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Blaise Ingoglia wins re-election as chair of Florida GOP

Incumbent Republican Party of Florida chair Blaise Ingoglia swept to victory Saturday morning at the annual elections with a 152 to 76 vote over challenger Christian Ziegler.

Ingoglia, in a speech touting his virtues, called attention to his own free-market and grassroots leanings, saying there was really only one way to win – through having feet on the ground and getting out and doing the work.

“It’s sitting at home and saying goodbye to your wife and your children, driving to the panhandle and speaking at a dinner, then driving to Jacksonville and speaking at another dinner, and then driving all the way home,” he said, “only to have a chairman call you at 3 a.m. to see if you’re still awake.”

Ingoglia called attention to the victory of President-elect Donald Trump and sweeping victories for the party in Florida as examples of why the Republicans were strong right now.

Now, he said, the challenge will be keeping that position on top and staying there, to create a “dynasty” for the party.

“Staying in power is the hard part,” he said. “We can build a dynasty that lasts for generations. If we work together, nothing will stop us from building a Republican Party of Florida dynasty and winning elections.”

Florida Democrats tab wealthy developer Stephen Bittel to lead party

Despite challenges from leading, longtime Democrat activists from Tampa, Miami, Jacksonville and Kissimmee, wealthy South Florida developer and party fundraiser Stephen Bittel was elected chairman Saturday of the Florida Democratic Party.

Bittel won on the first ballot, winning 55 percent of the weighted votes against Alan Clendenin, Dwight Bullard, Lisa King and Leah Carius, quickly ending weeks of wheelings and dealings, charges and counter charges. There remains a lawsuit in Miami-Dade challenging Bittel’s candidacy qualification.

Bittel, who runs several companies in South Florida and has been reported to have a net worth more than $1 billion, took 614 weighted votes on the first ballot. Clendenin finished second with 230 and Bullard third with 115.

King lost again moments later in the race for the party’s first vice chair, to FDP Treasurer Judy Mount.

Alan Clendenin wins appeal to seek Democrats’ state chair

Longtime Florida Democratic leader Alan Clendenin is back in the running for the party’s state chairmanship after winning an overwhelming vote to reject a committee’s ruling from Friday night that had disqualified him.

Clendenin’s candidacy for the state chair was restored after he made a “you know me” speech Saturday morning to the Florida Democratic Party executive committee, to toss the Friday ruling by the party’s Judicial Council, which had ruled him ineligible.

“What happened yesterday had very little to do with the facts and more to do with agenda,” Clendenin said in unsuccessfully arguing his case before the executive committee. “I’ve spent 42 years working hard for the Democratic Party.”

The executive committee also upheld a ruling by that council to keep Miami-Dade developer Stephen Bittel o the ballot.

Bittel still must face Lisa King of Duval County, Leah Carius of Osceola County and Dwight Bullard of Gadsden County.

Party Vice Chairman Clendenin was disqualified by the Democrats’ Judicial Council Friday night from running for the statewide chair’s position. On Saturday morning he sought, unsuccessfully to stay alive in the chair’s race with an appeal to the executive committee.

Yet a challenge against Bittel was denied, and that denial was upheld Saturday morning by the executive committee. But it remains an active issue. Attorney Bruce Jacobs, who is challenging Bittel’s qualification, was denied the opportunity to speak Saturday morning, but said the matter would go to court.

And that pair of challenges hangs over the gathering Saturday, leading to shouts from the crowd.

Jacobs has filed a lawsuit in Circuit Court in Miami-Dade County to legally challenge how Bittel was elected state committeeman in Miami-Dade, making him eligible to run statewide. He said a hearing had been set for next Friday in the court of Judge Lisa Walsh.

Bittel’s attorney then told the gathering that Bittel’s election in Miami-Dade followed the letter of the law, and said the extensive evidence is prepared to show that.

Democrats are trying their hands at new technology to count votes.

Each qualified delegate has been given a digital, Wi-Fi clicker, assigned to them. To vote, they click their choices, and their votes are instantaneously recorded and displayed on a screen at the front of the room, with a timer showing when time expires.

