Staff Reports, Author at Florida Politics - Page 7 of 176

Staff Reports

ZooTampa’s newest addition: A baby white rhino

ZooTampa has a new addition.

A rare southern white rhinoceros was born Sept. 12, officials at the former Lowry Park Zoo announced last week.

As first reported by WFLA, Mother Alake gave birth to a calf; it was the sixth successful southern white rhino birth and ninth rhino in the zoo’s history.

After the calf bonds with its mother, zookeepers will introduce the baby rhino to the rest of the herd.

The southern white rhino lives in just four countries in Africa.

Poachers have killed a record number of rhinos due to a high demand for keratin, a protein found in rhino horn that many people believe is medicinal.

“ZooTampa is deeply committed to the species’ continued survival, both at home and beyond. Every birth brings hope to the continued conservation of this incredible species,” ZooTampa general curator Chris Massaro told WFLA.

Image via ZooTampa.


Hundreds mark Hurricane Maria anniversary near Donald Trump resort

Dozens of vehicles slowly approached President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida on Saturday afternoon, blasting reggaeton and salsa as they drove by. They honked their horns and waved Puerto Rican flags draped from their car windows and trunks. They were on their way to a rally a few miles away to mark the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Maria.

Despite the scorching hot sun, hundreds of activists showed up at the Meyer Amphitheater in West Palm Beach. Buses full of protesters came from as far as Miami and Orlando. The crowd was lively. People spread out on the grass and walked around carrying posters that read “Respeta Mi Gente” (Respect My People) and “Justice for Puerto Rico.” To one side of the stage, a giant blowup balloon of Trump depicted as a baby had been inflated. Crowds waited in line to take photographs in which they gave the orange balloon the middle finger.

Event organizers encouraged those in attendance to vote in the midterm elections in November. Anyone with a microphone was constantly telling people to vote, to register to vote, and to spread awareness about voting.

“We’re honoring the lives that were lost,” said Marcos Vilar, the president and executive director of Alianza for Progress, one of the event organizers. “We are recognizing all the people that were displaced and are living here in South Florida, central Florida and throughout the state.”

Vilar believes that although Puerto Ricans are citizens, the current administration’s response to the aftermath of Hurricane Maria has proven that Puerto Ricans are not treated equally.

Nearly 3,000 people have died as a result of Hurricane Maria, according to a study conducted by the Milken Institute School of Public Health at George Washington University. The president has repeatedly rebuked the death toll. Last week he tweeted that researchers had inflated the numbers “like magic” saying the amount was “FIFTY TIMES LAST ORIGINAL NUMBER -NO WAY!”

Trump was not at Mar-a-Lago during the event.

Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson, who was in attendance, called the current situation in Puerto Rico “inexcusable” and characterized Trump’s comments as offensive. “How much more insults do (Puerto Ricans) have to take after being treated like they have?” he asked.

He also criticized the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s relief efforts, saying that their treatment of Puerto Ricans has been “cold-hearted” and that the agency must do more to provide displaced people with temporary housing assistance.

Nelson is locked in a tight re-election race with Republican Gov. Rick Scott, who must leave office because of term limits. The large Puerto Rican vote in Florida is seen as a crucial bloc in the state. Scott has visited Puerto Rico numerous times since the hurricane.

Dayavet Velez, 17, said that her home in Adjuntas, a small municipality tucked away in the mountains of central Puerto Rico, had been destroyed by Hurricane Maria. She and her family have been living in central Florida for nearly a year. “We came here because we lost everything there,” she said.

Velez said that when Trump visited Puerto Rico, he didn’t see the full devastation that Maria had caused, he saw only a distorted reality. He didn’t visit the areas that were most affected by the storm.

Despite the hardships she and her family have faced, the high school senior remains hopeful.

“We’re not going to be torn down,” she said. “We’re going to stand up for ourselves … we’re going to be strong … we’re going to progress here.”

Material from the Associated Press was used in this post.

Delegation for 9.21.18 — Insights from the Beltway to the Sunshine State

Supreme Court may again influence national elections

The continuing intensity surrounding the she-said-he-said drama involving Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh has continued unabated throughout the week. The lingering question was whether the woman accusing Kavanaugh of sexual assault more than three decades ago would speak with the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Christine Blasey Ford had until 10 a.m. Friday to decide whether to appear. Otherwise, committee chairman Chuck Grassley, an Iowa Republican, pledged to move forward with a committee vote on the nomination swiftly.

The fight over Brett Kavanagh’s Supreme Court nomination devolves to a he-said-she-said situation. (Image via Getty)

In a rare show of discipline, President Donald Trump and Senate Republicans have urged Ford to tell her story, including Sen. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. So has ABC commentator Cokie Roberts, the daughter of former Democratic Senator Hale Boggs of Louisiana.

A Supreme Court nomination again may hold the key to success, or defeat, in national elections. Few argue that Trump was boosted in 2016 by the specter of having the power to appoint Supreme Court justices after Senate Republicans blocked President Barack Obama’s nomination of Judge Merrick Garland.

It is playing a pivotal role in determining how the Senate will look in early January when current office holders are again sworn in, or new faces sworn in by Vice-President Mike Pence.

Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson has a lot in common with his party colleague Claire McCaskill of Missouri. Both are running for re-election in a state won by Trump, but there is a difference.

Trump won Missouri by 20 points, while he barely edged Hillary Clinton by less than two points in Florida. McCaskill needs a much more significant percentage of Republican votes than Nelson to win re-election.

Still, Nate Silver’s 538 operation rates Nelson as the “most vulnerable” Senator up for re-election. The three-term Democrat is convinced issues like tying Gov. Rick Scott to the algae spread in South Florida and the devastation from red tide are issues that will help him carry the day (see below).

No matter how Nelson votes on Kavanaugh, he will make either some persuadable voters angry or infuriate the Democratic base. McCaskill may have given him the final nudge that he needs.

Despite the need for Republican votes in a solid red state, she announced this week she would not vote for Kavanaugh’s confirmation. McCaskill has determined that either the blue wave is coming or losing a piece of the base is a higher risk than trying to attract or keep Republicans who may have voted for her in the past.

Nelson is following the lead of Democratic leadership by calling for the FBI to investigate and that both Kavanaugh and Ford should appear before the committee. He also pledged to read the FBI background report on Kavanaugh on Monday.

Committee Democrats are saying Ford should not appear before them until the FBI investigates. The agency said they would not be investigating the matter.

Unless a new bombshell drops over the weekend, the next phase of this ongoing saga is set to begin. The employment status of Senators like Nelson and McCaskill, or perhaps endangered Republican Sen. Dean Heller of Nevada, may hang in the balance.

Rubio swipes at Salt Bae over Maduro

The sight of Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro feasting on a lavishly prepared steak dinner by internationally-known restaurateur Nusret Gokce, also known as Salt Bae, sent Republican Sen. Marco Rubio to his Twitter page. In a video, Salt Bae is shown hugging Maduro as he prepared the meal in his Istanbul restaurant.

“I don’t know who this weirdo #Saltbae is, but the guy he is so proud to host is not the President of #Venezuela,” Rubio said. “He is actually the overweight dictator of a nation where 30% of the nation eat only once a day & infants are suffering from malnutrition.”

Marco Rubio blasts Chef ‘Salt Bae’ on Twitter, even posting his Miami restaurant’s address and phone number.

Salt Bae is a flamboyant chef who uses social media to visualize his craft and help him enlarge his restaurant empire that is worth more than $1.5 billion. Following the backlash from the Maduro posting, he removed the video of the evening from his site, but only after the Miami Herald had already saved it.

Rubio, one of Maduro’s fiercest critics, took it a step further by posting the address and telephone number of a restaurant Salt Bae owns in Miami. That was a bit too much for a conservative writer with the Weekly Standard.

