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Marco Rubio joins Bill Nelson’s call for urgent attention for public health crisis in Puerto Rico

Florida’s Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio on Friday sent a letter similar to one sent by his Democratic colleague urging more federal help for Puerto Rico, still darkened by the ravishes of Hurricane Maria more than three weeks ago.

Rubio asked U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Acting Secretary Eric Hargan to “provide a complete update and assessment of the public health concerns still plaguing Puerto Rico,” and expressed concern “that there has not been enough progress on a plan to provide a long-term solution so patients and officials are not constantly struggling with one crisis after another.”

Earlier Friday, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson announced he sent a similar letter to Hargan, warning that people were dying in Puerto Rico and federal assistance had to be accelerated before more people die.

As did Nelson, Rubio cited news accounts warning of horrific public health crises emerging. He asked Hargan to take aggressive action to help them.

“In light of the island’s damaged infrastructure and its residents’ lack of access to power and clean water, it is critical that the island receives the resources needed to properly treat people who depend on medically necessary services,” Rubio wrote. “Many Floridians contact my office every day to emphasize that their family and friends in Puerto Rico are still struggling to recover from this deadly storm.

“There are news reports that some water in Puerto Rico has been contaminated, causing people to contract leptospirosis, a bacterial disease that can cause kidney damage, meningitis, liver failure, and death,” Rubio continued. “I am very concerned that there could be additional cases of leptospirosis or other bacterial infections, and that the island’s lack of resources could prevent those infected from receiving necessary treatment.”

Both Nelson and Rubio called attention to the dearth of operating dialysis centers and oxygen supplies, with Rubio saying he has heard personally from providers and officials that it is incredibly difficult to get supplies. Rubio acknowledged that progress has been made, but said he was concerned there has not been enough progress on long-term solutions for patients. He requested a complete update and assessment on public health issues in Puerto Rico.

He also said, “I also urge you to immediately clarify the conflicting information reported by government officials and media outlets.”

Gainesville mourns ‘No. 1 son’ Tom Petty, schedules memorial concert

By the time the sun set in Gainesville, Monday, Oct. 2, conflicting news reports had announced, alternately, Tom Petty’s death and his ongoing struggle to survive at a hospital in Los Angeles.

It was nearly midnight when the legendary rock star — born in Gainesville October 20, 1950 — died, at 8:40 Pacific Standard Time, according to his publicist.

By the time the sun was up Tuesday morning, a large, colorful mural had been painted on a wall that runs along the east side of SW 34th Street — the busy, north-south corridor on the west side of the University of Florida campus. As a young man, Petty had worked as a groundskeeper at UF, but he never matriculated.

“Love you always, Gainesville No. 1 son Tom Petty. Thanks, Tommy,” the mural read.

The image of a guitar plunged, like an arrow, into a big, red heart in the center of the mural.

Since then, photos of the mural — with rays of morning sunshine glinting through the shaggy, overgrown vegetation that rambles across the top of the wall — have been shared countless times on social media and in news reports about Petty’s sudden death, age 66.

But the identity of the artist who painted the impromptu tribute — on a streetside wall long given over to graffiti — remains unclear, and by afternoon that day, the tribute was completely obscured with paintings of gang symbols.

Ever since, discussion has arisen over how to best memorialize Petty in the town where he grew up, attended public schools and formed his first bands, Epic, and then Mudcrutch, before leaving, in his early 20s, along with the original members of the Heartbreakers, which formed in 1976 — Ron Blair, Mike Campbell, Stan Lynch and Benmont Tench — to seek fame and fortune in Los Angeles.

On Oct. 5, Gainesville Mayor Lauren Poe, in a Facebook post hours before a city commission meeting, wrote, “While I fully expect for there to be a discussion of how best to memorialize To[m] Petty at tonight’s meeting, we will not attempt to make a decision. This is an important and lasting tribute and deserves significant community and an inclusive and thoughtful approach.”

Some suggestions posted below the mayor’s comment included recommendations for naming the auditorium at Gainesville High School, where Petty was a student in the late 1960s, in his honor, and naming the local airport after him.

