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Kissimmee chamber chief John Newstreet enters HD 44 race

Orlando Republican John Newstreet, chief executive officer of the Kissimmee/Osceola County Chamber of Commerce and a former aide to U.S. Sens. Mel Martinez and Marco Rubio, announced he’s entering the House District 44 race going to a special election this summer.

“I’m honored by the number of people in the community, and across the state, who have encouraged me to enter this race and represent West Orange County in the Florida House,” Newstreet stated in a news release from his campaign. “I believe I’m prepared and qualified to successfully champion the conservative values that will grow our economy, strengthen our schools, keep our taxes low, cut job-killing regulations and protect our Second Amendment rights.”

Newstreet enters a race in which former Winter Garden Commissioner Bobby Olszewski had established himself as the early front-runner, even before Republican state Rep. Eric Eisnaugle who is leaving to take an appointment from Gov. Rick Scott as a judge on Florida’s 5th District Court of Appeals.

Republicans covet as a potential springboard to the House speaker’s position because of its relative safety, and because the special election winner will have a leg up on the freshmen of 2018. Dr. Usha Jain of Orlando also is in the Republican primary race.

The Democratic candidate is Orlando businessman Paul Chandler.

No dates have been announced for the special primary or special general election for the seat, but they are expected this summer.

Newstreet is a native Floridian who grew up in a home of nine children, and says that gave him the ability to “bring people together for a common goal.” Newstreet also is a veteran of the U.S. Coast Guard and a graduate of University of Central Florida. His degree is in business administration.

“My time in the Coast Guard was a tremendous gift that helped shape who I am today,” Newstreet said in the release. “Should I earn the trust of the voters, I will be a passionate advocate for our veterans and our military service men and women.”

A resident of the Orange Tree community in the Dr. Phillips region of Orlando, Newstreet began his professional career as a financial advisor. He also has served as state director for the American Legion. For the past three years he has led the Kissimmee/Osceola County Chamber of Commerce. That group’s board voted unanimously to allow him to run for the state representative post.

His volunteer service includes numerous charities such as Give Kids the World, as well as a leader for business and industry at the Osceola County Emergency Operations Center. Newstreet currently attends Holy Family Catholic Church.

“Serving community, lending a helping hand and doing what’s right is what we were taught growing up,” Newstreet said. “Those are the same values I will take with me to Tallahassee as West Orange’s next State Representative.”

Adam Putnam brings ‘Florida First’ tour to Altamonte Springs

Republican gubernatorial candidate and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam brought his “Florida First” campaign to the Orlando area for the first time Tuesday afternoon, promising conservative, pro-growth values and belittling liberals he expects to go after him.

The fifth-generation Floridian and former state and U.S. lawmaker continued the opening themes of his brand new campaign, declaring “Florida exceptionalism” is why people want to visit and move here and vowing to promote that as Florida’s governor, and to prevent it from turning into a liberal and high-tax bastion like California, Illinois and New York.

“I believe there is a special obligation to be a Floridian, to keep Florida special, knowing that people from all over the world want to visit or move here. I want to Florida to be more than a prize for a life well-lived someplace else. I want Florida to be the launch pad for the American dream!” Putnam said to a warm reception of more than 100 people at the Eastmonte Civic Center in Altamonte Springs.

“And it can be that if we put Florida first!” he declared.

In his speech Putnam broke little new ground compared with what he’s been saying since he kicked off his campaign before 2,000 people in his hometown of Bartow last month.

In a press availability afterwards, Putnam said there is plenty in the 2017-18 budget just passed by the Florida Legislature that he would veto, though he was not specific; he criticized the Legislature for not reaching a deal on a medical marijuana enactment bill; said he would vote as a member of the Florida Cabinet to pardon the “Groveland Four,” as requested by the Legislature.

He also deflected a question about whether he would, as governor, invoke a states’ waiver included in the American Health Care Act to opt Florida out of having to cover pre-existing conditions. As a former member of Congress, Putnam expressed skepticism that the waiver will still be in the bill when it leaves the U.S. Senate, and said he hopes the final bill includes coverage for pre-existing conditions.

