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Staff Reports

Tampa cop beats harassment rap, but city won’t foot bill

A Tampa cop beat the rap for allegedly misusing police resources, but the city still won’t help pay his bills.

A federal lawsuit alleged that Tampa Police Officer Richard Mercado improperly accessed the personal information of Dunnellon man Jorge Torres using DAVID, the state driver and information database.

Torres claimed Mercado was dating Torres’ wife, Leticia Maria Torres, and searched personal records to aid in divorce proceedings. Further, Torres suggested Mercado planned to use police resources to “harass and possible kill” Torres.

The suit alleges Mercado traded information from the state system for sexual favors, then handed over all the data to a divorce attorney to use against Torres.

Mercado asked the city to cover his legal fees in the federal case, but the city declined and Torres had to hire a private attorney.

U.S. District Judge James Moody dismissed the case in April. Mercado’s attorney, Jeffrey Stull, requested after that ruling for the city to reconsider reimbursing the costs, but Tampa City Attorney Salvatore Territo says the city’s position on the payment has not changed.

Stull, in a motion to dismiss the case, labeled Torres’ accusations as a “rambling” and “unsupported by any factual allegation,” and said the lawsuit should be treated as a “shotgun pleading.”

Torres boasts a checkered history that predates his messy divorce. His past actions drew media attention from The New York Times and The Daily Beast. He has previously been accused of luring women from Latin America to the U.S. then forcing them into prostitution, something that landed him in federal prison for human trafficking and the smuggling of aliens.

He reportedly once claimed to be a leader of the Sephardic Jewish community in El Salvador, and he once convinced an Idaho church to hire him to recover congregants detained in Haiti.

Officials say Torres once jumped bail in Miami after being arrested for possession of fake documents.

Delegation for 7.20.18 — Insights from the Beltway to the Sunshine State

The fallout from Helsinki still falling

As the week draws to an end, President Donald Trump’s disastrous news conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki still rates as the top concern for the media and most Democrats. Some Republicans also criticized the president for clearly accepting Putin’s denial over his own intelligence team, who said Russia had indeed “meddled” in the 2016 U.S. elections.

Democratic Rep. Lois Frankel described the events in Helsinki as “a shameful, dark day” while fellow Democrat Charlie Crist from St. Petersburg tweeted: “Deeply, deeply troubling.”

After Helsinki, few in Congress are smiling.

By Tuesday afternoon, Trump was saying he “misspoke.” Instead of saying “why would” Russia be involved in such nefarious activity, he meant to say “why wouldn’t” they. Democrats such as Sen. Bill Nelson did not buy that at all and joined the chorus of those who believe Putin could be blackmailing Trump.

“If the president really misspoke, he would have corrected it immediately,” tweeted. “He didn’t misspeak — and we need to know: What does Russia have on our president? What is Putin hanging over his head? What is going on with a U.S. president who believes Putin over our own intel community?”

The word “treason” came out during the week, with former CIA Director John Brennan serving as the flag bearer of that movement. Democratic leaders are not yet taking that step, fearing it could backfire later.

Republicans know they can’t defend the original comments and are treading carefully on subsequent clarifications. GOP Sen. Marco Rubio says the House and Senate will keep doing their job, no matter what comes out of the White House.

“In the end, we can present people with information, but you can’t force anyone to say what you want them to say, especially the president of the United States,” Rubio said. “Our job is to pass laws and do things that are for the good of the country … and one of those things should be [imposing] strong deterrence measures with pre-positioned penalties should [Russian meddling] ever happen again.”

In an effort to keep some distance between themselves and Trump on the issue, Senate leadership indicated they are likely to act on legislation sponsored by Rubio and Maryland Democratic Sen. Chris Van Hollen. The DETER Act would impose stiff penalties on Russia if they attempt to interfere in future American elections.

A Wednesday New York Times story reported Trump was briefed before his inauguration, and he “grudgingly accepted,” the fact Putin himself had ordered the mischief. By Thursday, Trump’s favorite program, Fox and Friends, was showing several clips of Trump, beginning in January 2017, publicly saying Russia “and probably others” were involved in election meddling.

Republicans are likely to grab onto that life preserver. They will also try to start a discussion about what else was discussed in the two-hour meeting between the two leaders.

“I’m glad the President clarified his experience in Helsinki, and I think we’ll learn in the coming days the progress the President was able to make in his private discussions with President Putin on the issues of nonproliferation and counterterrorism,” tweeted Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz, a fervent Trump supporter.

In the meantime, the roller coaster keeps coasting.

Nelson getting it from both sides on Kavanaugh

It’s nice to be wanted, so when it comes to confirming or rejecting Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, Nelson is a target of both sides. While he would be under the most pressure from those opposed to Kavanaugh sitting on the court, conservatives are targeting him just the same.

Bill Nelson gets it from both sides over Brett Kavanaugh.

The Koch brothers’ Americans For Prosperity announced a digital ad campaign as well as a mailer calling on Nelson to vote to confirm Kavanaugh. This follows another ad from a conservative group called One Nation soon after the appeals court judge was nominated.

On the opposite side, Organizing for Action, the spinoff of former President Barack Obama’s political group, has launched a telephone campaign.

“So many of the issues we care about — including reproductive rights, health care, climate change, workers’ rights, consumer privacy, and gun violence prevention — could soon come before the Court,” reads a message that allows people to connect to a senator’s office.

Nelson’s spokesman told the Tampa Bay Times that the office has gotten about 1,700 calls since Kavanaugh was announced and that 200 were for and 1,500 against him.

Nelson, Rubio join to address crisis in Nicaragua

On Wednesday, both Florida Senators joined with a bipartisan group of Senate colleagues to address the ongoing crisis in Nicaragua. The measure is aimed to blunt the growing violence against protesters against the regime of Marxist Daniel Ortega.

The Nicaragua Human Rights and Anticorruption Act of 2018 would impose sanctions on government officials deemed responsible for the violence as well as calling for a negotiated political solution. It also looks to establish intelligence reporting on government officials engaging in human rights abuses and corruption.

Both Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio call for more sanctions on Daniel Ortega on Nicaragua.

“Ortega and his thugs must be held accountable for the abuse and murder of Nicaraguans exercising their fundamental rights,” Nelson said. “This bill makes clear that the United States supports the Nicaraguan people.”

The bill also requires the U.S. Secretary of State to certify whether the Nicaraguan government is fulfilling its responsibility to uphold democratic governance and human rights.

“The United States must stand in solidarity with the Nicaraguan people as they struggle to defend their rights and restore democracy,” Rubio said. “In response to the Ortega government’s violent and lethal repression of his own people, this bipartisan bill will require the President to impose sanctions against Nicaraguan officials responsible for ongoing human rights abuses and corruption.”

Joining Nelson and Rubio in filing the bill were Democratic Senators Bob Menendez of New Jersey, Dick Durbin of Illinois, Patrick Leahy of Vermont and Ben Cardin of Maryland. Republican co-sponsors included Senators Ted Cruz of Texas, Tom Cotton of Arkansas, and David Perdue of Georgia.

Most delegation Dems ‘present’ on ICE resolution

On Wednesday, the House took up a resolution calling for the support of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency as well as its agents. The measure passed by a vote of 244-35 with 133 Democrats voting “present.”