Pegeen Hanranah, mayor of Gainesville from 2004 — 2010, suggested building an amphitheater and naming it after Petty and the Heartbreakers. She also wrote, “I like the idea of naming Northeast Park ‘Tom Petty Park’ since he had a personal connection to it.”

But Monica Leadon Cooper, in an email to Poe about the proposal to name the park after Petty, urged, “Any tribute there should not alter the park.”

“He went there for the solitude and the longleaf pines and other trees,” Leadon Cooper wrote, adding, “He spent a lot of time there with my brother (Tom Leadon) and other members of Mudcrutch.”

In an email to the mayor yesterday, Barry Melton, who described himself as a “local musician and a huge Petty fan,” recommended holding an “annual, outdoor festival concert featuring local and national talents alike.”

On Wednesday, Judy Kramer suggested in an email to the mayor, “have college students create statues that depict all of Tom’s most popular songs.” In her plan, local businesses would bid on the statutes, which would each play a Petty song, attracting, thereby, foot traffic to the businesses and tourists throughout the city.

Liz Draper — of Burlington, Connecticut — in an email Tuesday to the Mayor wrote: “I look forward to attending the venue you choose to honor Tom Petty in Gainesville.”

Amy Hester emailed the Mayor Monday to recommend that Oct. 19 be named “Tom Petty Celebration Day,” to coincide with a planned visit to the city next week from the notorious white nationalist Richard Spencer. “Get as many venues as possible to have bands playing Petty covers or if you can’t find bands, just playing his music, when the Spencer speech is occurring,” she wrote.

Barbara Nordin — of Spring Hill, Florida — suggested a “bronze statue playing his guitar,” and Bob Gooden proposed erecting a statute of Petty in the same downtown location where a Confederate soldier, known locally as “Old Joe,” was recently removed.

John Hurt proposed “an interactive park and museum. Called ‘Dreamville,’” after one of Petty’s early songs, believed to be about Gainesville.

Andrew Nathanson, in an Oct. 4 email to the mayor, recommended renaming the roads that intersect at the busy, northeastern corner of the university — from University Avenue and Highway 441 — to Tom Petty Drive and Heartbreakers Highway.

Jeffery Goldstein, of Miami, emailed the Mayor Oct. 4 with a proposal for The Tom Petty Memorial Gainesville Music History Museum and Music Community Center. Goldstein noted how, as a student at UF in the 1970s, he had been chair of Student Government Productions and a part of The Rose Community Center, which produced “nearly 70 concerts on the U of F campus and various other Gainesville venues.”

“Tom Petty played for us more than any other artist, over 40 times and at some very famous shows,” Goldstein wrote.

Dan Aiken, in an email that he sent to the mayor from his home in Indiana, recalled his years in Gainesville as a baseball player for Santa Fe Community College, in the early 1980s.

“I remember attending a concert by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers at the UF O’Connell Center on October 8th, 1981,” Aiken wrote to Poe. “In fact, I still have the concert poster.”

Aiken complained that the concert is not mentioned on the UF webpage that describes the history of the O’Connell Center.

Steve Thomas — of Bay County, Florida — emailed Poe Oct. 4 to recommend changing the name of the city’s transit facility to honor Petty.

“Let’s remove criminally convicted Corrine Brown’s name,” Thomas wrote, referring to the former congresswoman, and he urged “renaming it prior to Brown’s sentencing next month.”

“Tom Petty would care about the image of his old hometown,” Thomas wrote.

Meanwhile, Poe — who was not yet born when Petty attended Gainesville High School, although Poe would graduate there in 1989 — says he won’t be rushed into any decision about a memorial for the Southern rock icon.

“We’re going to take our time with that,” he said in a telephone interview Thursday. “We want to give everyone time to grieve. We want to get it right.”

Poe said he has referred the matter to the city commission’s General Policy Committee, where meetings, although usually attended by the entire commission, include “no official action,” but, instead, “a lot of fact-finding and information gathering.”