While agreeing with Rubio on nearly all points made regarding Maduro, Ethan Epstein wrote a piece called Senators Shouldn’t Harass their Constituents on Twitter. Epstein concluded the article by calling Rubio’s actions as almost “Maduro-esque.”

Rubio’s spokeswoman noted a difference in media coverage that focuses on Rubio’s words and actions as opposed to media in South Florida pointing out the actions of Maduro.

Forget ‘blue wave.’ Red tide is big issue in Scott/Nelson race

Forget gun control and health care, the prevailing issue in the race between incumbent Bill Nelson and Governor Rick Scott for U.S. Senate has become dead fish and toxic air.

For weeks, Florida’s Gulf Coast has been inundated with a red tide bloom that now stretches from Southwest Florida to Clearwater.

It’s doing some pretty big favors for Nelson.

Scott went from a six-point lead over Nelson in August to a nearly tied race in the latest Florida Atlantic University Business and Economics Polling Initiative (FAU BEPI.)

Forget blue waves; red tide is the big issue in Florida’s U.S. Senate race. (Image via Getty)

Among those polled 32 percent blamed state government, which Scott leads as Governor, for the outbreak. Only 13 percent blame the federal government.

Scott has tried to steer the conversation away, pointing out in an onslaught of red tide mitigation announcements this week that the toxic algae bloom is a naturally occurring event that’s been happening since the 1840s.

Still, hordes of protesters booed Scott from a Cuban restaurant in the mostly red city of Venice this week, most carrying signs blaming him for the red tide outbreak.

For his part, Nelson seems not to be riding the proverbial “blue wave” and instead is coasting through his toughest re-election bid to date on a nasty red wave littered with dead fish.

Nelson, Rubio file bill to rename refuge after Reed

On Tuesday, Rubio and Nelson teamed up on a bill that would provide a lasting legacy to a Florida environmental legend. Together, they filed legislation to rename the Hobe Sound National Wildlife Refuge after Nathaniel “Nat” Reed, who died in July at the age of 84.

Reed was a leading voice in South Florida for restoring the Everglades and was a go-to adviser to governors and elected officials. While serving as Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior during the administration of President Richard Nixon, he helped guide the Endangered Species Act through Congress.

Bill Nelson, Marco Rubio join forces to name the Hobe Sound Wildlife Refuge after environmentalist Nathaniel ‘Nat’ Reed (Image via Mac Stone)

In 1967, Reed’s father, Joseph, established the Reed Wilderness Seashore Sanctuary on the northern end of Jupiter Island and had it designated as a national landmark. Two years later, Joseph Reed gave Florida Audubon the portion of land that is the island portion of the Hobe Sound refuge.

“Naming this particular refuge after Nat Reed makes sense because the refuge wouldn’t be there without his family,” Nelson said in announcing the bill from the Senate floor. “Today the refuge provides habitat for dozens of threatened and endangered species.”

Another part of Reed’s legacy was protecting Big Cypress Swamp.

“A well-known and widely respected conservationist who championed Everglades restoration, Nat Reed was instrumental in advocating for state and national environmental policy,” Rubio said. “It is a fitting tribute that the Hobe Sound National Wildlife Refuge, where his passion for nature was first inspired, be named in his honor.”

Rubio criticizes Apple over data collection

Rubio has raised concerns with Apple over an application available on the Mac App Store, which collected users’ browsing histories and stored it on servers in China.

In a letter to Apple CEO Tim Cook, Rubio said security researchers notified Apple in mid-August that the Adware Doctor app collected information, but the company did nothing until the reports went public.

Marco Rubio is voicing concerns to Tim Cook over Apple storing data in China.

“For a company that prides itself on prioritizing user privacy and security, this delayed response is extremely disconcerting,” Rubio said in the letter, which was shared in a news release. “It is also troubling that Apple researchers failed to uncover Adware Doctor’s covert collection and ‘storage’ process.”

Rubio, who sits on the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations and the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said the threat of China storing American users’ data on its servers is as alarming as the country’s “malevolent economic behavior involving the theft of U.S. intellectual property.”

Rubio posed various questions to Cook, including why Apple did immediately conduct an investigation and how the company would ensure the Apple App Store would have adequate security to prevent foreign actors from gaining access to user data.

“When users access the Mac App Store, they do so under the belief and reasonable expectation that the application options presented to them have been thoroughly vetted and approved by Apple,” Rubio said.

Gaetz celebrates Trump declassifying Russia probe docs

To the delight of several Republicans, Trump has ordered the declassification of several documents that played a role in beginning the probe of Russian interference and possible collusion with the Trump campaign in the 2016 campaign. Several Freedom Caucus members, including Rep. Matt Gaetz of Fort Walton Beach and former Rep. Ron DeSantis of Marineland, have long called for the release of unredacted FBI and Justice Department documents.

The documents in question are specific pages of the June 2017 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrant application related to onetime Trump campaign foreign policy adviser Carter Page. Trump has also ordered the declassification and release of FBI interview reports prepared in connection with all FISA warrant applications involving Page, and all FBI reports of interviews with Justice Department lawyer Bruce Ohr prepared in connection with the FBI’s Russia investigation.

Matt Gaetz (again) praises Donald Trump for declassifying Russia probe documents. Color us surprised. 

“I commend President Trump for his decision to declassify numerous documents, including several redacted pages of the Carter Page FISA application and important messages relating to the Russia investigation,” Gaetz said in a statement. “My colleagues in Congress and I have requested these documents for months, but have faced lengthy and unnecessary delays, redactions, and refusals from officials at the Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.”

Gaetz, who sits on the House Judiciary Committee, added that he looks “forward to the forthcoming release of these documents, and reviewing them closely.”

Additionally, Trump has ordered the DOJ and the FBI to release all text messages related to the Russia investigation — in unredacted form — of former FBI Director James Comey, former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, former FBI Special Agent Peter Strzok, former FBI attorney Lisa Page and Ohr.

The top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Adam Schiff of California, called Trump’s action “a clear abuse of power.”

Soderberg ads target pre-existing health conditions

Florida’s 6th Congressional District Democratic nominee Nancy Soderberg has released two new TV ads with a focus on health care differences between her and her Republican opponent, Mike Waltz. The seat was left vacant by DeSantis, the GOP nominee for Governor.

The first ad, “Hung Up,” talks about difficulties in receiving health insurance. After giving a brief biography focusing on her diplomatic career, Soderberg then gets into one of the hottest issues surrounding health care, one that she has focused upon during the campaign.

“I helped start the conversation to bring peace to Northern Ireland, and I was one of the first to say ‘let’s get bin Laden,’ but when I called insurance companies looking for health coverage, they hung up on me because I have a pre-existing condition,” Soderberg said.

To view “Hung up,” click on the image below:

She has shared with voters that she has diabetes.

“Everyone here in Florida deserves health insurance we can afford. That’s why I’m running for Congress,” Soderberg says.

The second ad, “Unavailable,” depicts Waltz as likely to “gut protections for pre-existing conditions.” The video shows individuals calling his office only to be directed to an answering machine.

To view “Unavailable,” click on the image below:

Soderberg, who has raised over $2 million in this race, has the resources to deploy thanks to her primary being much less costly than the three-way GOP race, which left Waltz with only $286K banked on Aug. 8. And she clearly sees room to move independent voters on the real differences in health care plans between Waltz and her.

The most recent poll released this week shows Waltz with a five-point lead. 

Veteran says Bilirakis ‘addressing real issues’ in new ad

Veterans have been a prime focus of Republican Rep. Gus Bilirakis during his years in Congress, and his campaign is no different. He has launched a new ad starring former military members who talk about his efforts.

The ad, titled “Fighting for Warriors,” features a veteran named Bryan A. praising Bilirakis’ efforts to ensure veterans obtain the best medical care. He said Bilirakis “is addressing the real issues we’re facing.”

