial Circuit includes Flagler, Putnam, St. Johns and Volusia counties.

Circuit Judge Scott DuPont.

DuPont is accused of publishing false allegations online about his 2016 election challenger, Malcolm Anthony, as well as Anthony’s family members. Among the other questionable actions include DuPont changing the times of first-appearance hearings in criminal cases during Memorial Day weekend in 2016 to accommodate his campaign schedule.

In a 40-page document filed with the court, DuPont’s attorney, Rutledge Liles, pointed to character witnesses and other judges supporting DuPont.

Liles recognized DuPont will be “subject to sanctions” but wrote that he should not be removed from the bench. “Judge DuPont has admitted and apologized for the mistakes he made,” Liles wrote. “Given the undisputed fact that the only testimony regarding his present fitness to remain in office has been uniformly and overwhelmingly positive, we request that this Court allow him to continue to serve the 7th Judicial Circuit.”

Dinosaur beef

Per the Jacksonville Business Journal, it’s curtains for “dinosaur” Southeastern Grocers, as marketplace competitors have models that can’t be matched.

Competitors like Trader Joe’s make multiple times the money that Winn Dixie does per square foot, an analyst said.

Winn Dixie: A shopping dinosaur?

Augmenting the problem: the stores are actually too big for single tenants to take over, and often too close to Publix and the like.

Winn Dixie will close more Jacksonville stores in the coming weeks.

WJCT noted that execs for the parent company, Southeastern Grocers, will actually have a harder time finding new gigs than those on the retail side.

Gondola over the river?

According to the Jacksonville Daily Record, an ambitious development proposal may lead to a gondola over the St. Johns River.

“The Jag-Wire could move several thousand people per hour between the station on the Southbank, a proposed station on East Bay Street at the old Duval County Courthouse and City Hall Annex property and a third station near EverBank Field, which will become TIAA Bank Field.”

Developer Mike Balanky is proposing a gondola system in downtown Jacksonville.

Alas, there is a catch: per potential developer Michael Balanky, it would need to be a public-private partnership.

As well, for the numbers to work, a new convention center would need to go up.

Time will tell.

First phase of regional transportation center to open soon

The Jacksonville Intercity Bus Terminal, the first phase of the Jacksonville Regional Transportation Center, is about to open on 1111 W. Forsyth St. in the LaVilla community.

The first occupant of the new $58-million, 9,100-square-foot project is Greyhound, moving from its longstanding location at 10 N. Pearl St. Eventually, the facility will hold other providers, like low-fare intercity bus service Megabus, which had been using the Skyway stop across West Bay Street from the Prime Osborn Convention Center, the location of the new JTA regional center.

The first phase of the Jacksonville Intercity Bus Terminal is set to open soon (photo via Florida Times-Union).

In April, USGBC Northeast Florida and AIA Jacksonville will host VIP and media tours of the first phase. The intercity bus terminal will improve Greyhound’s access to highways and other transportation systems with additional passenger services, amenities that include food service.

Officials tell the Florida Times-Union that the West Forsyth Street site will be energy efficient and is expected to receive LEED Silver designation. Among the plans for Phase II will be a pedestrian bridge connecting the bus terminal to a proposed JTA bus transfer station and administration building.

After Parkland shooting, worldwide ‘March for Our Lives’

They can’t buy a beer or rent a car and most aren’t even old enough to vote, yet the students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School have spearheaded what could become one of the largest marches in history with nearly 1 million people expected in Washington and more than 800 sister marches from California to Japan.

In the wake of a Valentine’s Day shooting that killed 17, the teens have pulled all-nighters, scheduling speakers, petitioning city councils, renting stages and walking march routes with police in a grass-roots movement that has raised more than $4 million. Students will walk down Pennsylvania Avenue during the March for Our Lives on Saturday alongside pop stars Ariana Grande, Jennifer Hudson, Miley Cyrus and Demi Lovato.

They have requested 14 Jumbotrons, 2,000 chairs and 2,000 public restrooms.

“People don’t think about all these little things, but they add up,” said Marjory Stoneman Douglas senior Ryan Deitsch, who is 18.

Several student organizers have become mainstays on national TV, promoting the marches, and they landed on the cover of Time magazine. In the first two weeks after the shooting, Deitsch worked 22-hour days, often sleeping in his clothes.

“I’d basically keep going until I shut down, like I’d just collapse, sometimes I’d be on the floor,” Deitsch said.

Seasoned activists have marveled at what the students accomplished so far, including a sweeping gun bill in Florida and school walkouts attended by over a million students last week, according to organizers Women’s March. Oprah Winfrey and George and Amal Clooney have each donated $500,000. The cast of “Modern Family” did a public service announcement, and Broadway stars Lin-Manuel Miranda and Ben Platt recorded a song for the march.