With October mostly over by now, however, and Thanksgiving interfering with meeting schedules next month, the committee probably won’t take up the question of a memorial for Petty until December or January, Poe said, adding, “A lot of his family is still local, so we wanted to reach out to them, too.”

“Our sheriff is his cousin,” Poe said, referring to Alachua County Sheriff Sadie Darnell.

In this Petty-memorial lull in Gainesville — a city whose median age, 25, is younger by far than any other city in Florida — a popular Petty tribute band, Heavy Petty, based in Gainesville over the past decade, is planning a free concert for what would have been Petty’s 67th birthday, Friday, Oct. 20.

Daniel App, 31 — who says he has been with the tribute band since its inception — wrote to the mayor in an email Oct 3. “We discovered early on that our shows are not just entertainment, they are therapeutic way for people of this community to connect, remember, feel for Tom Petty and the relationship they’ve had with him.”

“We feel the people of this community need us in some way to help them grieve, remember, love and cherish,” App wrote. “There’s such an outcry for a place for everyone to embrace each other and celebration.”

While Heavy Petty usually plays at bars in downtown Gainesville and at the city’s free, Friday night concert series in the downtown plaza, for the memorial concert, they chose Heartwood Soundstage on South Main Street — close to the city’s recently redeveloped neighborhood that Petty wrote about in his song “Depot Street” in the 2015 album, Through the Cracks.

“We ain’t got no money, we don’t have no car. We stay down on depot street, just dancin’ in the park, dancin’ in the park … And we ain’t been to college, we both quit high school. There was way too many people there makin’ way too many rules. So, we got no education, but we don’t care at all cause it don’t mean much on depot street, behind the city hall, behind the city hall.”

Heartwood Soundstage serves beer and wine and plans to open for the concert at 5 p.m. The show is set to begin at 6 p.m. Tickets are available through the venue’s Facebook page.

By press time, calls and emails to Gainesville’s state legislators, Republican Sen. Rick Perry and Democratic Rep. Clovis Watson Jr., — with questions about whether either plan to sponsor resolutions to honor Petty during the upcoming legislative session — had not been returned.

[Photo courtesy Susan Washington]

Court gives boost to Orange County charter changes

An appeals court Friday overturned a ruling that at least temporarily blocked voter-approved changes to Orange County’s government.

The decision by a three-judge panel of the 5th District Court of Appeal centered on ballot measures approved by Orange County voters in 2016.

The changes call for the offices of sheriff, tax collector, property appraiser, supervisor of elections and clerk of circuit court to lose their status as “constitutional” offices. Instead, they are slated to become “charter” offices filled in non-partisan elections and subject to term limits.

The Florida Association for Constitutional Officers filed a lawsuit seeking to block the changes.

An Orange County circuit judge issued a stay, preventing the charter changes from moving forward. But Friday’s decision overturned that stay, saying the “trial court’s order constitutes a temporary injunction without notice and the trial court failed to meet the requirements for the entry of such an order.”

Republished with permission of the News Service of Florida.

GOP lawmaker Frank White runs for attorney general

Republican state Rep. Frank White, a general counsel and chief financial officer for a group of auto dealerships, announced Friday he will run for state attorney general in 2018.

White, a Pensacola resident who was first elected to the House in 2016, joins a GOP primary battle that includes state Rep. Jay Fant of Jacksonville and former Hillsborough County Circuit Judge Ashley Moody.

White touted his conservative credentials for the statewide seat.

“In our hometowns, our state, and across the nation, liberals in the courts and our government are working to erode the rights given us by the Creator,” White said in a prepared statement Friday.

The Cabinet post is open next year because term limits prevent Attorney General Pam Bondi from seeking reelection. Democrat Ryan Torrens, an attorney from Hillsborough County, has also filed to run for the seat.

Moody has raised more than $1 million for the race through her campaign account and a political committee known as “Friends of Ashley Moody.”

Fant has nearly matched Moody’s total by infusing his campaign with $750,000 of his own money. White’s announcement should open up the state House District 2 contest next year in Escambia and Santa Rosa counties.

White is the only Republican who had opened a campaign account for the seat.