To view “Fighting for Warriors,” click on the image below:

The six-term incumbent from Palm Harbor has had little difficulty defending his seat in past elections. This year he faces Democrat Chris Hunter, a former FBI agent and federal prosecutor who easily won a three-way Democratic primary with almost two-thirds of the vote.

District 12 is rated “safe Republican” by most political handicappers, including University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato and his “Crystal Ball.” Trump won the district by 19 points two years ago.

F. Rooney calls to stop China higher education theft

Technology theft has become a growing problem in the U.S. thanks to vigorous activities by foreign powers in recent years. Naples Republican Francis Rooney has introduced a bill to stop international intelligence services from using college exchange programs to steal technology, recruit agents and spread propaganda.

The Stop Higher Education Espionage and Theft (SHEET) Act would allow the FBI to designate foreign intelligence threats to higher education, require stricter reporting rules by universities which receive foreign gifts, and protect civil liberties by allowing designations to be appealed similar to Foreign Terrorist Organization designations.

Francis Rooney wants to end Chinese spying on American institutes of higher learning.

“Geopolitical adversaries like China are stealing American technology and exploiting our universities’ open research and development environment,” Rooney said in a news release. “One glaring example, Confucius Institutes, are used as a front by the Chinese Communist Party to infiltrate American campuses to gather information and steal American technologies. We must stop foreign intelligence from exploiting our higher education for technology theft.”

Rooney, who serves as the vice chairman of the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee, has six co-sponsors for the bill, despite still being in his first term. He has also reeled in five co-sponsors including Gaetz and fellow Republicans Neal DunnMatt Gaetz, and Dan Webster.

Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz has introduced companion legislation in that chamber.

Deutch blasts refugee cap

The Trump administration has revealed a plan that continues to reduce the number of refugees coming into the U.S. That has not set well with Democratic Rep. Ted Deutch of Boca Raton.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced 30,000 refugees is the new maximum for 2019. This year, 45,000 refugees were allowed to enter.

“Our proposal of resettling up to 30,000 refugees under a new ceiling reflects the United States’ long-standing record as the most generous nation in the world for protection-based immigration and assistance,” Pompeo said in a tweet.

Capping the number of refugees accepted into the US at 30K is too low for Ted Deutch.

That is not nearly enough for Deutch, who tweeted the dwindling number of individuals trying to enter the country over the past few years.

According to Deutch, 110,000 refugees were absorbed in 2015 with next year’s total only one-third of that amount.

“We are turning our backs on tens of thousands of people who are counting on us to honor our American values to save their lives,” he tweeted. “This is not who we are.”

Diaz-Balart touts Irma Crop Block Grants

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) will award Florida $4.35 million through its Specialty Crop Block Grant program, according to Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart. In a news release, the Miami Republican said Florida’s agriculture industry was still reeling from the damage caused by Hurricane Irma as well as various maladies affecting the citrus industry, such as citrus greening.

“This money is essential. Beyond citrus, this funding will go a long way toward getting our state’s premier agricultural sector back on its feet,” Diaz-Balart said.

He went on to thank Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue for recognizing Florida’s agricultural workers.

USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service allocated over $72 million for the program for the 2018 fiscal year, of which Florida received the second-most, after California, which received over $22 million. Florida received over $3.7 million last year.

The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture funded the program. Diaz-Balart sits on the House Appropriations Committee along with three other Floridians: Republicans Tom Rooney of Okeechobee and John Rutherford of Jacksonville, along with Democrat Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Weston.

Polls point to closer than expected race in CD 27

If any district in America epitomized the opportunity for a blue wave in November, it was Florida’s District 27, where Democrats were favored to win a Democrat-leaning district held for nearly three decades by now-retiring popular Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. The money and excitement were all with Democrats during the primary season with the GOP struggling to keep up.

Now, with two internal polls obtained by POLITICO, Republicans have a little hope they could actually hold the seat. Republican candidate Maria Elvira Salazar holds a nine-point lead over Democrat Donna Shalala in a Salazar campaign poll, while Shalala is up by four according to a poll commissioned by her campaign.

The Salazar poll, conducted by McLaughlin & Associates, are not buying into the narrative that the seat will ultimately go Democratic just because the district went big for Hillary Clinton two years ago. The analysis says that Rubio and Ros-Lehtinen “outperformed the presidential race by 30 points in 2016.”

While the Salazar poll was just a head-to-head matchup with Shalala, the Democratic poll also included independent candidate Mayra Joli, whom POLITICO described as “Trump-loving.” Joli has eight percent in the Shalala poll, likely leaving more room for the Republican if that support fades nearer Election Day.

Internal polls are not reliable indicators of how a race stands, but assuming each of these holds the most favorable view for their candidate, they do point to a close race. It is indeed much closer than Democrats expected with some already in panic mode.

“Donna’s campaign changed in April. It went from active mode to sleep mode. And she hasn’t woken up,” said Grant Stern, a longtime critic of Shalala’s and a Miami-Dade County Democratic Executive Committee member, echoing the sentiment of party insiders. “Donna needs to rescue this campaign.”

Ros-Lehtinen has endorsed Salazar.

On this day in the headlines

September 21, 2001 — Before a joint session of Congress, President George W. Bush declared a “war on terror,” highlighting the country’s resolve following the devastating terror attack on September 11. Bush issued an ultimatum to Taliban leaders in Afghanistan to turn over terrorists who are training in their country or face the consequences.

The President has broad, bipartisan support in Congress. Democratic Sen. Bob Graham said after the speech that a crisis could bring out the highest character in presidents and “clearly, George Bush arrived in that group of presidents.”

September 21, 2013 — The road to overhauling America’s immigration system became even more difficult with the resignations of two Texas Republicans from a bipartisan group seeking to forge a compromise. Reps. John Carter and Sam Johnson said, “any measure depending on (President Barack Obama’s) enforcement will not be faithfully executed.”

The final Republican in the group, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart of Miami, could not be reached for comment. His chief of staff, Cesar Gonzalez, said Diaz-Balart would try to find “other avenues” to get their ideas into a bill the House could consider.

Jobs numbers announced: 1.6M added since late 2010, state says

Gov. Rick Scott announced that “Florida businesses have created 1,615,500 jobs since December 2010, with 20,000 private-sector jobs being added in August.”

The Governor’s Office released the latest employment numbers Friday in a news release.

“Over the past year, 217,600 new private-sector jobs were created in Florida, and the state’s annual job growth rate has outpaced the nation for 76 of the past 77 months,” it says.

Scott discussed the numbers at Promise in Brevard, an affordable housing development for those with unique abilities.

“The Florida turnaround story continues with another milestone being achieved — 1.6 million jobs created in under eight years,” he said in a statement.

“Floridians should be proud of this accomplishment and the entire nation should take note: By cutting taxes and creating a positive environment for business, we’ve grown our economy. We’ll never stop fighting for job creation.”

In August, Florida’s unemployment rate remained unchanged at 3.7 percent, a drop of 7.1 percentage points since December 2010.

“This drop is faster than the national decline of 5.4 percentage points,” the release said.

The August 2018 employment data is here.

Jacksonville Bold for 9.21.18 — It’s getting late

Inside seven weeks until Election Day, and it’s just a few weeks from the start of vote by mail.

What that means: It’s getting late.

It’s getting late for statewide candidates who come to Jacksonville and try to define themselves, struggling for attention from an indifferent media.

And time is short for some candidates who haven’t yet fired their general election messaging.

And the clock isn’t slowing here for Jacksonville candidates who hope to close out opponents by March (but they may have to slog through until May).

Will 2018 be a “wave election?” And will it matter in 2019?

Soderberg hits Waltz on health care

Former Ambassador Nancy Soderberg, the Democratic candidate to fill Ron DeSantis‘ open seat in Florida’s 6th Congressional District, rolled out two new TV spots Tuesday morning spotlighting health care differences with her opponent.