The Women’s March, Everytown for Gun Safety and the gun violence prevention group founded by former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords provided heavy support for the march, opening the youths up to criticism that they are just pawns of left-wing organizations that have been fighting guns for years.

The students said, however, they are calling the shots, and have refused money and turned down support that doesn’t align with their vision.

“They like to believe we’re puppets, they like to believe that we’re being controlled by someone else because … they don’t want to believe that human beings have this power because if they have this power then they might not need a gun,” Deitsch said.

In Arizona, well over 20,000 people on social media promised to attend the student-led march, said leader Jordan Harb, a 17-year-old junior at Mountain View High School in Mesa. He coordinated vendors and met with police to talk about barricades and security as they expect counter-protesters to bring assault weapons.

They’ve raised roughly $34,000 through T-Shirt sales and donations. The group Arizonans For Gun Safety is handling the money since the teens are underage.

“All of my waking hours are pretty much spent on the march right now,” Harb said. “I’m in class and all I do in class in march stuff. I was in Spanish yesterday depositing $10,000 in our bank account.”

Marjory Stoneman Douglas student Casey Sherman spends most of her time in class working on a sister march in Parkland, where they’re expecting more than 20,000 people. She and fellow students successfully petitioned city commissioners to get permits and she’s learned about sponsorships and tax exemptions for charitable groups.

“Every day it’s kind of cool because I’m learning things I don’t learn in school,” the 17-year-old said.

Broward County Property Appraiser Marty Kiar helped the students navigate local government but credited the rest to them, saying “I’ve never seen anybody be able to bring so many stakeholders together in such a short period of time.”

Riley Helberg, a 14-year-old freshman at Crescenta Valley High School, said the Los Angeles march could eclipse the Women’s March there with more than 100,000 expected, along with a performance from singer Charlie Puth.

In New York, 17-year-old Winter Minisee, who spearheaded the student walkouts, dismissed criticisms that the teens don’t have the credentials to change laws.

“Historically youth have led all the major movements in America, whether it was the civil rights movements, whether it was the movement against the Vietnam war,” Minisee said.

The ultimate goal, the students said, is to harness the support into actual voters, with their sights set on November’s midterms.

“The high-schoolers and the college students are sick of this normalcy in this environment that we live in where we have to live with mass shootings and code red drills,” said Alex Wind, a junior at Stoneman Douglas.

Students scarred by Vegas massacre join Florida rallying cry

Kaitlynn Willoughby was frustrated by how quickly gun control debates stalled after the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history.

Her friend, 20-year-old Quinton Robbins, was among the 58 people killed Oct. 1 at a country music festival on the Las Vegas Strip. By the holidays, just weeks later, calls for change dissipated.

“No one was listening to us yet,” the 18-year-old high school senior said. “After Las Vegas, it was just another shooting.”

Willoughby is among those planning to march this weekend in rallies worldwide inspired by high school students in Parkland, Florida, who turned their own mass shooting last month into a rallying cry.

“The Parkland event allowed us to gain traction,” Willoughby said. “Those students refused to be silent. They started in Florida and it spread nationwide.”

Students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School are anchoring a rally against gun violence Saturday in Washington, D.C., with hundreds of other marches set for cities across the globe. The protests follow widespread student walkouts last week, including at schools in Las Vegas, a city still scarred by its own massacre.

Unlike the gambling destination, where many shooting victims were out-of-town tourists, Florida survivors spearheaded large state and national demonstrations and sweeping state gun legislation.

After the Vegas shooting, vigils and “Vegas Strong” rallies filled street corners, but activism for gun legislation was less focused. Efforts in Congress to ban “bump stocks,” devices used in the massacre that allow guns to fire like assault weapons, went nowhere. The Nevada Legislature wasn’t in session.

Now, students and survivors are joining protests launched by Florida youth and expect as many as 10,000 demonstrators Saturday in Las Vegas.

Shae Turner, who would be marching if she weren’t leaving town, escaped the outdoor concert through a hail of gunfire with her best friend. Some of her classmates at Faith Lutheran High School weren’t so lucky: Two were wounded as bullets rained down from the Mandalay Bay hotel-casino across the street.

“People that I see every day, they’ve forgotten,” the high school junior said. “They’ve moved on. We’re completely different.”

Turner remembers grabbing her friend’s hand, ducking behind palm trees during barrages of gunfire, and running to a casino to take shelter until their parents arrived.

“Other kids are passionate about it and will post about it on social media, but they don’t understand how it changes your life forever,” Turner said of mass shooting survivors. “It’s just sad to me, the demographic of teenagers and children having to live a life where they are affected by gun violence.”