A minority of Democrats have called for abolishing ICE following the separation at the border of children from parents or adults when entering the country illegally. Republicans had originally sought to have a vote on a Democratic bill calling for the abolishment of ICE but pivoted to this strategy instead.

Most Florida Democrats vote ‘present’ on a resolution supporting ICE.

“This isn’t about whether you support ICE or not,” Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said in a floor speech. “I’m going to vote present on it because they’ll use it politically,” the California Democrat added.

Among those voting yes were 18 Democrats, including Blue Dogs Crist of St. Petersburg and Stephanie Murphy of Winter Park. Also voting for the resolution was Al Lawson of Tallahassee.

With the exception of Kathy Castor of Tampa, who did not vote, the remainder of Florida Democrats voted “present.”

“Voting present means that they’re not willing to stand up for our men and women who sacrifice their lives to keep America safe,” the Louisiana Republican told Roll Call. “It’s a clear vote.”

Facebook removes page after Gaetz grilling

After pointed questioning, Facebook removed a page that seemingly advocated shooting Republican legislators. The questioning came from Republican Rep. Gaetz during a hearing of the House Judiciary Committee.

Gaetz confronted Facebook’s head of policy, Monica Bickert about the company’s negligence toward a page known as Milkshakes Against the Republican Party. During the hearing titled “Facebook, Google and Twitter: Examining the Content Filtering Practices of Social Media Giants,” Gaetz asked Bickert to read from two posts that discussed shooting Republicans.

Matt Gaetz grilling forces Facebook to remove page inciting violence against Republicans.

“How many times does a page have to encourage violence against Republican members of Congress at baseball practice before you will ban the page?” Gaetz responded.

Bickert then said that she would follow up with the post. The page is no longer active.

“I am glad Facebook swiftly removed this offensive page; while I unconditionally support the First Amendment, inciting violence against others due to their political affiliation is not Constitutionally-protected speech,” Gaetz said in a statement after the page had been removed.

Dunn, Yoho tapped for Farm Bill conference committee

The House has announced its representatives on the conference committee that will come up with a final version of the Farm Bill (HR 2). Two of those representatives include Republican Rep. Neal Dunn of Panama City and Gainesville Republican Ted Yoho.

“I am honored to represent our farmers in Florida and the Second District on the bicameral Farm Bill Conference Committee,” Dunn said in a news release. “We all depend on a thriving agriculture industry and we need to ensure that this Farm Bill works for all of our producers.”

Ted Yoho gets a sweet gig on Farm Bill committee. (Image via MSNBC.com)

With the Senate’s recent passage of the amended 1,240-page, multibillion-dollar measure, the two chambers will work out the differences and develop a final bill for a vote in both chambers. Among the major differences that require negotiation is the level of reforms to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

The House passed the bill in June by a razor-thin margin of 213-211 while the Senate approved it by an overwhelming 86-11 vote.

“I am honored to be one out of 429 House members chosen to participate in the final negotiation of the 2018 Farm Bill,” Yoho said. “Representing the farmers and ranchers of my district and the great state of Florida is a privilege I do not take lightly. We have a unique opportunity to provide certainty and security to the hardworking families who put food on our table every day.

Both Dunn and Yoho are members of the House Agriculture Committee.

DeSantis now has everyone’s attention

When Republican Rep. Ron DeSantis announced he was leaving his safe seat in Congress to run for governor of Florida, few took notice. Even fewer recalled that he was running for the Senate seat held by then-presidential candidate Rubio before he decided to run for re-election, which prompted DeSantis to do the same.

Polls showed current Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam comfortably ahead, but DeSantis had the backing of nationally-known conservative commentators such as Sean Hannity and Mark Levin as well as fellow Judiciary Committee member Matt Gaetz. All have campaigned with DeSantis.

All of a sudden, many more are now paying attention to his effort to win the GOP primary.

DeSantis’ most important backer is Trump, which can be a game-changer in a primary. On Wednesday, Donald Trump, Jr. joined DeSantis for a raucous rally and a later fundraiser in Orlando.

Ron DeSantis is getting your attention. (Image via Getty)

Over the past week, two shock polls show DeSantis with a double-digit lead. The most recent was a survey conducted by GOP pollster Tony Fabrizio showing DeSantis with a 42-30 lead.

“It’s clear this is all about Trump and this is bad for Adam Putnam,” Fabrizio told POLITICO.

Putnam, a former Congressman and part of House leadership, is well-funded and well-organized. He promises to have a strong get-out-the-vote effort and is backed by Attorney General Pam Bondi.

At the same time, his campaign has taken on water from revelations of his department’s mishandling of some concealed weapons permits. and the Democrats are using the issue against Putnam on the campaign trail.

One of the remaining questions for the rest of the campaign is whether Trump will come to Florida for a rally with DeSantis. Both campaigns have diametrically-opposed hopes on whether that will occur.

Challenger Patel outraises Posey in Q2

No one has Florida’s Eighth Congressional District on the radar for an upset, but Republican Rep. Bill Posey’s opponent turned some heads in the second quarter. Democratic challenger Sanjay Patel raised $101,000 over the last three months, besting Posey by more than $30,000.

The positive quarter prompted Patel to declare momentum in a district Republicans have possessed for many years. Patel’s first-quarter report was the best by a Democrat for that district in this century, and the second quarter’s total topped even that.

Sanjay Patel leaves Bill Posey lagging in CD 8.

“I am humbled, honored and inspired by the over 1,000 donors who have now contributed to our efforts, and by the incredible organizations who have endorsed our campaign,” Patel said in a news release. “Together, we will win and work together to make health care a human right for every American, protect our environment, secure the American Dream for working families, and ensure that every kid can get a great education from pre-K through college or trade school without a lifetime of debt.”

He noted that his campaign received more than 1,200 individual contributions in the second quarter averaging $68 per contribution. Patel also stated that 84 percent of the quarter’s donations were from Florida, and 70 percent were from the district, while 65 percent of Posey’s second-quarter take came from political committees.

Despite his second-quarter success, Patel still trails Posey in the money race. He has $160,000 cash on hand, while Posey has $642,000 in the bank. University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato, publisher of “Crystal Ball,” describes the seat as “safely Republican.”

Crist testifies against tariffs on Canadian paper

As the tariffs imposed by the Trump administration on Canadian paper products begin to kick in, those affected began to raise their concerns, including the Tampa Bay Times newspaper. Democratic Rep. Charlie Crist of St. Petersburg took up the Times’ cause, and that of other newspapers, before a hearing conducted by the U.S. International Trade Commission.

Crist submitted testimony before a Tuesday hearing that sounded the alarm about rising costs and job losses. Several of the presenters included unions and paper companies.

Charlie Crist testified to the United States International Trade Commission on the negative impact new tariffs imposed by the Trump administration will have on the newspaper industry.

“I am deeply concerned with the pending anti-dumping and countervailing duty imposed on uncoated groundwood paper from Canada,” Crist said in his testimony. “The newspaper industry, the largest consumer of uncoated groundwood paper, relies upon this input to provide information to millions of Americans every day.”

Crist echoed the claims of the Times, who the tariffs will increase costs by up to $3 million annually and force further layoffs. The Times Chairman and CEO Paul Tash also offered testimony.

