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Ricardo Rosselló accuses Washington of turning its back on Puerto Rico

A sometimes angry, defiant and determined Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló accused Washington D.C. Friday of “turning its back on” Americans on the island since Hurricane Maria

Rosselló called on Puerto Ricans in Florida and others to respond in elections.

Speaking to a packed room of about 500 people at the Kissimmee Civic Center, Rosselló unleashed a torrent of frustration over a nation that made promises to help the island (and its residents) and has failed to do so since.

The Puerto Rican Governor was in Florida for the first time since Hurricane Maria devastated the island on Sept. 20-21, and since hundreds of thousands of his constituents fled to Florida because so much of the island remains without power, potable water, and much of a functioning economy.

Rosselló was joined at the podium by Florida Gov. Rick Scott, Florida’s Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, U.S. Rep. Darren Soto, and Kissimmee Mayor Jose Alvarez, who all also spoke to a crowd that was so much larger than expected that the room had to be expanded twice before the program started.

The gathering also included more than a dozen other elected officials and candidates, including Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs, state Sen. Victor Torres, and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gwen Graham.

While Rosselló’s New Progressive Party is generally aligned with the stateside Republican Party of Scott, Jacobs, and President Donald Trump, and while in the early weeks after the storm he and Trump appeared to be united, he struck a strongly different tone Friday.

Rosselló said the island government and Congress and Washington struck a deal through the PROMESA act passed in 2016 to address Puerto Rico’s economy and debt, and that the island government lived up to its end with massive cuts and changes in labor laws. But after Hurricane Maria, many of those in Washington who had made promises “turned their back on Puerto Rico, and not only forgot about us, but made things increasingly worse.”

“This is where we have to draw the line in the sand,” he said. “This is where we need to be outraged, outraged, by the inadequate response for U.S. citizens who live in Puerto Rico.”

“A storm that, as evaluated by third parties, was a thousand-year storm … Maria is the most devastating natural event in the modern history of the United States of America, make no mistake about it. This is why there are challenges of unprecedented nature, and this is why we needed a response of unprecedented nature,” Rossello said.

He spoke of Puerto Ricans’ love for American citizenship, but said Puerto Ricans have been treated as second-class citizens for a century, and he accused Congress and leadership in Washington of breaking promises just in the past few months.

“We fight the same wars, we have the same citizenship and we deserve that equal and fair treatment. After the storm, when the world was watching Puerto Rico, people started to say, ‘Hey? How come the response is so fast in some places in the United States yet so slow and so filled with obstacles in Puerto Rico?'”

Rosselló drew a standing ovation when he finished the 26-minute speech.

In his speech, Scott pointed out all of the things Florida has done to help both the island and the evacuees, from sending utilities experts and crews to the island to widespread waivers of state rules so that Puerto Ricans could more easily settle in to live in Florida. Rosselló also announced $1 million is being added to CareerSource to help Puerto Rico evacuees find work in Florida.

Rosselló thanked him for that and acknowledged that all the work he and his staff have done for the island, and said the channels of communication with the island’s government, “means a lot to us and the people of Puerto Rico.”

But he heaped more praise on Nelson, who likely will face Scott for the 2018 U.S. Senate race in Florida, declaring, “It’s hard to find a better friend than Sen. Nelson has been for the people of Puerto Rico.”

Rosselló then said similar things about Soto and Alvarez, and called on Puerto Ricans in Florida and across the country to remember who has been their friend, and who has not, and to send a message by registering to vote, and then voting.

He called on the six million Puerto Ricans in the United States, including more than a million in Florida, to exercise their power to “make things right, not only on the island, but to make things right for yourself as well. We have this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity right now.”

Rosselló said America has “no moral standing” to preach democracy for Cuba, Venezuela, Iraq and Afghanistan until it addresses full citizenship for Puerto Ricans.

“How do we make this happen? We make this happen not just by talking, but by acting. And I am committing myself here to coming to Florida and to other states as well to organize our communities, so that we can make them know what the issues are, and make the distinctions between those have been friends to Puerto Rico, and those that have turned their back, and we can be influential in the up and coming midterm elections.”