Unanswered questions about the gunman’s motive are certain to be on marchers’ minds. The shooter was a 64-year-old real estate investor and high-stakes poker gambler who meticulously amassed assault-style weapons and fired for 10 minutes into a concert crowd of 22,000 people, authorities say. He then killed himself.

Survivor and San Francisco resident Stephanie Wellek said she’s overcoming some fears to return to Las Vegas for the first time since the shooting to speak at the event.

“It’s partly for healing. I expect tears,” she said as she worried about being back in a crowd surrounded by tall buildings. Officials say dozens of police officers and city marshals will monitor the march and rally.

“But this feels good to be expending energy toward a solution,” Wellek said.

Connor Leeming, a high school senior whose campus hosted teach-ins instead of walkouts last week, said some classmates told him their Second Amendment rights are under attack.

“It’s not good for democracy when people isolate themselves and are not open to listening to other people,” said Leeming, who recalled attending the funeral of a classmate’s mother who died in the shooting.

Karl Catarata, a University of Nevada, Las Vegas, political science student who has spent weeks organizing student actions at UNLV, high schools and now City Hall, said he felt like he was part of a budding grass-roots movement.

He said the Saturday rally is about enacting comprehensive gun reform at the state and national level and “making sure people who are a danger to themselves and other people don’t have access to automatic weapons.”

“How audacious is it for kids who are young to be upset that their classmates are dying?” Catarata asked. “All these students are mobilizing. They’re the next generation and the next voters.”

Rick Scott spotlights $180 million for military, veteran spending during Ponte Vedra stop

On Thursday, Gov. Rick Scott swung through Ponte Vedra to highlight military and veteran spending in the 2018-19 budget.

This was the second trip this month to the Jacksonville market to highlight military-friendly initiatives.

Scott staged the event at K9s for Warriors, which provides service dogs for veterans who suffer from PTSD and other post-combat maladies.

The nonprofit will receive state money for the first time this budget year.

Scott proposed a $178 million spend ahead of the Session, but it actually came out to $180 million, and included the following:

— More than $17 million for Florida’s military presence and families, which funds the state’s support of military research and development.

— Nearly $2.5 million to support veterans with jobs and entrepreneurship.

— $1 million for Building Homes for Heroes, for home rehab and building for injured veterans of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

—  $250,000 for K9s for Warriors to support the training of more service dogs.

Scott noted, regarding K9s for Warriors, that it’s “completely free for veterans” and is the largest provider of service dogs for them, with outreach to 46 states thus far.

The military and veteran spending was, per Scott, “money well spent.”

Philip Levine

Personnel note: Philip Levine taps Max Flugrath as communications director

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Philip Levine is tapping Max Flugrath as the campaign’s new communications director.

Flugrath, a Miami native, comes to the Levine campaign via the Florida House Democratic Office, where he served as communications director for House Leader Janet Cruz.

“As Florida Democrats continue to rally around Mayor Philip Levine’s energy and progressive vision, our team is growing to help ensure that we have the infrastructure to bring our message to voters throughout Florida,” said campaign manager Matthew Van Name in a statement Thursday. “We are thrilled to bring Max on board to implement a robust communications strategy that effectively connects the Mayor’s vision and proven record of success with Floridians in each corner of our state.”

Before joining the House Democratic Caucus, Flugrath served under former Democratic state Sen. Rod Smith in his bid for Senate District 8.

“Levine is the candidate with the bold progressive vision and experience necessary to move our state forward and build a Florida that delivers opportunities for all,” Flugrath responded. “The time has come to elect a Governor who will make the much-needed investments in our public education system, truly protect our environment, and create an economy that unrigs the system so every family can have a path to get ahead.”

Tom Gallagher, Bob Milligan back Jimmy Patronis for CFO

The endorsements keep coming for Jimmy Patronis, a Rick Scott appointee who is gunning to be elected CFO this year.

Patronis scored endorsements from former Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher and former state Comptroller Bob Milligan Thursday.

“As the former Florida Comptroller, I appreciate the personal qualities that Jimmy Patronis brings to the Florida Cabinet position of Chief Financial Officer,” said Milligan. “His integrity and genuine concern for people earns my support for Florida’s CFO.”

“Having held the position of CFO and knowing personally what the job entails, I am proud to give Jimmy Patronis my backing. Jimmy has done a tremendous job and I know he has the qualities needed to best serve our state,” said  Gallagher.

Gallagher was CFO from 2003 to 2007. Milligan served as Comptroller from 1994 to 2002.

Volusia commissioner backs Michael Waltz for Congress

Volusia County Commission Vice Chair Deborah Denys is endorsing former Green Beret Michael Waltz for Florida’s 6th Congressional District.