Putnam begins his campaign with a 10-day, 22-stop tour that’s hitting both big cities and small towns.

So far he has no real competition for the Republican primary, and his independent political committee, armed with almost $8 million to start, may intimidate away all but the most courageous. The Democrats, meanwhile, are heading for a primary brawl, with three major candidates so far, former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, and Winter Park businessman Chris King, and others mulling the race.

Putnam spoke of conservative leadership over the past six years fueling the Florida economy, painting images of hotel maids opening their own bed-and-breakfasts, and of the Space Coast being even better with private space industry emerging there than it ever was when it relied on NASA.

“American exceptionalism, Florida exceptionalism, is still very much alive and well in the Sunshine State in 2017 and it will be even stronger when I get elected,” he said.

“Florida, with limited government, a focus on Constitutional freedom, liberty, law and order, Florida is the destination of choice for people to come here to find their piece of the American dream,” he added.

He called for protection of gun rights and boasted that the state’s number of concealed weapons permits dramatically increased under his commission, and argued that is a key reason why Florida’s crime rate has fallen.

Putnam also called for the state to not only push technical and vocational education more, but said the state needs to do a better job of advising students of the high-wage jobs they can pursue with vocational education.

He also vowed great support and homage to be paid to service members, veterans, police and other first responders.

“And our men and women in law enforcement, the military, and those who serve our nation and their families will know that Florida is the most veteran and military and law enforcement friendly state in the entire country, hands down,” Putnam said.

Val Demings, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen spend Mother’s Day with women troops in Iraq, Afghanistan

Orlando’s U.S. Rep. Val Demings and Miami’s U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen made a week-long visit to visit troops in Afghanistan and Iraq this week, including a Mother’s Day visit at which Demings was able to deliver cards from students in her Florida’s 10th Congressional District.

Demings, a Democrat, and Ros-Lehtinen were part of a bipartisan group of members of Congress to make the tour to conduct oversight of U.S. operations in Afghanistan and Iraq with a focus on the contribution, efforts, and concerns of women in the United States Armed Forces and local women.

“This was my first trip to Afghanistan and Iraq, and it was such an honor to meet with our female troops and commanders, and see firsthand the difference they are making in Afghanistan and Iraq all while protecting our homeland,” Demings stated in a news release issued by her office.

The delegation met with U.S. female service members, toured local businesses, participated in roundtables with Afghan Female Police and Soldiers, met with Iraqi women leaders, and humanitarian leaders. Others in the group in clouded U.S. Reps. Martha Roby, an Alabama Republican; Susan Davis, a California Democrat; Susan Brooks, an Indiana Republican; and members of the House Armed Services Committee.

“I’m encouraged by the work being done through USAID to enhance and further the lives of women in Afghanistan and Iraq. We must continue to invest in these important programs, that help to enrich the lives of families and give them hope for the future,” Demings stated.

The Mother’s Day cards were delivered to women in the service.

“We just wanted to show them how much we appreciate the sacrifices they make to serve us, not just on Mother’s Day, but every day,” Demings said.

Bobby Olszewski earns Mike Haridopolos’ endorsement in HD 44

Republican Bobby Olszewski has received the endorsement of former Florida Senate President Mike Haridopolos in the state House District 44 special election race.

The nod from Haridopolos adds to that of his Florida Legislature fellow leader House Speaker Steve Crisafulli and about three dozen local leaders from west Orange County, where HD 44 is located, who’ve come out in support of Olszewski.

A former Winter Garden commissioner, Olszewski wants to succeed former state Rep. Eric Eisnaugle, who left after this year’s Legislative Session ended two weeks ago because he was appointed to an open judge’s seat on Florida’s 5th District Court of Appeals.

No special election has been scheduled yet, but a primary is likely to be called for mid-summer and a general election shortly after that.

So far there are two other candidates in HD 44, both of whom entered the race before Eisnaugle left office creating the need for a special election. Fellow Republican Dr. Usha Jain Orlando said that she, like Olszewski, would refile for the special election, so that would create a Republican primary. The only Democratic candidate is Paul Chandler of Orlando, who also is committed to running in the special election.