The first, “Hung Up,” deals with difficulties in getting health insurance.

“I helped start the conversation to bring peace to Northern Ireland, and I was one of the first to say let’s get bin Laden, but when I called insurance companies looking for health coverage, they hung up on me because I have a pre-existing condition,” Soderberg said in the spot.

Those following Soderberg’s race with Republican nominee Mike Waltz closely will note that health coverage for pre-existing conditions has been a general election talking point for her.

“Everyone here in Florida deserves health insurance we can afford. That’s why I’m running for Congress,” Soderberg remarks.

The second spot, “Unavailable,” sets up a contrast with Waltz, beginning with a depiction of a constituent call to Waltz’s headquarters.

“Can you please tell me why Mike Waltz’s health care plan kicks 70,000 people off health insurance and raises health care costs for everyone else,” says one caller.

A second caller shreds Waltz for trying to “gut protections for pre-existing conditions.”

Eventually, callers are routed to an answering machine.

Soderberg, who has already raised more than $2 million in this race, has the resources to deploy. And clearly, she sees room to move independent voters on the real differences in health care plans between Waltz and her.

To view “Hung Up,” click on the image below:

To view “Unavailable,” click on the image below:

Socialism a ‘dead end street,’ Caldwell says

The Republican ticket this year continues to message against the “socialism” on the Democratic side, and Agriculture Commissioner hopeful Matt Caldwell was no exception Saturday.

Speaking to a handful of Republican activists at the Jacksonville HQ for the Florida GOP, the Fort Myers area lawmaker warned of the “outright socialist” Democratic ticket, drawing comparisons to Venezuela, Cuba, and California.

Socialism is a ‘dead-end street,’ says Matt Caldwell.

Caldwell laughed when Florida Politics asked if that comparison was valid.

“I do think that socialism is a dead end street,” Caldwell said. “While I don’t think that Andrew Gillum would like to see empty store shelves and people starve in the street, that is ultimately what it comes to. It works against human nature. Every time we’ve seen it tried, it failed.”

Caldwell described Gillum endorser Sen. Bernie Sanders as “an avowed socialist” dedicated to a “European socialist model” with Gillum having “embraced it wholeheartedly.”

Caldwell discussed a variety of issues with us, including the Governor’s race, cannabis, and water issues. Read more here.

Socialism canard a ‘dog whistle,’ Ring says

Matt Caldwell wasn’t the only statewide candidate in Jacksonville this week. Monday saw Democratic CFO nominee Jeremy Ring talking to Duval Democrats.

Ring, the former Yahoo! executive and state Senator, told Florida Politics after his speech that Republican claims that Andrew Gillum is a “socialist” amount to more “dog whistle” politics.

“It’s out of a 101 playbook,” Ring said when asked, adding that it doesn’t seem to be “getting traction” given Gillum’s polling lead with independent voters.

Jeremy Ring says the ‘socialism’ tag is just another GOP dog whistle.

“It’s a dog whistle of sorts. Is Gillum a socialist because he wants to ban assault weapons? Ask them to define socialism,” Ring said.

“If they define it, it’s not going to match where the Democrats are,” Ring added. “Socialism — it’s a dog whistle word as it relates to its reality in this election.”

A main ballast for the claim: Gillum’s desire to hike corporate income taxes from 5.5 to 7.75 percent. Ring rejected that logic.

“I don’t think that’s a socialist measure,” Ring opined. “That’s a policy debate with pros and cons attached to it for sure. I don’t think just because you’re talking about raising a corporate tax rate that you’re talking about socialism. It seems to be pretty far fetched to me.”

‘What side is the lobbyist on?’

“What side is lobbyist Wyman Duggan on?”

That’s the question posed by the first television ad from Republican Duggan’s opponent in the House District 15 general election, Democrat Tracye Polson.

To view the ad, click on the image below:

The 30-second spot contends that “Duggan worked to sell JEA, raising rates, costing the city millions every year” and “wants politicians to appoint our school board.”

The ad’s reference to Duggan working to sell JEA (lobbying for Emera, a Nova Scotia utility company that also owns TECO in Tampa) was rehearsed by a Republican opponent during the primary campaign last month. However, this is the first time the claim has been televised.

Polson, meanwhile, draws a contrast to that world of influence with her upbeat narration, noting she stands “with students, who deserve great public schools; with an elected school board, with law enforcement … and as a cancer survivor and health professional, with patients.”

“My opponent can stand with the other lobbyists. I’ll always stand with Florida’s families,” Polson says in close.

Nuclear option

Jacksonville’s public utility JEA and Georgia’s Municipal Electric Authority are at loggerheads over the future of the $27 billion Plant Vogtle, with lawsuits filed by each side.

MEAG contends JEA is trying to renege on its 2008 deal to “cover 41 percent of MEAG’s share of construction costs at the Vogtle expansion for 20 years in exchange for power to service its residential customers in Florida and Georgia.”

JEA and Georgia’s Municipal Electric Authority face off for a nuclear (as in Plant Vogtle) option.

On Tuesday, JEA sought resolution on the issue with a letter from its board chairman G. Alan Howard to his counterpart at MEAG.

That letter outlines the unaffordability of the deal for JEA and MEAG, proposes that JEA continues to pay “sunk costs,” and offers an alternative, cheaper power sourcing for MEAG and JEA both.

Howard pointed out that Jacksonville consumers can’t afford to pay what the board agreed to a decade prior: “But we in Jacksonville have 50,000 families that live at or below the poverty line to protect, making affordability an essential priority for us and our community.”

“And this decision is crystal clear: if MEAG Power’s Board votes not to proceed with this Project, communities across Georgia, Alabama, and Florida could save at least $2.5 billion when compared to at least one alternative power option we have identified: money that makes a meaningful difference in the lives of the people we serve,” Howard added.

JEA has been shopping for better deals, Howard noted, securing a term sheet for 206MW of energy through 2042; if JEA could take this deal, it would save customers more than $1.1 billion “if the project is abandoned and those savings include JEA continuing to pay for sunk costs.”

JEA’s issues with Plant Vogtle, coming after a discussion of privatizing the public utility, have attained national notice of an unwelcome sort.

The utility is on a negative credit watch from Standard & Poor’s.

“In our view, JEA’s assertions that its board acted beyond the scope of its authority raises questions about the quality of the utility’s internal controls [and] the utility’s willingness to meet its contractual financial obligations.”

Weinstein leaving CFO gig

One of Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry‘s most trusted lieutenants, Chief Financial Officer Mike Weinstein, will leave City Hall Nov. 9.

“Since 2015, during the transition between my administration and my predecessor’s, Mike Weinstein has been both trusted adviser and friend. His expertise and depth of knowledge helped me prepare balanced budgets that met our city’s priorities, create a solution to the pension crisis, and set Jacksonville on a sound financial path,” Curry said.

Adios to Mike Weinstein, who leaves City Hall Nov. 9.

“It’s hard to imagine many people who have such a wide range of experience and success as a public servant. Although he will be missed, there is no one more deserving of the time he will now be able to spend with family and friends. The people of this city are better for the years Mike devoted to making a brighter future.”

Weinstein, whose career spanned decades, served in the Florida House between 2008 and 2012. One of his bills proved to be prescriptive for Jacksonville’s solution to its pension liability: a measure to allow discretionary sales surtaxes to fund indigent health care facilities.

When Weinstein and Curry came into Jacksonville’s City Hall, the city’s general fund budget was throttled by pension obligations of over $300 million a year.

Weinstein’s discretionary sales surtax concept came into play, with the city able to negotiate defined contribution plans for new city hires, while routing post-2030 collections of the city’s ½-cent sales tax currently used to fund Better Jacksonville Plan projects to the pension liability.

The city also reamortized pension debt, creating flexibility in the near term, and banking on growth to help pay off a pension obligation that is between $3 and $4 billion now.