In a statement Thursday, Denys lauded Waltz’s “service in keeping America safe over multiple combat tours [as] a testament to his commitment to our values and freedom.”

“Like me,” Denys added, “he believes that bringing the commercial space industry to Volusia County will make the area a hub for American innovation and high-tech jobs for years to come as well as strengthen our national security. Michael Waltz is a native Floridian, businessman, a principled conservative, and a fighter that knows how to get things done in Washington, DC.”

Waltz said he and Denys “share a common vision for our community and our country. Like me, Councilwoman Denys believes that the spirit of American exceptionalism has pioneered the greatest innovations the world has ever seen. I am grateful for her support and am committed to ensuring our greatest days and innovations as Americans are ahead of us.”

CD 6 runs from St. Johns to Volusia counties. The seat is currently held by Rep. Ron DeSantis, who is locked in a two-man battle with Adam Putnam for the Republican nomination for Governor.

On the GOP side, Waltz faces a crowded field: former Ormond Beach state Rep. Fred Costello, businessman John Ward, and St. Johns County Commissioner Jimmy Johns.

Despite Irma, Florida sets another tourism record

Gov. Rick Scott vowed to ensure tourism stayed vibrant even after Hurricane Irma wreaked its havoc, and the numbers released Tuesday in Naples show that he pulled it off.

The 116.5 million visitors, per VISIT FLORIDA, mark a 3.6 percent increase over the 112.4 million visitors in 2016. This was despite a loss of 1.8 million visitors because of Hurricane Irma.

Governor Scott said, “Today, I am proud to announce that Florida has continued our record-breaking success by welcoming more than 116 million visitors in 2017. Because of VISIT FLORIDA’s aggressive marketing efforts to make sure families across the world knew that Florida was open to visitors following Hurricane Irma, we are able to celebrate another record-breaking year for tourism. This is especially great news for the 1.4 million jobs that rely on our growing tourism industry. We will continue to market our state as the number one global destination for tourism.”

Overall, the state recorded 102.3 million domestic travelers last year, up from 97.9 million in 2016 and 91.3 million 2015. Meanwhile, overseas travel dropped for the second consecutive year, from 11.4 million in 2015 to 11.1 million in 2016 and 10.7 million last year.

Canadian tourists, who have been a target of Visit Florida President and CEO Ken Lawson, grew from 3.3 million in 2016 to 3.5 million last year.

Airport visitors and hotel room stays were both up over 4 percent — despite huge September drops throughout most of the state in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma. Hotel stays saw a pronounced drop in the Keys, which reported a 44 percent year-over-year decrease in room demand in September.

Lawson credited “the cutting-edge marketing programs at VISIT FLORIDA, particularly following Hurricane Irma” for the increases.

A report for Visit Florida by Tourism Economics, an Oxford Economics company, found that Irma cost the state 1.8 million visitors, based on tourism trends before the September storm swept through the state. Irma made landfall in the Florida Keys and Collier County before barreling north.

“The majority of these lost visits occurred during September,” the report stated. “By December, the number of actual out-of-state visitors was nearly equal to the number of expected visitors to the state.”

Outside of the Keys, the storm is credited with helping to boost hotel room demand in October — up 10 percent from a year earlier — and November — 7 percent — due to displaced residents and workers responding to the disaster.

As 2017 got underway, Scott had sought to push the annual tourism figure to 120 million.

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The News Service of Florida contributed to this post. 

Delegation for 3.20.18 — Insights from the Beltway to the Sunshine State

Students have our attention, but will it last?

More than one month after the murder of 14 students and three school personnel in Parkland, the passion of the student activists remains high. Will it stay that way over the coming months?

In other words, will they be in the spotlight long enough to have an impact on fall elections? History would say no, but with the election of Donald Trump as president, looking to the past has not always been helpful.

Students hope to keep up the pressure on gun control.

Polling is already showing some erosion of support nationwide for banning guns. According to a Quinnipiac University poll, 67 percent favored a ban, but two weeks later support had slipped to 61 percent.

Perhaps an equally stunning result from the polling showed that 54 percent believe Republicans are intimidated by the NRA, but 49 percent feel Democrats are as well. That does not sound like an issue likely to dominate elections.

Florida’s passage of legislation featuring school protection and some gun restrictions was spurred by students and passed with the help of families from all 17 victims. The students and many Florida Democrats wanted weapons bans.

This bill may serve as the model going forward. As proof, several Republicans voted against it because it had gun restrictions. Those were offset by several Democrats who supported the restrictions and school safety measures.

