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Republicans target Debbie Wasserman Schultz in aide scandal ad

Congressional Republicans have released an internet video ad blasting Democratic U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz for her employment of and defense of an aide at the heart of a scandal in Washington D.C.

The National Republican Congressional Committee is circulating a 43-second spot dubbed “Corrupt” that says she waited until Democratic congressional information technology aide Imran Awan was arrested in late July to fire him, even though other members of Congress cut him and other suspects loose months earlier. The spot also alleges she did so reluctantly while contending he was the target of Islamophobia.

Awan reportedly was arrested while trying to leave the country and was charged with bank fraud. He and several other members of his family, two brothers and his wife, all Democratic congressional aides, have all reportedly been under federal investigation since at least early in 2017, a probe that became public in February. There have not been other arrests or other charges.

“Scandals, lies and corruption, that’s Debbie Wasserman Schultz,” the NRCC ad concludes.

Wasserman Schultz fired Awan from her staff on July 25, the day after he was arrested by the FBI and U.S. Capitol Police at Washington’s Dulles International Airport.

In a statement released by her office prior to the NRCC ad, Wasserman Schultz said, in part, “As a mother, a Jew, and a member of Congress, if there is one thing I know for sure, it’s this: my commitment to doing what’s right and just – even if it isn’t what’s easy and simple – is unyielding.

“Undoubtedly, the easier path would have been to terminate Mr. Awan, despite the fact that I had not received any evidence of his alleged wrongdoing; but that is not the woman my constituents elected, and that is not the mother my children know me to be.

She said that the investigation, as she watched reports, raised troubling concerns about fair treatment, due process and “potential ethnic and religious profiling.”

“At the end of the day, there are times in our lives when we must do what may be hard but right, even when there is a cost,” she concluded. “This was one of those times for me and I would make the same decision again.”

 

Sometime surly senator enters Florida’s governor’s race

Jack Latvala — a powerful, sometimes surly state senator seen as a moderate Republican voice — entered the race for Florida Governor Wednesday, taking on a better-known, more conservative and better-funded primary opponent Adam Putnam for the GOP nomination to replace Gov. Rick Scott.

Latvala publicly announced his candidacy at a fire station in a Hialeah, a Hispanic-majority city that borders Miami. In the crowd were groups of senior citizens, police officers and state employee union members. He also was joined by his son Chris, who is a state representative. He later planned to stop at a Tampa Bay-area aquarium in his hometown of Clearwater before ending the tour at a Panama City marina.

Latvala is considered a moderate Republican and told the group he is proud to have friends on both sides of the political aisle.

Republican challenger Putnam is the incumbent agriculture commissioner. Democrats seeking the seat Scott must leave due to term limits include former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, Orlando-area businessman Chris King and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum.

Leading up to his announcement, Latvala has spent time talking about the need to make sure rural Florida is also benefiting from the state’s economic rebound, and he’s spoken out about the need to treat opioid abuse as a crisis.

Latvala, 65, has served two stints in the Florida Senate, the first from 1994 to 2002, when he left because of term limits. He returned to the Senate in 2010 and will again be term-limited next year. He is the current Senate budget chairman and has previously led the chamber’s efforts to tighten ethics in state government and require political candidates to be more transparent about fundraising and campaign spending.

“He fights very hard for the issues he cares about, and sometimes that puts him at odds with some fellow party members, but he cares passionately,” said Evan Power, chairman of the Leon County GOP.

He’s not afraid to buck his party’s leadership and has taken more moderate views on issues such as immigration. He helped fight back an effort to change the state’s pension system that was supported by top Republicans and opposed by state workers, and helped kill a bill that would have opened Florida to fracking, an effort that was supported by many in the GOP.

But he will be entering the race as an underdog to Putnam, 43, who first ran for office 22 years ago and has seemingly spent his entire adult life building toward a run for governor.

“Commissioner Putnam has positioned himself well for this race and he’s been working for it, and I think he has the infrastructure at the early end to have that place as the front-runner,” said Power, whose group hosted Putnam Tuesday night.

Putnam was asked Tuesday night about Latvala’s entry into the race, and he chose not to discuss the new challenger.

“I’m focused on the race that I’m running. If you ain’t the lead dog in the fight, the view never changes,” Putnam said. “I’m just going to be working grass roots, pig-pullings and fish fries from Key West to Chumukla.”

House Speaker Richard Corcoran, who is also considering running for governor, wouldn’t say a word when asked about Latvala getting in the race, simply shaking his head “no” as the Leon County GOP barbecue wrapped up

Latvala, however, hasn’t been shy about poking Putnam, using Twitter to jab him even before submitting paperwork to get in the race last week.

