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Ryan Torrens strikes back, sues Sean Shaw for libel

Democratic candidate for Attorney General Ryan Torrens has countersued primary opponent Sean Shaw for libel, saying Shaw injured his “reputation in the legal profession and as a candidate for public office.”

Shaw sued first last month to have Torrens kicked off the ballot, alleging the Tampa lawyer only qualified to run because of an “illegal campaign contribution” to pay the qualifying fee. Torrens later said it was a self-loan — his wife had written the check from their joint account.

Torrens lodged the counterclaim in his answer to Shaw’s complaint, filed Tuesday in Leon County Circuit Civil court. Both men are lawyers.

“By erroneously raising these false claims (in his lawsuit), my opponent falsely and frivolously challenged my integrity as a professional and as someone aspiring to public office, and that of my wife,” Torrens said in a Wednesday statement.

“In addition, I have exercised my right to request a jury trial on our libel claim for damages against my primary opponent.”

Torrens, a consumer-rights attorney in Tampa, called Shaw’s lawsuit “frivolous,” noting Florida courts have never removed a candidate from the ballot for the reasons Shaw cited in his complaint.

The suit is “a sad attempt to confuse voters during a primary election after absentee ballots have already been sent out,” Torrens said.

A Shaw campaign spokesman said the candidate had “no comment” on Torrens’ countersuit.

Torrens’ campaign treasurer Jessica Vasconez has acknowledged that the campaign received a $4,000 contribution from Francesca Yabraian, Torrens’ wife. The maximum permitted for a statewide candidate is $3,000.

“The check … was drawn on our joint account,” Torrens said previously. “(T)his was a case in which my money was being transferred to my campaign, and as all candidates know, there is no limit on the amount a candidate is allowed to spend on his or her own campaign.”

On Wednesday, he added: “With his years of public service, I really expected better” of Shaw, formerly the state’s

“If he wants to keep wasting money in the courts on frivolous cases, like Attorney General Pam Bondi has done, then that’s his decision. I will continue to campaign across the state and talk about the issues Floridians are worried about.

“It’s a shame as this suit will only tear down this critical election season.”

Rick Scott gently chides Donald Trump for calling Omarosa a ‘dog’

The feud between President Donald Trump and former senior aide Omarosa Manigault Newman has a Jacksonville politics connection, with her husband John Allen Newman currently serving on the JAXPORT board.

Manigault Newman left the White House months back and has since written a book, “Unhinged“, in which she has made various charges about the President, including that he suffers from diminished mental capacity. that he may have used racial slurs, and so on.

President Trump has responded with the full dignity of his office on display.

Gov. Rick Scott, in nearby Yulee Wednesday highlighting an endorsement from a manufacturers group, opined during a truncated gaggle (there were no TV cameras) on the latest example of his “partner in the White House” engendering controversy in 280 characters or less, this time by calling an African-American woman a “dog.”

“I don’t think anybody ought to be insulting people,” Scott said, pausing at the end.

When asked, again, if he was willing to denounce what the President said, Scott repeated his original statement.

“I don’t think anybody ought to be insulting people,” Scott said again.

This is the latest example of Scott, who is mild-mannered in public appearances, not having much of an answer for President Trump’s latest sidestepping of conventional mores.

In July, Scott distanced himself from the President’s kowtowing at a summit to Kremlin leader Vladimir Putin.

“Putin is not our friend. Putin is not our ally. I don’t trust Putin. It clearly appears that Russia tried to meddle in our election,” Scott said.

“As a Senator,” Scott continued, “I’m not going to trust Putin. I’m never going to consider him an ally. And I’m going to be very skeptical of anything he says.”

It took him a second day of media questions to directly reference Trump.

“I completely disagree. I disagree with the president,” Scott replied to a press question. “I think Putin, he’s not to be trusted. I’m very skeptical of him. I don’t think he’s a friend; he’s a foe.”

“I think that there is clear evidence that he tried to meddle in our election,” Scott added.

Scott, who is currently in a war of words with Sen. Bill Nelson over Russian interference in Florida elections, has demanded that Nelson provide evidence of his assertions that Russians are currently interfering in county-level supervisors of elections shops.

Rick Scott highlights manufacturers’ backing in Yulee

The Manufacturers Association of Florida, a group 20,000 strong, on Monday threw the weight of its endorsement behind Gov. Rick Scott in his Senate bid.

On Wednesday, Scott was in Yulee — the first of two stops to spotlight the endorsement.

