Orlando – Florida Politics

Alan Grayson up with TV ad featuring Martin Sheen, Michael Moore

In his two tenures as a progressive bulldog in the U.S. House of Representatives Alan Grayson made a few high-profile friends and now he’s featuring them in a new TV commercial, the first in the Democratic primary battle for Florida’s 9th Congressional District.

The new ad “Progressive Warrior,” which begins airing Wednesday in the Orlando TV market, features actor Martin Sheen, documentary movie maker Michael Moore, and political commentators Chris Hayes and Ed Schultz, among others, extolling Grayson for courage, leadership, and effectiveness in Congress.

“Alan Grayson is undoubtedly, the progressive warrior,” Schultz declares from some past broadcast of his MSNBC show, as pictures of Grayson and short clips of video roll out.

Grayson is battling with Democratic incumbent U.S. Rep. Darren Soto of Orlando, who took the CD 9 seat in 2016, defeating Grayson’s wife Dena Grayson in the Democratic primary as Alan Grayson was losing the Democratic primary for Florida’s U.S. Senate seat held by Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio. This year’s August 28 Democratic primary winner takes on Republican Wayne Liebnitzky of Saint Cloud in November.

CD 9 covers Osceola County, east Polk County, and south Orange County.

The Grayson campaign did not provide details for how much it is spending or how long or how often the spot will air. Early filings with the Federal Communication Commission show that the campaign has paid $1,334 to reserve 39 spots on WESH TV Channel 4 in Orlando through the end of May. Wednesday morning there were not yet any contracts posted on the FCC site involving other TV stations.

“People have told me, over and over again, that I’m saying what they’re thinking but nobody else is saying,” the Grayson says at one point in the commercial.

That’s followed by Sheen, the liberal activist actor who played the president in the “West Wing” series in the 2000s, saying, “We need that kid of courage and leadership.”

Moore, the liberal activist film producer, then offers, “Stands up for what he believes in, stands up for the rest of us, isn’t afraid to speak his mind.”

Grayson also makes, in the 30-second spot, his frequent statement that he has passed more legislation, largely through amendments, than any other member of Congress. A news release announcing the commercial states he passed 121 pieces of legislation in four years, under Republican leadership.

Val Demings introduces anti-Russian interference bill

Orlando’s U.S. Rep. Val Demings has joined a Republican and another Democrat in introducing a bill aimed at strengthening the United States’ defense against Russian interference in American elections.

The bill, co-sponsored by U.S. Reps. Ted Lieu, a California Democrat, and Elise Stefanik, a Republican from New York, would strengthen federal cybersecurity, support intelligence gathering, and enhance NATO military activities. It has been vetted by bipartisan national security experts, Demings office stated in a news release.

“When America takes on a bully, we should fight to win. I won’t sit in silence while a foreign dictator attacks our democracy and our citizens. Today, I’m introducing a bill to take clear steps to defend us from Russia’s uncontested aggression,” Demings stated in the release.

She cited a recent Washington Post-ABC News poll that found that nearly seven in ten Americans support tougher sanctions against Russia. And she noted that 13 Russians and three Russian companies already have been indicted through the probe by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, with evidence that Russia is continuing campaigns of disinformation, propaganda, and political and military pressure against U.S. allies and interests.

“American families deserve to know that their news is real, their power grid is secure, and their personal information won’t be stolen. Our allies deserve to know that America will respond strategically and strongly in their defense against aggression. All of us deserve a safe, free world—and the only way to get it is to stand up to the world’s dictators when they go on the offensive,” Demings added.

The bill declares that Russia has engaged in the spread of disinformation, aiming to undermine democracies including the United States. To combat Russian influence, the bill codifies the State Department’s Coordinator of Sanctions Office to oversee the diplomatic aspects of U.S. and U.N. sanctions with respect to Russia. The office was closed by the administration last year. according to the release.

In addition, it expresses that Executive Order 13800, issued by President Donald Trump last year to strengthen federal cybersecurity, should be implemented, according to the release. Finally, it directs the Secretary of Defense to conduct more NATO naval exercises in the Baltic and Black Sea and conduct joint research to enhance military capabilities to deter Russian aggression in those regions.

Demings, a retired Orlando police chief, serves on the House Judiciary Committee and on the Homeland Security Committee,  and is a member of the Congressional Task Force on Election Security.