After Putnam attended a Possum Festival, an annual event in a small Panhandle town that’s popular with politicians, Latvala tweeted, “While there will be a time to pose with possums, I am more focused on jobs in NW FL.”

And when Putnam said he was a proud “sellout” to the National Rifle Association, Latvala tweeted a political cartoon mocking Putnam, adding his own message, “I will never sell out to anyone, anytime.”

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Ashley Moody’s ready to take over as AG on ‘Day One’

In the race for Florida’s next attorney general, former Hillsborough County Circuit Judge Ashley Moody has emerged as the early front-runner.

That perception is not based on name recognition, since as a judge she rarely had the opportunity to make news, but on two other relevant pieces of evidence — her prodigious fundraising since declaring her candidacy in early June, and that she’s a member of the Republican Party, the dominant party in statewide elections in Florida for the past two decades.

Despite the fact that she’s won the endorsement from current AG Pam Bondi and seemingly every Republican in Hillsborough County, she remains a cipher to most of the state, which made her appearance before the Hillsborough County Republican Executive Committee on Tuesday night a noteworthy event.

Moody spent most of her 13-minute speech giving context to her impressive resume. A fifth-generation Floridian who went to Plant High School in South Tampa, Moody attended the University of Florida and was appointed to the state’s Board of Regents while still at Stetson Law School by then-Gov. Jeb Bush.

She then went through the rest of her professional biography, beginning as a defense attorney at Holland and Knight, where worked she worked on business disputes.

Acknowledging how the court system is an adversarial process, the 42-year-old Moody said it was ironic, since “I really don’t like fighting, I don’t like acrimony. I like working on problems and trying to solve problems together. That’s my nature.”

Saying she wanted to get into the courtroom more, she became a federal prosecutor with the U.S. Middle Attorney’s office during the George W. Bush era, where she worked under U.S. Attorney Paul Perez, first in Jacksonville, then in Tampa.

“It was a great experience, and I loved standing up and saying I was Ashley Moody and I represented the United States of America.”

At the age of 31, she decided she wanted to get into the family business, which was to become a judge, following in the footsteps of her father and stepfather. She won an election for Hillsborough Circuit Court in 2006, becoming at that time the youngest judge in Florida.

“It showed that I had the experience, the judicial temperament, and the ability to hear all sides before making a final decision, and that’s what I try to bring to the bench with that approach to problems,” she said.

Moody said that it was the urge to want to do more which compelled her to run for attorney general. She says the skills required for the attorney general position are the skills that she has honed over her career as an attorney, prosecutor and judge.

“Of all the things that the attorney general’s office handles, I have experience,” she said. “It would be impossible for someone to come in that has not had the experience in any of these areas and start the job effectively on day one,” she declared. “Impossible. It would take so long to get up to speed in these particular areas to make any sort of lasting impact.”

Jacksonville state Rep. Jay Fant is the only other Republican in the race to date. Tampa attorney Ryan Torrens is the lone Democrat. Moody is crushing both in fundraising, with more than $720,000 in combined campaign contributions from her own account and her PAC (Fant has more than $200,000 in his PAC and his campaign account; Torrens is just shy of $29,000 raised).

Moody joked about how she became less popular once she quit the bench as a powerful judge to become a political candidate, and a Republican one at that. She said that she was “not inclined” to get into partisan politics, since it has become very polarized, and almost decided not to enter because of those concerns. Her husband Justin (a federal agent for the Drug Enforcement Administration) convinced her that it was important for someone who hasn’t done politics to run for such an important position with her qualifications.

She then took a few questions from the audience and seemed unprepared for the first one: a question about where she stood on the drive for a constitutional amendment that would automatically restore the voting rights of former felons who have served their time.

Florida is one of just four states that denies the right to vote to all former felons until they petition for rights restoration. A lawsuit filed earlier this year said that more than 10,000 are waiting for a hearing on their restoration applications.

But Moody said the system seems to be working just fine.

“I would like to study it more before I give it a definitive answer, but I think there are historical reasons that we haven’t let felons vote, and I think that there are reasons for that,” she said. “Now we have a process that they can obtain their rights after they’ve been convicted, and certainly I would invite that if they are eligible … so there’s a process for restoring rights and I think that the process that we have is fine.”

Univ. of Florida denies white nationalist event

The University of Florida on Wednesday denied a request by a group headed by white nationalist Richard Spencer to rent space on the campus for a September event and his supporters vowed to file a court challenge.