The technology should result in much quicker results as the Democrats pick a new chair this morning, along with other top officers and ten delegates to the Democratic National Convention.

“They’re rented, so the Russians can’t hack them,” quipped Helen McFadden, the DNC’s parliamentarian.

Palm Beach state committeeman, committeewoman endorse Stephen Bittel for FDP Chair

With just hours to go before the Florida Democratic Party Executive Committee votes for a new party chair, front-runner Stephen Bittel announced that he has the backing of John Ramos and Deidre Newton, the Palm Beach County State Committeeman and Committeewomen, respectively.

“The Palm Beach County Democratic Party Executive Committee Board of Directors, members, zone leaders and elected officials participated in the decision to endorse Stephen Bittel,” Ramos and Newton said in a statement released by the Bittel campaign Saturday morning.

Bittel is running for FDP chair against former state Senator Dwight Bullard, Duval County State Committeewoman Lisa King and Osceola County Party Chair Leah Carius. 

Tampa’s Alan Clendenin may still be eligible as well.

Before the vote for party chair, the executive committee will vote on whether to accept or reject the decision by the FDP’s judicial subcommittee to accept a complaint filed against him that challenged his election as a Bradford County State Committeeman (you can read all about that here).

Florida Dem. congressional members to hold rallies for ACA this Sunday

The U.S. House of Representatives is poised to vote Friday on scrapping the Affordable Care Act, two days after the Republican-led Senate voted to do so after hearing from President-elect Donald Trump that they should act quickly to repeal the law.

The nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget said earlier this month that repealing President Barack Obama’s signature health insurance law in its entirety would cost roughly $350 billion over the next decade. Republicans say a good Obamacare replacement strategy would reduce government spending, but they have not agreed on a consensus plan.

Democrats are planning rallies on the ACA Sunday, including many of Florida’s most prominent members of Congress.

Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Alcee Hastings and Ted Deutch will be hosting a rally Sunday at the Sunrise Civic Center in Sunrise at 2 p.m.

In St. Petersburg, Charlie Crist will hold an event at Advantage Insurance Solutions at 833 22nd St. South at 12:30 p.m.

And in Tampa, Kathy Castor will be headlining a rally in front of the Tampa Family Health Center at 7814 N. Dale Mabry Hwy.

Castor held a press event in Tampa earlier this week, where she told reporters that she does believe that Democrats can work with Republicans in Washington on making some improvements to the ACA without throwing it all away. She mentioned working on controlling the costs of pharmaceuticals and bringing greater competition in those areas of the country that have seen exponentially large premium increases as two viable examples.

But while some congressional Republicans are publicly expressing concern about moving too fast on repealing the law without an adequate replacement, the new president made clear during his news conference Wednesday that he wants the GOP to act swiftly, as per his campaign promise.

We will be filing a plan,” Trump told reporters about his Obamacare replacement. “It will essentially be simultaneously.”

That statement “just killed” GOP leadership’s “repeal and delay” approach to the ACA, said the head of Families USA after Trump’s statement.

“This presumably ends the Republican congressional leadership’s irresponsible attempt to repeal the ACA without any guidance about what would replace it,” said Ron Pollack, executive director of Families USA. “This no doubt reflects the growing concerns among many people, including a growing number of Republicans, about the dangers of the ‘repeal and delay’ approach.”

Castor also wrote to House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy this week in an attempt to rebut some claims Gov. Rick Scott made to him about how the ACA is working — 0r not working — in the Sunshine State.

Subcommittee accepts complaint against Alan Clendenin, but he remains eligible for Fla. Dem Chair

Blame it on the fog of internal byzantine party rules, but Alan Clendenin remains eligible for Florida Democratic Party chair.

Late Friday afternoon, this website reported that Clendenin was ineligible to compete in Saturday’s vote, after an FDP subcommittee voted to accept a complaint filed against him regarding his move last month from Hillsborough County to Bradford County to make himself eligible for the election.