Weinstein also served last year as interim CEO of the Kids Hope Alliance, serving an important bridge role as the city reorganized its children’s programs.

Early voting expansion

Activists wanted early voting at Edward Waters College and the University of North Florida in Jacksonville. And now they’ve got it.

Duval County Supervisor of Elections Mike Hogan confirmed such in an email to Jacksonville City Council members Monday, noting that “sites will be open to all eligible registered Duval County voters. These two additional sites will provide Duval County voters access to 20 Early Voting locations.”

Mike Hogan is announcing expanded early voting sites at UNF, Edward Waters College.

“Funding for the two additional Early Voting sites will be absorbed within my currently requested budget,” Hogan noted.

This made a piece of legislation — a proposal by Councilman Garrett Dennis to allocate $30,000 to expand early voting sites to Edward Waters College and the University of North Florida — “unnecessary,” per Hogan.

Florida Atlantic University, the University of Central Florida, the University of Florida, Florida State University, and the University of South Florida are all slated to host early voting before Election Day this year.

Now, two Jacksonville colleges are joining them.

Homeless rights paused

Early Monday, Jacksonville City Council Neighborhoods, Community Services, Public Health and Safety committee put the brakes on a long-tabled bill.

But it will be back.

Months back, the  Homeless Bill of Rights measure was introduced by now-suspended (and federally indicted) Councilwoman Katrina Brown.

A Jacksonville homeless-rights bill is tabled, for now.

The bill (2018-308) contends that “the basic rights all people should enjoy must be guaranteed for homeless individuals and families,” and attempts to “assure that basic human rights are not being trampled simply because someone happens to be homeless.”

Since Brown began her sabbatical from Council, her fellow Democrats Tommy Hazouri and Garrett Dennis were tasked with carrying the bill.

Hazouri told us ahead of the meeting that Dennis was going to rewrite the legislation, so the bill was to be pulled.

“He’s coming out with a new bill,” Hazouri told the committee.

Currently, the new bill has no timetable set.

Privatization cash drives school board hopefuls

Duval County School Board races this year are seeing fundraising disparities, and per the Florida Times-Union, privatization advocates are driving the gap.

League of Women Voters’ blogger and leader, Sue Legg, “sees flush School Board campaigns across the state as signs of a long-term push to sway school boards and win more public dollars for private and charter schools.”

Sue Legg, of the League of Women Voters, warns about an influx of campaign cash to support school privatization.

“It’s because of the motivation behind these people contributing the money,” Legg said. “If they are motivated to privatize schools, you, the public, should know about it.”

The money race is no contest.

Lawyer Dave Chauncey, running for District 6 on the Westside, raised the most at $75,214, eight times more than Charlotte Joyce’s $9,455. Nick Howland has a similar 8-1 edge at the Beaches over Elizabeth Andersen. Darryl Willie, another establishment favorite, has $49,193, double his opponent.

The Jax Chamber endorsed the money candidates. Its head Daniel Davis noted “successes Duval County Public Schools have had over the last several years that, in my opinion, are the result of reforms that have been put into place. We want to make sure that Duval continues on that track.”

Choose water life

JAXUSA’s strategic plan recommends “embracing Jacksonville” as region’s name and using “The Water Life Center of America” as brand essence, reports the Daily Record.

This could make NE Florida “the highest performing economy in the nation,” according to a marketing plan entitled “Elevate Northeast Florida.”

Aundra Wallace, president of JAXUSA Partnership, the economic development arm of JAX Chamber. (Image via WJCT)

Seven counties (Baker, Clay, Duval, Flagler, Putnam, Nassau, and St. Johns) make up the JAXUSA Partnership of the JAX Chamber.

Primary among recommendations: a suggestion to “embrace Jacksonville as the name of the region versus ‘Northeast Florida.’”

“The impact of a shared, regional brand is recognized and magnified when local organizations agree to lead with the name of the largest, most globally-recognized city in its region,” runs the logic. “Jacksonville (e.g., Greater Jacksonville, JAXUSA) should be the go-to name of the region.”

The report also suggests a new brand theme to match the region’s “DNA.”

The report suggests the area be named “The Water Life Center of America,” and encourages other agencies to adopt the new theme.

UNF downtown Entrepreneurial Center taking shape

In April, the University of North Florida leased a 16,000-square-foot space on the fourth and fifth floors of the Barnett Bank Building in downtown Jacksonville. Space will be used for 200 students taking classes at a UNF satellite campus, as well as an “Entrepreneurial Center,” where students will intern with local businesses.

Rendering of the planned UNF ‘Innovation Center’ at the Barnett National Bank building in downtown Jacksonville, vacant since the 1990s.

The price tag of the project, which is set to open January 2019, is $1.6 million, according to the Jacksonville Business Journal.

The Downtown Investment Authority approved a forgivable $380,000 loan in early 2018 to help offset costs to build four classrooms, a kitchen, a student lounge, and infrastructure improvements. The restoration of the Barnett building – about 250,000 square feet – as well as the Laura Street Trio and a nearby parking garage will cost nearly $100 million.

Spirit Airlines to service JIA

Florida-based Spirit Airlines will soon begin servicing Jacksonville International Airport.

Starting in December, the low-cost carrier will offer nonstop daily service from JIA to Chicago O’Hare International and Detroit Metro airports, the Jacksonville Business Journal reports.

Spirit picks up Jacksonville as its fifth Florida service city.

Jacksonville will become Spirit’s 69th city, the fifth in Florida.

“We like to think of ourselves as Florida’s hometown airline,” Spirit senior vice president and chief Human Resources Officer Laurie Villa told the Journal. We believe these two markets are a great place to start new service. It makes sense for a growing airline to enter a growing part of the state.”

The arrival of Sprint continues JIA’s growth. Recently, both Frontier Airlines and Allegiant Air added multiple destinations, with passenger counts up 15 percent, according to Michael Stewart, director of external affairs for the Jacksonville Aviation Authority.

Jags top power ratings; must perform vs. Titans to stay

Last Sunday’s satisfying 31-20 beating handed to the New England Patriots meant that whoever thought the Jacksonville Jaguars had anything to prove now understood they were for real. The Jags showed again that they were among the top teams in the NFL and according to USA Today, THE top team in the league.

Jaguars top power rankings, but need a first-class performance to stay there.

Jacksonville came in at number one in the rankings up four spots from last week’s position. Knocking off the Patriots said it all.

“Took NFL royalty to the woodshed,” the summary read. “Their 11-point defeat of New England wasn’t really that close — without injured Leonard Fournette‘s help.

Getting the Jags to the top came after quarterback Blake Bortles put the team on his back. Bortles outshined future Hall of Famer Tom Brady with 376 passing yards and four touchdowns.

To stay at the top, they must figure out a way to play better against the Tennessee Titans, Sunday’s opponent at TIAA Bank Stadium. Jacksonville lost both games to the Titans last year with Bortles struggling in both games, throwing a total of four interceptions.

It is certain to be hot with the opening kickoff set for 1:00 p.m.

They will face Tennessee again at less than 100 percent. Fournette’s status is not known, but offensive tackle Cam Robinson, last year’s second-round draft choice out of Alabama, is lost for the season with a knee injury.

Bortles is seeing good signs from Fournette.

“Just watching him, it looked like he was Leonard,” Bortles said. “He was flying around, making some good plays. He got some touches and looked good.”

On the other side, the Jags defense will look to stop Robinson’s former teammate at Alabama, Derrick Henry. Coach Doug Marrone that carries a key to victory.

“We’re going to have to do a good job getting people to the ball carrier,” Marrone said about Henry and the Titans’ Wildcat formation. “We’ll have to figure out what the best personnel is for us and the best plan is to stop it.”