Last month, Crist and South Dakota Republican Rep. Kristi Noem introduced the PRINT Act, which would block the new tariffs from taking effect. The bill has nearly 30 co-sponsors from both parties.

“Newspapers are an integral part of our communities, employing our neighbors and keeping us informed,” Crist said when introducing the bill. “It’s encouraging to see bipartisan and bicameral support for protecting local news.”

Following Buchanan request, House committee to probe VA nursing homes

Additional revelations of patient abuse and neglect at U.S. Veterans Affairs nursing homes has prompted more congressional scrutiny. The House Veterans Affairs Committee is investigating the agency after half of the 133 facilities received a failing score from an internal review.

On June 28, Republican Rep. Vern Buchanan from Longboat Key wrote to committee chairman Phil Roe, a Tennessee Republican, urging the committee look into the matter. Buchanan also wrote to the chairman of the Senate VA Committee.

Vern Buchanan talks with Steve Goss, the chief actuary for the Social Security Administration.

“We need real accountability and transparency at the VA, and every agency employee needs to fulfill their mission of caring for those who have served our country,” Buchanan wrote. “It’s a national disgrace that any veteran should die from negligence. Heads must roll at the VA for those responsible for gross misconduct and negligence.”

In ordering the investigation, Roe said he was “disturbed” by the reports. Buchanan said the investigation must be comprehensive.

“A congressional investigation should leave no stone unturned in finding out how this happened in the first place and how it can be prevented in the future,” Buchanan said.

Buchanan said the fact that Florida had three of the lowest-rated VA nursing homes prompted his letters. While he is not a member of the committee, Florida is represented by Republicans Gus BilirakisNeal Dunn, and Brian Mast.

 Hastings: newest Dem star could ‘fizzle out’

The upset win in a New York congressional Democratic primary by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez rocked the Democratic establishment. She quickly became the star of the party and, to some, a symbol for the future.

Judging from recent news stories, Ocasio-Cortez has been less than humble, That has rubbed many senior Democrats, including Rep. Alcee Hastings of Delray Beach, the wrong way, saying her bright star could dim.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: Will her meteoric rise fizzle? (Image via Getty)

“Meteors fizzle out,” Hastings said. “What she will learn in this institution is that it’s glacial to begin with, and therefore no matter how far you rise, that’s just how far you will ultimately get your comeuppance.”

Ocasio-Cortez is said to be working against the senior members in trying to get a progressive agenda to move faster. She is also under fire for remarks made on NPR about Israel’s “occupation of Palestine.”

She has endorsed several insurgent candidates around the country, including Chardo Richardson in Florida. Richardson is challenging incumbent Stephanie Murphy in the District 7 race.

“You come up here and you’re going to be buddy-buddy with all the folks or you’re going to make them do certain things?” Hastings said. “Ain’t happening, OK?”

On this day in the headlines

July 20, 1969 — An estimated 530 million people watched Neil Armstrong’s televised image of the first manned trip to the moon, hearing his voice describe the event as “ … one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.”

The 49th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing; surprisingly, some still doubt it actually happened. (Image via NASA)

July 20, 1985 — Sharon Christa McAuliffe has been named by NASA to be the first private citizen to fly aboard the Space Shuttle. McAuliffe, a 38-year-old social studies teacher from Concord, N.H., made the grade from among 10 elementary and secondary school teachers in a competition that saw more than 10,000 seek the chance to spend a week in space.

During a White House ceremony attended by Vice-President George Bush, McAuliffe choked back tears. She said that when she goes into space aboard the Challenger in January, “there’s going to be 10 souls I’m taking up with me.”

July 20, 1993 — After refusing quiet nudges to resign, embattled FBI Director William Sessions was fired by President Bill Clinton. With a brief telephone call, the president terminated the tenure of Sessions, then later called back to tell him it was effective immediately.

Clinton said later in the day that it was “time this difficult period in the agency’s history is brought to a close.” Clinton is expected to name former FBI agent Louis Freeh to replace Sessions.

Committee opposing greyhound-racing ban posts middling finance report

The political committee looking to defeat a proposed constitutional amendment to ban greyhound racing in Florida brought in just $6,644 last week, according to a new campaign finance report.

The Committee to Support Greyhounds opened up last month for the “purpose of promoting greyhound welfare, racing, and adoption, as well as educating the public regarding the life of racing greyhounds.”

Or, in other words, to oppose Amendment 13.

After six weeks of fundraising, the committee has now raised a little over $21,000 and has about $13,000 in the bank. Their newly reported donors include West Virginia car dealership owner Lester Raines and Iowa dietician Ann Wennberg, both of whom checked in at the $1,000 level, along with 65 other donors who chipped in smaller amounts.

In addition to the monetary support, the anti-Amendment 13 group received more than $12,000 worth of “in-kind” support.

Gary Keller, part owner of stock car racing team JD Motorsports, was the source of $10,000 of those benefits thanks to his putting a sticker on one of the team’s cars.

The Committee to Protect Dogs, the group behind the “Protect Dogs – Yes on 13” campaign, has vastly outraised their opposition.

Though the committee has not posted its report for July 7 through July 13, it had already cracked the $300,000 mark in total fundraising before the end of June.

That fundraising was on the back of $100,000 checks from The Humane Society of the United States and Grey2K USA Worldwide. The committee had $291,500 in the bank on July 6.

Amendment 13 was placed on the ballot by the 2017-18 Constitution Revision Commission. It would outlaw betting on dog races beginning in 2021. Amendments need at least 60 percent approval to be added to the state constitution.

Jacksonville Bold for 7.20.18 — Cash is king.

In this market, we periodically hear remarks about fundraising reports.

Often, people seek publicity for candidates who do not have the slightest interest in raising money. It’s hard for media to garner interest in a candidate who has no clue on how to target (or even reach) a constituency.

Others wonder why there are so many fundraising stories. Our answer is simple: The best way to know what drives a politician is by identifying who he or she strokes for checks.

At this point in the election cycle, cash is truly king.

The idea that covering a politician’s platform should be first or exclusive, while sounding nice, doesn’t jibe with the strong correlation between committed resources and victory.

This edition of BOLD (as well as the next few) will — by necessity — be about numbers. Whether left or right, there are ways to bring in money — donors, interests and causes.

Serious candidates find their way. The rest become footnotes.

GOP plays in CD 5 Dem primary

After two quarters, former Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown is behind incumbent U.S. Rep. Al Lawson in the money race in Florida’s 5th Congressional District.

While Republicans play both sides, Democratic House leadership backs Al Lawson.

Brown announced Friday that he had raised over $165,000 in Q2, and had $144,360 cash-on-hand. Lawson, per his FEC report, kept pace with $136,514 raised — and more importantly, holds the COH edge with $219,272 on hand.

However, there is an interesting side story: Prominent Republicans are playing both sides of the Democratic primary in CD 5, with challenger Alvin Brown getting more GOP donor interest by far than incumbent Al Lawson.

Among Brown’s more interesting Republican contributors: charter school magnate Gary Chartrand, Jacksonville lobbyist Marty Fiorentino, Preston Haskell, former Republican Jacksonville City Councilman Stephen Yoost, former CSX President Michael Ward, and former Jaguars’ owner Wayne Weaver.