Pensacola Democrat Raymond Guillory has also filed to run. White, who raised $83,600 for the re-election effort, defeated Guillory by more than 20 percentage points in 2016.

Republished with permission of the News Service of Florida.

Bobby Olszewski, Daniel Perez quickly prepare for 2018 campaigns

After winning special elections for state House seats, Winter Garden Republican Bobby Olszewski and Miami Republican Daniel Perez have quickly started preparing for 2018 reelection bids.

Olszewski opened a campaign account Wednesday, a day after winning a special election to replace former Rep. Eric Eisnaugle, an Orlando Republican, in Orange County’s House District 44, according to the state Division of Elections website.

Perez, meanwhile, opened an account Thursday, after winning a Sept. 26 special election to replace former Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, a Miami Republican, in Miami-Dade County’s House District 116.

Perez is the only candidate who has opened an account to run next year in District 116. But Democrat Dawn Marie Antonis and Republican Usha Jain have opened accounts to vie with Olszewski in District 44.

Republished with permission of the News Service of Florida.

Bill Nelson urges feds to do more for Puerto Rico ‘before more people die’

Bill Nelson is imploring the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to step up their efforts in Puerto Rico, “before more people die and this becomes a full-blown crisis.”

In a letter to acting HHS Secretary Eric Hargan, Florida’s senior U.S. Senator responds to news reports in The New York Times and warns that the continued lack of power and potable water to much of the island residents, its hospitals, and other critical life-support institutions such as dialysis centers, contaminated floodwaters, and other hazards “are placing thousands of residents at risk of infection, and even death.”

“While I understand the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is sending personnel and resources to Puerto Rico, this article made clear that it is not enough,” Nelson wrote in the letter. “The situation is not improving, and Americans are dying. I have raised this issue with your agency before, and I urge you now to take immediate steps to prevent further loss of life.

“I implore you to partner with the island to ensure that priority locations like dialysis centers and hospitals have access to adequate supplies of diesel, personnel, and medication, and have power restored as soon as possible,” Nelson continued.

Nelson also urged better coordination between HHS and other federal agencies, including the Federal Emergency Management Administration and the Federal Aviation Administration, to move supplies to where they are needed.

“The actions mentioned above only scratch the surface of what needs to be done,” Nelson concluded. “I urge the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to act before more people die and this becomes a full-blown crisis.”

‘Morning Joe’ host Joe Scarborough officially leaves GOP

MSNBC host and former Republican Congressman Joe Scarborough has made his departure from the GOP official.

The “Morning Joe” anchor said on Twitter on Thursday that he became an independent and he added a picture of himself with an elections official in New Canaan, Connecticut, smiling while holding a form.

Scarborough announced that he would leave the party in July and accused Republicans of abandoning their fiscal principles. Scarborough has been a fierce critic of President Donald Trump, who has targeted Scarborough and his fiancee and co-host Mika Brzezinski on Twitter.

Scarborough was elected to four U.S. House terms from Florida starting in 1994.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Money, endorsements for Jay Fant; Frank White enters GOP AG race

Jay Fant, in his bid for Attorney General, collected three endorsements this week, coming on the heels his $750,000 campaign loan.

For Fant, a Republican state representative from Jacksonville, the capital infusion was a big deal; it brought him closer, in cash on hand, to Ashley Moody — the retired Hillsborough judge who already collected $850,000 in her campaign coffers, as well as an additional $200,000 into her Friends of Ashley Moody committee.

Fant’s campaign notes this money brings him to $958K in total fundraising, and the hope the capital brings forward more endorsements.

A Jacksonville native, Fant scored one local endorsement (state Sen. Aaron Bean) and two endorsements from  House colleagues (Sam Killebrew of Winter Haven, and North Florida’s Elizabeth Porter).

Other endorsements, we understand, are banked.

So far, Fant has collected over a dozen House endorsements — a combination of locals, such as Paul Renner, Bobby PayneClay Yarborough and Jason Fischer, and other colleagues, such as Mike Miller.

Fant’s team frames these endorsements as proof of the candidate’s conservative bona fides — a key selling point in a compare/contrast with the less-ideological Moody.