Once Gov. Rick Scott signed the bill, the NRA filed a lawsuit against it. Even before it winds its way through the courts, legislation in step with student demands is unlikely to come anytime soon.

Last week, the House passed the STOP School Violence Act (see below), sponsored by Jacksonville Republican John Rutherford and launched in conjunction with Boca Raton Democrat Ted Deutch and two others.

Despite a lopsided bipartisan vote, the students had harsh words for the measure on CBS’ 60 Minutes on Sunday. While they gave the Florida bill a “C” or “C-minus,” there was open contempt for Rutherford’s bill, which was filed two weeks before the Parkland massacre.

“The Florida bill is much more impressive than that embarrassing Stop School Violence Act that they’re pushing in D.C., which is just a bunch of hot air, fluff,” said Cameron Kasky. “Doesn’t use the word gun once when all these tragedies, again, the one thing that has linked them together is the gun.”

In the end, will the passion remain and will these students lead their peers to do something few traditionally do, and that is to vote? Will those voters older than the students, other than those who support gun bans, be swayed to make a big difference in primaries and the polls?

Democrats like Deutch and Sen. Bill Nelson certainly hope so. Republicans in swing districts like Brian Mast and Carlos Curbelo are not taking any chances as they are publicly supporting gun regulations.

While students have made a dramatic impact on the conversation over the past month, their challenge is to keep the attention of an often distracted public. That is the only way to keep the focus of politicians.

Rubio/Gaetz have different takes on McCabe firing

The political world was abuzz on Friday when Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced he had fired FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe. McCabe’s termination came within a matter of days before he was due to retire with a comfortable pension and benefits.

Republican Sen. Marco Rubio was one of the few Republicans who questioned the timing, not the action, of pushing McCabe out the door on Friday. He explained his position, but provided wiggle room, to a question from NBC’s Chuck Todd on Sunday’s Meet the Press program after Todd asked if McCabe was treated fairly.

Opinions vary wildly on Andrew McCabe’s firing.

“I don’t like the way it happened. He should’ve been allowed to finish through the weekend,” Rubio said. “That said, that there’s an inspector general report that’s due and work that’s being done and after he had retired that report would’ve indicated wrongdoing or something that was actionable there’s things that could’ve been done after the fact.”

“But 48 hours to go before retirement, I would’ve certainly done it differently. Given the fact there’s still this report out there that hasn’t come in.”

Rubio was referring to the Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz, who is examining the conduct of the Department and the FBI during the investigation into the Hillary Clinton email controversy. The report is expected in the coming days.

 On the other hand, Gaetz welcomed Sessions’ move.

“Attorney General Sessions’ decision to fire Andrew McCabe was wholly justified, and based on recommendations by the Office of the Inspector General, the FBI’s Office of Professional Responsibility, and senior career officials at the FBI, all of whom recommended McCabe’s termination.,” Gaetz said in a statement.

“FBI leadership is not above the law, and Mr. McCabe’s dishonesty does not uphold the FBI’s commitment to fidelity, bravery, and integrity. It is concerning that Mr. McCabe was allowed to stay at the FBI as long as he did.”

Subsequent analysis from CNN and Forbes show McCabe will not lose his pension. Instead, he is missing out on receiving lucrative fringe benefits at age 50, but is still eligible for those benefits at age 57.

Nelson target of ads criticizing tax cut vote

The three-term Democrat is the subject of double-barrel attacks for his stance on the recently enacted tax cuts. Both the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) and Americans For Prosperity are panning Nelson’s proposal to repeal the cuts.

Nelson, who is likely to face Republican Gov. Scott in November, believes the money going to tax cuts should instead pay for a bill calling for spending on infrastructure. That did not go over well with Republicans and conservatives.

“Bill Nelson’s re-election strategy seems to be voting against bigger paychecks, bonuses and more jobs, and instead supporting higher taxes for Florida families,” said NRSC spokeswoman Katie Martin.

Bill Nelson faces double-barrel attacks from Americans for Prosperity.

Americans for Prosperity is targeting Democrats across the country, including Nelson, for their votes against the tax cuts.  The Nelson ad features a black and white photo of the Senator and reads “Senator Bill Nelson voted against putting more money in your pocket.”

“After eight years of a lackluster economy, we are witnessing a new era of growth in which Americans from every walk of life are finding more money in their pockets to save or spend on things they care about most, all thanks to tax reform,” said AFP President Tim Phillips. “Higher take-home pay, more business investments at home and better worker benefits are all part of the great American Pay Raise.”

The group said it is committing six figures for digital ad buys, which will run from March 19 through April 17.

Gaetz, Dunn host Service Academy Day events

Each Congressional district has residents who desire an appointment to military academies. Those districts with a significant military presence tend to attract even more interest.