There are a couple of other big-name Republicans who have said they are considering getting in: former Orange County Commissioner Scott Boyd, whose district covered much of the same area as HD 44; and lawyer Will McBride, who is a former U.S. Senate candidate.

“Bobby Olszewski is a community leader who is dedicated to bringing conservative principles to the Florida House of Representatives,” Haridopolos said in a news release issued by Olszewski’s campaign. “I’ve known Bobby for years and I believe there is no one better suited to stand up for West Orange County in Tallahassee. Bobby will dedicate himself to serving his constituents and being an effective voice for his community in the state’s Capitol.”

Equality Florida launches Pulse commemorative action campaign

Florida’s largest LGBT advocacy group Equality Florida is launching a #HonorThemWithAction campaign in advance of the June 12 commemoration of people killed, wounded and affected by the Pulse nightclub massacre.

The effort at this point aims at creating online rallying opportunities for people interested in contributing time and action to the myriad events being planned for June 11 and 12 both in Florida and nationally, and to find ways to unite in resistance to discrimination and hatred of gays, said Equality Florida Public Policy Director Hannah Willard.

Equality of Florida launched a website, honorthemwithaction.org, as a starting point, along with encouraging the use of the hashtag in social media.

It’s also part of an ongoing effort to remind people that Pulse was targeted because it was a gay nightclub, and the night of the massacre was Latin night.

“The Pulse massacre was a shooting in a popular gay nightclub on Latin night in the middle of Pride Month, and the victims were overwhelmingly LGBTQ and Latinx young people,” Willard said in a news release issued by the organization. “We have to name the communities that were attacked, and we must ensure the lasting memorial is the real change of uprooting anti-LGBTQ hatred, discrimination and violence in our culture.”

She and Nadine Smith, Equality of Florida’s executive director, noted that an outpouring of involvement occurred in the days and weeks following the massacre, with more than 850 events around the country. They are seeking to get organizers of those events recommitted, and to help interested people plug in.

A national LGBTQ march is planned for the National Mall in Washington D.C. on June 11, with regional and local marches projected for around the country.

Stephanie Murphy: Russian interference in U.S. elections ‘direct assault on our democracy’

Democratic U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy renewed her call Friday for independent, non-partisan investigations into Russia’s involvement in last fall’s elections, calling the Russian activities “a direct assault on our democracy.”

Speaking at the Winter Park Chamber of Commerce in her hometown, the freshman congresswoman pressed her background, interests and house committee assignments in national security to express her concerns about Russia’s role, and her questions about President Donald Trump‘s firing Tuesday of FBI Director James Comey, who was investigating it.

“I’m alarmed by the consensus view among our intelligence community that the Russian government interfered in our democracy. And here’s what we know: that Russian President Vladimir Putin personally ordered an influence campaign, in an attempt to sway our presidential election,” she said. “But what we don’t know is who, necessary, was involved, and whether Americans were actively participating or had knowledge of the Russian activities.

“So make no mistake about it, Russian attempts to sway our election constitutes a direct assault on our democracy, and they can’t go on,” she said. “And we have to take action to prevent this type of interference again.”

Murphy delivered a broad-based speech in which she also talked about the need to fix, not replace the current health care system, making sure to provide access and also to find ways to bring down costs to small businesses and individuals. The comments harkened to concerns she heard raised earlier this week in a Sanford Chamber of Commerce meeting, but also reflect some of her policy statements that have called for finding ways to reduce costs.

She also raised her concerns about North Korea, and noted that the CIA just announced creation of a broad intelligence review committee that mirrors what she pushed for in a bill she introduced last month. Yet she criticized the Trump White House’s “lack of tiered strategy” for North Korea and other foreign affairs matters.

Those comments and many others were drawn from a theme Murphy raised about she said she’s hearing from constituents, about growing uncertainty.