However, the entire state committee will be asked to accept or reject the subcommittee’s vote on Saturday morning before they vote for party chair. The complaint that was approved on Friday approved nullifying Clendenin’s election as State Committeeman in Bradford County last month, where he had rented a mobile home. The vote was five members in favor, with two abstentions.

FDP officials initially did not relay that information to this reporter.

The party members can accept the vote of the subcommittee, and move on. Or they can disapprove the vote, and there are apparently a number of Democrats who aren’t even fans of Clendenin who believe that he still deserves an opportunity to run for party chair. After all, the man widely considered the top dog in the race, Miami area developer and fundraiser Stephen Bittel, was the subject of a second complaint that was also heard on Friday. The judicial subcommittee rejected the complaint filed against him, however, keeping him eligible.

That vote on Bittel is also up for a review by the state executive committee.

Nevertheless, the subcommittee vote was a huge blow to Clendenin’s candidacy. In 2013, he lost to Allison Tant in an intense, one-on-one battle to take over the reigns of the party, which at the time was relatively in high spirits, following Barack Obama’s narrow victory in Florida over Mitt Romney in the 2012 presidential election. He was named vice chair at the time, but immediately set his eyes on the prize after Tant announced in November that she would be stepping down in January.

However, in order to be eligible to run for party chair according to the party’s bylaws, the candidate pool can only come from someone currently serving as a county party chair, or state committeeman or state committeewoman.

Clendenin needed to be elected to committeeman at the Hillsborough County’s December 6 re-organization meeting, but was defeated by Russ Patterson 52-40. The vote was considered extremely controversial, however, after Hillsborough DEC Chair Ione Townsend ruled that all locally elected officials in nonpartisan races (such as mayor, city council and school board) were ineligible to vote, setting off an ugly exchange at that meeting. Whether Clendenin would have won if those elected officials were allowed to vote remained questionable, it left a foul taste with many DEC members.

Clendenin laid low in the immediate aftermath, and then stunned the world when he appeared in Bradford County on December 20, where that local DEC had an opening for committeeman. At that December 20 meeting, Clendenin was elected to be Bradford County’s state committeeman, thus making him eligible once again for the party chairman election.

But then Bay County State Committeewoman Patricia Byrd filed a complaint with the FDP, challenging Clendenin’s residency in Bradford. In her complaint to party chair Tant, Byrd wrote that Clendenin had “disingenuously played a shell game with residences and homestead exemptions in total violation of state election laws and state homestead laws for the sole purpose of positioning himself to be eligible to run for the state party chairman.” To prove her point, she stated that Clendenin actually had two separate homestead exemptions on file for residences in Hillsborough and Manatee Counties, and thus truly wasn’t a resident in Bradford County.

Clendenin immediately labeled the complaint “baseless,“and said that the homestead exemption in Manatee County actually belonged to his partner, John Peccio, though tax records listed both men as co-owners of both houses. And he said that Byrd was a supporter of Stephen Bittel, one of his opponents in ther race.

“Like other candidates in this race, as well as the past four FDP Chairs, I qualified for this position within our current rules,” Clendenin said in response to the complaint at the time. “I know that these rules do not make sense to many people which is why I’m calling for them to be changed and will make this a top priority if elected. This complaint is nothing more than an unnecessary distraction from talking about how we move this party forward.”

Interestingly, a third candidate in the race, former state Senator Dwight Bullard, did the exact same thing as Clendenin did to remain viable in the election. After losing to Bittel for state committeeman in Miami-Dade in late December, Bullard relocated to Gadsden County, where he was elected as a committeeman there. But no one has filed a complaint against him.

The race remains between  Clendenin, Bittel, Bullard, Lisa King and Leah Carius. 

Bob Graham, Chris Hand pushing new edition of ‘America The Owner’s Manual’

Someone might be forgiven for thinking that maybe Bob Graham and Chris Hand might not want to tell people how to fight city hall and win.

Graham, of course, is Florida’s former U.S. Senator and former governor. Hand is a former aide of his who also served chief of staff – at city hall, in Jacksonville. Fighting city hall, or the governor’s office, or Congress, might have put them in awkward positions at times.