Lawson, meanwhile, saw a donation from Ballard Partners’ Susie Wiles, a longtime Lawson friend who chaired President Donald Trump’s campaign down the 2016 stretch.

Also see: Pelosi endorses Lawson.

Rutherford cruising to re-election

U.S. Congressman John Rutherford, if cash-on-hand is any indication, will cruise to re-election in Florida’s 4th Congressional District.

Smooth sailing for The Sheriff.

The first-term Jacksonville Republican raised $106,447 in Q2, spending $46,730, and ended Q2 with $360,466 on hand.

Rutherford got checks from a variety of Jacksonville businessmen, such as former Jacksonville Jaguars owner Wayne Weaver, as well as corporate citizens, including the GEO Group, Comcast, Publix and Universal Music Service.

The cash edge looks prohibitive: Democratic nominee Ges Selmont closed Q2 with $3,167 on hand, a number that simply won’t get it done.

Rutherford’s supportive Conservatives United political committee is not even raising money for this race, a strong indication that he doesn’t feel he’ll need it.

The former Jacksonville sheriff won the race to represent the coastal Northeast Florida district by 40 points in the 2016 general election.

Yoho stands tall against Sapp

U.S. Rep. Ted Yoho, representing Florida’s 3rd Congressional District that runs from Orange Park to Gainesville and Ocala, has amassed a strong cash on hand lead against primary challenger Judson Sapp.

Ted Yoho (Image via MSNBC.com)

Yoho, a Republican seeking his fourth term, has $431,093 on hand, compared to $133,012 for Sapp.

In Q2, which ended at the end of June, Yoho raised $142,823, spending $67,282 in the same period. Almost $72,000 of the Yoho haul was from individual contributions.

Sapp actually took in more campaign money than Yoho in Q2, bringing in $172,525 in his second quarter in the race, spending $63,428.

Of that money, $165,000 (of a total $190,000) was self-financed. The most interesting external donor was the surprisingly still active Friends of Cliff Stearns, the political committee of the former congressman defeated in 2012 by Yoho in a primary.

Stearns’ political committee has been kept live, even though his political career has not.

The winner of this primary will face a lightly-funded Democrat in the general.

Congressmen pan the Prez

It’s a measure of how dubious President Donald Trump‘s performance was at the Helsinki summit that even Republicans who proudly campaigned with the president in 2016 are distancing themselves from his remarks.

Is the ball bugged? (Image via ABC News)

Congressman Ted Yoho, who faces a primary challenge from Judson Sapp in Florida’s 3rd Congressional District, bemoaned a “missed opportunity” by the president.

“Today’s news conference between President Trump and Vladimir Putin was a missed opportunity to hold Russia accountable for their meddling into our 2016 presidential election … Putin has never been, nor will he be, a friend to the United States. It must be made clear to his regime that we will not tolerate any hostile action against the United States,” Yoho added.

U.S. Rep. John Rutherford bemoaned a “missed opportunity for the president to place additional pressure on Vladimir Putin for his regime’s misdeeds. Even with the president’s misgivings with those who seek to undermine him at home, we cannot equate ourselves with the Putin regime, its record of hostility, and its assaults on democratic values across the globe.”

Democratic U.S. Rep. Al Lawson spoke up too, saying the meeting was “utterly disgraceful.”

Duval DeSantis

U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, who looks increasingly like the front-runner in the Republican race for Governor, plans a Saturday morning meet and greet in downtown Jacksonville.

Front-runner? We’ll see what his crowd looks like Saturday morning. (Image via Getty)

The event kicks off at 8:30 at the Omni downtown. If you miss him there, catch him at Orange Park’s La Nopalera in the afternoon.

A new poll has DeSantis leading the race by a 42 to 30 percent margin, an indication that as the pool of undecided voters becomes more shallow, DeSantis’ support deepens.

That survey confirms consultant reports of myriad internal polls that have shown a pro-DeSantis trend.

Putnam held a public event in Jacksonville late last week; however, attendance was down from previous Putnam stops, with only two incumbent politicians showing — a drop from previous events where Putnam had strong showings from the elected class.

Meanwhile, DeSantis’ last visit to the Jacksonville area, in late June, happened just as momentum in the race was beginning to turn.

Graham finally runs TV in Jacksonville

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gwen Graham finally bought TV time in Jacksonville this week.

Per a media release from her campaign: “The new ad, ‘Lessons,’ introduces Graham as a mother, former PTA president, congresswoman, and daughter of popular former Governor and Senator Bob Graham. Like her previous ads [not seen in the 904], the new spot contrasts 20 years of Republican rule with Graham’s progressive priorities of restoring public schools and expanding health care.”

To watch the ad, click on the image below:

 

“Everything I do is through the prism of being a mom,” Graham says in the ad. “The Florida Legislature have not taken Medicaid expansion. They have hurt education. They have used the lottery to reduce funding — but we’re gonna take it back.”

The media release notes that despite having spent just $3.8 million this campaign, “far less than her self-funding opponents” Jeff Greene and Philip Levine, Graham is still in the mix in polls.

The results of a recent survey conducted by St. Pete Polls and commissioned by Florida Politics shows Graham ahead of Levine and trailing Greene by just a tenth of a percentage point.

Bean sprouts above field

As is typical this time of year, a recap of state race fundraising.

In Senate District 4, incumbent Republican Aaron Bean continues to dominate the competition with almost $180,000 on hand. He’s destroying primary challenger Carlos Slay, who has $88 on hand. The winner of Bean/Slay will take on Democrat Billee Bussard, who raised $3,405 and now has $7,167 on hand, and Libertarian Joanna Tavares, who has $38 on hand …

Team Bean wants another win. The money says it’s gonna happen.

The most competitive race for state House in the region is HD 15, where Democrat Tracye Polson, with $127,000 on hand, still holds a narrowing cash lead against the Republican field. GOP lobbyist Wyman Duggan has $122,947, well ahead of Mark Zeigler ($32,482 on hand) and Joseph Hogan ($12,537). Duggan has a hold card, however, with Mayor Lenny Curry cutting an ad on his behalf this week.

In HD 11, HD 12 and HD 16, Republican Reps. Cord Byrd, Clay Yarborough and Jason Fischer look safe. Byrd has over a 10-1 advantage over opponents in cash on hand. Yarborough: a 20-1 edge over a Democrat. Fischer: an 8-1 advantage.

Meanwhile, in HD 14’s money race, incumbent state Rep. Kim Daniels is way ahead of Duval County School Board chair Paula Wright.

Daniels, a first-term lawmaker from Jacksonville, answered the challenge with her best fundraising of the cycle in the two weeks between June 22 and July 6: $26,412, bringing her up to $47,227 raised with almost $28,000 of that on hand.

Republican money and interests, including private prisons, showed up for the Demonbuster.

Wright is far behind in fundraising after a very disappointing two-week period. She raised just $3,501.

What Bean is up to

On Saturday, The Fernandina Beach Republican will attend the River Road Baptist Church’s Clothing Giveaway 2018 and help distribute food and clothes to those in need (the free event is open to the public), 9 a.m., River Road Baptist Church, 21067 County Road 121, Hilliard.