Alvarez, Soto and Nelson all set the tone in criticism of the federal government and Congress in its Puerto Rico response.

The Democrats decried everything from slow recovery efforts — 40 percent of islanders are still without power more than 100 days after the storm — to the passage last month of a tax reform package that penalizes Puerto Rico with a new excise tax.

With immediacy, Soto said FEMA is telling evacuees in Florida that their housing vouchers are being canceled Saturday because the agency determined their homes back on the island are habitable, even though some still have no electricity, and some do not even have water.

Bill Sublette picks up fundraising momentum in Orange County mayor’s race

Orange County School Board Chair Bill Sublette picked up money momentum in December in the contest for the Orange County mayor’s office, out-raising three other major candidates who all had decent but not great months of campaign fundraising.

Sublette’s campaign reported he had raised $30,275 in December, bringing his campaign total to $100,700 so far, with just under $99,000 left in the bank at the end of the year. In addition, his new independent political committee, The Committee for Orange County’s Future, reported raising another $15,000, with no expenses, putting his combined available funds at $114,000.

That still places him well behind Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings and businessman Rob Panepinto overall, but both of them, as well as Orange County Commissioner Pete Clarke, raised between $17,000 and $25,000 during the final month of 2017.

Sublette opened his campaign with a strong October, followed by a more modest November. His December haul included 69 checks, the majority of them from individuals, including 14 checks for the maximum $1,000 donation. He also contributed $1,250 to his own campaign on Dec. 31, pushing his official campaign over the $100,000 mark. The Committee for Orange County’s Future started with $10,000 from Freedom Network Management of Orlando, and $5,000 from SGM Engineering.

Demings raised $20,225 during the month, bringing his total donations to $325,000 in six months of campaigning. Minus expenses, he finished the year with $293,000 in the bank.

Panepinto, president of Florentine Strategies of Winter Park and past chairman of Orlando Inc., the Orlando regional chamber of commerce, raised $17,101 in his official campaign fund and another $8,000 in his independent political committee, Vision Orange County. Combined the two committees have raised $312,000 and finished the year with a combined $246,989.

Clarke reported raising $17,160 in December. That brought his total raised to $36,000, and left him with about $33,000 in the bank at the end of the year.

Tom Stroup files to run for Orange County sheriff

Retired 32-year veteran of the Orange County Sheriff’s Office Thomas Stroup has filed to run for Orange County Sheriff, the first major candidate into the contest to succeed Jerry Demings, who has held the job for nine years and is running for mayor this year.

Stroup, 60, a Windermere Republican, retired three years ago as a captain in the Orange County Sheriff’s Office after handling numerous assignments through his career from working at the jail to traffic, and from narcotics to special operations, including a tenure as commander of SWAT, a unit with which he participated in thousands of missions.

Stroup filed Tuesday to run in what still is listed as a 2020 election for sheriff, though that is expected to be moved up to a special election this year once Demings formally qualifies for the mayor’s office race.

The sheriff’s office also is expected to draw the candidacy of Orlando Police Chief John Mina. Stroup said he and Mina know each other well and he called the police chief to let him know he’d be running, and they wished each other the best, vowing respectful campaigns.

Stroup joined the Orange County Sheriff’s Office in 1981 and said his story at that point and since has been one of second chances, a concept that he has since embraced for everyone he’s worked with, including those he’s arrested. As a young man with a GED, Stroup was busting rocks in a quarry and picking tobacco in Kentucky when someone steered him to something better than anything he’d imagined, a chance at a police job. Eventually he returned to Orlando, got hired at the sheriff’s office, moved up through ranks, and obtained more and more education, including a master’s degree from the University of Central Florida.

“My whole life has been about second chances. I try to extend that to others as a rule,” he said.

Seminole County conservation district condemns tree-rule preemption bills

The two bills moving through the Florida legislature aiming to preempt local rules and ordinances on tree removal got a vote of resounding opposition Tuesday evening from the Seminole County Soil & Water Conservation District.