UF President W. Kent Fuchs said in a statement that the decision was made after assessing risks to the campus, community and law enforcement following last weekend’s deadly violence during a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Members of the National Policy Institute, which is headed by Spencer, had contacted the university for plans to rent space on the campus in Gainesville, Florida on Sept. 12.

“I find the racist rhetoric of Richard Spencer and white nationalism repugnant and counter to everything the university and this nation stands for,” Fuchs’ statement said.

Fuchs said UF is dedicated to free speech and public discourse, but the First Amendment does not require risk of imminent violence to students.

Spencer did not immediately return a text seeking comment.

But Cameron Padgett, a Georgia resident affiliated with Spencer’s group who was coordinating the campus event in Gainesville, told The AP he would be filing a legal challenge.

“I signed an agreement and sent it in to the event coordinator,” Padgett said. “I don’t know who’s advising them on why they think they can do this.”

Padgett’s challenge filed after Auburn University tried to ban Spencer’s appearance there in April was successful, and a federal judge paved the way for Spencer to speak. Several hundred people attended the event and three people were arrested outside the building during clashes between Spencer’s supporters and his opponents.

Janine Sikes, a university spokeswoman, said it was the first time that she could recall the university denying someone to speak due to fears of violence or hate speech.

“I can’t say for the last 100 years, but we’re not aware of ever doing this in recent history.”

The move comes after Texas A&M University canceled a white nationalist protest featuring Spencer that was planned in September on that campus due to security concerns.

Spencer, a leading figure in the white nationalist movement, has popularized the term “alt-right” to describe a fringe movement that is a mix of white nationalist, white supremacist, anti-Semitic and anti-immigration beliefs. Spencer has advocated for an “ethno-state” that would be a “safe space” for white people.

After Donald Trump’s election to president, Spencer hosted a conference in Washington that ended with audience members mimicking Nazi salutes after Spencer shouted, “Hail Trump, hail our people, hail victory!”

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Chris Latvala says the moderate in the GOP race for Florida governor is not his dad

Chris Latvala predicts that the race for governor will be a campaign unlike any ever seen before in the Sunshine State, especially within the Republican Party.

The Clearwater Republican, first elected to the state House in 2014, has a unique view of the race, considering that his father, Jack Latvala, is now seeking to occupy the Governor’s mansion

Jack Latvala officially filed to run on Friday, but he will be making three appearances around the state Wednesday to give his campaign a proper introduction to the public and the media.  A press conference is set for the Clearwater Marine Aquarium at 1 p.m.

“I think that it’s something that he has thought about for a long time,” Chris Latvala said on Tuesday, specifically saying it was sometime last summer that his father talked to him about his desire to run for governor. “I certainly was surprised, but as time has gone by, I think that there’s definitely a path for him, especially with Adam Putnam announcing and then a week or two later changing his campaign manager.”

Immediately after Putnam ended a 10-day bus tour of the state to launch his campaign in March, his campaign manager, Kristin Davison, was relieved of her duties, as was political director Jared Small.

If anyone follows Chris Latvala on Twitter, you know that he has taken several shots at the presumptive front-runner for the GOP nomination. And he’s even more relentless in picking apart the Bartow Republican in an interview.

“Adam Putnam has not exactly set the world on fire,” Latvala says, declaring the race for the GOP nomination to be “wide open.”

With his entrance into the race, Jack Latvala and Putnam are now the two biggest Republicans in the race for governor, although House Speaker Richard Corcoran is also expected to enter the race and rumors continue to circulate that Ponte Vedra Beach Representative Ron DeSantis will also enter the contest.

Considered a moderate in today’s Florida Republican Party, conventional wisdom has it that his opponents will wrap the “M” word around Jack Latvala throughout the primary campaign, but Chris says the moderate in the race is not who you think it is.

“I think that, to the contrary, he’s a conservative who has a conservative record,” Latvala says of his father. “Keeping your promises to the people doesn’t make you a moderate, being mindful of the environment doesn’t make you a moderate.”

Fueling his argument is a litany of congressional votes that he says makes Putnam vulnerable in a GOP primary, such as voting to increase the national debt, supporting the “Cash for Clunkers” program, and pushing for “amnesty” for undocumented immigrants.

“Conservatives believe in less government and, therefore, I would argue government shouldn’t be involved in your bedroom or your day to day life,” Chris says.

No one will ever call Jack Latvala “slick.” Chris Latvala says that’s part of the longtime state legislator’s appeal to voters.

“He’s not a typical politician,” he says. “He’s not going to be the skinniest and the best looking candidate, and he’s not going to sugarcoat the issues with voters. I think people respect that.”

