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Bill Nelson backing Terrie Rizzo for Florida Democratic Party chair

The most powerful Democrat in the state has endorsed Terrie Rizzo to be the next leader of the Florida Democratic Party, giving her a clear path to the chairmanship.

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson publicly backed the Palm Beach County Chair on Friday, a day before elected party officials get to elect the next party chair.

Nelson has 42 votes toward the next chair. While it is not the most of any other members — Committeeman Stephen Bittel and Committeewoman Francesca Menes each have 62 votes — Nelson definitely has the most sway.

In a press release announcing the endorsement, Rizzo said his support “seals the deal in the bid for chairwoman of the Florida Democratic Party.”

“I’m honored to receive the endorsement from such a diverse group of electors. It means a great deal to have the support of both the grassroots and current and former elected leaders like Alex Sink, Senator Bill Nelson and Congresswoman (Val) Demings,” Rizzo said.

Miami-Dade Democrats have a very big influence on who gets elected, and on Friday an electronic vote was opened to members. The results of that electronic vote will be published early Saturday morning.

DEC member JeffreyDocSolomon will be casting Bittel’s 62 votes.

Solomon said in a Facebook post he’d be “honoring the vote of our Miami-Dade DEC membership.”

Hillsborough County Democrat Alma Gonzalez and Brevard County Chairwoman Stacey Patel are still in the race and will face Rizzo at the election in Orlando.

Monica Russo backs Stacey Patel for Florida Democratic Party Chair

Two days after bowing out of the race, Monica Russo of the Service Employees International Union is endorsing Brevard County DEC Chair Stacey Patel in the election for Florida Democratic Party Chair.

“We are at a moment where we need to embrace our young leaders and bring them into the fold to help us reach that finish line together and united,” Russo wrote on Facebook.The grassroots energy we have across the state should be uplifted, not sidelined.

“The values that guide Stacey Patel’s #OurParty movement exemplifies this vision. The history and heart of our party lies in the grassroots organizing. We must build bridges across our communities in order to have the strongest movement for justice, dignity and respect for all.

“We will live or die by these principles. Twenty years of Republican leadership has left Florida near the bottom in national rankings around affordable housing, access to health care, education, incarceration and more.

“Clearly, twenty years of the current Democratic strategy has been ineffective and has not brought Floridians together. It is time for a new path to victory.

“Together we Rise!”

“Unbelievably honored and humbled to have earned the support of Monica Russo, president of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Florida and executive vice president at 1199 SEIU. Her decades of grassroots organizing and advocacy for workers’ rights and gender justice is an inspiration,” Patel responded later on Friday.

I look forward to standing with Monica and working people across Florida to elect Democrats who are deeply committed to creating economic, social and environmental justice for all. The time has come to build a grassroots movement that unleashes the power of the people to transform #OurParty, our state and our country.”

Patel is running against Palm Beach County DEC Chair Terrie Rizzo and Hillsborough County State Committeewoman Alma Gonzalez in the race for FDP Chair that will be decided Saturday in Orlando.

Earlier on Friday, Florida Senator Bill Nelson announced his support for Rizzo. That vote represents 42 votes in the weighted system that the FDP uses to elect a chair.


Andrew Gillum wants reforms in electing Florida Democratic Party chair

Tallahassee Mayor and gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum doesn’t have a pick in the election Saturday for Florida Democratic Party chair, but he does believe the process needs serious reform.

“I think we’ve had too many instances of the pooh-bah’s of the party stepping in, chasing rules, creating all kinds of situations under which we can get our person into position, and then the grassroots and the folks who fight and work every day to build the apparatus of the party just have to take it,” he said Friday morning at Tampa’s Oxford Exchange in the weekly Cafe Con Tampa event.

Democratic Executive Committee Chairs Terrie Rizzo of Palm Beach County, Stacey Patel of Brevard County and Hillsborough County State Committeewoman Alma Gonzalez are the three candidates up for the position to be decided in Orlando this weekend.

Gillum and the three other Democrats running for governor — Chris King, Philip Levine and Gwen Graham — are staying neutral in the race to succeed Stephen Bittel, who resigned last month following a report that he had made sexually demeaning comments to women.

Gillum said his hope was whoever is elected will begin to “modernize” the FDP, specifically alluding to the Byzantine way in which the party chooses its chair.

“I do believe we need one-person, one-vote,” he said to scattered applause.

