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Manatee Co. leader Jonathan Bruce first to call on Melissa Howard to drop out, campaign responds

Former Manatee County Commissioner Jonathan Bruce is calling on Republican state House candidate Melissa Howard to drop out of the running in District 73. The move was prompted by accusations Howard lied about graduating from Miami University in Ohio and then faked her diploma.

Jonathan Bruce

“What a sad day for integrity in local politics,” Bruce said. “A really unreal turn of events. Melissa Howard should leave the race now.”

Anthoni Pedicini, a consultant for Howard, noted Bruce already endorsed Tommy Gregory, the other Republican running for state House in District 73. “Of course he would say she should resign,” Pedicini said.

He said Howard was busy caring for her husband, who is on bed rest after a cardiac event. “We’re not dealing with fake news today,” Pedicini said. “Bruce is a career politician who is part of the establishment. He probably was an anti-Trump guy too.”

Bruce, who served on the Manatee County Commission from 1996 through 2004, earlier this week sent an email to local media calling Howard’s education credentials into question after reported she had not actually graduated from the Ohio school, despite saying she had in her official candidate bio.

“At first she says she graduated then forgot she didn’t only to then say she did at a later date?,” Bruce said Wednesday. “This seems to be a ‘deer in the headlights moment’ for her campaign. Her integrity is now on the line.

“She can fix this immediately by producing a transcript or a diploma. If this is not done in the next 24 hours then it will be obvious that something is seriously flawed with her candidacy and she should drop out of the race. We need the highest level of honestly representing us in Tallahassee.”

On Friday, it seemed she had. With mainstream media outlets calling but still passing on the story, Howard flew to Ohio and on Facebook produced pictures of herself picking up transcripts from Miami University.

She also shared with media a picture of herself and her mother holding a framed and mounted degree.

But officials with the University say that picture revealed discrepancies. Specifically, it wrongly attributed the dean of graduate studies as the dean of the school of business and the school of education, and it improperly identified a major in marketing rather than in business, as a proper college degree from the school would state.

Gregory declined to comment further on the events as today. So did Liv Coleman, the lone Democrat running for the seat.

Party leaders so far have stayed out of the fray as well. JoAnne DeVries, chair for the Sarasota Democratic Party, said “Republican voters will make the choice that is best for them.”

Jack Brill, vice chairman of the Republican Party of Sarasota, said the party had no comment for the moment. “We look forward to supporting our nominee after the primary is over,” he said.

Melissa Howard HD 73

Melissa Howard’s husband released from hospital as credential controversy engulfs her campaign

Story updated at 2:17 p.m.

Florida House candidate Melissa Howard’s husband, Ian, suffered a heart attack Friday, sources close to her campaign confirm. The development comes as the Manatee County Republican answers charges she lied about earning a college degree.

Lakewood Ranch Medical Center confirms Ian Howard has since been released from the hospital.

As for the candidate, Howard has shut down her Twitter account and important pictures supposedly verifying her education credentials have been removed from her official Facebook page. And media interest has only grown in an apparently elaborate effort to gloss over whether Howard graduated from Miami University in Ohio.

Anthony Pedicini, a consultant for Howard, originally informed Florida Politics about the health development with the candidate’s spouse. Joe Gruters, chairman of the Republican Party of Sarasota County, confirmed Ian Howard’s health situation. “Ian Howard had a cardiac event last night and is in Lakewood Ranch hospital,” Pedicini said. “Melissa is focused on her family—not fake news this morning.”

Melissa Howard posted this update to Facebook early Saturday morning.

The health scare came as Howard pushed back on accusations she did not ever complete her degree at Miami University despite claiming in her candidate bio she had graduated.

The relatively new news outlet reported earlier this week there was no record of Howard, a candidate in state House District 73, holding a degree from Miami University in Ohio, based on a search of the National Student Clearinghouse.

Howard pushed back on that, and on Friday posted a picture of college transcripts she received from Miami University. “I will ask one more time to stop the negative campaign he is waging, and call on the people bankrolling his campaign to stop the mud slinging,” she wrote. Howard provided pictures that seemed to verify she indeed did graduate from the college, along with a picture taken inside Miami University’s Student Success Services offices.

But some of those pictures have since been taken down from her official Facebook Page, including one that partially showed her college transcripts.

But a letter from Miami University general counsel Robin Parker says that while Howard attended the school from 1990 through 1994, she does not have a degree from the school.