“It’s time to stand up for ourselves by securing our cyber-infrastructure, preventing malicious hacks, strengthening our intelligence-gathering, working with our allies to push back against Russian aggression, and investigating and shutting down the illicit funding streams that bankroll Putin and his cronies,” she added.

Lieu serves on the House Judiciary Committee and the Foreign Affairs Committee. Stefanik  serves on the House Armed Services Committee and the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.

“Russia is an active adversary of the United States and this legislation aims to counter their ability to conduct information warfare on the American people,” Stefanik stated in the release. “As the chair of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities and a Member of the House Intelligence Committee, I am pleased to introduce this bipartisan bill to bolster our cyber defense and strengthen our partnership with NATO.”

In the release, Lieu added,“Russia is threatening our democracy. By refusing to act, the Trump Administration is allowing foreign adversaries using cutting-edge tools to sow discord and shift elections. Because we have yet to enact sufficient safeguards to protect our elections, we’re tolerating the actions of bad actors like Russia who want to chip away at our democracy. I’m grateful for Congresswoman Val Demings’ leadership on the Defend Against Russian Disinformation Act. With this bill, our government will be empowered to take considerable steps—including enforcing sanctions and strengthening federal cybersecurity standards—to defend our institutions and fight Russian disinformation.”

Their Defend Against Russian Disinformation Act relies heavily on the work of a Council of Foreign Relations report by Robert Blackwill, from the administration of President George W. Bush, and Philip Gordon, who worked for the administration of President Barack Obama, the release stated.

Randy Fine draws a second challenger in HD 53

Palm Bay Republican Rep. Randy Fine has drawn another Democratic challenger as he goes for a second term in Brevard County-based House District 53.

FiorD’Aliza Frias, also of Palm Bay, filed for the seat on Friday, joining West Melbourne Democrat Phil Moore in the primary race.

Fine had raised more than $120,000 and had nearly $100,000 in the bank for his re-election campaign as of April 30, with another $41,000 on hand for his political committee, Foundation for our Children’s Future.

Moore, who filed in January, had raised 10,339 trough the same date and had about $7,000 banked.

HD 53 covers southern Brevard County, including the communities of Grant-Valkaria, June Park, Malabar, Micco, Palm Bay and West Melbourne.

Though Republican voters only outnumber Democratic ones by a slim margin, the seat tilts heavily toward the GOP. Fine was elected to the House in 2016, winning with about 57 percent of the vote over Democrat David Kearns.

Prior to his election, the seat was held by former Republican Rep. John Tobia. He won his 2012 re-election campaign over Democrat John Paul Alvarez by 5 points and in 2014 he took 56 percent of the vote in a three-way race against Kearns and Democrat Santa Isabel Wright.

Mikaela Nix files petitions for ballot in HD 47 race

Republican Florida House candidate Mikaela Nix of Orlando announced she expects to be qualified by petition for the ballot in the contest for House District 47.

Nix, a lawyer, turned in more than 1,300 petition signatures, in about two months of campaigning. She needs 1,220 to get certified for her to make the ballot.

She becomes the second candidate to qualify in the race, following Democrat Anna Eskamani of Orlando. A second Republican, Stockton Reeves VI of Winter Park also is running. They all seek to succeed Republican state Rep. Mike Miller, who is running for Congress instead of re-election.

“We did it!! Qualifying by Petition! No paid walkers, just me and the team in two months! God is so good,” Nix stated in a Facebook post.

HD 47 covers north and central Orange County, stretching into downtown Orlando.

Val Demings: Orlando is back in federal anti-terrorism grant program

Orlando, skipped over in a federal grant program providing anti-terrorism money to big-city police the past three years, is back in the program, Democratic U.S. Rep. Val Demings announced Monday.

Demings, of Orlando, and others from Central Florida have been fighting for several years to convince the U.S. Department of Homeland Security that rules it adopted for 2014 were unfair to cities such as Orlando that have enormous swells of tourism population, making them more likely targets. Orlando had received grants from the department’s Urban Area Security Initiative prior to 2014, but not since, even with the horrific 2016 attack on the city’s popular gay nightclub Pulse, which killed 49 people.

Orlando will receive $1.5 million this year, announced Demings, a member of the House Homeland Security Committee. The grant program was created to provide funding to help with anti-terrorism planning, organization, equipment, training, and exercises in urban areas which could be targeted. Since 2014 it has gone only to the nation’s largest cities.

In total, law enforcement agencies and non-profit organizations in 32 cities around the nation—including Orlando, Tampa and Miami—will receive UASI funding this year.