Republican Matt Gaetz’ 1st Congressional District is one of those with a large military population. Next week, he will host two Service Academy Nights for students and their families to learn more about the process for gaining an appointment.

Click the image below to see Gaetz’s schedule:

Representatives from the Naval Academy, U.S. Military Academy, Air Force Academy, Coast Guard Academy and university ROTC programs will be present.  The first event is set for Pace High School on Tuesday and Niceville High School on Thursday.

Both events begin at 6 p.m.

Joining Gaetz will be Lt. Gen. Brad Webb, Commander of Air Force Special Operations Command at Hurlbert Field, and businessman Jason Crawford, who was a decorated Army combat veteran.

Panama City Republican Neal Dunn, whose 2nd Congressional District also has a strong military presence, recently took part in Military Service Academy Day in his hometown.

House passes Rutherford-sponsored school violence bill

While a bloc of Parkland High School students and gun control advocates wanted more, the House passed a bill with more modest goals last week. The STOP School Violence Act, sponsored by Jacksonville Republican Rutherford, was approved by an overwhelming 407-10 majority.

The bill does not ban any firearms, but does take other actions designed to protect Americans from events such as the Valentine’s Day mass murders in Parkland. It provides technology for school hardening and facilitates better coordination between law enforcement and school officials.

It also calls for student, teacher and law enforcement training to prevent violence.

John Rutherford meets with law enforcement to promote HR 4909, the STOP School Violence Act, which he introduced with Ted Deutch.

“Today’s vote in the House marks an important step toward keeping our children and our schools safe,” Rutherford said. “The STOP School Violence Act will give schools and communities the resources they need to identify threats and prevent acts of violence before they occur so we can avoid tragedies like what transpired at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School a month ago today.”

Rutherford and three other members introduced the legislation two weeks before the tragedy at Parkland. He was quick to praise Democratic Rep. Ted Deutch of Boca Raton, who represents the Parkland area in Congress.

“When we first introduced this bill,” Deutch said, “I had no idea it would hit so close to home for me and my community. This vote is proof that Congress can take bipartisan action to keep our children safe. However, my colleagues should not be mistaken to think this is enough.”

Among delegation members, 18 were included among the bill’s 94 co-sponsors. No Floridian voted against it.

Soto celebrates $3.5 billion defense contract

Politicians like to talk about job creation and economic impact, especially when it involves their district. The Orlando delegation has millions of reasons to talk.

On Friday, Lockheed Martin announced a huge contract to maintain over 300,000 devices used by the military. The $3.5 billion contract with the U.S. Army will mean thousands of jobs nationwide with dozens of those coming to Orlando.

Darren Soto is celebrating a multibillion-dollar defense contract and its impact for the Orlando area.

“This is great news for Lockheed Martin and Florida’s 9th Congressional District,” said Orlando Democrat Darren Soto. “I am proud to work with the Lockheed Martin facilities in Orlando as they make Central Florida a leader in modeling and simulation. I will continue to support federal investment to strengthen our defense capabilities and national security.”

Private Orlando firms will also be involved, including PULAU Corporation and the Orlando offices of Cubic Global Defense.

“This is huge for PULAU,” said company President Michael Armstrong. “We’ve been supporting the Army, the Navy primarily in training systems. We were a minor player on the warfighter-focused program before, but this will catapult us to a much larger presence.”

Bilirakis honored by health care advocates

The Republican from Palm Harbor earned the thanks of health care advocates for his work on ensuring access to care for millions of Americans. The National Association of Community Health Centers presented Bilirakis with the Champion Award for his efforts.

“We are so pleased to present this award to our good friend Congressman Bilirakis,” said Andrew Behrman, president and CEO of the association. “He has been such a strong and vocal supporter of community health centers. We can’t express our appreciation enough for all his untiring efforts, most of all authoring the important bill to fund the health centers.”

Gus Bilirakis meets with members of FACHC.

A group of health care advocates visited Capitol Hill last week to present Bilirakis with the award.  The award recognizes exemplary and continuous legislative leadership and advocacy on behalf of the 25 million patients who utilize Community Health Centers throughout the nation.

Bilirakis was cited for his record of ensuring these centers remain a viable option in which the insured, uninsured and underinsured can receive high-quality primary care, mental health and dental care.  His provision reauthorizing funding for community health centers was signed into law earlier this year.

“I am humbled to receive such a prestigious award,” Bilirakis said.  “Ensuring that my constituents and millions of other patients around the country continue to have access to the vital services they provide was a top priority for me this Congress. I believe community health centers may offer valuable options for Veterans who do not currently have access to dental care through the VA or who live in rural communities and have to drive long distances to get to their closest VA facility.”