“The picture of the diploma that was posted on the HowardforHouse73 Facebook page does not appear to be an accurate Miami University diploma,” Parker wrote.

The letter also notes a picture Howard posted of her degree online says one official signing the document had a different title at the time the degree was awarded than what appears. It also states the major on the diploma was not one offered at the time Howard would have graduated.

The same letter notes it allows students shy of completing a degree to walk at graduation.

Howard has been in a tight Republican primary against Sarasota attorney Tommy Gregory. After the initial story ran on FlaNewsOnline, Gregory issued a statement referencing the original news article but distancing his campaign from accusations.

“Instead of providing evidence refuting the direct questions raised in the story, Ms. Howard chose to pivot and attack the Gregory campaign for lying about her record,” he said in the statement. “On the contrary, however, the Tommy Gregory campaign has made no statement of any kind related to the article, and while Ms. Howard may have some explaining to do, we will leave that to her, the media, and the voters of District 73.”

Melissa Howard tells Tommy Gregory to ‘stop the lies’

House District 73 candidate Melissa Howard says her Republican primary opponent, Tommy Gregory, has been trying to smear her with one lie after another as the pair fight to succeed exiting state Rep. Joe Gruters in the Sarasota-based district.

According to Howard, the Gregory campaign has been employing a strategy that is all too common among low-tier debaters: The Gish gallop. Toss out a large enough volume of lies that an opponent can’t respond to each one individually and presto — the galloper wins without making a positive case for himself.

“Tommy Gregory is a liar. The proof speaks for itself. First his campaign tried to push a story out to claiming I wasn’t a Republican. The Ohio registrar confirmed the Gregory campaign lied,” she said.

Indeed, Gregory made that easily disprovable claim and Hamilton County (Ohio) Election Administrator Chuck Eckert confirmed it had no merit.

His response at the time: “Under Ohio election law, political party affiliation is done by requesting the ballot type for the political party with which you wish to be affiliated in a Partisan Primary Election. Your voting history reflects only General Election activity, no partisan primary election activity.”

“Then the campaign pushed another story that I didn’t have a Bachelor’s Degree. So, I flew to Ohio went back to my alma mater, picked up my transcripts and helped my mom find my diploma. Again proving Tommy Gregory’s entire campaign is built on lies,” Howard said.

Howard provided Florida Politics with a picture of her and her mother next to the framed diploma from Miami of Ohio.

***Update*** — Miami University in Ohio told the Sarasota Herald-Tribune that Howard attended the school but never graduated. The school also says the diploma she produced is counterfeit, saying it doesn’t match those issued in 1994.

“I am calling on Tommy Gregory to stop the lies, quit the negative campaign, and stop trying to slander my reputation in my community,” she concluded.

Howard and Gregory are the only two Republicans vying for HD 73, a GOP stronghold that covers parts of Manatee and Sarasota County. The seat is open due to current Gruters’ decision to run for the Senate seat currently held by Sarasota Republican Sen. Greg Steube, who is running for Congress.

The primary election is Aug. 28.

Mike Carroll quits as head of Florida’s child-welfare agency

Mike Carroll, Secretary of the Department of Children and Families (DCF), will quit his post effective Sept. 6, Gov. Rick Scott‘s office announced Friday.

“Mike embodies the ideals and mission of the Department … and has devoted nearly three decades to improve and change the lives of Florida’s vulnerable children and families,” the governor said in a statement.

“Mike’s tenure as secretary is the longest in DCF’s 21-year history,” he added. Carroll was appointed in December 2014.

He inherited a system documented earlier that year, by the Miami Herald’s “Innocents Lost” investigation, as “clearly broken, leaving children unprotected and at risk.”

Carroll worked at DCF and its predecessor, the Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services (HRS), since January 1990. Scott, who is term-limited and leaving office in January, did not immediately name his replacement.

The press release from Scott’s office said Carroll oversaw “expanded substance abuse treatment services statewide, including medication-assisted treatment for opioid use disorders; achieved record numbers of adoptions; (and) championed anti-human trafficking efforts,” among other achievements.

“Throughout his career, Mike has focused on innovative solutions to complicated problems, finding ways to enable better outcomes for children and families,” Scott said.

But lowlights during Carroll’s tenure include a foster child hanging herself while broadcasting it on social media. Naika Venant, a 14-year-old Miami-Dade County girl who was in and out of foster care starting in 2009, killed herself last year during a Facebook Live video.