“I am gratified that Orlando is back on the list to get the vital anti-terror funding we need and deserve,” Demings stated in a news release issued by her office. “Our community thrives on tourism and travel. Enormous recreational hubs are magnets for economic activity and make us a world destination, but they also make us a potential target.

“Our community has personal experience with tragedy. Every one of us, and every visitor to Central Florida, should feel safe while enjoying a day of fun, a night of entertainment, a morning of worship, or in the workplace. We must be ever-vigilant as we work to stay safe. I am working hard on the House Homeland Security Committee to make sure that Orlando has every tool it needs to prevent future attacks,” she added.

In 2016 her husband Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings and Orlando Police Chief John Mina testified before Congress urging a change in rules. Since entering office in early 2017 Congresswoman Demings and other members of the Central Florida delegation, Democratic U.S. Reps. Stephanie Murphy and Darren Soto, also have been pushing hard with the department. Prior to the 2016 election, Murphy’s predecessor, Republican U.S. Rep. John Mica, also pushed.

“Protecting our families and communities must always be a top priority. As one of the nation’s most popular destinations, Orlando needs and deserves federal support to keep residents and visitors safe,” Murphy stated in a news release issued by her office. “I’m proud to have successfully fought alongside Congresswoman Demings and Congressman Soto to bring this anti-terrorism funding back to central Florida so local law enforcement agencies and non-profit organizations have the resources they need to prevent tragedies.”

“These federal funds are critical to strengthen public safety in central Florida” said Soto. “Not too long ago, our community endured a tragic act of terrorism at the Pulse nightclub shooting, becoming one of the deadliest terrorist attacks in our nation since September 11th. UASI funds will enhance preparedness and prevention against terrorist threats and other disasters. We will continue the push for federal funds to better equip our local law enforcement and ensure safety for our residents and the millions of visitors to central Florida each year.”

In addition, because Orlando and the other cities will receive UASI funding, non-profit organizations in the cities will automatically become eligible to apply for Nonprofit Security Grants through DHS.

In Orlando, LYNX and SunRail can now apply for Transit Security Grants from the agency, while owners and operators of private bus companies that serve Orlando can apply for DHS Intercity Bus Security Grants.

“I have argued that because of our large targets and high visitor counts, Orlando should be placed higher on the list when distributing anti-terror funding,” Demings said. “I am glad that the Department of Homeland Security put my requested changes into practice, using more accurate data sources, and placing Orlando back in contention for funds to ensure that all of us can stay safe.”

The change also was pushed by members of Congress from similar cities that came in just too small to qualify under the new rules, even they host millions of tourists a year. San Antonio, for one, also got a $1.5 million grant this year.

Debra Kaplan qualifies for ballot in HD 31 race

Democrat Debra Kaplan has qualified by petition for the ballot in the House District 31 race in western Orange and northern Lake counties.

Kaplan, a business consultant and former journalist from Eustis, had 1,129 petition signatures verified, exceeding the 1,123 she needed to get on the ballot.

She faces two-term Republican state Rep. Jennifer Sullivan of Mount Dora in the November election.

Through April Kaplan had raised about $10,000 for her campaign and spent about $3,000 of that. Sullivan had raised nearly $40,000 and spent almost $19,000.

Patriot Majority USA starts Stephanie Murphy commercials in CD 7

Patriot Majority USA has begun a barrage of television commercials in Orlando supporting Democratic U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy‘s re-election campaign.

Patriot Majority USA, a liberal dark-money committee, has reserved more than 350 commercial spots for this month on Orlando’s four biggest television stations for ads that began appearing late last week, extolling Murphy’s commitments to seniors, protecting Medicare, and work across party lines.

Florida’s 7th Congressional District, quite purple, has been seen as a likely battle to attract massive amounts of outside money to influence the election, as it was in the 2016 election. It has begun.

Federal Communications Commission records show the committee is spending at least $431,824 on the ads through the end of this month. And Patriot Majority USA also already has reserved another $301,491 worth of TV spots for October and early November. The early money is split between WFTV Channel 9, WESH Chanel 2, WKMG Channel 6, and WOFL Channel 6, plus a little bit going to WESH’s MeTV channel.

Murphy, a first-term Democrat from Winter Park, is preparing for a battle in the November election, with Republicans state Rep. Mike Miller, Scott Sturgill and Vennia Francois. They’re all preparing for a shot to take back a district that was in Republican control for decades before Murphy won an upset election in 2016. Murphy also is getting a challenge from the left in the Democratic primary, from Chardo Richardson.