The Seminole district became the first county-wide agency to vote formal opposition of House Bill 521 and Senate Bill 574, as the district supervisors debated concerns that the bills are intended to protect development from local ordinances and regulations.

The bills preempt to state regulation of trimming, removal, or harvesting of trees and timber on private property; and prohibit certain local governmental actions relating to trimming or removal of trees or timber and burial of vegetative debris on private property. The sponsors, Republican state Sen. Greg Steube of Sarasota and Republican state Rep. Katie Edwards-Walpole of Plantation have promoted the bills as restoring property rights.

Seminole Conservation District Vice Chair Ed Young argued the bills are intended to remove another local control over development. He maintained that among other ramifications, the bills could prevent cities and counties from requiring green space buffers to be maintained around parks, including state and national parks.

In the past couple of years it has become increasingly common for local opposition to state preemptions on environmental matters to take hold in Seminole County. Young said the Seminole Board of County Commissioners and cities in Seminole County also may be considering resolutions to do so, based on home rule concerns, and on conservation concerns.

Orange County appealing to Supreme Court in battle over non-partisan or partisan elections

A three-year fight over non-partisan elections in Orange County may be headed for the Florida Supreme Court — with the prospect of affecting county elections throughout the state.

Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs announced Monday she wants the state’s high court to consider whether Orange County — and other charter counties like it — can decide to make key county-wide elected offices such as sheriff, tax collector and property appraiser become non-partisan in elections.

Under Jacobs’ direction, Orange County tried to do so, twice, with county-wide charter amendment elections in 2014 and ’16. Both times voters overwhelmingly agreed with her effort to take partisan labels out of elections for those offices.

But the courts, most recently Florida’s Fifth District Court of Appeals last month, held against the results of those charter amendment elections. The courts ruled that Orange County does not have the authority to take offices initially created as partisan-election offices by the state, and transform them into non-partisan, even by asking voters.

On Monday, in announcing she and Orange County were appealing to the Florida Supreme Court, Jacobs said she was pursuing “the will of the voters;” and also fighting for county rights, for Orange County and other charter counties that already have taken, or might wish to take, partisan divides out of county-office elections.

“What’s at stake if we let that [appeals court] decision stand? Well, first and foremost, at stake is a very clear and decisive will of the [Orange  County] electorate, expressed by an overwhelming 70 percent, not once, but twice in the last three years, will not be honored, will not be upheld,” Jacobs said. “Second, the citizens of Orange County and other counties in this district will have less rights of self government than all other charter counties in the state of Florida. How can that possibly be right?”

Her appeal is a bit of a gambit that could have statewide ramifications: There currently are several charter counties that have what Jacobs wants in Orange County. None of them, however, is in the jurisdiction of Florida’s Fifth District Court of Appeals. If the Florida Supreme Court rules against her and upholds the lower courts’ decisions against Orange County, the ruling could make law affecting all Florida counties.

Jacobs insisted, as she has all along, that she is not fighting a partisan battle. Rather, she has insisted she wants to ensure that county voters can fill county-wide offices without partisan races, which she insists makes local government less-partisan in its approach to both elections and day-to-day governing. In Orange, the mayor’s office and those of county commissioners are non-partisan, as are municipal offices, school board offices and others. County-wide offices for sheriff, tax collector, property appraiser, clerk of courts, and supervisor of elections are partisan, typically pitting Democrats and Republicans in elections.

On Monday Jacobs also went to lengths to talk about the rising prominence of independent voters, who now make up more than 30 percent of the county’s voting base. She insisted she is fighting to make sure voters don’t have to consider parties when voting, something apparently more and more popular among voters.

Yet the fight has very real partisan overtones, and Jacobs’ opponents insist it’s been partisan from the beginning. Jacobs is Republican, and Republicans controlled both the County Commission and the Orange County Charter Review Commission when those boards decided to ask voters to make the county-wide offices non-partisan.