However, as POLITICO reported Friday morning, there will be competition on the right — and from the Florida House.

Per Marc Caputo: “First-term state Rep. Frank White of Pensacola will officially enter the race for attorney general today. After filing, he is expected to address the state Fraternal Order of Police Board Meeting in Jacksonville. Last night, he joined fellow panhandle Republicans at the Walton County Lincoln Dinner. White works as general counsel and CFO for a chain of auto dealerships in Northwest Florida.”

White all but confirmed he was already in, of course, per the Pensacola News-Journal.

And his talking points sound a lot like Fant’s.

“I would manage the attorney general’s office in a way that protects consumers, especially seniors, defends the constitution from liberal attacks and respects that every dollar the office has come from the hard work of taxpayers,” White said.

Fant’s campaign has been looking for votes in the Panhandle. They may prove more difficult to find now that Pensacola has a candidate in the race.

White has a strong resume.

Per the News-Journal: “White said his private sector experience as the chief financial officer and general counsel for Sandy Sansing Dealerships and his work as an attorney at the international law firm Akin Gump Strauss Hauer and Feld, LLP has made him ready for the attorney general’s office.”

And, if 2016 is any guide, White is smart enough to bring in the big guns: Data Targeting Research, with Tim Baker and Brian Hughes — who ran that 2016 campaign — playing a pivotal role.

Worth noting: Baker and Hughes have a significant presence in White’s Jacksonville market, running the political operations for a number of City Council candidates, State Attorney Melissa Nelson (who is sitting out this race), Sheriff Mike Williams (who backed Moody early, at a fundraiser in Fant’s own district), and Mayor Lenny Curry (who is very aware that Fant, in a visit to the Duval Republican Party meeting, maligned Curry’s handling of a Human Rights Ordinance expansion — one that the City Council passed with a veto-proof supermajority).

White’s visit to the Jacksonville FOP will be just the first of many forays into this market, where the voters skew more conservative than almost every other metro area in the state.

Fant is in a tough place: He has competition, both on the right and in the center and he is struggling to consolidate the local base.

Fant is crisscrossing the state for support; he addressed Republicans in Starke just last night, right after the House Committee Week.

But what’s clear is that White wouldn’t be in this race if he didn’t see an opening — one that couldn’t be closed with a $750,000 loan.

David Jolly, Patrick Murphy discuss fixing Washington — it was (sort of) interesting

One could reasonably approach the David Jolly-Patrick Murphy roadshow hitting Tampa Thursday night with a healthy dose of cynicism.

Here are two former politicians decrying problems of Washington D.C. when, if things had turned the way they hoped they would, both would have been ensconced in the belly of the beast they were now criticizing.

Nevertheless, the two former members of Congress, for the most part, kept it pretty engaging during the hourlong conversation at the University of South Florida Marshall Center, facilitated by USF professor Susan McManus and Tampa Bay Times political editor Adam Smith.

Each man spent the first 15 minutes of the Oval Theater event giving their own prescriptions of what they find wrong with politics today.

Unlike the 34-year-old Murphy, who had been first elected to Congress at the tender of age of 29 after defeating Tea Party Republican Allen West in 2012, Jolly was already an insider, having worked for years as both a lobbyist and an aide to longtime Republican U.S. Rep. Bill Young.

After winning a special election in March 2014, Jolly said he was stunned to discover how much fundraising was expected of new members, since it wasn’t something he ever saw Young doing. Jolly then described a slide he had seen from a Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee presentation to incoming lawmakers (he suspected the National Republican Congressional Campaign had one as well) suggesting candidates spend 20-30 hours a week raising money, and only 10 hours a week doing their jobs.

“I truly was taken aback by the fact that consumes every single minute,” the Pinellas Republican said. “If any member tells you that they spend more time on policy than fundraising, they’re lying.”

Another thing that surprised Jolly: The lack of understanding of policy among members of Congress, without naming names.

“It’s remarkable how many people don’t understand the Constitutional implications, the subject matter implications, or even care to learn,” he said, noting they just rely on senior staff help.