CD 7 covers Seminole County and north and central Orange County, stretching to downtown Orlando. Since redistricting, it has changed from a safe Republican seat to one with an ever-so-slight Democratic advantage.

Patriot Majority USA’s commercial portrays a moderate Murphy.

The committee does not fully disclose its donor base.

Alan Grayson: Things like SunRail money aren’t being brought home anymore

With SunRail holding an open house for its soon-to-open Poinciana commuter rail station, former U.S. Rep. and current congressional candidate Alan Grayson is declaring it an example of things Central Florida was able to get while he was in Congress and isn’t getting anymore.

Grayson is challenging his successor U.S. Rep. Darren Soto in the August 28 Democratic primary this year seeking to return to Congress, where he sat from 2009-’10 and again from 2013-’16. The winner will face Republican Wayne Liebnitzky in the November election.

The SunRail stations opening this summer in Meadow Woods, at Tupperware, in downtown Kissimmee and in Poinciana wouldn’t be there were it not for his efforts to get the money out of the U.S. Department of Transportation in 2013, Grayson said in an interview with FloridaPolitics.

That kind of federal money has stopped coming home to Central Florida, he added, indirectly criticizing Soto, but not naming him.

“Right now nobody is actively working to solve these problems. Most you hear is they are either ignored or they are whining without any constructive action to solve them,” Grayson charged.

Soto’s campaign spokesperson Harry Kruglik disputed Grayson’s comments, insisting that Grayson did not have the impact he claims on the original funding, that Soto was instrumental in getting state funding for that section of SunRail, and that Soto has is now working on getting funding for the next phase of SunRail.

Saturday’s SunRail open house at the Poinciana SunRail station is set for 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. It is the first of four open houses the commuter rail agency has scheduled in coming weeks. The actual train is set to begin rolling down those tracks, connecting those stations to the line now running from Sand Lake Road to DeBary, in “mid-2018.”

Grayson said he, with assistance from Republican U.S. Rep. John Mica, secured the $80 million that the federal government gave SunRail for the rail leg connecting Sand Lake through to Poinciana.

Grayson said he met with Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx in 2013 and explained that the first, north, leg of SunRail principally serves primarily middle-class, affluent and largely white areas of Central Florida, while the proposed south leg would begin to bring in lower-income and minority riders, principally Hispanic. Grayson said he also pointed out that the north leg essentially paralleled a major transportation artery, I-4, while the southern leg veered into areas that do not have any good north-south highways, Kissimmee and Poinciana.

Grayson said Foxx bought in on the plan based on those arguments, and the money appeared in President Barack Obama’s next budget.

“Everyone knows Former Reps John Mica and Corrine Brown as chair and ranking member on Transportation Committee did most of the work to bring back the SunRail funding,” Kruglik argued. “In contrast, Congressman Soto was recognized by the Orlando Sentinel and other news outlets for his work in the Florida House bringing Republicans and Democrats together for key policy and funding matters on the state level to make Sunrail happen.

Grayson charged that he’s not seeing that kind of activity by the congressional delegation since he and Mica (they were bipartisan rivals who worked together) left office. Grayson ran for the U.S. Senate in 2016 and lost in the primary. Mica lost his seat to Democratic U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy.

And charged that the region’s transportation network is lagging now as a result, with no major new projects emerging with funding, other than the toll roads.

“As far as I know, nobody is making the effort to bring in that kind of money,” Grayson said. “The way that you do that is engage, the way I did, sit down with the secretary face-to-face. I did that over and over again.

Teresa Jacobs’ state of Orange Co. finds fiscal strength, prosperity, community

Outgoing Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs‘ last State of the County speech found it “strong” with strong fiscal indicators, a robust economy, a more open, business-friendly government, and a community spirit of collaboration and unity.

“The upshot of these and so many other strategies, ladies and gentlemen, I am proud to announce that the state of Orange County is in fact very strong,” Jacobs declared.

Her speech in many ways looked back across her entire seven and a half years in office, focused on her commitments to delivering fiscal conservatism and responsible government, and helping bond and balm the community, particularly after the crises of the 2016 Pulse nightclub massacre and the 2017 Hurricane Irma.

“Together, we weathered these storms,” she said.

“Never would I have imagined the outpouring of love and unity or the depth of our strength and unity,” she said of the period after the Pulse massacre. “As a community we share a commitment to make sure the world never forgets our 49 Pulse angels.”