Scott’s move to eliminate the sales tax on manufacturing machinery, cutting $73 million in taxes for the sector, factored heavily into the endorsement.

“Governor Scott’s work to successfully eliminate the sales tax on manufacturing machinery and equipment was a game changer for our industry and a great win for all of Florida. Because of Governor Scott’s efforts, the manufacturing industry is responsible for more than 378,100 jobs across the state, and we are growing more year after year,” asserted MAF President Al Stimac.

“We also appreciate the Governor’s focus on workforce development, and we are excited to build on this focus through our Advanced Manufacturing Apprenticeship Program,” Stimac added Monday.

In Yulee Wednesday, Stimac also lauded the governor from removal of “burdensome regulations.”

“All of our businesses have grown,” Stimac said.

Scott framed the endorsement Monday as vindication of his larger legacy.

“Over the past seven and a half years, we’ve worked hard to permanently repeal the manufacturing sales tax, cut burdensome regulations and make important investments in workforce development so businesses can grow and Floridians can be prepared for new job opportunities,” Scott said Monday, adding Wednesday that the manufacturing sales tax had been “unfair” to businesses.

Rick Scott OKs emergency loans to cope with algae, red tide

Small businesses hurt by algae blooms and red tide can now apply to the state for emergency loans, Gov. Rick Scott‘s office announced Tuesday.

Scott activated the Florida Small Business Emergency Bridge Loan Program, which provides “short-term, interest-free loans to small businesses experiencing physical or economic loss.” The program is managed by the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO).

“Florida’s businesses are a large reason why our state is the best place in the country to live,” Scott said in a statement. “This program will help our business community recover from these emergencies.”

— Small businesses affected by blue-green algae in Glades, Hendry, Lee, Martin, Okeechobee, Palm Beach, and St. Lucie counties may apply for assistance from today through Sept. 7.

— Small businesses affected by the red tide in Charlotte, Collier, Hillsborough, Lee, Manatee, Pinellas and Sarasota counties may apply for assistance from today through Oct. 12.

The short-term, interest-free loans help ‘bridge the gap’ between the time damage is incurred and when a business secures other financial resources.

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For more information on the program, visit www.floridadisasterloan.org, call the Florida Small Business Development Center Network at (850) 898-3479 or email. The phone line will be answered during regular business hours; all voicemails and emails will be responded to within 24 hours.

Jeff Greene puts more money into Governor’s race

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jeff Greene loaned another $4.35 million to his gubernatorial campaign in late July and early August, bringing the total to more than $22 million, according to a new finance report.

Greene, a billionaire investor, had loaned $22.45 million to the campaign as of Aug. 3 and had received $2,315 in contributions. The campaign had spent $22.43 million, the report shows.

Greene, who entered the gubernatorial race in June, is running in the Aug. 28 primary against Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, former Congresswoman Gwen Graham, Winter Park businessman Chris King and former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine.

Sean Shaw

New Sean Shaw ad highlights push for gun control legislation

Sean Shaw is out with a new digital campaign ad as he battles for the Democratic nomination in the race for Attorney General.

Shaw currently serves in the Florida House, representing House District 61 in Tampa. The ad, titled “Meet Sean Shaw,” highlights his efforts in the House to push for gun control legislation in the aftermath of February’s shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

“Meet Democrat Sean Shaw for Attorney General,” begins the ad’s narrator.

“Shaw took on the NRA when others wouldn’t and fought for tougher gun safety laws. Ban assault weapons. Strengthen background checks.”

The ad also highlights an endorsement by the Police Benevolent Association, as well as Shaw being named a “gun sense candidate” by Moms Demand Action.

The 15-second spot echoes Shaw’s previous promises to reform the state’s approach to gun violence as Attorney General. Shaw said he would not defend the state’s current pre-emption policy on local gun laws and would challenge federal immunity for gun makers, courtesy of the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act. He has also proposed a gun violence task force to be installed on day one of his stint as Attorney General.

Shaw is facing off against Tampa attorney Ryan Torrens in the Democratic primary. That race has seen fireworks as Shaw sued to remove Torrens from the primary ballot due to an “illegal campaign contribution.” Torrens called the episode a “mistake,” and said the contribution was really a loan.

The Republican primary hasn’t been much more civil, with former judge Ashley Moody taking on state Rep. Frank White. Wellington Attorney Jeffrey Mark Siskind also filed to run as a nonparty affiliated candidate.