Buchanan recognized by police organizations

The National Association of Police Organization (NAPO) recently recognized the Republican from Longboat Key for his long-standing support of law enforcement. NAPO President Mick McHale and the associated recognized Buchanan, citing his support of law enforcement, specifically increasing protections for state and local law enforcement.

Buchanan was cited for his sponsorship of the Thin Blue Line Act. The bill would make the targeting of or the killing of, a police officer, firefighter, or first responder an aggravating factor in death penalty determinations in federal court.

NAPO President Mick McHale with Vern Buchanan and Sarasota, FL Police Chief Bernadette DiPino.

“I was humbled to be recognized by the National Association of Police Organizations for my work in Congress,” Buchanan said. “The men and women in blue have our back; it’s time we had theirs.”

McHale joined Buchanan in calling on the Senate to pass the bill, which cleared the House by a 271-143 vote.

NAPO commended Buchanan for his advocacy of law enforcement saying they “can count on Congressman Buchanan to fight the good fight and defend law enforcement even as these professions are continuously attacked. NAPO thanked Congressman Buchanan for his continued support of the law enforcement community.”

Mast to answer questions on gun control proposals

The first-term Republican from Palm City recently made news with his plan for temporary bans on assault weapons. He will appear before the public to expound on his views and take questions.

Mast and Martin County Sheriff Will Snyder, a former state representative, will be the guests of the Martin County Taxpayers Association on March 29. Their appearance is part of the association’s annual dinner.

Brian Mast will soon face the public on his gun control stands.

The decorated war veteran shocked many on the right and the left when he announced he would break from the NRA and support the temporary ban. He further explained his position was designed to get Congress and other elected officials moving by imposing a deadline.

Mast has received praise for his stance from gun control advocates, but criticism from within his own party who are either angered or confused by his suggestion. Critics will have their chance to question him.

Association President Tom Kenney has asked residents “not to hold back” with their questions. The dinner begins at 6 p.m. and will be held at the Monarch Country Club in Palm City.

Frankel backs Baer for Congress

Lois Frankel is endorsing Democrat Lauren Baer in her campaign for Florida’s 18th Congressional District.

“Lauren was raised in FL-18 and understands firsthand the challenges facing the district and our country. Her passion, experience, and deep roots in our community set her apart and will make her a great Representative for the district.” Frankel said in a statement. “From day one, Lauren will work hard every day to find meaningful solutions. I am proud to stand with Lauren and look forward to serving together in Congress.”

Lauren Baer gets thumbs up from Lois Frankel.

“I am grateful to have the endorsement of Congresswoman Frankel,” Baer responded. “Over her long career, Lois has exercised remarkable leadership at the local, state and national level, and has paved the way for women like me. I look forward to working with Lois to fight for Florida families.”

Diaz-Balart praises latest sanctions on Venezuela

The Trump administration announced on Monday that even more sanctions are being leveled on the regime of President Nicolas Maduro. In addition to placing restrictions on four regime officials, the U.S. is banning a digital currency Maduro created to circumvent previous sanctions.

“I commend the Trump administration for further tightening sanctions against the Maduro regime by prohibiting financial transactions involving its new digital currency, as well as targeted sanctions against four additional Maduro operatives,” said Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart of Miami. “Today’s action aims to prevent the Maduro regime and its cronies from circumventing sanctions already in place and holds accountable more individuals involved in corruption.”

Mario Diaz-Balart praises additional sanctions on Venezuela.

Last week, Nelson asked the Trump administration to take action against the cryptocurrency. Last month, Rubio openly suggested a coup d’état against the Maduro regime was in order.

Next week Trump heads to Lima, Peru for the Summit of the Americas. Venezuela will be a central issue on the agenda.

Maggie’s List fundraiser to feature Bilirakis, Florida AG candidate

The Palm Harbor Republican is on board to help elect more conservatives and will attend a fundraiser designed to help a federal political action committee committed to assisting fiscally conservative female candidates. Bilirakis, along with Florida Attorney General candidate Ashley Moody, is one of the featured guests at a reception on behalf of Maggie’s List.

Bilirakis will be there to help the group raise funds to continue their mission of assisting federal and state candidates such as Moody. The reception is slated for noon on Tuesday, March 27 in Tampa.

Ashley Moody among those candidates getting the nod from Maggie’s List.

Among those hosting the event include former Republican Party of Florida Chairwoman Carole Jean JordanLeslie SaundersWendy PepeChristina Johnson and former Florida Secretary of State Sandra Mortham.

Maggie’s List was formed in 2010, led by Mortham, to support fiscally conservative women in the mold of former Senator Margaret Chase Smith, who represented Maine in the U.S. Senate for four terms. While Florida is strongly represented among the founders and leaders, the group has supported more than 100 candidates at the state and federal level around the country.