Donald Trump renews Twitter criticism of Amazon

President Donald Trump is renewing his attacks on e-commerce giant Amazon, and he says the company is “doing great damage to tax paying retailers.”

Trump tweets that “towns, cities and states throughout the U.S. are being hurt – many jobs being lost!”

The president has often criticized the company and CEO Jeff Bezos, who also owns The Washington Post.

Many traditional retailers are closing stores and blaming Amazon for a shift to buying goods online. But the company has been hiring thousands of warehouse workers on the spot at job fairs across the country. Amazon has announced goal of adding 100,000 full-time workers by the middle of next year.

Trump has in the past tweeted that Amazon was not paying “Internet taxes.” But it’s unclear what he meant by that. Amazon.com collects state sales taxes in all 45 states with a sales tax and the District of Columbia, according to their website. State governments have sought to capture sales taxes lost to internet retailers, though they have struggled with a 1992 Supreme Court ruling that retailers must have a physical presence in a state before officials can make them collect sales tax.

Amazon did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Adam Putnam: Fight hatred, but don’t fight over statues

Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, the leading Republican candidate for governor, said Tuesday that Americans don’t need to fight about Confederate statues and should instead focus on fighting the country’s 21st-century enemies.

Putnam condemned white supremacists and the recent violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, but said the country should not be fighting over the U.S. Civil War and erasing the nation’s history.

“What’s going on in Charlottesville is just awful and it’s hate and it’s violent and it’s dark and it’s got no place in our society,” Putnam told about 160 people gathered for a Leon County Republican barbecue dinner. “And we ought to be focused more on eradicating hate today than eradicating yesteryear’s history.”

Putnam’s family arrived in Florida in the mid-1800s and he is the fifth generation of ranchers and farmers. He’s also a former congressman who rose to become the fourth most powerful Republican in the U.S. House before returning to Florida, where he is serving his second term as agriculture commissioner.

Putnam said students need to be taught the history of the Civil War, in addition to the country’s involvement in fighting both Nazi Germany as well as more present-day enemies, such as those that planned the Sept. 11 attacks.

“Those are the lessons of history that we have to eternalize, and not have a big fight over something that happened 150 years ago, but have a fight about how to make America stronger and more united today against the enemies today – the people who want to eradicate capitalism and free enterprise and democracy,” he said. Those battles, he said, are preferable to “having a fight about a statue that most people just walk past and assume it’s just a pigeon roost anyway.”

Apparently that also includes a Confederate monument on the grounds of the Florida Capitol, where Putnam has worked the last seven years and where he previously served as a state legislator. Some people are calling for its removal.

“As much as I love history, I’ve never noticed it. Where is it? What is it?” Putnam said when asked about the monument, which honors Confederate soldiers from Leon County who died in the Civil War. It has been on the Capitol grounds since 1882.

Putnam is seeking the seat being vacated by Republican Gov. Rick Scott, who will leave office in January 2019 due to term limits.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Florida Realtors kick off ‘Amendment 2 is for Everybody’ campaign

Florida Realtors officially kicked off its campaign to pass Amendment 2, which gives voters the chance to make a 10 percent cap on annual non-homestead property tax increases permanent. The initiative will appear on the 2018 general election ballot.

Prior to the 10 percent cap, if the value of a business owner’s property increased significantly compared to the previous year, they could see their property tax bill skyrocket. Owners of investment homes also faced steep property tax hikes, which could be passed along to tenants in the form of higher rents.

“Amendment 2 really is good for everybody because if the non-homestead tax cap expires in 2019, every Floridian will be negatively impacted in some way,” says Florida Realtors President Maria Wells. “Whether it’s a business having to increase the cost of their goods and services or tenants having their rent go up a significant amount, communities across the state will suffer.”

Florida Realtors, along with its coalition partners, is planning a comprehensive, direct-to-voter campaign over the next 14 months. The campaign theme, “Everybody is for Amendment 2, because Amendment 2 is for Everybody” signifies the importance the measure holds for every citizen of the state.

“In the current age of partisanship, it’s often difficult to find an issue that people with different viewpoints can agree on, but with Amendment 2 we did just that,” says Carrie O’Rourke, vice president of public policy for Florida Realtors. “The Florida Senate passed it unanimously, and the House was right behind them with 97 percent voting in favor of the referendum. That level of bipartisanship speaks volumes for the widespread benefits Amendment 2 offers.”

The 10 percent cap on non-homestead properties was part of the Save Our Homes portability constitutional amendment voters approved in 2008. The 10 percent cap portion of the amendment sunsets on Jan. 1, 2019.