But the pair is pushing a new edition of their book, “America The Owner’s Manual” with the new emphasis and subtitle, “You Can Fight City Hall – And Win.”

The 287-page, 10-chapter book is a how-to guide for citizens to define the problem that’s annoying them and take action to convince the government to take care of it, available on Amaazon.com and other online bookstores. The book is a fully-updated and revised version of the book the first owner’s manual published in 2009, mainly addressing such rapidly changing arenas in media and social media.

Graham said the idea goes back to 1974 when, as a member of the Florida Senate, he was challenged by a Carol City High School civics teacher in Miami Gardens about civics education, and together they worked up a how-to curriculum for the students and helped teach it.

With chapters such as “Just the Facts, Ma’am: Gathering Information to Sway Makers,” “The Buck Stops Where? Identifying who in Government Can Fix Your Problem,” and “All for One, and One for All: Coalitions for Citizen Success,” the book aims, Graham said, at creating and training what he called the “citizen lobbyist.” Hand and Graham said it applies to all levels of government, but probably most important and effective at the local level, where they said most decisions directly affecting people are made.

“Really, what we’re trying to do in this book is, we want the everyday citizen who says that I’m concerned with the Orange County School Board changing the boundaries of my school, or I’m worried that government hasn’t cleaned up a local lake, or I’m worried about that new highway construction they’re talking about through downtown Orlando, that they can pick up this book and work in a step-by-step process to address their concerns with government,” Hand said.

Marco Rubio backs James Mattis for Defense Secretary

While Sen. Marco Rubio has been a tough sell for some of Donald Trump‘s Cabinet nominees, he’s all-in behind James Mattis as Defense Secretary.

A Friday statement from Rubio’s office made a strong case for Mattis at the Pentagon, saying he would serve “honorably and effectively as our next secretary of defense” and “will bring an unparalleled level of real-world experience, a pragmatic and clear-eyed view of the world and America’s unique role in it, and a principled commitment to America’s values.”

Rubio, noting that we live in a “dangerous world,” sees Mattis as the right man to confront global geopolitical challenges.

“As General Mattis clearly and unequivocally articulated in his confirmation hearing this week, the United States is ‘under the biggest attack since World War II,’ and ‘that’s from Russia, from terrorist groups and with what China is doing in the South China Sea.'” Rubio said. “He understands these prime threats, and the many others he will encounter as defense secretary, including the need to rebuild our nation’s military after years of devastating defense cuts.”

Advocates call on Marco Rubio to protect immigrant families as Donald Trump era begins

House Speaker Paul Ryan told a national cable television audience Thursday night that federal troops won’t be coming after undocumented immigrants once Donald Trump takes power next week.

But that comment alone isn’t likely to reverse the high anxiety felt in that community.

On Saturday, Latino immigrant rights groups are planning for a national day of protest and activities around immigrant and refugee rights. On Friday, representatives from various organizations expressed their own concerns at a news conference inside the West Tampa offices of Mi Familia Vota.

“We’re here today to call on our elected officials to do their duty and make sure that millions of people in this state stay protected,” said Michelle Prieto, the Tampa Area Coordinator, Mi Familia Vota. “Men, women and children, Latinos, Muslims, families and friends will be gathering together to deliver this message that anyone who has ever wanted to come to the United States of America to start a better life, and have their families live without fear of persecution, are able to do so and have that opportunity.”

Notwithstanding Ryan’s comments Thursday, Trump has been emphatic that he intends to boot out millions of undocumented immigrants from the U.S.

In his first televised interview after his stunning victory in November, Trump told CBS’ 60 Minutes that he planned to immediately deport or jail as many as three million undocumented immigrants.

“What we are going to do is get the people that are criminal and have criminal records, gang members, drug dealers … probably two million of them, it could be even three … out of our country, or we are going to incarcerate them,” Trump told correspondent Lesley Stahl.

The activists at Friday’s event specifically called on Florida Senator Marco Rubio to stand up to Trump if attempts to begin proceedings to deport millions of immigrants.