Bernie Sanders to join Andrew Gillum for Tampa, Orlando rallies this Friday

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders is coming to Florida to campaign for Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Andrew Gillum.

The Gillum campaign announced late Tuesday that the Senator from Vermont will join Gillum at two rallies on Friday — less than two weeks away from the Aug. 28 primary.

The first of the rallies is set to take place in Tampa, where Sanders and Gillum will speak to voters at 11 a.m. in Armature Works — Gathering Room. In the afternoon, the two will head to Orlando for a 2 p.m. rally at the CFE Arena at UCF.

Sanders endorsed Gillum at the beginning of the month, christening him as the progressive option for Florida voters.

“As governor, Andrew Gillum will work to provide health care for all through a Medicare-for-All program, raise the minimum wage to a living wage, invest in sustainable energy, improve education, make sure the wealthiest corporations pay their fair share of taxes, and be welcoming to immigrants,” Sanders said then.

With respect to the Democratic field, Gillum faces former Congresswoman Gwen Graham, billionaire investor Jeff Greene, former Mayor of Miami Beach Philip Levine and Orlando businessman Chris King. Most recent polls have shown Gillum trailing Graham, Levine, and Greene, though a large swath of likely Democratic voters still haven’t picked their candidate yet, according to the same polls.

Whether a rally could give the Tallahassee Mayor the much-needed boost is unknown.

On the Republican side, candidates Adam Putnam, the Agriculture Commissioner, and Ron DeSantis, the Congressman from Ponte Vedra, were “virtually tied,” according to a Florida Chamber poll in July.

But that was before President Donald Trump endorsed DeSantis on Twitter (for the second time) and came to Tampa to rally on the Congressman’s behalf. Now DeSantis appears to be firmly in the lead in the Republican primary.

Trump, however, is battle-tested against Florida’s electorate. He captured 45 percent of the party’s vote in the Republican primary in 2016. Sanders, in the same primary, lost to Hillary Clinton, who captured more than 64 percent of Democratic votes.

Bill Nelson, Rick Scott continue sparring over election security

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson is sticking to his comment that “Russians are in Florida’s election records,” as Gov. Rick Scott pushes for more information and questions the veracity of the claim.

With the two set to square off in the November general election for the Senate seat, Nelson’s office said Tuesday the focus needs to be on election security not personal political gain and that “it would just be wrong, shortsighted and foolish to think that Russia is not doing in Florida what it did in 2016.”

Nelson made similar comments to reporters Monday night while at a campaign stop in the Gadsden County community of Quincy, according to the Tampa Bay Times.

The statement from Nelson’s office came as Scott continued to lash out at the Democratic senator’s assertions last week about ongoing Russian meddling.

“The only conclusion I have is, one, if he does have classified information, how did he get it? Because I don’t think he’s entitled to it. And why would he release it to a reporter?” Scott said after a state Cabinet meeting on Tuesday. “Two, if it’s not true, why didn’t he just come and say it’s not true?”

Scott added there is a concern that Nelson’s statement could impact the Aug. 28 primary elections.

“We’re in the middle of a primary election, people are voting, absentee ballots are out, early voting has started in some places, and people need to know the facts, and I don’t think he’s being transparent,” Scott said.

Nelson, who is the ranking member of the U.S. Armed Services Committee’s Subcommittee on Cybersecurity, told reporters Aug. 7 in Tallahassee that local election officials could get help to secure their databases and records from Russian cyber-hacking, noting, “The Russians are in Florida’s election records” and that they had “penetrated” some voter-registration systems.

When pressed at the time on the issue of election-system breaches, Nelson, said details of the information remained “classified.”

Nelson had been asked in June to work with U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio to get elections supervisors in Florida to push for federal cyber-security assistance as a follow up to attacks on the state system in 2016. The request by leaders of the Intelligence Committee was intended to provide a more bipartisan front to the push.

In response to Nelson’s statement in Tallahassee, Secretary of State Ken Detzner first asked Senate Intelligence Chairman Richard Burr, a North Carolina Republican, to provide some clarification to Nelson’s comments.

Burr’s response on Friday didn’t shed light.

“While I understand your questions regarding Senator Nelson’s recent public comments, I respectfully advise you to continue engaging directly with those federal agencies responsible for notifying you of and mitigating any potential intrusions — specifically, the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Bureau of Investigation,” Burr wrote. “Any briefings or notifications about ongoing threats would, rightfully, come from those agencies.”