Murphy, a Treasure Coast Democrat who lost a bid to defeat Marco Rubio, concurred. He said that while he still believes in term limits, serious policy issues remain (as one, he referred to the Dodd-Frank financial regulation), which take time to learn.

Both men offered some details of what happens behind the scene, especially as freshmen lawmakers.

Murphy discussed how he interviewed several people to learn how to run a campaign, ultimately hiring one as a consultant. He said he was “shocked” to learn the expense (over $10,000 a month). Murphy hired a consultant, a campaign manager, and then a fundraising team.

Jolly was also told he needed a pollster, which he thought absurd since Young served in Congress for more than 40 years without one. But his general consultant told him that a pollster was necessary to learn what constituents care about.

“We need a poll so we know your Republican voters are going to be participating — what is most important to them, so when we determine how to spend money on mailers and commercials, we’re on message with it,” Jolly explained.

Jolly supports open primaries and “jungle primaries” in places like Louisiana and California, where the top two finishers of a race advance to a general election, not the top Republican and Democrat.

He said what he found sad — going across party lines to show independence wouldn’t be rewarded by voters — referring to how he came out for same-sex marriage in 2014 a few months after his election. Jolly said his consultant told him that it was lose-lose; he had just lost Republican votes and wasn’t about to gain any Democratic ones.

“Aren’t you winning independents?” Smith asked.

Jolly replied that he thought that after “multiple” elections one could build up a constituency of independent voters, but in early races, “you’re not bringing people over.”

Both men spoke up in support of lobbyists, saying that in many cases they’re the most informed participants on a public policy issue. (Did we mention that Jolly was previously a lobbyist?)

A frequently overlooked aspect of a member of Congress’ job is constituent services. Both men related poignant stories of helping individuals, which left them both humbled and feeling fortunate they can actually help somebody.

While much of Murphy’s message seemed to be that the system encourages extremes of both parties and drown out centrists, Jolly’s approach was more realistic. He said it was fine to be progressive or conservative, but the lesson politicians learn is that by compromising on some issues is how public policy advances.

“It’s OK to be far to the left or far to the right,” Jolly said, “but the challenge and the breakdown right now is that those two communities are not working together.”

Responding to audience questions, Jolly and Murphy agreed that the Netflix show “House of Cards” was fairly realistic.

When asked if it was possible to win without political action committees, Jolly said a prevalence of third-party groups means candidates have to raise less money on their own. Murphy said “very unlikely.”

To the same question, Murphy answered “very unlikely.”

In the audience of several hundred were mostly students, many holding slices of free pizza offered as an incentive to attend. Other students admitted they were only there to get extra credit from professors.

Debris removal firm says it will use pre-storm pricing

As the state looks into claims that debris-removal companies haven’t fulfilled post-Hurricane Irma contracts, one of three firms in the crosshairs of Attorney General Pam Bondi announced it will complete the work at pre-storm pricing.

Randy Perkins, chairman of AshBritt Environmental, told the Parkland City Commission on Wednesday night the company will perform all debris removal at prices that had been agreed upon before the storm.

“It has been our intention to serve our clients at the agreed upon pre-storm pricing since day one,” Perkins said in a prepared statement. “Unfortunately, market forces created by back-to-back record-setting storms required debris haulers to contemplate and consider higher commodity pricing in order to serve these contracts in a timely fashion. Now that the market has settled, we are pleased to let all our clients know that AshBritt will stick to the lower, pre-storm pricing levels.”

On Oct. 2, Bondi issued investigative subpoenas to AshBritt, Ceres Environmental Services, Inc. and DRC Emergency Services. According to Bondi, the companies were not honoring pre-storm debris removal contracts with local governments.

“Sitting debris is a health and safety hazard and needs to be removed as soon as possible – but instead of doing their jobs and helping Floridians recover, apparently some contractors are delaying the work or requesting higher rates,” Bondi said when the subpoenas were announced.

Gov. Rick Scott has complained about slower-than-expected debris cleanup following Irma, which made landfall Sept. 10 in Monroe and Collier counties and then blew through much of the rest of the state.

Republished with permission of the News Service of Florida.

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