On Monday, July 23, Bean will discuss tourism and related legislation at the Amelia Island Tourist Development Council workshop, noon, Omni Racquet Park Conference Center, Fernandina Beach. Later, he will speak to the first Coast Republican club, providing an update on the 2018 Legislative Session, 6:30 p.m., Casa Marina, Jacksonville Beach.

On Thursday, July 26, Bean will receive the Guardian ad Litem’s (GAL) Legislator of the Year Award, 1 p.m., Edward Ball Building, Jacksonville.

Boffo receipts for GOP senators

Political committees for powerful Northeast Florida Senate Republicans Travis Hutson and Rob Bradley stayed active as July heated up.

Rob Bradley, Travis Hutson committees are worth watching down the stretch.

Both of Hutson’s committees, First Coast Business Foundation and Sunshine State Conservatives, were active in the days leading up to July 6, the final day for which reports are available.

First Coast Business Foundation moved $35,000 to Sun Coast Patriots, a committee that has gotten over $65,000 from Hutson committees since April.

Sunshine State Conservatives, meanwhile, brought in $51,000: $1,000 from Tesla, Elon Musk‘s car company, and $50,000 from Floridians United for Our Children.

Between the two committees, Hutson has roughly $430,000 in cash on hand.

Bradley’s Working for Florida’s Families committee, between June 30 and July 6, saw $30,000 in contributions with over $25,000 of that flowing out.

Voice of Florida Business ponied up $20,000; Floridians for Strong Leadership, the committee of Sen. Anitere Flores, the other $10,000.

The committee gave $15,000 to the Florida Republican Senatorial Committee, and dropped six $1,000 checks in the following campaigns: Sen. Kelli Stargel of Lakeland; Clearwater Rep. Ed Hooper‘s bid for the state Senate; South Florida Rep. Manny Diaz, Jr.‘s re-election bid; Pinellas Sen. Jeff Brandes‘ re-election effort; Gainesville Sen. Keith Perry‘s competitive bid for another term; and Marili Cancio‘s challenge to Kendall’s Democratic Sen. Annette Taddeo.

Ray stays paid

As of July 6, former State Rep. Lake Ray continues to lead his three opponents in fundraising for the Duval County Tax Collector election to be held this August.

The election, which will see the top two candidates move to the November ballot if no one gets a majority of votes, was necessitated by former tax collector Michael Corrigan moving on to a role with Visit Jacksonville.

From Tea Party to Tax Collector? Long strange trip for Lake Ray.

Ray has raised and self-financed $136,935, with over $125,000 of that still on hand.

Ray’s closest competitor is also a Republican, former property appraiser and city councilman Jim Overton, who has raised $92,620 total, with just over $70,000 on hand.

Current Jacksonville City Councilman Doyle Carter, running third, has $63,000 on hand and Shad Khan’s blessing. And former Rep. Mia Jones is in fourth. Still in fourth place, the sole Democrat in the race: former State Rep. Mia Jones.

Jones raised $6,925, and has nearly $19,000 on hand.

CSX posts outstanding Q2           

CSX Corp. is celebrating after reporting a strong second quarter of 2018, with nearly every metric showing improvement.

As reported by the Jacksonville Business Journal, net earnings saw a significant rise and efficiency improved while “trains dwelled less, moved faster, carried higher volumes and arrived on time more often than the previous quarter.”

CSX is popping champagne corks with Q2 earnings report.

“Two words I think sum up everything: great performance,” said CEO Jim Foote in an earnings call this week.

Compared to the second quarter of 2017, net earnings increased by more than $360 million — 72 percent — with almost 6 percent more revenue, $3.1 billion. At the same time, CSX spent 8 percent less, $1.8 billion, on expenses from the same period last year. Earnings per share came in at $1.01, a 46-cent improvement.

JTA seeks drivers for new downtown-to-beach route

Jacksonville Transportation Authority is hiring, looking for 30 bus operators for a new 18.5-mile First Coast Flyer Bus Rapid Transit route, running between downtown and the beaches. Service begins in November.

“We are excited to continue to grow our team of skilled operators,” JTA VP of Transit Operations Lisa Darnall said in a statement to the Jacksonville Business Journal. “With the ongoing expansion of our routes, our goal is to onboard 30 additional operators by November of this year.”

JTA needs drivers for a new route to Jacksonville beaches to begin in November. (Image via JTA)

Driver pay starts at $12.50 an hour during the first seven weeks of training, rising to $14 an hour. Drivers will be eligible for health benefits, a pension plan, paid vacation and additional incentive pay. Interested candidates must be 21-years-old or older, have a high school diploma or equivalent diploma, a Florida CDL license class A or B and no more than three traffic violations in the last five years.

Vestcor Bridges Run for Charity

The Vestcor Family Foundation holds its 23rd Annual Charity Run on Saturday — the 5K begins 7 p.m. Last year, the Vestcor Bridges Run attracted 1,000 runners and spectators and raised a total of $35,000 for local nonprofit organizations. After the race this year, runners can enjoy free food and beer, live music, raffle prizes and finisher medals.

Registration will be open on race day and can found online here.

Grab your running shoes.

Race participants will start and finish on Water Street in front of the Prime Osborn Center by the new Lofts at LaVilla. Lofts at LaVilla is Vestcor’s third community in downtown Jacksonville with two other communities coming through fall 2019. Runners will pass by The Carling and 11 East and continue over the Acosta and Main Street bridges before reaching the finish line. Registration will be open on race day and can be found online here.

The run is part of the Vestcor’s continued support of Jacksonville’s downtown and its recent growth. Funds raised will benefit local educational and children-focused nonprofit organizations. Previous charities benefitted from the run include American Heart Association, Give Kids a Chance, Monique Burr Foundation for Children, Tiger Academy and UF Health Jacksonville.

Tony Romo picks Jags, Packers in Super Bowl

Last Sunday, Jaguars’ quarterback Blake Bortles was on the golf course with future Hall of Famer Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers. If former Cowboys’ quarterback and current Fox NFL commentator Tony Romo is correct, they will be together competing again for a championship.

CBS commentator Tony Romo predicts another championship matchup between the Jags, Packers.

They were participating in the American Century Celebrity Golf Championship in Lake Tahoe, an event won by Romo. Earlier in the week, Romo was asked for his prediction on who will be playing in the Super Bowl in February.

“Thing about the NFL is things change pretty fast. Injuries happen, a lot of stuff happens, but, um … if I was picking right now, I’d probably go with Green Bay versus Jacksonville,” Romo told NFL.com. “That would be a tentative, rough guess here in the summer months.”

When he learned of Romo’s prognostication, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady’s response was a simple “We will see, Tony, we will see.”

The Jaguars will see soon enough if they are a contender. The Patriots will be in town for the Jaguars’ home opener on Sept. 16.

How did Rodgers and Bortles do in the golf course? Bortles hopes that if the two meet in the Super Bowl, he will have a better showing throwing a football than hitting a golf ball.

Rodgers finished in a tie for 18th, while Bortles limped in with a 76th place finish, just ahead of Larry the Cable Guy. Despite finishing near the bottom, Bortles did achieve his primary goal.

“I usually just set one every year,” he said. “I’ll beat Charles Barkley.”