The FDP currently uses a weighted system in deciding their election for state chair. That means the bigger counties have the most votes, with Miami-Dade having the most with 62 each for their two state committeeman and state committeewoman. Hillsborough County has 68, or 34 to their state committeeman (Russ Patterson) and state committeewoman (who happens to be Gonzalez).

By contrast, small Bradford County in northern Florida has only two overall votes, one each for their respective committee persons. A one-person, one-vote change would not reduce the number of votes that the larger counties have but would expand the number of voters in each county, meaning that the committeeman and committeewoman would not have the only votes.

“I get the full nature of it because we want to make sure that we get the full representation of these areas that are strongly Democratic, but I think that we can have individuals having those votes,” he said. “This idea of the weightiness of it I think makes it a little bit difficult for insurgent candidates to come from, frankly nowhere and choose to compete in this race to become the party chairperson.”

If there’s any “insurgent” in the race, it’s Patel, who only got in after making a public request on Facebook to see if there was grassroots support to help her campaign. She has been in the Florida Democratic Party for considerably less time than both Rizzo and Gonzalez.

Patel and Gonzalez each announced union endorsements Friday.

Gonzalez, a former attorney for AFSCME, the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees, formally endorsed her bid for party chair.

The National Nurses United (NNU), the most significant organization of registered nurses in the United States, announced Thursday they are backing Patel in the race.

Former Florida House member sentenced to 13 months in prison

After being found guilty this year on charges related to the improper use of campaign funds, former state Rep. Dwayne Taylor was sentenced Friday to 13 months in federal prison, The Daytona Beach News-Journal reported on its website.

The Daytona Beach Democrat was convicted Aug. 31 on nine counts of wire fraud. U.S. District Judge Carlos E. Mendoza, who issued the sentence, refused in September to acquit or order a new trial for Taylor.

Mendoza wrote that prosecutors used ATM video recordings of Taylor moving money from a campaign bank account to a personal account. It is illegal in Florida to use campaign contributions for normal living expenses.

Taylor, 50, served in the Florida House from 2008 to 2016.

Richard Corcoran steps into sanctuary city ‘dust up’

House Speaker Richard Corcoran elbowed into a social media “spat” between Adam Putnam and Andrew Gillum about immigration, saying they’re both on the wrong side of the amnesty debate.

“Ironic to see a dust up between these two on immigration, since they’ve both supported #amnesty for illegal immigrants. Call it amnesty or sanctuary cities, both defy our rule of law and make the nation (and Florida) less safe. #TwoSidesOfTheSameCoin,” Corcoran tweeted Thursday.

Corcoran is widely expected to jump into the governor’s race after the 2018 Legislative Session.

Earlier this week, Putnam – the term-limited Agriculture Commissioner and Republican candidate for governor – tweeted, “Thanks for the Half True, @PolitiFactFL. @AndrewGillum wants to make Florida a sanctuary state. That WILL NOT happen on my watch. #FloridaFirst.”

Gillum – the mayor of Tallahassee and Democratic candidate for governor – shot back in a tweet, “Half true & all racist is nothing to be proud of, Commissioner. I’m proud to stand up for all people – precisely what Floridians expect of their leaders.”

(Putnam since responded, also on Twitter, “It’s really unfortunate that we can’t have a public dialogue about policy without insults. Sanctuary cities are dangerous and have no place in the state of Florida. That’s a fact.”)

The issue has roiled conservatives most recently because of the case of 32-year-old Kate Steinle, who was shot and killed by an undocumented immigrant in San Francisco two years ago. Jose Ines Garcia Zarate was acquitted last week on state murder and manslaughter charges, but was soon charged on other counts in federal court.

On Friday, Corcoran followed up his tweet with a web ad across his social platforms.

Andrew Gillum questions Senate Democrats’ silence on Jack Latvala

While the Florida Democratic Party has called for Republican state Sen. Jack Latvala of Clearwater to step down in the wake of accusations of sexual harassment, only two of the 15 Democratic senators have followed suit.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum says that may be because of the institutional structure and the nature of relationships in the Senate, but he says that Latvala’s “attack dog” tactics are why he should resign.

“What you have in the Florida Senate is a lot of close relationships, a lot of folks who know each other, and a real unwillingness to enter into the divisive fray of having a colleague step down,” said the Tallahassee mayor, following an appearance at Tampa’s Oxford Exchange Friday morning.