“This case is kind of symptomatic of what we deal with,” he later told a state Senate committee. “Many of these kids have cracks … they’re broken, they’re in pieces …

“We’re charged as a state agency to put those pieces back together. And we aren’t always able to do that. And that’s the most tragic thing about our work.”

Two years before that, lawmakers heard results of a study into a series of missteps by DCF leading up to the father of 5-year-old Phoebe Jonchuck throwing her off a bridge into Tampa Bay.

“The DCF report concluded Phoebe was subjected to a storm of mental health issues, substance abuse and domestic violence in her short life,” the Tampa Tribune reported.

Carroll told legislators he responded by “requiring abuse hot-line counselors to have a four-year college degree and undergo 13 weeks of training, including nine weeks in a classroom,” the paper reported.

“Getting (employees) who are qualified to do this work and then getting them to stay on the job is a challenge,” Carroll said. “It is very stressful work. The work hours are incredible and not predictable … and you always work with a level of uncertainty.

“Every family you address, every home you walk into, you’re asked to make decisions … and you think you make the right decisions but when you walk out of that home, you never know.”

And a 133-page internal review commissioned by Carroll in 2016 depicted a dysfunctional agency, with workers feeling “unsupported,” “overwhelmed,” and “defeated.”

Final votes recorded for failed ‘Stand Your Ground’ session

A Democratic push to reconvene state legislators for a special session on the state’s controversial ‘Stand Your Ground’ law is dead.

Although doomed Thursday night, when it became clear that the three-fifths support threshold could not be met, lawmakers had until noon Friday to go on record with their support or opposition to the special session.

Between the state House and Senate, 77 members voted against the idea, with 48 voting in support. Thirty-one members did not respond to the poll, nor confirm receipt, according to data recorded by the Florida Department of State. 

To spawn a special session, 70 members in the House and 24 members in Senate would have needed to vote favorably. In the House, just 33 members voted ‘yes,’ with 15 doing the same in the Senate.

The special session request follows the shooting death of Markeis McGlockton in the parking lot of a Clearwater convenience store. Pinellas County law enforcement did not pursue charges against the shooter, saying he acted within the state’s ‘Stand Your Ground’ law.

Outraged, Democratic members called for lawmakers to be polled on whether they should return to Tallahassee during the lawmaking offseason to revisit the law.

In the Senate, results split across party lines, with all ‘yes’ votes belonging to Democrats and all ‘no’ votes belonging to Republicans. In total, 19 senators voted against a special session and 14 voted in support.

Results tracked along party lines, with a few notable exceptions — and absences.

Republican Sens. Keith Perry, Tom Lee, Rene Garcia and Anitere Flores did not vote, nor did they acknowledge receipt of the poll. Garcia and Flores, of South Florida, have diverted from Republican leadership on gun issues in the past. In March, the two senators voted alongside Democrats in favor of an assault weapons ban.

Orlando Democratic Sen. Linda Stewart also did not cast a vote on the session nor confirm receipt of the poll.

Democratic Reps. Bruce Antone and Katie EdwardsWalpole sided with Republicans in opting not to return to Tallahassee, and Republican Rep. Shawn Harrison cast the single ‘yes’ vote from his party in the chamber.

Among Republicans in the House who did not vote nor confirm receipt of the poll: Republican Reps. Bryan Avila, Michael Bileca, Colleen Burton, Manny Diaz, Byron Donalds, Dane Eagle, Jay Fant, Tom Leek, Amber Mariano, Larry Metz, Mike Miller, Jose Oliva, Cary Pigman, Holly Raschein, Rick Roth, Ross Spano, Cyndi Stevenson and Jackie Toledo.

On the Democratic side, Reps. Matt Willhite, Emily Slosberg, Barrington Russell, Jared Moskowitz, Larry Lee, Jr., and Al Jacquet did not vote nor confirm receipt.

Kayser Enneking pitches health care experience in first TV ad

Gainesville physician Kayser Enneking, a Democrat, started hitting TV Friday with a new ad backing up her campaign to oust incumbent Republican Sen. Keith Perry in Senate District 8.

The 30-second spot, titled “Caring For North Central Florida,” features footage of the anesthesiologist in operating rooms, waiting rooms and living rooms while pitching her as a candidate who can bring health care solutions to Tallahassee. If elected, the campaign notes, Enneking would be the only medical doctor serving in the state Senate.