Flags at half-staff for victims of Hurricane Maria

Gov. Rick Scott on Thursday ordered flags at half-staff “as a tribute to those who lost their lives during Hurricane Maria.”

Scott directed the U.S. and state flags to be flown at half-staff at the Capitol from noon Thursday to sunset. He did not make a statement to accompany his order. 

Scott was traveling to Puerto Rico on Thursday, the first anniversary of Maria’s 2017 island landfall. He is scheduled to join Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló and other island officials.

It’s Scott’s eighth trip there in the last year. The term-limited Republican governor is challenging incumbent Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson for his seat. 

Last week, his Senate campaign debuted a Spanish-language TV ad that distanced him from President Donald Trump, who had said — without evidence — that the death toll of roughly 3,000 from Maria and another storm had been inflated by Democrats.

“This was done … in order to make me look as bad as possible when I was successfully raising Billions of Dollars to help rebuild Puerto Rico,” he tweeted earlier this month. “If a person died for any reason, like old age, just add them onto the list. Bad politics. I love Puerto Rico!”

Scott responded, also on Twitter, “I disagree with @POTUS – an independent study said thousands were lost and Gov. Rosselló agreed.

“I’ve been to Puerto Rico 7 times & saw devastation firsthand. The loss of any life is tragic; the extent of lives lost as a result of Maria is heart wrenching. I’ll continue to help PR.”


Senior Editor Jim Rosica contributed to this post. Previous reporting by Tallahassee correspondent Danny McAuliffe.

Brett Kavanaugh’s accuser struggled to come forward, friends say

Her studies first brought her West, but for Christine Margaret Blasey Ford, the move to California proved a way to leave behind what had gone wrong in her teenage years in the patrician suburbs of Washington, D.C.

Born into a well-off family in Montgomery County, Maryland, Ford has said she spent years working to recover from an assault as a young girl in that world of prep school parties — by Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, she would disclose years later.

Delegation for 9.18.18 — Insights from the Beltway to the Sunshine State

Nelson would be happier than most with Kavanaugh delay

Senate Republicans hoping the Judiciary Committee would hunker down and vote out the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, now realize they have one more desperate roadblock to sidestep. With a name now attached to the woman accusing Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct more than 30 years ago, the committee’s scheduled Thursday vote is now in jeopardy.

Now there is a name attached to Brett Kavanaugh’s accuser: Christine Blasey Ford.

For those old enough to remember back to October 1991, they might be uttering Yogi Berra’s line about “déjà vu all over again.” It was that autumn 27 years ago when law professor Anita Hill rocked Capitol Hill with accusations of sexual impropriety against nominee Clarence Thomas.

After lamenting a “high-tech lynching,” Thomas was ultimately confirmed by a 52-48 vote. Before allegations by the California research psychologist against Kavanaugh became public last week, many were predicting a similar vote when the nomination came before the full Senate.

Calls to delay Thursday’s vote quickly began with Illinois Democrat Dick Durbin taking the lead. Other Democrats followed, but retiring Arizona Republican Jeff Flake said the accusations needed to be addressed and fellow committee Republican Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said he would “gladly listen,” and “compare that against all other information we have received about judge Kavanaugh.”

“If the committee is to hear from Ms. (Christine BlaseyFord, it should be done immediately so the process can continue as scheduled,” said Graham.

Through her attorney, Ford has indicated a willingness to testify before Congress.

Democrats have long hoped to drag out the confirmation process until after the midterms, if at all possible. Should the “blue wave” occur and sweep out the GOP majority, Kavanaugh’s nomination would be doomed.

That would be just fine with Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson, who is engaged in a tight race against Gov. Rick Scott. While some red-state Democrats running for re-election will find it politically healthy to vote for Kavanaugh, Nelson is in a tougher spot.

While some Trump-voting Democrats might hold a “no” vote against him, enough of the Democratic base could turn on him if he votes for the nominee. A recent poll revealed that 80 percent of Florida voters would not base their vote on this issue, but 31 percent of Democrats said they would be “less likely to vote for Nelson if he votes to confirm Kavanaugh.”

On Monday, Nelson called for an “investigation” into the allegations. He also affirmed his readiness to meet with Kavanaugh, a meeting he has “requested four times.”

This is the era of the “#MeToo” movement, where women are coming forward, and now believed, with accounts of harassment and assault perpetrated on them by powerful men. Bipartisan efforts to further mainstream the issue continue in Congress (see below)

Such a movement did not exist in 1991 while the Thomas hearings were in progress.

Kavanaugh has a letter of support signed by 65 women who knew him during his high school days saying Ford’s accusation does not fit the Kavanaugh they knew then or know now.

This will be a big week for the future of Kavanaugh and the person who nominated him, President Donald Trump. If there are further delays by the end of the week, Nelson will consider it a victory.

Rubio campaigns for Tennessee Senate candidate

During the campaign for Nelson’s Senate seat, Scott and his surrogates have regularly criticized the incumbent Democrat on his three terms in office. One of those critics has not been Marco Rubio, who pledged not to attack the state’s senior Senator and is keeping that pledge.

To help the GOP keep their Senate majority, Rubio traveled to Tennessee in support of his party’s candidate, Rep. Marsha Blackburn. In support of Blackburn, Rubio warned that her opponent, former Gov. Phil Bredesen, is “trying to pull a fast one.”

Marco Rubio says former Gov. Phil Bredesen is trying to pull ‘a fast one’ on Tennessee voters.

Bredesen is one of those Democrats who tell voters “they are middle of the road, moderate, work with both sides,” he told a Blackburn campaign event in Brentwood, Tenn. Those promising moderation, Rubio said, “when they get to D.C., they vote 99.9 percent of the time with people that Tennessee would never vote for if they ran for office, here.”

Rubio praised Blackburn as “a great candidate,” while her opponent “is trying to pull a fast on you.”

A spokeswoman for Bredesen responded in a statement: “Just like Governor Bredesen, Tennesseans are independent thinkers who can make up their own minds and don’t need to be told what to do by out-of-state politicians.”

The latest Real Clear Politics average of polls shows the race as a dead heat.

 Scott distances himself from Trump in new Spanish ad

Following Trump’s much-panned comments regarding the Puerto Rican death toll estimates, Scott was in the position of publicly disagreeing with the President. Now he has released a new Spanish-language ad that looks to put some space between himself and Trump.

The ad, titled “Compromiso,” features Scott speaking in Spanish about his promise to put voters in front of partisan politics.

“When I don’t agree with what President Trump does or says, I’ve said it,” Scott begins.

To view the video, click on the image below:

“My only commitment is with you,” he continued. “For me, what’s important is that your family have the best opportunities. I ask for your vote so that together we can make Washington work for our families.”

Following Hurricane Maria last year, Scott and Nelson received similar levels of approval for their handling of Puerto Rican evacuees into Florida. The two candidates are also in a dead heat among Latino voters.

House, Senate negotiators agree to avoid shutdown

One of the issues now destined to play a minor role in the fall campaigns is the seemingly never-ending threat of a federal government shutdown. A stopgap spending bill was agreed upon by House and Senate negotiators late last week which would keep the money flowing until December 7, will be voted on this week in the Senate and next week in the House.

This action is usually necessary when Congress cannot agree on spending bills, forcing either a stopgap measure or a massive omnibus spending bill covering multiple agencies. Last year, the $1.3 trillion price tag of the omnibus bill brought Trump to pledge he would never sign another one like it.

Matt Gaetz is no fan of stopgap budget measures.

This year, Congress is doing a much better job of getting the individual spending bills debated and passed. The deadline is October 1, but when it became apparent a few would remain, the desire to prevent a shutdown prompted the stopgap measure.

All of that depends upon whether Trump will sign the bill, but negotiators have been told he would approve it. It will be attached to funding bill covering the Department of Defense and other programs, making a veto highly unlikely.