Mission accomplished. Barkley, the former NBA star, finished last.

Dolphins anthem punishment includes suspensions

Miami Dolphins players who protest on the field during the national anthem could be suspended for up to four games under a team policy issued this week.

The “Proper Anthem Conduct” section is just one sentence in a nine-page discipline document provided to The Associated Press by a person familiar with the policy who insisted on anonymity because the document is not public. It classifies anthem protests under a large list of “conduct detrimental to the club,” all of which could lead to a paid or unpaid suspension, a fine or both.

Miami’s anthem policy comes after the NFL decided in May that teams would be fined if players didn’t stand during “The Star-Spangled Banner” while on the field. The league left it up to teams on how to punish players. None of the team policies have been made public.

The NFL rule forbids players from sitting or taking a knee if they are on the field or sidelines during the national anthem, but allows them to stay in the locker room if they wish. The new league rules were challenged this month in a grievance by the players union.

The NFL declined to comment. Team officials had no immediate comment.

Material from The Associated Press is used in this story.

Jeff Greene will participate in tonight’s Democratic gubernatorial debate

The latest debate among Florida’s Democratic candidates for governor will have a newcomer: billionaire developer Jeff Greene.

Greene is joining the other four candidates Wednesday night at Florida Gulf Coast University in his first debate since his late entry into the race.

The Palm Beach resident has already spent $10 million in ads, mostly his own money. He now hopes to shake up the race even more during the live exchange with former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine and Orlando-area businessman Chris King.

The winner of the Aug. 28 primary will face the Republican nominee in November. The Republican candidates are Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis.

Material from The Associated Press was used in this post.

Greyhound racing-ban group releases another round of endorsements

The Protect Dogs-Yes on 13 campaign Wednesday announced it had received endorsements from more current and former lawmakers, civic organizations, animal welfare organizations, and others.

Among them: state Sen. Dana Young, a Tampa Republican. “It’s time for Florida to move beyond mandated greyhound racing,” Young said.

Usually, pari-mutuels in Florida are required to continue running live dog or horse races to have slots and card games. Attempts at “decoupling,” removing the live racing requirement, has failed in the Legislature in recent years.

The campaign is promoting passage of Amendment 13, put on the November ballot by the Constitution Revision Commission (CRC).

The proposal, which needs at least 60 percent approval to be added to the state constitution, aims at ending commercial dog racing in the state. In Florida, live dog racing is still conducted at 11 tracks.

According to the campaign, Wednesday’s endorsements include:

— CRC member and state Sen. Tom Lee, the Thonotosassa Republican and former Senate President (2004-06) who sponsored the measure that became Amendment 13.

— Other CRC members: former Senate President (2012-14) Don Gaetz, a Niceville Republican; former state Sen. Lisa Carlton, a Sarasota Republican; current Sen. Darryl Rouson, a St. Petersburg Democrat; Tallahassee-based political consultant Brecht Heuchan; former Sewall’s Point mayor Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch.

— Two former state senators, Democrats Eleanor Sobel of Hollywood and Maria Sachs of Delray Beach.

— The Greater Tarpon Springs Democratic Club, the OurRev305 progressive group in Miami, First Congregational United Church of Christ in Ocala, Animal Welfare League of Charlotte County, Edgewater Animal Shelter, Southeast Volusia Humane Society, The Animal Legal Defense Fund, Pets Ad Litem, Imagine Our Florida Inc.

Clearwater aerial photo

Candidates sign up for ‘Politics in Pinellas’

Another election cycle, another edition of Politics in Pinellas.

The event, hosted biennially by the Clearwater Regional Chamber of Commerce, is set to draw at least 10 candidates for offices ranging from Pinellas School Board to state Senator.

“Are they running for office for the first time or up for re-election? This is your opportunity to personally hear the view point and strategy of those seeking public office in Pinellas County,” the event listing says.

The 2018 edition of Politics in Pinellas will be held July 26 from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. in the EpiCenter at St. Petersburg College, 13805 58th St. N., in Clearwater.

So far, 10 candidates have signed on to participate in the event.

School Board District 2 incumbent Terry Krassner and challenger Jeff Larsen will both attend, while Lisa Cane has not yet signed up. For School Board District 3, only challenger Nicole Carr has signed up. She faces incumbent Peggy O’Shea and former Democratic state Rep. Carl Zimmerman.

For Pinellas County Commission District 6, Republican state Rep. Kathleen Peters has confirmed. She faces fellow Republican state Rep. Larry Ahern, Republican businesswoman Barb Haselden and Democrat Amy Kedron in the race to succeed longtime Commissioner John Morroni, who died earlier this year at the age of 63.

Doneene Loar, who is running for 6th Circuit Judge, will also attend. She faces Donald McBath in the nonpartisan judicial election.

Candidates from two of the county’s seven state House districts will also be in attendance.

House District 64 Republican candidate Terry Power, who faces incumbent Rep. Jamie Grant in the Aug. 28 primary, will have a table. As will Pinellas GOP chair Nick DiCeglie, who is running to succeed Ahern in House District 66. He’ll be joined by Democratic foe Alex Heeren, though Seminole Republican Berny Jacques hasn’t put in an RSVP.

Also attending incumbent Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes of Senate District 24 and former Rep. Ed Hooper, the likely Republican nominee for Senate District 16.

Brandes had been facing a challenge from Democratic trial lawyer Carrie Pilon, though she announced two weeks ago that she was withdrawing from the race. The Florida Democratic Party is in the process of selecting her replacement.

Hooper is running against former Democratic Rep. Amanda Murphy, and recent polling shows the race is a dead heat with Hooper holding a slim advantage.

Politics in Pinellas is free and open to the public. Those who attend will be able to vote for their preferred candidates in a straw poll.

The event flyer is below.

Delegation for 7.17.18 — Insights from the Beltway to the Sunshine State

Q2 fundraising shaping congressional races

Most of the campaign finance reports for the second quarter are in. While it will take some time for the Federal Elections Commission to compile and make all of them public, some interesting results are known.

The numbers show that most of the races under the microscope earlier this year remain that way. For example, Gov. Rick Scott’s $10.7 million quarter was $6.1 million better than incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson, but Nelson still has $13.7 million in the bank for the stretch run.

Bill Nelson, Rick Scott: among the more interesting cash races in 2018.

As many as nine congressional races are worthy of special attention.

Four open seats

In the Republican-leaning District 6 seat being vacated by Ron DeSantis, Democrat Nancy Soderberg has nearly $1 million cash on hand while Republican Michael Waltz has just over $600,000.

Republican John Ward has seen a controversial remark cost him dearly. A slow quarter, helped by calls to drop out of the race, dropped his cash on hand from over $700,000 to under $500,000 in the second quarter.

The GOP-leaning District 15 open seat held by Republican Dennis Ross shows Democrat Kristen Carlson outpacing everyone with a total of $247,000 raised and $192,000 on hand followed by another Democrat, Andrew Learned with $223,000 raised and $65,000 cash on hand. Among Republicans, Ross Spano has raised $157,000 with $108,000 on hand followed by former Republican state Rep. Neal Combee, who reported raising $128,000 with $86,000 cash on hand.