“Health care in Florida is in crisis. Politicians had years to fix this, but nothing’s gotten better. It’s time to try something different. Meet Dr. Kayser Enneking. Doctor at UF, wife and mother, avid runner and biker,” the ad narrator says.

Enneking, outfitted in scrubs, takes over after the intro.

“I never thought I would get into politics. I’ve spent my whole life taking care of people,” Enneking says. “I’ve decided to run for the state Senate because we need someone who can fix our health care system, defend our environment and protect our public schools.”

Enneking’s campaign said the TV ad will begin airing in the Gainesville area on Friday. Federal Communications Commission filings show the initial media buys measured in at $2,920 and will keep the ad on NBC affiliate WNBW and CBS affiliate WGFL through Aug. 19.

Enneking faces fellow Gainesville Democrat Olysha Magruder in the Aug. 28 primary election, though she’s several steps ahead when it comes to fundraising and endorsements.

As of July 27, Enneking’s campaign account and political committee, Florida Knows Excellence, had brought in more than $450,000 and had $333,500 at the ready. In addition to endorsements from local politicians and groups such as Equality Florida and the AFL-CIO, Enneking’s campaign was recently singled out for some backup from progressive advocacy group For Our Future Florida.

Magruder, meanwhile, has brought in $34,300 for her bid and has about $8,500 banked less than three weeks out from the primary election. Perry, who doesn’t face a primary challenger, has raised more than $671,000 for his re-election efforts and had $505,700 on hand as of Aug. 3.

SD 8 covers all of Alachua and Putnam counties as well as the northern half of Marion County. It is one of a handful of districts that became more favorable to Democrats after the Senate map was redrawn ahead of the 2016 elections.

Despite Democrats holding an 8-point lead in voter registrations in the redrawn district, Perry defeated former FDP chair and state Sen. Rod Smith by 5 points two years ago. The seat was also carried by President Donald Trump, though only by 2 tenths of a point.

Enneking’s ad is below.

Medical marijuana advocates start their own PAC

Gary Stein, a medical marijuana historian and advocate, has opened his own Florida fundraising panel — the first of its kind — to support pro-marijuana candidates and influence legislation.

Clarity PAC was officially registered Wednesday as a non-profit corporation and political committee, state records show.

Its mission: “To advocate for full legal access to medicinal cannabis and the responsible adult use of cannabis, and to help create and pass legislation supporting that topic.” It hasn’t yet posted any contributions or expenses.

Its official launch will be this Sunday, with a noon rally in St. Petersburg at Cage Brewing, 2001 1st Ave. South.

“Clarity PAC will be presenting all candidates’ and elected officials’ views to Florida voters to help them make an informed choice at the polls in the form of spreadsheets … that include answers to specific questions, publicly issued statements and letter grades on reliability on cannabis issues,” Stein said in a statement.

That “information will be coming from more than just the traditional surveys sent to candidate’s offices or calls from phone banking,” he added.

“Advocates across the states, dubbed ‘canna-warriors,’ will be tasked with connecting with candidates … Canna-warriors will be paid for audio and video recordings that can be posted on the internet, and quotes from the candidates will be documented for the media.”

Among the committee’s backers: Tampa strip club mogul, free speech fighter and medical marijuana patient Joe Redner.

Redner is suing the state to be allowed to grow his own marijuana and make juice of it; his doctor recommended fresh juice as the best way to keep his lung cancer in remission. Redner won at trial, but the state is appealing.

Also on Stein’s board is Bill Monroe, a Navy veteran who’s director of facilities for 3 Boys Farm, a medical marijuana treatment center based in Ruskin.

Cannabis Cures Investments, or CannCure, recently agreed to buy a 60 percent interest in 3 Boys, with the closing expected in mid-August. Terms of the deal have not been disclosed.

‘Stand Your Ground’ session likely doomed

Florida lawmakers have until noon Friday to respond to a proposal by Democrats to call a special session to revisit the state’s “stand your ground” self-defense law.

As of Wednesday evening, responses have largely fallen along party lines. House Republicans, expected to reject the idea of holding a session, made up 43 of the 44 recorded ‘no’ responses. Retiring Democrat Katie EdwardsWalpole also rejected the idea.

House Democrats, expected to back the idea of holding a session, made up 24 of the 25 ‘yes’ responses thus far. Rep. Shawn Harrison, a Tampa Republican, also supported the idea.