“These are uncomfortable positions all the way around for everybody, but it does require leadership.”

One Democratic senator speaking out is Lauren Book, who earlier this week filed a formal complaint alleging that Latvala violated Senate rules by aggressively going after his one public accuser, Senate aide Rachel Perrin Rogers. She has accused Latvala of groping her and using degrading language to describe her body over a four-year period.

“I’ve been most disheartened by what appears to have been a full-on intimidation and attack dog approach when it comes to the victim,” Gillum said.

Last Saturday, Perrin Rogers’ attorney, Tiffany R. Cruz, asked the Office of Legislative Affairs to provide armed security for her client this week as she entered and exited the Capitol and worked in her office.

Gillum said the toxic level of fear that necessitated the request for security was a “horrible way to handle a sexual assault claim in the Florida Legislature.”

“That alone is enough for the Senate, and Senate leadership, to put his party, the institution, the health, the safety, the welfare of those individuals above his own personal interests there.”

An investigation is continuing on Perrin Rogers’ original charges of sexual harassment against Latvala. The Clearwater Republican has denied the allegations, saying the claims are political because he’s running for Governor.

Ashley Moody gets Maggie’s List backing in Attorney General race

Republican Attorney General candidate Ashley Moody announced Thursday that she earned the backing of a political committee dedicated to getting conservative women into elected office.

Maggie’s List, which has a founders list including current Republican state Sens. Dana Young, Denise Grimsley and Kathleen Passidomo, said Moody – the only woman running for either major party’s nomination – “is a proven leader who brings so much to the State of Florida.”

“Her service in Florida, coupled with her relentless leadership and desire to work on issues that directly impact citizens and businesses in the Sunshine State, make her the right choice. We know she is the right candidate to serve as Florida Attorney General because she respects the need for increased personal responsibility, fiscal conservatism, and fairly upholding law and order for the citizens of Florida,” said committee chair and former Florida Secretary of State Sandra Mortham.

“Ashley Moody upholds the values and leadership that Maggie’s List looks for in effective and principled leaders. As a fiscal conservative, Ashley will work tirelessly to make sure Florida’s future is protected and constitutional rights are upheld.”

The Hillsborough County native and former circuit court judge is running in a four-way Republican Primary against state Reps. Jay Fant, Ross Spano and Frank White.

“Maggie’s List is leading the charge to advance conservatism across every level of government. Their members are champions for our conservative priorities and I’m extremely humbled to receive their endorsement for Attorney General of Florida,” Moody said.

Maggie’s List joins dozens of backers – including more than two dozen sitting county sheriffs – lined up behind Moody in what is shaping up to be an expensive and hotly contested primary to replace termed-out Pam Bondi.

Moody and Fant were the only two candidates in the primary race for a few months until White announced his run in October, followed by Spano in November.

Moody has maintained a solid fundraising effort throughout her campaign, but lost her lead after White put $1.5 million of his own money on the line to take the top spot. The Pensacola Republican has also given Moody a run for her money when it comes to endorsements.

Spano’s entry could threaten her home turf advantage in Hillsborough where she and Spano are both well-liked in Republican circles.

Jack Latvala’s fundraising slows to a halt in November

Gubernatorial candidate and Clearwater Republican Sen. Jack Latvala has been fighting back against sexual harassment allegations for more than a month, and the press reports haven’t helped in pull in money for his campaign.

Latvala entered the GOP Primary for governor back in August and after a hot start, his contributions slowed to halt in November after six women told POLITICO the longtime lawmaker had sexually harassed them during his time in office.

Latvala denies the allegations and vowed to clear his name, calling the report ‘fake news.’

Latvala’s fundraising arm, Florida Leadership Committee, finished October with $234,000 in contributions and more than $4.1 million in the bank, much of it left over from his battle to become Senate President.

In November, however, FLC took in just one check for $5,000 from the Florida Association of Health Plans PAC, with another $347 coming by way of interest, but that didn’t keep the committee from spending some of its reserves.

FLC spent nearly $160,000 last month, and had spent another $36,000 through the first week of December.

According to documents on the committee website, $50,000 of that money went to the Republican Party of Florida, more than $37,000 was spent on printing and mailers, $10,000 went to Champion Digital Media for advertising alongside several research, strategy, fundraising and political consulting contracts clocking in at a few thousand a piece.