“Senator Rubio, like a lot of politicians, made a lot of promises in this election to be a check on the incoming administration,” said Prieto. “The Trump administration has made it clear that some of their first targets will be immigrant communities. Their aim is to deport millions of immigrants, rip millions of families apart, and drive tens of millions of immigrants and refugees into silence out of fear.”

“He promised he would be a check on the Trump administration,” added Jerry Green, Florida outreach director for VoteVets.org. “Hopefully, he lives up that promise.” But Green didn’t seem convinced that would happen, saying that the Florida GOP Senator has “remained remarkably silent during Election Day.”

That hasn’t exactly been the case. On Wednesday, Rubio was extremely aggressive in questioning Rex Tillerson, Trump’s choice to become his Secretary of State. He has yet to announce whether he’ll vote to confirm him.

Green served in Iraq in the Gulf War. He said during Operation Desert Storm he personally served with “many noncitizens residents,” all of whom he said had served the U.S. with courage and honor. He also said that more than 100,000 men and women who have served overseas since 2002 had become citizens through their military service.

“As our military seeks to recruit the best and most able among us, forcing a whole group of people to stand in the shadows, and deny them the right to serve in uniform, hurts our military and security,” Green said.

Amina Spahic immigrated to America from Bosnia in 2001, where she said she and her family were escaping religious persecution. She asked for more Americans to be empathetic to the plight of refugees.

“It’s never anybody’s choice to be a displaced person,” she said solemnly. “I don’t think it’s anybody’s choice to be an immigrant. But we came here because we were told we would be safe and we would have better opportunities. And I still believe that’s the America that we have. And we’re all going to be working to make sure that it is.”

Ed Quinones, director of civil rights with The League of Latin American Citizens (LULAC), said he hadn’t heard Ryan’s comments that the House of Representatives would not approve sending a deportation force out to detain undocumented immigrants. He called the news a “terrific development.”

But he said he remained troubled, in particular by Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, Trump’s choice for attorney general.

Quinones said Sessions was a “racist and an anti-immigration person.”

“If Trump is in the position to comply with his rhetoric and his base, what does that mean? If he’s now putting gin someone like Sessions for attorney general, look out. So I’m expecting the worst.

“I hope Mr. Ryan can talk some reason into him, and it might mitigate that of eleven million (undocumented), they might kick out two million. I don’t know. I hadn’t heard that from Mr. Ryan.

“I’m really encouraged by that.”

Rick Scott: Barack Obama ‘turned his back’ on Cuba

The ongoing war of words between Florida Gov. Rick Scott and President Barack Obama is continuing until Obama’s last day.

Friday’s installment: a gubernatorial excoriation of Obama’s overtures to the Communist island nation, including this week’s cessation of the “wet foot, dry foot” policy.

Scott, predictably, sees this as yet another example of Obama’s failings.

“President Obama’s Cuba policy can be summed up this way: he has legitimized and coddled a bloodthirsty dictator and in the process, he has turned his back on those who have fought so hard for a free Cuba,” Scott said in a statement.

The governor notes that “people in Cuba are being persecuted and killed for their faith, for supporting democracy, for expressing their political views, and for simply desiring freedom.”

“With the President’s latest move,” Scott added, “it appears that he has consulted and negotiated with a foreign tyrant while completely ignoring the United States Congress. We have a number of great members of Congress in our Florida delegation of Cuban descent, but of course, the President did not involve them in his decision-making.”

Scott went on to say that Obama’s reforms came at the expense of human rights.

“Obama’s policies have not improved human rights in Cuba. In fact, things may be getting worse. We believe that the murderous regime made about 10,000 political arrests last year. Just this week, pro-democracy leader Dr. Oscar Biscet was arrested. Obama has betrayed America’s long-standing commitment to human rights and freedom in Cuba. We need a Cuba policy that respects the fundamental desire of the Cuban people to be free.”

Scott’s excoriation of the Obama era Cuba policy is well-timed, as the governor is rumored to be mulling a Senate run next year.

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