Two Republicans are fighting it out for the solid red District 17 seat of Tom Rooney. State Rep. Julio Gonzalez and state Sen. Greg Steube have both raised over $400,000 since announcing their candidacy and both have over $300,000 cash on hand. No one else in either party is close.

While not all figures were yet available, Democratic state Rep. David Richardson, the well-known Donna Shalala and foundation executive Matt Haggman, have all raised more than $1 million in District 27. Those numbers for Richardson and Shalala are aided by $500,000 in self-loans from each candidate to their respective campaigns.

Republicans are led by Maria Elvira Salazar with nearly $600,000 cash on hand, while Miami-Dade County Commissioner Bruno Barreiro is down to less than $180,000 cash on hand.

Two Democratic primaries

Two Democratic primaries also bear watching. In the solid blue District 5, former Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown raised $165,000 for the quarter and over $332,000 in all, while first-term incumbent Al Lawson of Tallahassee brought his total to $455,000. Lawson has $219,000 cash on hand, while Brown’s total was unavailable.

The solidly Democratic Orlando region District 9 race between incumbent Darren Soto and former Rep. Alan Grayson had Soto with $364,000 cash on hand and Grayson with nearly $700,000 as of March 31. Second quarter figures were not yet available.

Three Democratic targets for flips

Democrats believe they have a chance to knock out three GOP incumbents this fall. In GOP-leaning District 16, Republican Vern Buchanan of Longboat Key has raised $2.1 million with $2.5 million cash on hand. Democratic challenger David Shapiro has raised more than $1 million and has $785,000 cash on hand.

In Republican-leaning District 18, Republican Brian Mast of Palm City has raised nearly $4 million and has nearly $2 million in the bank. Democrat Lauren Baer has raised a respectable $1.5 million with $1 million cash on hand.

Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo’s Democratic-leaning District 26 is a prime target for Democrats. He has raised $3.6 million and has $2.6 million still available. Democratic challenger Debbie Mucarsel-Powell has raised $1.6 million and has $1.26 million still on hand.

Trump’s refusal to call out Putin brings strong reactions

Going into Monday’s summit meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, delegation members had two pieces of advice for Trump. Several Democratic members said he should cancel the meeting, while Republicans urged caution.

When Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein announced indictments against 12 Russian military officials for election meddling, a group of Democrats said the meeting should not go forward.

“I hold both countries responsible. I think that the United States has been foolish. I think we’ve all been foolish. … And I think we’re all to blame.”

In a tweet, Democratic Rep. Ted Deutch ticked off the Russian transgressions, then added Trump “should cancel his meeting with Putin. Democratic Rep. Val Demings of Orlando expressed the same view during a segment on MSNBC.

Rubio did not call for Trump to cancel the meeting but warned the president to be “clear-eyed” about who he was dealing with. By Monday afternoon in the U.S., Democrats were outraged when Trump would not call out Putin for meddling, instead laying blame for deteriorating U.S./Russian relations as the feet of both countries.

“The president’s refusal to acknowledge that Putin interfered in our elections should alarm us all,” tweeted Nelson. “Putin is a threat to our democracy and our upcoming election, that’s a fact. The president’s unwillingness to stand up to him and defend our nation is unacceptable and embarrassing.”

Democratic Rep. Stephanie Murphy of Winter Park said, “While every patriotic American wants to see U.S.-Russia relations improve in a way that advances U.S. interests, that will only happen if President Trump holds Putin’s Russia accountable for its reprehensible actions around the world, including its interference in our democracy.”

Floridians’ response seemed tame when compared to former CIA Director John Brennan, who called Trump’s comments “nothing short of treasonous.”

 Rubio, Nelson hope snowbirds can stay longer

Both U.S. Senators from Florida want to keep the welcome mat out for Canadians who visit the state and stay for the winter. In fact, they like them so much, both Nelson and Republican Marco Rubio want to allow them to stay longer without restrictions.

Part-time Canadian residents, often referred to as snowbirds, may visit the U.S. without visas and stay for up to six months before being considered residents and being charged income taxes. Rubio and Nelson jointly filed the Canadian Snowbird Act, which would extend non-taxable stays in the U.S. to eight months.

Calling all snowbirds: Bill Nelson, Marco Rubio back bill to help Canadians stay a little longer in Florida.

“It’s no secret that Canadians love to visit Florida in the winter,” said Nelson. “The millions of Canadian snowbirds who visit our state each year play an important role in our state’s tourism-driven economy. Allowing them to stay even longer is a win for them and for the local economies they visit.”

If the new bill becomes law, Canadian citizens over the age of 50 could stay here for 240 days, or eight months, though they would be expressly prohibited from working for American employers or seeking public assistance in the U.S.

A similar bill was filed nearly a year ago in the House by Republican Elise Stefanik of New York and joined by Democratic Rep. Ted Deutch of Boca Raton and Duncan Hunter of California. The bill, co-sponsored by a bipartisan group of 11 members of the delegation, has not had a hearing.

 

Delegation outraged over Nicaraguan violence

Government crackdowns of protesters in Nicaragua has killed more than 270 people over the last few months, but the killing of two students over the weekend has caused international outrage. Several members of the delegation are calling for Marxist President Daniel Ortega to face consequences.

Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen called Ortego a coward, while Rubio said: “if his violence leads to a bloodbath, he will face consequences.” Nelson expressed fear Nicaragua could be following the path of Venezuela under Nicolas Maduro.

Members of the delegation are calling for Marxist Nicaragua President Daniel Ortega to face repercussions.

Senior members of the delegation have been trying to rally a response for weeks.

In June, Ros-Lehtinen led a Congressional effort urging the Trump administration to strongly support the Nicaraguan people resisting totalitarianism. She and U.S. Rep. Albio Sires, a New Jersey Democrat, penned a bipartisan, bicameral letter calling for action.

Both Florida Senators were signees to the letter along with Republican Representatives Mario Diaz-Balart and Carlos Curbelo, along with Democratic Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

Ortega has been in power since 2007.

Gaetz celebrates passage of ‘Reef Assassin’ amendment

To combat the damage being done by invasive fish species, Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz introduced the “Reef Assassin Act” last year to provide incentives to the public in the effort to eliminate lionfish from coastal areas. Last week, Gaetz’s bill became an amendment to a larger fisheries bill, which passed the House 222-193.

The Gaetz proposal allows individuals to exchange lionfish for tags authorizing fishing for certain species in addition to the number of such species otherwise authorized to be taken by such individuals, and for other purposes.

Matt Gaetz is celebrating the passage of ‘Reef Assassin’ bill. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

The lionfish population has exploded over the last three decades; they can now be found throughout the Atlantic coast, the Bahamas, and the Gulf of Mexico. A single female lionfish releases 30,000 eggs every two to four days — two million eggs per year.

In a news release, Gaetz says lionfish “have caused billions of dollars of economic damage. If nothing is done to mitigate the lionfish infestation, fisheries throughout the southeastern United States will be forced to close.”

While Gaetz had 11 co-sponsors for his stand-alone bill, five delegation Republicans were among the 15 Republicans voting no on the larger measure. Those members included Gus Bilirakis, Vern Buchanan, Carlos Curbelo, Mario Diaz-Balart, Francis Rooney, and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.