They did so during an era when Orange County Republicans are losing their voting base, and Democrats are gaining. Today the county’s voter rolls are 42 percent Democrat, 31 percent independent or “other,” and 27 percent Republican.

Before the questions could even appear on the ballot, first in 2014, then in 2016, Democrats in several of the affected offices, who saw the effort possibly as a Republican way to make them more vulnerable in future elections, sued to stop the charter amendment elections. When the charter-amendment elections went forward anyway, they continued to pursue the cases to overturn the results, contending the questions should never have appeared on the ballots. Specifically, Sheriff Jerry Demings, Tax Collector Scott Randolph, and Property Appraiser Rick Singh sued.

Randolph called Jacobs’ decision Monday to appeal to the Supreme Court “a bad decision and a shame, just like when she appealed it the first time. I think we fully expect the Supreme Court to rule just like the other two courts have on that issue.

“Trust me, this has nothing to do, in her mind, with voters,” Randolph alleged. “This is about protecting the Republican Party’s chances of winning races in Orange County.

“But at the end of the day the charter amendment is unconstitutional. It should have never been put on the ballot in the first place. And at the end of the day, even the mayor has to follow the law,” he continued.

Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló coming to Kissimmee, Orlando

The governor of Puerto Rico is coming to Kissimmee and Orlando Friday and Saturday to meet with Puerto Ricans in Central Florida and provide information about his administration’s efforts toward recovery from Hurricane Maria and preparations for displaced islanders to return home.

Gov. Ricardo Rosselló will be leading a town hall-style meeting in Kissimmee on Friday and will be appearing at various events on Saturday.

Kissimmee and Orlando have received the bulk of Puerto Rico evacuees who have fled the island to Florida since Hurricane Maria devastated the island Sept. 20-21. The Florida Division of Emergency Management reports that nearly 300,000 people have come from Puerto Rico to Florida, primarily through Miami and Orlando, though it is unclear how many have stayed.

Rosselló will be holding a town hall at 10 a.m. at the Kissimmee Civic Center. He’ll also be meeting with various Puerto Rico leaders and business owners in Central Florida on Friday Saturday.

Rosselló will be explaining disaster relief efforts on the island and benefits available there and in Florida, answering questions, and seeking to provide assurances about when displaced Puerto Ricans can to return to their homes, said Luis Figueroa, former Florida regional director for the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration.

Anna Eskamani gets Orlando firefighters’ union endorsement in HD 47

Democrat Anna Eskamani announced Monday that she has won the endorsement of the Orlando Professional Firefighters Local 1365 in her campaign to be elected to Florida’s House District 47 seat.

Local 1365 of the International Association of Fire Fighters represents more than 500 firefighters and communication specialists in the Orlando Fire Department.

“Anna has shown a willingness to stand up for firefighter’s issues and the challenges we face as first responders. Anna will bring a fresh, new perspective to the Florida House that we believe will positively shape Orlando’s future for years to come. The Orlando Professional Firefighters are proud to call her our friend and endorse her candidacy for Florida House District 47,” Ron Glass, president of the Orlando Professional Firefighters, IAFF Local 1365, stated in a news release issued by Eskamani’s campaign.

Eskamani, of Orlando, is a senior director at Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida. She faces Winter Park businessman Stockton Reeves, a Republican, seeking to succeed Republican state Rep. Mike Miller of Winter Park.

“I am humbled to have the support of the Orlando Professional Firefighters. These men and women put their lives on the line for us each and every day,” Eskamani said in the news release. “They are real life superheroes, and I am committed to ensuring that all public safety workers and emergency responders are protected with strong pensions, fair wages, and good benefits. PTSD is a disorder that requires greater prioritization, and as policy makers we must take intentional steps to provide affordable and nonjudgmental mental health resources available to all Floridians — and especially to those who are so often in harm’s way.”

Mike Miller wants White House invite for undefeated UCF Knights

State Rep. Mike Miller is on board for the UCF Knights getting a share of the college football national title, or at least some of the perks.