Mortham is the Chairman of Maggie’s List, while Jordan serves National Finance Chairman.

Along with Bilirakis, several GOP male delegation members are behind the efforts of Maggie’s List. Listed on the group’s website as “partners” are Dan Webster of Orlando, Bill Posey of Rockledge, Rutherford of Jacksonville and Dunn of Panama City. They join with Miami Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.

RNC rakes in cash

In February, the Republican National Committee raised a whopping $12.8 million, for a total haul of $157.7 million. With no debt, the RNC has $42.2 million cash-on-hand. Compare that to the lead in for the 2014 midterms, when the RNC had just $10 million cash on hand.

Reaffirming importance of home health care

This week, more than 30 Florida home care agency leaders – including board and staff of the Home Care Association of Florida, as well as home care agency executives and lobbyists – met with 26 members of the Florida delegation. The meeting was Part of the National Association for Home Care & Hospice’s march on Washington.

Among the key issues discussed:

– Fixes to the Bipartisan Budget Act, regarding the pending overhaul of the Medicare payment system for home health benefits;

– Passage of the Home Health Care Planning Improvement Act, which currently has no Florida co-sponsors (last year, Nelson and Rubio co-led initiatives, including sign-on letters by the full delegation to CMS on critical industry issues; HCAF is currently garnering support for this legislation); and,

– Reaffirming the value of home health care: high-quality, cost-effective health care in the patient-preferred setting – home. Every year, nearly 1,000 agencies across Florida provide services to more than 329,000 patients. The home care industry also employs more than 68,000 Floridians.

Associated Press names new White House news editor

Nancy Benac, a veteran Washington journalist who has covered the presidency and national political campaigns, is the new Associated Press White House news editor. Julie Pace, AP’s Washington bureau chief, made the announcement this week.

The Associated Press has named Nancy Benac as its White House news editor.

Benac will lead a team of AP reporters covering all aspects of the Trump administration; she had been on White House team on an interim basis since last summer. Benac has worked for the AP for more than 35 years, covering government and politics. She began as an intern in the New York City bureau in 1980, followed by stints in Detroit and Lansing, Michigan, before moving to Washington as the Michigan regional reporter in 1983.

On this date in the headlines

March 20, 1993 — With Supreme Court Justice Byron White announcing his retirement, President Bill Clinton has the opportunity to make an appointment only two months into his first term. Clinton was facing pleas from his base to appoint a woman or minority to the Court.

(Clinton appointed Ruth Bader Ginsburg on June 15, and she was confirmed on August 3 by a Senate vote of 96-3 with Democrat Bob Graham and Republican Connie Mack voting to approve.)

March 20, 2004 — As President George W. Bush prepares to arrive in Orlando to hold his first grassroots re-election rally, Democrats were ready to criticize his policies. Sen. Graham said “real Floridians are facing “real problems,” while Sen. Nelson ticked off statistics of “70,000 jobs lost” and “2.8 million don’t have health insurance.”

In response, Republican strategist Ralph Reed said: “I’m sorry to see that the comments of Sen. Graham and Sen. Nelson seemed to have more to do with their desire to audition for the vice-presidential nomination than they have to do with substantive issues.”

March 20, 2010 — With memories of a raucous Tampa town hall where Democratic Rep. Kathy Castor was hustled out the door, under shouts of “tyranny” and “shame,” Congress prepares for a historic vote. They are preparing to take up the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act championed by President Barack Obama.

Castor, who claims health care as a signature issue, is ready to join her Democratic colleagues in getting the measure through. They will need their caucus to stay unified.

(The law was passed by Congress by an all-Democratic vote on March 21 and signed into law by Obama on March 23.)

Flags at half staff for FIU bridge collapse victims

Gov. Rick Scott has ordered flags at half staff “in honor and remembrance of the victims of the Florida International University pedestrian bridge collapse” in Miami.

His office made the announcement Tuesday.

The U.S. and state flags will be flown at half-staff sunrise to sunset Thursday at the Capitol in Tallahassee, “and at all local and state buildings, installations, and grounds throughout Miami-Dade County,” the announcement said.

“I have ordered the lowering of the flags this Thursday in remembrance of the victims of the bridge collapse at FIU,” Scott said in a statement. “Our state continues to mourn and we offer our sincerest condolences to their families.”

The collapse of the 950-ton pedestrian bridge, which left at least six people dead and at least as many injured, happened last Thursday.

Scott quickly joined local and federal officials on the scene, promising a full investigation and pointing the finger at the university for the disaster.

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Background provided by The News Service of Florida. 

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