The kick-off includes the launch of the campaign’s website, www.EverybodyIsFor2.com, which features a video outlining the benefits of the amendment.

GOP strategist Rick Wilson tees off on Donald Trump

As the Republican field running for governor grows, a top GOP strategist offered some advice Wednesday to candidates seeking to follow term-limited Gov. Rick Scott.

“Just don’t be Trump’s mini-me, a simple rule,” Rick Wilson told the Capital Tiger Bay Club in a luncheon speech.

Wilson, a Tallahassee-based national Republican strategist who has become one of the most-outspoken critics of President Donald Trump, said most of the Republicans positioning themselves to run for governor next year “are pretty much onboard the Trump train to Trash Fire Mountain.”

Wilson, who has nearly three decades of political experience, said he understands the attraction of trying to appeal to Trump supporters in a Republican primary, but he warned it’s a “sugar high” that could have consequences in the general election.

“Their consultants are looking at that Trump base approval number and encouraging their guys to get an orange wig and rage tweet every morning at 6 a.m.,” Wilson said. “It’s a really bad look on most people. Trying to out-Trump Trump is the biggest sin in politics.”

Wilson said voters will “know you’re faking it.”

“Be real, guys, be yourself, be better than Trumpism,” Wilson said. “You’ll thank me in the general election, I promise you.”

In a nearly hour-long appearance before the political club, Wilson talked about his transition from a “rock-solid party guy,” who got his start with George H.W. Bush in the 1988 presidential campaign,” to a man who underwent a “political midlife change” in the 2016 election.

Wilson, who ended up supporting Evan McMullin’s independent bid for president, said Trump was not aligned with his political beliefs of limited government, individual liberty, an adherence to the Constitution and support for government restraint.

“I just couldn’t bring myself to pretend that Donald Trump was a conservative or that he was a Republican,” Wilson said. “He doesn’t believe in anything except himself, his celebrity and his brand. That’s not the party I signed up for.”

Wilson said the “real election” last year was “for the heart and soul” of his party.

“Republicans were hypnotized by a celebrity con man with a nationalist message, who was given virtually unlimited media attention,” he said.

With Trump’s recent equivocating on condemning racial violence in Charlottesville, Va., Wilson said “this is a bad time to be a Republican.”

“I have to call out not just Donald Trump right now but leaders of my party who will not call Donald Trump out by name for what he has done and said in the last few days to give aid and comfort to Nazis, Klansmen and racists,” Wilson said.

But he added he was “heartened” by remarks from Republican leaders, who unlike the president, directly condemned the actions by the nationalist groups in Virginia.

“They have recognized finally that this is a man who is off the rails,” Wilson said.

Wilson also warned that neither Republicans nor Democrats are “ready for the future.” He predicted that an accelerated cycle of change politically, socially and economically “will make the last 10 years look like the 1950s.”

He said voters are disengaging from both parties, reflected by the growing number of voters who claim no party affiliation.

“They increasingly sense that politics is disconnected from the things that affect their daily lives,” Wilson said.

Wilson’s outspokenness has drawn the ire of Trump supporters and the president, who has 36 million Twitter followers to Wilson’s 221,000 followers.

“One of the most amazing experiences you can have in your life is when Donald Trump tweets something terrible about you. Wow,” Wilson said. “You learn very quickly who your enemies and your friends are.”

Wilson said impeachment of Trump is not likely.

“Unless they find a note in Cyrillic from Trump, impeachment is a very high hill,” he said, alluding to investigations about alleged ties between Trump’s campaign and supporters to Russia.

But he raised the possibility that Trump might not seek re-election.

“I think Donald Trump is miserable. I think he hates this job,” he said.

Wilson also predicted that Trump, despite his controversies, will not change.

“It’s always the worst week. This is another worst week,” Wilson said. “I have two big theories. It never gets better. And everything Trump touches dies.”

Republished with permission of the News Service of Florida.

Budget boosted by gambling money from Seminoles

A new gambling deal between the state of Florida and the Seminole Tribe is providing a large boost to the state’s finances.

State officials on Tuesday drew up new forecasts to predict how much the state will collect in taxes. State legislators will use the forecasts when drawing up a new state budget next January.

Economists now predict that state’s main budget account will grow by 4.5 percent during the fiscal year that ends next June. That same account is estimated to grow an additional 4.1 percent in fiscal year 2018-19.

But that total has been boosted by an extra $500 million the state is receiving the next two years due to a settlement reached between Gov. Rick Scott and the tribe that owns several casinos.

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