“The overarching theme delivered to me by nearly every constituent in my district is uncertainty. They recognize that progress in Central Florida and the nation has seen over the last few years… But I think with Congress in disarray, the war in the Middle East still ongoing, growing threats in North Korea, health care facing dramatic changes, that people are feeling uncertainty and concern,” she said.

“Uncertainty isn’t good for families and seniors, and it definitely isn’t good for businesses and the stock market, and it’s definitely not good for our allies like Israel, who depend on a strong and stable America,” she said.

But she offered optimism based on the American people, saying “our brave service members, diplomats and intelligence officers will always do what it takes to keep us safe…. I also think the hard-working spirit of the American people will overcome any obstacle. We are a nation that is already great, and it’s because of the internal fortitude and American values.”

But she also pressed on about the “crisis in our government” she centered on Trump, the allegations about Russia, and Comey’s firing.

“The timing of this termination is unusually suspect, and I think we need to know. We need to follow the facts where they lead, and we can hold those who broke the law, accountable, and protect the sanctity of our elections and get back to governing,” she said.

Daniel Webster endorses Bobby Olszewski in HD 44 race

Republican House District 44 candidate Bobby Olszewski has picked up another endorsement in his quest to win the special election this summer, with the backing of Republican U.S. Rep. Daniel Webster.

Webster represented the area of HD 44 in southwest Orange County for decades, as a member of the Florida House, the Florida Senate, and a member of Congress, until congressional redistricting forced him to move a few miles into Lake County to run in another district in order to stay in Congress.

His endorsement gives Olszewski’s campaign another shot of steam as other potential Republican candidates, including Will McBride and Scott Boyd, contemplate jumping into what will be a short campaign season. Earlier this week Olszewski, a former city commissioner in Webster’s former hometown of Winter Garden, received the endorsement of former Florida House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, to go along with dozens of endorsements from local officials in western Orange.

No dates have been set for the special primary and general elections, which are now needed because of the resignation of Republican state Rep. Eric Eisnaugle, who was appointed last week to a judge’s open seat on Florida’s 5th District Court of Appeals.

Paul Chandler of Orlando is running for the Democrats. Another Republican is in the race, Dr. Usha Jain, who, like Olszewski, ran unsuccessfully last year for Boyd’s opening seat on the Orange County Board of Commissioners.

Webster and Olszewski have known each other for many years.

“I have represented this community as a U.S. Congressman, a Florida State Senator, and a former speaker of the Florida House so I’m proud to support my friend Bobby Olszewski for State House District 44,” Webster stated in a news release issued by Olszewski’s campaign. “Bobby is a man of faith and a true conservative who truly sacrifices his time, treasure, and talents to serve west Orange County. He will be a great advocate for all of us in Tallahassee and I fully endorse his candidacy.”

 

Orlando is the number one destination in the U.S.

Visit Orlando announced Thursday that a record 68 million visitors came to Orlando last year, making it the number one destination in the United States.

The number was released during Visit Orlando’s annual Travel & Tourism Luncheon at the Hilton Orlando.

“Orlando’s visitation number represents the emotional connections we make with millions all over the world,” said George Aguel, president and CEO of Visit Orlando. “The love they show us never ceases to inspire us and led us to launch a yearlong campaign about two important words: thank you.”

To mark the occasion, Visit Orlando achieved a Guinness World Records title by gathering 3,144 handwritten thank you notes from local attractions and hotels to mail to visitors that supported the Orlando destination. The cards will be mailed to visitors that used Visit Orlando’s social media channels, destination websites and member programs.

“Orlando and Orange County continue to be the number one vacation destination in the nation,” said Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs. “But this wouldn’t be possible without the many millions of guests who choose to come here year after year for our world-renowned attractions and entertainment options.”

Judge dismisses suit challenging All Aboard Florida; both sides see victory

A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit challenging a federal decision supporting All Aboard Florida for its high-speed passenger train project, and both the train company and its opponents hailed the ruling as a victory.

U.S. District Judge Christopher R. Cooper dismissed as moot Wednesday the law suit that Indian River and Martin counties brought against the U.S. Department of Transportation alleging that the federal agency should not have allocated up to $1.75 billion in non-taxable private activity bonds to help finance a railroad project from West Palm Beach to Orlando.