Latvala is currently one of two major Republicans running for Florida governor. If his campaign weathers the storm, he faces termed-out Ag Commissioner Adam Putnam and likely a couple more contenders, such as House Speaker Richard Corcoran and U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis.

Florida Democratic Party’s federal account out of cash as 2018 approaches

Ahead of what is expected to be a busy 2018 election year, the account Florida Democrats use to fund federal campaigns is out of money, according to Federal Elections Commission records.

At the beginning of the year, the Florida Democratic Party’s federal account had $383,439 in the bank, but as of late October, it is more than $18,490 in the red. Beyond that, the Party owes more than $18,000 in audio and visual services to Production Resource Group.

Johanna Cervone, a spokesperson for the party, declined to answer specific questions about the financial management of the federal account but said the party is “confident” in its economic status as a whole.

One of the most prominent vendors in the federal account this year was Markham Productions. The FDP spent more than $550,000 in audio and visual services with that company. It also transferred $150,000 in federal money to the Ohio Democratic Party in return for cash that the FDP was able to use through its state account.

The federal account started hemorrhaging money during the brief tenure of now ousted Stephen Bittel, a longtime, millionaire Democratic donor elected under the promise of boosting the Party’s fundraising efforts and finances.

It also happened under the watch of former President Sally Boynton Brown, who resigned last month after she publicly defended the sexual misconduct of Bittel and two former staffers accused her of enabling his inappropriate behavior in the workplace.

Boynton Brown, a transplant from the Idaho Democratic Party, was tasked with overseeing state party funds.

The money strain comes ahead of a contentious election cycle, which will likely see the party’s most powerful politician, three-term Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, face the toughest race of his career as Gov. Rick Scott eyes his seat.

Though national groups like the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee will offer financial help with that race, having the state party’s federal committee account underwater is not a positive for Democrats.

Beyond the Senate race, there will be at least two congressional races that are expected to be highly contested and expensive, including an effort to defend incumbent U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy’s 7th Congressional District in Central Florida and trying to defeat Republican Carlos Curbelo, who holds the South Florida swing seat.

Details sparse on Rick Scott meeting with Israeli PM

One of the highlights of Florida Gov. Rick Scott‘s trip to Israel was a meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

But if you were looking for meaningful information out of the Governor’s Office on it, you would be disappointed.

“Governor Scott and Prime Minister Netanyahu discussed ways to strengthen ties between Florida and Israel during an hour long meeting,” asserted Lauren Schenone Thursday on behalf of the Governor.

We, of course, wanted to know more.

Among our questions: what specifics were discussed with the PM regarding future ties/investment between Israel/Florida.

And — given that Gov. Scott took a position before the trip that the US embassy should be moved to Jerusalem, as the President ultimately asserted — we wanted to know if that was discussed also.

If it was, we didn’t find out.

Tipping off what President Donald Trump would do, Gov. Scott asserted the following late last month.

“I strongly believe that the U.S. Embassy belongs in Jerusalem and I am hopeful that a decision will be made to finally move the embassy to the its rightful destination in Israel’s capital city,” Scott said in a press release with a Jacksonville dateline, even as he gave no hints of this position while talking to media in the city.

Scott expanded on his position while in Israel, per the Jerusalem Post.

“It’s the capital of Israel, our embassy ought to be located there,” Governor Scott told The Jerusalem Post on Monday. “We passed legislation… and we need to comply with the legislation instead of the waivers.”

Scott reiterated his position after a question from a Post reporter:  “I believe the embassy ought to be in Jerusalem. That’s what I’m going to support.”

As protests rage in the city regarding the position, and as many world leaders have come forth opposing the move, it would be interesting to know more about a position framed as a provocation by American allies and rivals alike.

Per the Post, Scott was more comfortable — no surprise to Florida reporters — with discussion of jobs and economic ties.

“There are a lot of people in Florida who are very financially supportive of Israel,” Scott told the Post. “They’re constantly calling me and letting me know that we have to do more business with Israel.”

Scott also explained his opposition to the BDS Movement, which calls for boycott, divestment, and sanctions, to Israeli press.

“It’s disgusting that people think about doing that. Israel is a sovereign nation; Israel deserves to be respected like everybody else. There should be no antisemitism in the world. I’m going to do everything I can to stand with Israel.”

All of that is helpful insight.

But the questions about specifics from the meeting of Gov. Scott and PM Netanyahu remain.

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