A total of 48 responses are still pending from the state House. House Speaker Richard Corcoran, a Land O’ Lakes Republican, responded ‘no.’

In the Senate, 12 Democrats have responded ‘yes’ while 11 Republicans have said ‘no’ as of Wednesday evening. Responses from 16 senators are pending.

All 16 Senate Democrats and 23 of the 41 House Democrats signed a request by Sen. Darryl Rouson, a St. Petersburg Democrat, that triggered the state Department of State to poll the entire Legislature on holding a special session.

The proposal needs three-fifths support in each of the GOP-dominated legislative chambers, which would equate to 70 members of the House and 24 members of the Senate, according to the state department.

The request to revisit the self-defense law came in response to the July 23 shooting death of Markeis McGlockton in the parking lot of a Clearwater convenience store. No charges have been filed against the shooter, with Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri saying the gunman is protected under the long-controversial law.

Material from the News Service of Florida is used in this post with permission.

OFR Commissioner pick pushed back

Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Cabinet are moving back a decision on hiring a new top financial regulator.

Scott and the Cabinet had been expected to make a pick during a meeting next week, but Kristin Olson, Scott’s Cabinet aide, said Wednesday the governor’s office continues to review applicants for the job of commissioner of the Office of Financial Regulation and another position as inspector general of the state-backed Citizens Property Insurance Corp.

“Our office needed more time to review those candidates, so they’ll be on the next Cabinet agenda,” Olson said.

The Cabinet meets only two more times this year after next Tuesday’s meeting: Sept. 11 and Dec. 4. Scott and the Cabinet — Attorney General Pam Bondi, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis — in June agreed to name Pam Epting as acting commissioner of the Office of Financial Regulation and to reopen the application process after interviewing five applicants.

An additional 20 applications were submitted following the June meeting.

Epting was the deputy commissioner of the office — her pay was raised by $10,000 to $135,000 with the acting title — and is not among the applicants to replace former Commissioner Drew Breakspear, who resigned under pressure from Patronis. Patronis claimed there was a “lack of cooperation, responsiveness and communication” from the office.

Scott, Bondi and Putnam will leave their current offices in January, while Patronis is running in the November election to remain as CFO. Putnam is running for governor, while Scott is running for U.S. Senate.  Bondi can’t seek re-election due to term limits and isn’t seeking another office.

Progressive group sending backup to state Senate battlegrounds

Progressive advocacy group For Our Future Florida announced Wednesday that it will pitch in on the effort to flip the state Senate, starting with the seats held by Republican Sens. Keith Perry and Dana Young.

Senate District 8, the Gainesville-based seat held by Perry, and Senate District 18, the Tampa-based seat held by Young, sit atop the Florida Democratic Party’s wish list for 2018.

Young was elected to SD 18 with a plurality of the vote two years ago as the district voted for Hillary Clinton at the top of the ticket, while Perry won his seat by 4 points as Donald Trump claimed a narrow victory despite Democrats holding an 8-point lead in voter registrations.

In 2018, both seats have drawn competitive challengers. House Minority Leader Janet Cruz currently leads the polls in her quest to unseat Young, while Gainesville physician Kayser Enneking, a first-time candidate, has posted impressive fundraising numbers in her bid to knock off Perry.

“All Florida has to show for Keith Perry and Dana Young’s time in Tallahassee is millions funneled out of our public schools leaving our state one of the worst for K-12 education in the country and nearly one million low-income residents blocked from accessing healthcare through Medicaid,” said For Our Future spox Blake Williams. “Working Floridians deserve representatives like Kayser Enneking and Janet Cruz who will look out for their best interests, advocate for the middle class, and fight for affordable healthcare.”

For Our Future Florida added that the “State Senate program will be a comprehensive field effort focused on both persuasion and mobilization universes and will include a vote-by-mail program layered into the field campaign.”

The same group, a branch of For Our Future Action Fund, recently held a “Statewide Canvass Day of Action” that consisted of 72 separate events in all corners of the state to make the case Democrats running for the state Legislature and U.S. House as well as for re-electing U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson to a fourth term and sending a Democrat to the Governor’s Mansion for the first time this century.

For Our Future Florida pushes for progressive-backed plans to expand Social Security and Medicare, boost investments in green energy production, increase education funding and end the “school to prison pipeline.”

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