The company, now known as Brightline, intends to start private passenger trains from West Palm Beach to Miami this year, and plans to extend the line northward, then westward to Orlando some day.

But after the lawsuit was filed, the company withdrew its request for the $1.75 billion in bonds and filed for and received a new allocation for $600 million, largely to finance the West Palm Beach to Miami route. Because the U.S. Department of Transportation’s award of $1.75 billion is gone, the challenge is moot, Brightline argued, and Cooper agreed.

This is the third suit against All Aboard Florida that has been dismissed on such grounds. In a statement released Thursday, the company said:

“All Aboard Florida believes Judge Cooper properly dismissed the case, and we appreciate his thoughtful review and articulation of the facts and the law. This is another loss in a series of lawsuits that has cost Treasure Coast residents almost $6 million. We look forward to working with the Treasure Coast in a cooperative and more productive fashion as we advance this important infrastructure project.”

But opponents said the wording of Cooper’s decision should send a warning to All Aboard Florida/Brightline about any future attempts to raise money for the northern route.

The two counties had argued that federal officials failed to fully assess environmental impact of the proposed train route through their counties on the northern route, which they contended was a violation of the National Environmental Policy Act.

Cooper appeared to agree with that concern, according to an interpretation issued by the All Aboard Florida opposition group, Citizens Against Rail Expansion in Florida.

“For these reasons, the Court’s earlier ruling casts considerable doubt on whether DOT would adhere to any previous suggestions that PAB allocations are categorically excluded from NEPA’s coverage,” Cooper wrote. “And even if DOT were to do so, Plaintiffs could readily call it to the carpet by renewing their lawsuits in this Court.”

And citing the different policies under former President Barack Obama and President Donald Trump, Cooper predicted that it would be unlikely the U.S. Department of Transportation would take the same action.

“Any decision on a future application by AAF will be made by entirely different officials in the new administration. While the new administration has not publicly opined on the AAF project (as far as the Court is aware) its early actions with respect to publicly-funded rail transp01iation in general suggest that it might take a different track,” he wrote.

Declared CARE Florida:

“CARE FL congratulates Martin and Indian River Counties for their legal efforts and considers this lawsuit a resounding win for the residents of the Treasure Coast and North Palm Beach regions. AAF’s insatiable need for public subsidies continues and the decision in this matter doesn’t advance their quest.”

Wayne Liebnitzky blasts Darren Soto for ‘BananaRepublicans’ tweet

Republican congressional candidate Wayne Liebnitzky called out Democratic U.S. Rep. Darren Soto by charging that a tweet the congressman sent using the hashtag “BananaRepublicans” is divisive and beneath the office.

On Wednesday, Soto, of Florida’s 9th Congressional District, covering parts of Orange, Osceola and Polk counties, tweeted criticism of President Donald Trump‘s firing of FBI Director James Comey that declared “#Trump & #BananaRepublicans are destroying our democracy. Need #IndependentProseuctor to investigate #RussianHacking.”

In a Facebook post responding, and then in an interview, Liebnitzky, who lost to Soto last November and is seeking a rematch in 2018, said he should be ashamed of using a reference insulting Republicans in the district.

“Is calling the Republican Party the ‘#BananaRepublic’ professional and the way that an elected official should be carrying himself? Last time I check U.S. Rep Darren Soto, some of your constituents are Republicans,” he wrote. He ended his own post with the hashtag #politicsasusual.

In an interview, Liebnitzky said the country needs someone who fights against partisan rancor, not someone who fosters it.

“Once you represent people, you’ve got to say this partisan politics is horrible,” Liebnitzky said. “It has gotten worse.”

Soto responded Thursday by explaining his reference was to those Republicans in power who are standing behind or staying silent on the controversial firing of Comey.

“President Trump firing someone investigating his office was akin to a dictator from a third world country,” Soto said. “And so that term was used specifically to highlight the outrageous nature of firing the man who is investigating you.”

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