Previous stopgap or omnibus spending bills have met opposition from members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus. Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz is one of those who oppose such legislation on principle, but with Congress on track to complete the bills before the year ends, conservatives may wind up supporting it in the end.

Voting “no” on defense funding might be difficult as well.

Chief Justice flexes muscle in ‘dark money’ case

Candidates from both sides have long complained about third party attacks from organizations funded in part by anonymous donors contributing “dark money.” As one organization was about to unwillingly reveal their donors after a federal appeals court refused to issue a stay on a lower-court ruling, Chief Justice John Roberts stepped in, blocking the ruling.

The affected party in the case was former George W. Bush adviser Karl Rove and his Crossroads GPS organization that was trying to influence a 2012 Ohio U.S. Senate race. Those involved with these organizations argued that if the ruling stood, a chilling effect on independent expenditures might have followed.

Chief Justice John Roberts blocks a court ruling on anonymous ‘dark money.’

“Upon consideration of the application of counsel for the applicant and the response filed thereto,” Roberts wrote in his brief order, “it is ordered that the order of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, case No. 16-259, is hereby stayed pending further order of the undersigned or of the Court.”

Third party groups such as Majority Forward is one of many that have become involved in campaigns around the country. While both parties benefit from the secret resource, Majority Forward came to the rescue of a prominent Floridian.

As Scott was dramatically outspending Nelson earlier this year, it was the $2.7 million provided by the dark money group that kept the three-term Democrat from being totally overwhelmed by Scott’s advertising onslaught.

While Scott is expected to be well-funded, other Republicans are expected to take full advantage of current law. Democrats are outraising Republicans, including incumbents, in several races around the country as they seek to regain the majority in both the House and Senate.

Murphy, Curbelo warn of  ‘deep fakes’

Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo of Kendall and Democratic Rep. Stephanie Murphy from Winter Park have both expressed concerns about “deep fake” videos. Both have also called on intelligence leaders to assess the potential threat.

Curbelo and Murphy signed a letter with Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff from California calling on Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats to publicly report on the implications of new technology potentially affecting affairs in a democracy.

Florida lawmakers call on Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats to investigate ‘deep fake’ videos.

“You have repeatedly raised the alarm about disinformation campaigns in our elections and other efforts to exacerbate political and social divisions in our society to weaken our nation,” the letter reads. “We are deeply concerned that deep fake technology could soon be deployed by malicious foreign actors.”

‘Deep Fake’ videos are created by an artificial intelligence-based human image synthesis. It is used to combine and superimpose existing images and video onto source images or videos. Essentially, it is designed to put the likeness of a selected person on video to make it appear that person was doing something they were not.

“Deep fake technology can be used by our enemies to undermine our nation’s security and democracy, which is why the Intelligence Community must provide a comprehensive report to Congress on the threat posed by deep fake technology,” said Murphy, a member of the House Armed Services Committee.

“We need to know what countries have used it against U.S. interests, what the U.S. government is doing to address this national security threat, and what more the Intelligence Community needs to effectively counter the threat.”

Curbelo agreed with Murphy claiming that fake video technology has the potential to disrupt every aspect of society, including elections.

“With implications for national security, human rights and public safety, the technological capabilities to produce this kind of propaganda targeting the United States and Americans around the world is unprecedented,” Curbelo said.

Webster praises passage of VA funding

Last week, a series of spending bills were approved and sent to Trump for his signature. Among those was a bipartisan VA funding bill that earned effusive praise from Republican Rep. Daniel Webster of Clermont.

Webster was laudatory of the process that led to passing the spending bills. Funding for federal agencies has recently been lumped into huge spending packages.

Daniel Webster is celebrating the passage of a VA funding bill.

“For the first time in 8 years, Congress is not funding these agencies through what is commonly called a Continuing Resolution — a slush fund that allows the agencies to follow their own path independent of proper congressional oversight,” Webster said in a news release. “There is more work to be done if Congress is serious about reducing the spigot of spending, which requires returning to the budget process our Founding Fathers envisioned.”

Among the areas covered includes funding to enhance the VA’s electronic records system, enhanced mental health treatment, infrastructure upgrades to combat cyberattacks from hostile nations, and funding for family housing.

In addition to funding military construction and the VA, the three-bill spending package also includes funding for energy and water, along with appropriations for the legislative branch. The Senate approved the measure 92-5 while the House voted 377-20 in support.

Democratic poll gives Carlson one-point lead in CD 15

Republican Ross Spano is heavily favored to win the District 15 House seat being vacated by retiring Rep. Dennis Ross, but a poll conducted by Spano’s opponent says it is anyone’s race. According to an internal poll, Democrat Kristen Carlson leads Spano by one point, 48-47.

New Democratic polling gives Kristen Carlson a slim lead in CD 15.

Carlson outraised Spano by nearly $100,000 during the primary campaign, but Spano had a $60,000 advantage in cash on hand as of the last FEC fundraising report on August 8.

Carlson is a former prosecutor and general counsel to the Florida Department of Citrus. Spano is a state representative who was backed by Rubio in last month’s primary.

The Larry Sabato Crystal Ball and the Cook Political Report list the race as “Likely Republican” while Roll Call’s Nathan Gonzales rates it as Solid Republican.

The survey contacted 400 likely voters with a 4.9 percent margin of error.

 Mast named subcommittee chair

For the second time this year, Republican Rep. Brian Mast has taken on a different role in his committee assignments. On Monday, he was named the chairman of the House Subcommittee on the Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation by Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster.

Mast’s appointment is effective immediately and lasts through the end of the 115th Congress, which occurs in January 2019. He replaces Duncan Hunter of California, who was indicted on multiple charges of campaign finance fraud.

Brian Mast moves up to a new leadership role.

“Oversight of the Coast Guard and the nation’s maritime transportation system is a vital responsibility of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee,” said Shuster. “Brian is an effective member of this subcommittee and has a firm grasp of the issues. He understands the critical nature of the Coast Guard’s missions and is ready to take the gavel.”

In May, Mast was appointed to the House Veterans Affairs Committee. He welcomed his new role in a statement.

“Maritime transportation is a critical issue for Florida, and the Coast Guard has an important presence in our state, which is why I asked Chairman Bill Shuster for the opportunity to take on leadership of this subcommittee,” Mast said. “The Coast Guard plays an essential role in maintaining the rule of law on our waterways, including securing our borders and enforcing marine pollution laws. Working together, I’m confident we can ensure they have the tools they need to succeed at these critical missions.”

His future in keeping the gavel depends on first defeating Democrat Lauren Baer in November and the Republicans maintaining a majority in the House.

Frankel, women’s caucus hold hearing on workplace harassment

As the anniversary of the Harvey Weinstein assault allegations approaches, the House Caucus for Women’s Issues recently hosted a hearing about what has become the #MeToo movement. The hearing was appropriately titled “#MeToo, What’s Next? Turning a Movement into Action.”

Caucus members heard from leaders from some industries to discuss ways to promote respect and dignity in the workplace, and ultimately to find innovative and creative solutions to the problem of workplace harassment. The hearing was hosted by caucus co-chair Lois Frankel and the caucus leadership group consisting of bipartisan Members of Congress.

Lois Frankel is turning the #MeToo movement into action.

“Women, like men, go to work to take care of their families,” said Frankel, a Democrat from West Palm Beach“Sexual harassment is a real economic issue and a big factor that’s holding women back from opportunities and advancing in their careers. We heard the wisdom of our panelists on some solutions, and I hope measures going through the House like reauthorizing VAWA, banning mandatory arbitration, boosting spending for the (Equal Employment Opportunities Commission), and passing the EMPOWER Act will help create safer workplaces.”

This is the third hearing in a series of hearings on sexual harassment in the workplace conducted by the caucus. The first hearing focused on sexual harassment in the service sector and the second heard from survivors and experts from fields where women are often outnumbered.