Yet she pointed to few if any landmark legacies for which she might be remembered, or anything that spoke of bold initiatives that could bear her name in future generations. She did not mention the International Drive urban-center planning underway, or commitments to rural and environmental preservation.

Jacobs referenced the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts, the rebuild of what is now called Camping World Stadium, and the Amway Center. Yet while Jacobs battled to make those three economically feasible, it was Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer who drove them forward. She referenced big transportation projects, notably the I-4 ultimate build-out, SunRail, and the Wekiva Parkway, projects driven largely by state and federal officials.

She also briefly discussed two areas emerging in the 2018 mayoral election as major concerns for the county, wage levels and affordable housing, but offered no specifics, other than to say a housing plan would be rolled out later this year.

Jacobs, who now is running for the position of chair of the school board, got emotional only when she spoke of the schools, specifically of school shootings, at Parkland earlier this year, and in Santa Fe, Texas, just a few hours before her speech. She broke down and needed a moment as she asked for people to remember those who are grieving,  saying, “Our community did for us. Our nation did as well. And it makes a difference.”

And she repeatedly stressed collaboration and community partnerships.

“Let’s not forget what sets this community apart in tough issues like this,” she said. “It’s our ability to collaborate. It’s our ability to set aside partisan politics and other barriers to insure that we are working in unison for the safety and welfare of our citizens.”

Jacobs had plenty to offer for her declaration that the county was “very strong:”

– When she took office in 2011, the county was still mired in the Great Recession, during which it lost $150 million in annual revenue. The county overcame that dip by 2016.

– The county’s bond and credit worthiness “are routinely rated “Triple A.”

– The county added more than 160,000 new jobs, and won 50 business projects.

– The unemployment rate fell from 10.7 percent to 3.2 percent today.

– The tourism business has boomed, and consequently the county’s tourism development tax has boomed, bridging in more than $255 million last year.

– Building permits “are being issued at a pace we haven’t seen in years,” she said: 84,000 last year, with more than $2.3 billion in valuation.

– She declared that the culture of county government has been changed, emphasizing access and accountability, beginning with her 2008 “Citizen Participation Bill of Rights,” and including a variety of internet aps to provide citizens with information and services.

– The county began addressing the opioid crisis early, in 2015, when she commissioned a heroin task force which led to numerous policy initiatives.

– The county first set out to begin hardening schools and against attacks and addressing youth mental health problems shortly after the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Connecticut.

– She led the county commission earlier this month to adopt a three-day waiting period for all firearms purchases in the county, including those at gun shows. She did not mention that in 2011 she led the commission to repeal a previous three-day waiting period requirement.

Geraldine Thompson rolling out bipartisan backing in HD 44 race

Democratic former state Sen. Geraldine Thompson is planning to roll out a bipartisan base of supporters next week following endorsements of her House District 44 campaign by fellow Democrats state Sen. Randolph Bracy and state Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith and Republican former Orange County Commissioner Scott Boyd.

Thompson’s campaign announced those and other endorsements Friday morning while announcing a campaign kickoff for next Thursday in Oakland.

Thompson, of Orlando, who served six years previously in the Florida House of Representatives representing another district, and four years in the Florida Senate, is one of several Democrats setting their sights on  the HD 44 seat covering southwest Orange County. The area has long been represented by Republicans and HD 44 is now represented by Republican state Rep. Bobby Olszewski of Winter Garden, who is seeking re-election.

She left the Florida Senate in 2016 when she ran unsuccessfully for Congress. Bracy, of Oakland, succeeded her in the senate district that covers HD 44. Bracy’s mother, longtime Central Florida civil rights leader LaVon Bracy, is Thompson’s campaign manager. Smith is of Orlando.

Boyd’s endorsement represents bipartisan backing for Thompson, though Boyd also is known for his strong rivalry with Olszewski in internal Republican politics in west Orange County.

Also expected to join Thompson at next week’s campaign kickoff event are Oakland Mayor Kathy Stark, Oakland Commissioners Joseph McMullen and Rick Polland,  Winter Garden Theatre co-founder Becky Roper, and Orange County Clerk of Courts Tiffany Moore Russell, Thompson’s campaign announced Friday.

Thompson first must get through a Democratic primary on August 28, which also includes longtime progressive activist Margaret Melanie Gold, businessman Eddy Dominguez, and real estate agent Matt Matin.

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