Rutherford receives security association’s ‘Legislator of the Year’ award

One of 2018’s high profile pieces of legislation, the Stop School Violence Act, has led to its House sponsor receiving a national award. The Security Industry Association has named the bill’s sponsor, Republican Rep. John Rutherford of Jacksonville as a winner of its annual award.

John Rutherford, shown with Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.

The award is presented annually to members of Congress and other elected officials who have demonstrated extraordinary leadership in advancing legislation and policies that encourage the effective use of technology solutions to enhance public safety and security and protect critical infrastructure.

Rutherford’s bill earned 100 co-sponsors, including 17 bipartisan members of the delegation. It passed the House on March 14 by a vote of 407-10.

Other recipients included Utah Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch, who sponsored the Senate version of Rutherford’s bill. In addition, Republican Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, Democratic Rep. Gary Peters of Michigan, and GOP Rep. Dan Donovan of New York were cited.

The winners were honored at the industry’s “government summit” held in Washington.

Soto lands endorsement from Social Security, Medicare advocates

Another endorsement for re-election has come to Soto for his re-election bid. Last week, the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare gave a thumbs up to the first term Congressman in his bid for a second term against Grayson.

Darren Soto is recognized for his work with Medicaid, Social Security advocates. 

“You are a key ally in the effort to serve the needs of seniors and their families,” committee president Max Richtman said in an endorsement letter. “National Committee members know they can continue to count on you in the United States House of Representatives.”

Many groups, including the Human Rights Campaign and Planned Parenthood, have opted to back Soto over Grayson in the primary race, though Grayson this week landed an endorsement from Our Revolution Orlando, a local chapter of Our Revolution, a national group that traces its roots to Democratic U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign operation.

Grayson and Soto have agreed to two debates, the first on Aug. 2 and the second on Aug. 8. The primary election is Aug. 28.

Mast continues on ‘war’ footing for Lake O discharges

Since discharges of highly polluted water from Lake Okeechobee into the St. Lucie, then the Caloosahatchee River began, Mast has been a loud voice against the action being carried out by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Last week there was a period of reassessment of the strategy for the St. Lucie, and a moratorium dumping into the Caloosahatchee. All of that is off now.

Brian Mast girds for the battle over Lake O discharges.

“The water quality is getting worse. It’s now 15 times more toxic than is safe for human contact,” the first-term representative from Palm City told constituents. ”And discharges have resumed.”

Mast has described his efforts as a “war” for the “health and safety” of the local community.

“War is one thing that I can speak about very well,” the Army veteran said. ”In any war, there are many battles. Sometimes you win the day and sometimes, even when you’ve done absolutely everything possible, you don’t.”

Mast also praised the White House for approving the southern reservoir that will eventually remove the option of the algal bloom-creating discharges from the lake.

Curbelo talks issues at gathering of Latino entrepreneurs

Over the past few months, Curbelo has raised his profile on several contentious issues facing Congress. He recently had an in-depth interview with Bob Cusack, Editor-in-Chief of the Hill newspaper to discuss several of them.

The interview was part of the program for an event called Latino Entrepreneurship and the American Dream held in Washington. Jobs and the economy were only part of the agenda.

On the growing “trade wars’ surrounding Trump’s imposition of tariffs, Curbelo said that the actions taken against China “are justified,” but other actions will “hurt our growth and the economy” as well as strain relationships with allies.

Carlos Curbelo is talking issues with the Hispanic entrepreneur community. (Image via Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

The second-term Congressman continues to support the tax reform bill that he actively promoted. Citing it as one of the factors, he says “it is a really good time economically in our country.”

Curbelo is probably best known for leading a small group of Republicans to try and force votes on lagging immigration bills. After a conservative, then a centrist bill he co-sponsored was voted down, he criticized both sides.

““The problem is too many of our colleagues in Congress — on both sides — prefer the politics of immigration, rather than the solutions for immigration,” he said “What we ended up putting on the floor was a bipartisan bill and the evidence is that 121 Republicans voted for it and 112 of them voted against it, and I guarantee you that wasn’t because the bill was too conservative. It’s because it was a very centrist bill.”

He also had the chance to talk about climate change. As co-chairman, along with Deutch, of the Climate Change Caucus, Curbelo described the issue in Florida as one that “is not a theoretical exercise, it’s actually a real concern.”

On this day in the headlines

July 17, 1992 — Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton accepted the nomination of the Democratic Party as their candidate for President of the United States. Clinton asked for the trust of millions who know more about his sins than of his virtues.

He told delegates at the Democratic National Convention in New York, and millions watching on television, that “it’s time to heal our country.” Clinton’s acceptance speech sought to reassure Democrats and persuadable voters about himself and provide a new direction from that of President George H.W. Bush.

July 17, 2004 — President George W. Bush was in Tampa to discuss the issue of human trafficking. Accompanied by his daughter, Barbara, and brother, Gov. Jeb Bush, the president said “giving life is the gift of our creator and is not for sale.”

Bush dropped by a conference hosted by the Justice Department and Attorney General John Ashcroft. In a media conference call arranged by the campaign of Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry, Sen. Bill Nelson accused Bush of cutting human trafficking programs and waiting too long to submit an international protocol in the Senate.

All-Star Game to provide welcome respite to DC dysfunction

Tuesday night Washington will host the annual Major League Baseball All-Star Game. At least for a night, hardball politics will take a back seat to just regular hardball.

With all of the vitriol going back and forth up and down Pennsylvania Avenue, even the politicos can join baseball fans for a night of watching professionals play a different kind of game than that which occurs on Capitol Hill.

A brief respite.

Wall Street Journal columnist Gerald Seib summed it up perfectly.

“The need for such a refuge has only grown in a summer of raw emotions over immigration, Supreme Court vacancies and Russian election meddling. So, as baseball’s mid-summer classic, the All-Star Game, takes place in Washington on Tuesday, this is a good time to pause and reflect on the role — perhaps small, yet undeniable — that baseball and the Nationals play in bridging the increasingly stark divides in Washington.”

Play ball!

Security industry group dubs John Rutherford legislator of the year

U.S. Rep. John Rutherford, a Jacksonville Republican representing Florida’s 4th Congressional District, won the 2018 Security Industry Association (SIA) Legislator of the Year award recently.

Rutherford was honored for sponsoring H.R. 4909, the STOP School Violence Act of 2018, signed into law in March as part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2018.

“I am honored to receive the SIA Legislator of the Year Award. It is important that we work together to equip our schools with the latest technology and train our students, teachers and administrators on how to identify signs of violence, so that we prevent violent acts before they happen,” said Rutherford.

“I am thankful for the hard work of groups like SIA and Sandy Hook Promise who worked side-by-side with us to make this bill a reality. As a 41-year veteran of law enforcement and sheriff of Jacksonville for 12 years, I know firsthand that school security requires a multi-layered approach. That is why I was proud to introduce the STOP School Violence Act, to prevent more tragedies like we have witnessed in Parkland, Florida, and across the country,” added Rutherford.

“As I used to say during my time in law enforcement, I don’t want to be the best first responder to a mass-casualty event; I want to prevent that horrible act before it ever occurs. I look forward to continuing to work with my colleagues in Congress to give our states, localities, and tribes the resources and training they need to stop violent events before they occur and keep our schools and our communities safe,” Rutherford concluded.

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