Detzner, a Scott appointee, then sent a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and FBI Director Christopher Wray asking for “an official response that confirms your previous statement that you ‘have not seen any new compromises by Russian actors of election infrastructure’ and reaffirms your commitment to sharing any future knowledge of potential threats to Florida’s voting systems.”

Detzner in the letter to the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI noted that voting has already started in Florida for the primary elections.

“To the best of our knowledge and the knowledge of our federal partners, Florida’s voting systems and elections databases remain secure and there has been no intrusion of the Florida voter registration system and no reported breaches from locally elected supervisors of election,” Detzner wrote.

State legislators have accepted $19.2 million from the federal government to further secure voting systems that were targeted by Russian hackers in 2016.

Detzner has described hackers’ failure to breach election systems in 2016 as a “success story” for Florida.

Scott on Tuesday backed Detzner’s outlook on the 2016 election.

“We don’t believe that anybody was able to get into the system. We had a free and fair election. They have been clear about that, all along,” Scott said. “My understanding is that the secretary of state’s office has reached out to Homeland Security and the FBI, and they’ve said they don’t know of anything.”

Gwen Graham gets backing of Democrats’ disability caucus

The Florida Democratic Party Disability Caucus has endorsed Gwen Graham for Governor citing her unwavering commitment to individuals with disabilities, her campaign announced Tuesday.

“Gwen has demonstrated, in her past service, a strong commitment to individuals with disabilities regarding health care, education, community integration, criminal justice and voting rights,” Florida Democratic Disability Caucus President Karen Clay stated in a news release issued by Graham’s campaign.

The Disability Caucus provides representation for those with disabilities, both visible and invisible, and allies within the Florida Democratic Party.

Graham, the former congresswoman from Tallahassee, is battling with Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, businessman Jeff Greene, and businessman Chris King for the Aug. 28 Democratic primary nomination for Governor.

Graham’s announcement of the support comes the same day that Levine introduced his latest television commercial highlighting his commitment to helping people with disabilities.

Graham said in the news release, “I am proud to earn the endorsement of the Florida Democratic Disability Caucus. I strongly believe that all Floridians with disabilities should enjoy equal rights, independence, dignity, and freedom from abuse, neglect, and discrimination. As Governor, I will work with the caucus to expand care and lower costs for all Floridians.”

New Philip Levine ad is about disabilities, ‘heart’

With one television commercial, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Philip Levine is managing to highlight his own efforts to help people with disabilities, bash President Donald Trump for mocking them, and accuse Gov. Rick Scott of being heartless.

The new 30-second TV commercial “Sabrina” that launched Tuesday, also offers a counter to Democratic rival Gwen Graham’s announcement that she has been endorsed by the Democratic Party’s Disabilities Caucus.

The ad focuses on a woman named Sabrina Cohen, a Miami-area advocate for people with disabilities and founder of the Sabrina Cohen Foundation. She explains a car accident took away her ability to walk when she was 14, and she praises Levine for his efforts when he was Miami Beach Mayor and calls him someone with “heart.”

Along the way, the commercial shows a beach identified as “the nation’s first adaptive beach,” and video of Trump mocking New York Times journalist Serge Kovaleski, who suffers from a joint condition that affects his movement. It also declares Florida has “a Governor with no heart.”

“During his tenure as Mayor of Miami Beach, Philip Levine worked with a local community advocate, Sabrina Cohen, to pass the nation’s first adaptive beach, granting access to the beach for the first time for people with disabilities,” Senior Adviser Christian Ulvert stated in a news release issued by the Levine campaign. “As Florida Democrats come together to put up their best against Donald Trump’s chosen candidate, Philip Levine offers a stark contrast to their divisive and cruel brand of politics. One thing that has been sorely lacking from Tallahassee and Washington these days is compassionate leadership — as Florida’s next Governor, Philip is ready to stand up, do what’s right, and lead our state with heart.”

First Levine needs to get past Graham, businessman Jeff Greene, businessman Chris King, and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum in the Aug. 28 Democratic primary, while the man Ulvert obviously was referring to as “Trump’s chosen candidate,” U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, faces Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam in the Republican primary.

In the ad, Cohen and Levine praise each other and then go after the Republicans.

“Together, we created the first adaptive beach in the nation, that will serve veterans, moms, and children,” Cohen says.

“All despite a President who ridicules people and a Governor with no heart,” Levine adds.

“With Philip, it’s all about heart and getting things done. And we haven’t had that for a very long time,” Cohen concludes.

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