South Florida Republicans join call for new Violence Against Women Act

With the issue surrounding sexual harassment and sexual violence playing out in the Kavanaugh hearings, legislation combating the menace was set to expire on September 30. As Congress is dealing with preventing a government shutdown (see above), Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), the law will receive the same extension until December 7 as the stopgap spending bill.

Before its inclusion in the funding bill, 46 Republicans called on Speaker Paul Ryan and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy to reauthorize the law. In a letter, the signees said VAWA “has helped to protect and support millions of Americans who have faced domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking.”

Several members of the South Florida delegation are calling to renew the Violence Against Women Act.

Among delegation Republicans signing the letter included Mario Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Miami, as well as Carlos Curbelo of Kendall.

“This is not a partisan issue,” the letter continued. “VAWA has been continually reauthorized on a bipartisan basis in Congress. We must act now to strengthen and maintain this critical law.

Congress first passed the VAWA in 1993 and most recently reauthorized it in 2013. Along with passing other spending bills, it is likely to be reauthorized during a lame-duck session of Congress in November or December.

Mucarsel-Powell under attack from multiple angles 

Florida’s 26th Congressional District Democratic candidate Debbie Mucarsel-Powell is the target of numerous attacks on behalf of Curbelo as well as another from his campaign. The National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) is revisiting allegations of ties between her and a Ukrainian oligarch named Ihor Kolomoisky.

Mucarsel-Powell has already faced scrutiny over her husband’s work for Kolomoisky during the Democratic primary. She called the ad “a complete lie.”

Debbie Mucarsel-Powell faces digital attacks on several fronts.

radio ad from the Congressional Leadership Fund tried to link Mucarsel-Powell to Kolomoisky as well. The NRCC ad, titled “Connection,” has brought attention to the claims again.

It claims Mucarsel-Powell’s campaign “has received thousands in contributions from Kolomoisky’s associates.”

Also, Curbelo is criticizing his opponent for accepting money from the BOLD PAC, chaired by Democratic Rep. Tony Cardenas. Cardenas was accused of molesting a 16-year-old girl in 2007, which he denies.

BOLD PAC, which serves as the political arm of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, also contributed $5,000 to Mucarsel-Powell’s campaign. The caucus denied admission to Curbelo in 2017.

On this day in the headlines

September 18, 1978 — President Jimmy Carter announced to the world Sunday night that a “framework for peace” in the Middle East has been reached at a summit meeting with Egypt’s Anwar Sadat and Israel’s Menachem Begin. Carter said the documents signed by the two leaders at Camp David “will provide that Israel may live in peace within secure borders.”

The agreement calls for a five-year transition period during which Palestinians will “retain full autonomy.” It also allows Israel to station troops at locations within the West Bank and Gaza.

September 18, 2012 — Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney is dealing with a new headache as a video surfaced of him telling wealthy donors that almost half of Americans “believe they are victims.” Romney told the gathering “there are 47 percent of people who are with (Barack Obama), who depend on government, who believe they are victims.”

The campaign went into damage control putting out a statement that Romney “wants to help all Americans struggling in the Obama economy.” An Obama adviser said the Democratic campaign might use Romney’s comments from the fundraising video in television advertisements.


Regulators renew emergency rule on race-dog drug testing

Gambling regulators on Tuesday again said they were “renewing” an emergency rule that allows them to continue testing racing greyhounds for drugs, including cocaine.

The Department of Business and Professional Regulation, which regulates gambling through its Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering, posted a “notice of renewal” in Tuesday’s Florida Administrative Register.

The emergency rule on “Procedures for Collecting Samples from Racing Greyhounds” was adopted late last December. In Florida, live dog racing is still conducted at 11 tracks.

An administrative law judge struck down the testing program, saying it was invalid. Tuesday’s notice said a rule challenge was still pending in the Division of Administrative Hearings.

The docket shows that case is “awaiting (an) order” from Administrative Law Judge E. Gary Early.

Another judge, Lawrence P. Stevenson, had barred the state from relying on a 2010 testing manual because it wasn’t properly adopted, though as one of the division’s lawyers said, “There aren’t that many ways to do urine collection.”

The emergency rule includes using “evidence tape” to seal samples and storing them in “lockable freezers” until they’re sent off for testing.

A cocaine-in-dogs controversy came to light in Jacksonville in the summer of 2017. That in part spurred a constitutional amendment for the 2018 ballot to ban betting on greyhound racing in the state.

Attorney Jeff Kottkamp, who represents the Florida Greyhound Association, has previously said it has “a zero-tolerance policy for anyone that would give a racing greyhound any illegal substance.” The organization advocates for the state’s race-dog owners and breeders.

The Protect Dogs-Yes on 13, which advocates for passage of Amendment 13, called the renewal “good news” but called out “a continuing problem.”

“Greyhound breeders have thrown the entire regulatory scheme into chaos by repeatedly challenging the state drug testing program in court,” the campaign said in a statement. “This is is an intentional strategy to prevent greyhound trainers from being held responsible for greyhound cocaine positives.

“The regulatory structure is broken, and it’s time for voters to act by voting Yes on 13.”


Senior Editor Jim Rosica contributed to this post. Main photo: Van Abernethy.

‘Bundled’ amendments prevent ballot fatigue, state says

Florida’s solicitor general Monday asked the Florida Supreme Court to allow three proposed constitutional amendments on the November ballot.

Solicitor General Amit Agarwal, who filed an initial brief, appealed a lower court’s decision blocking the ballot measures. Agarwal reports to Attorney General Pam Bondi. 

Circuit Judge Karen Gievers had found that the three proposals – including a measure that would ban offshore oil drilling and ban vaping in workplaces – improperly “bundled” unrelated issues.

Why not, Agarwal suggested, since the Framers did the same thing.

“Our constitutional history is replete with examples of situations in which voters have been asked to vote up or down on bundled provisions addressing distinct rights and issues—including the ratification of the Constitution and the First Amendment,” he said.

A challenge by retired Supreme Court Justice Harry Lee Anstead, and fellow plaintiff Robert Barnas, a former state elections commissioner, argued that such bundling would violate the First Amendment rights of voters, who could have conflicting views of issues in single ballot proposals.

But Anstead offers no “manageable standard for determining how ‘unrelated’ two provisions must be to trigger the First Amendment right he asks this Court to recognize for the first time in the history of American jurisprudence,” Agarwal wrote.

The 2017-18 Constitution Revision Commission (CRC) this spring approved placing the three measures on the ballot. All proposed changes to the state’s governing document require a minimum of 60 percent approval for passage.

“Even if the First Amendment included the right (they) assert, the CRC had a rational basis for bundling some of the amendments for inclusion on the 2018 General Election ballot,” he said.

“(L)ong ballots often discourage citizens from voting at all, and if the CRC had listed all the proposed amendments separately, there would appear (25) questions on the ballot this fall, rather than (15).

“In other words, the CRC acted reasonably and with the proper intention of minimizing ballot fatigue when it decided to bundle proposed constitutional amendments.”

Along with the proposal on drilling and vaping, Gievers struck from the ballot a measure that deals with governance of the state-college system and death benefits for survivors of first responders and military members.

Also, she struck a measure that would remove constitutional language that prohibits “aliens ineligible for citizenship” from owning property and would revise language to make clear the repeal of criminal statutes does not affect the prosecution of crimes committed before the repeal.

The Supreme Court already has ruled on legal challenges to four other proposed amendments placed on the ballot by the Constitution Revision Commission. Justices upheld three of the proposals, including a proposed ban on dog racing, though they blocked a controversial education measure.

Anstead’s answer brief is due next, “no later than (noon on) Friday, Sept. 21,” and the state’s reply brief is expected “no later than (noon on) Monday, Sept. 24.”


Senior Editor Jim Rosica contributed to this post. Background provided by The News Service of Florida, reprinted with permission.

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