In a letter to the White House the Orlando Republican and congressional candidate suggested President Donald Trump invite the Knights to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue “for the traditional White House ceremony.”

Miller tweeted out his letter Friday earning plenty of likes and retweets, as well as some vocal support from the UCF faithful.

“The University of Central Florida Knights are the only undefeated team in college football’s Division I Football Bowl Subdivision. The odds that the Knights overcame to reach college football perfection are unprecedented,” he wrote.

Miller went on to recap team’s season, including the adversity they faced when Hurricane Irma tore through the Sunshine State at the start of the football season, causing the Knights to cancel a pair of games and play 11 straight weeks with no bye.

“This did not stop the Knights from winning every game this season, including winning the American Athletic Conference (AAC) title game,” he wrote.

Miller also said the Knights “shocked the college football world” when they defeated the Auburn Tigers 34-27 in the Peach Bowl on New Year’s Day. The SEC West champions handed the two teams in the facing off in the Monday national title game – the Alabama Crimson Tide and the Georgia Bulldogs – their only losses of the season.

“UCF is the only undefeated champion in college football, and deserve recognition befitting of champions. On behalf of the people of Central Florida, I appreciate your consideration of this request,” he concluded.

Miller is the first to put pen to paper asking for the Knights to get a trip to the White House, but Florida public relations guru Kevin Cate has suggested the Florida Legislature pass a resolution marking the historic season by proclaiming UCF national champions, and a few lawmakers have said they’re on board with the plan.

“I’m normally an apologist for the #SEC, but my last football season at @AuburnU, we were undefeated and denied a shot at the national title,” Cate tweeted. “Not fun.”

 

Women Under Forty PAC endorses Anna Eskamani

The Women Under Forty Political Action Committee, a non-partisan group that supports young women candidates, has endorsed Democrat Anna Eskamani in her bid to be elected in Florida’s House District 47, her campaign announced Friday.

The WUFPAC has been around since 1999 promoting women candidates age 40 or under who are running for state or federal office. In recent election cycles it has made contributions of up to $2,000 to the campaigns of candidates it backs. In 2016 it supported seven Republicans and seven Democrats nationwide with contributions.

This year, prior to Eskamani’s selection, WUFPAC had announced the endorsements of 14 candidates nationwide. Eskamani is the first in Florida this year.

Eskamani, a Planned Parenthood official from Orlando, seeks election in HD 47 to succeed Republican state Rep. Mike Miller who is running for Congress. Winter Park businessman Stockton Reeves is running for the Republicans.

“Anna is a dedicated member of her community, and she is committed to fight for those she hopes to serve,” WUFPAC President Atalie Ebersole stated in a news release issued by Eskamani’s campaign. “We are excited to support her on her mission to move Florida forward.”

The group declares a two-fold mission for its efforts: To help elect more young women to elected office so that young women have an equal voice in shaping public policy; and to build the seniority of women in Congress by electing women at a young age.

“There is such an urgent need for more female representation in political spaces. Women are half the population, yet we represent only 25 percent of state legislatures across the country, including right here in Florida,” Eskamani stated in the news release. “I believe firmly that increasing female representation will lead not only to better policy making, but less cases of sexual harassment and improved reporting systems too. I am excited for the opportunity to lift women’s voices in policy making, and am honored to be paving the way for more women to run for office too.”

Rob Panepinto celebrating Three Kings Day with food distribution effort

Orange County mayoral candidate Rob Panepinto will participate Saturday in an effort to give away thousands of meals to families displaced by Puerto Rico, honoring Three Kings Day in Orlando.

Panepinto’s mayoral campaign is partnering with Feeding Children Everywhere and Clean the World. He’ll be working with more than 120 other volunteers to package 3,000 hygiene kits and 20,000 meals that will be distributed to families throughout Central Florida.

The effort will take place at the Clean the World Global Headquarters on Landstreet Road in Orlando.

Panepinto faces Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings, Orange County School Board Chairman Bill Sublette, and Orange County Commissioner Pete Clarke in the contest to succeed Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs.

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