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John Newstreet urges court to consider potential for nullified votes if Paul Chandler is disqualified

Describing the potential for legal chaos and a “sore loser” from Tuesday’s Republican primary to seek to invalidate next Tuesday’s primary, Republican House District 44 candidate John Newstreet sought Thursday to intervene in a lawsuit that seeks to disqualify the only Democrat running, Paul Chandler.

Newstreet filed a motion with Florida’s 2nd Judicial Circuit Court in Tallahassee Thursday seeking to be recognized as an intervener in a lawsuit filed Tuesday that alleges Chandler is not qualified to be a candidate and should be thrown off the ballot by the court.

The lawsuit, filed Tuesday by Windermere lawyer Charles Hart, a Republican, alleges that Chandler voted in Missouri last year, making him a Missouri legal resident last year. Florida law requires Florida Legislature members to have been Florida residents for at least two years before taking office, so if Hart can convince a judge that Chandler was a Missouri resident last year, the judge could find Chandler ineligible to run in Florida this year, and invalidate his candidacy.

That could lead to the prospect that Tuesday’s Republican primary could be invalidated and thousands of votes already cast could be nullified, because Florida statutes and case law are unclear about what should be done if a closed party primary is held, and then there is no need for a general election where everyone can vote, Newstreet warned in his brief.

Newstreet faces Bobby Olszewski, Usha Jain, and Bruno Portigliatti in Tuesday’s special election Republican primary. All of them and Chandler hope to replace Republican former state Rep. Eric Eisnaugle in representing southwest Orange County in the Florida House of Representatives. Eisnaugle quit in the spring to take a judicial appointment.

If Chandler is disqualified by the court because of Hart’s lawsuit, then Florida law could forbid the Orange County Democratic Party from replacing Chandler. If that happens, then there would be no need for a general election because the only candidate left standing would be the winner of the Republican primary, which is open to only Republican voters.

“Nonetheless, Intervenor harbors legitimate concerns that this action may ultimately serve, presumably inadvertently, as a vehicle by which a “sore loser” candidate in the House District 44 Republican special primary election may seek a “second bite at the apple” by attempting to retroactively invalidate the validly conducted primary election, replacing it with a universal primary while throwing out thousands of validly cast votes and disenfranchising thousands of Central Florida voters,” Newstreet suggested.

Chandler and the Orange County Democratic Party are seeking to make sure he stays on the ballot. Short of that, Orange County Democratic Chairman Wes Hodge said there is a prospect that Chandler could resign his candidacy, which should allow Hodge to pick a replacement candidate.

However, if the court rules Chandler ineligible to be a candidate, Florida law states that he cannot be replaced.

Newstreet’s brief, written and submitted by Winter Park attorney Wade Vose, makes several legal arguments against any efforts at that point that would seek to invalidate Tuesday’s Republican primary.

It also argues that “there is no cause ford the Court to take any action on this case prior to the conclusion of that election, and to do so could be highly prejudicial to the conduct of that election.”

The law forbidding replacement of a disqualified candidate was meant to be punitive to the candidate’s party, but it would in fact punish voters instead, it argues.

If the judge rules Chandler ineligible after Tuesday’s primary, there would never be a point in time in which there are multiple candidates from one party and no candidates from outside that party, the requirement for a universal primary election, it argues.

Florida law spells out four explicit reasons that a primary election can be invalidated, but the subsequent disqualification of the other party’s candidate is not among those reasons, it argues.

Case law warns that “courts must take care in post-election challenges to avoid disenfranchising voters without clear statutory warrant,” it argues.

Finally, it notes, “there is a general and compelling interest in maintaining the integrity of the electoral process and preventing voter confusion,” it argues.

Bobby Olszewski TV ad highlights positions in HD 44 Republican primary

Bobby Olszewski has launched a television commercial in Orlando that highlights several of his issues positions in the special Republican primary for House District 44 in Orange County.

The 30-second spot, dubbed, “Vote Bobby O,” the commercial begins with brief footage of President Ronald Reagan, as a narrator declares, “Republicans want a leader who will get things done. Robert ‘Bobby O’ Olszewski is that conservative leader.”

He faces Usha Jain, John Newstreet, and Bruno Portigliatti in next Tuesday’s Republican special primary election. They all seek to fill the seat vacated by Republican former state Rep. Eric Eisnaugle to represent the southwest portion of Orange County. Eisnaugle stepped down this spring.

The winner would face Democrat Paul Chandler in an Oct. 10 special general election. Chandler’s candidacy is being challenged in court, though, and that action has the potential to lead to further challenges of the Republican primary.

Olszewski said the spot has been up since last week.

After the introduction, the commercial shows Olszewski with U.S. Rep. Dan Webster, who was the area’s congressman, state senator and state representative for decades before moving to Lake County to switch congressional districts in 2016, and the narrator notes that Webster endorsed Olszewski.

The commercial then, in rapid fire, declares that Olszewski opposed tax and fee increases, stood up for prayer in public, opposes funding for sanctuary cities, seeks to cut regulations, and will “stop politicians wasteful spending.”

“Conservative Republican Bobby O: Less talk, more action,” the narrator finishes.

Lawsuit seeks to invalidate Paul Chandler’s HD 44 candidacy, could jeopardize whole special election

A lawsuit was filed in Tallahassee seeking to invalidate the candidacy of House District 44 Democrat Paul Chandler – an action that could put the entire special election in jeopardy.

The complaint, filed just at the end of the business day on Tuesday in Florida’s 2nd Judicial Circuit by Charles Hart of Windermere against Chandler, Orange County Supervisor of Elections Bill Cowles and Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner, alleges that Chandler voted in Missouri last November, which would make him a Missouri resident last year, ineligible to run for state office in Florida this year

If a judge agrees with that allegation and strikes his candidacy, the move would leave Democrats without a candidate for the Oct. 10 general special election. There also are no qualified write-in candidates. The four Republican candidates are the only others qualified.

That could mean that next Tuesday’s Republican primary election – with early and mail-in voting already well underway – could be challenged. That’s because with no non-Republicans running in October, the primary would have to be opened to all voters, which it was not.

Chandler issued a statement Wednesday that read:

“I have been a resident of Orange County for over two years. My 2012 Florida state ID remains valid. This is an attempt to bring Trump-style reality TV politics to Orange County and distract from the real issues that my campaign is working to address, like health care, education, and jobs.”

Neither Hart, a Republican who was rumored this spring to be interested himself in running for the seat himself, nor his attorney, Roger Beaubien of Tallahassee, could be reached for comment Wednesday afternoon.

Chandler has been awaiting the outcome of next Tuesday’s Republican special primary election to find out whom he would face. Republicans running are Bobby Olszewski, John Newstreet, Bruno Portigliatti, and Usha Jain.

Cowles said he had not been served, and said he is not the legal election officer, because it is a state election. He said a court, or the governor, is going to have to tell him what to do about hosting the elections, if Chandler’s candidacy is successfully challenged.

Portigliatti said he and his staff had only just become aware of the lawsuit, and said it sounded like someone’s “desperate attempt to affect the outcome.” He said he and his staff were weighing their options on how to respond.

Meanwhile, he said, “We’re very focused on winning on Tuesday, and awaiting the outcome on Tuesday.”

Olszewski said the lawsuit does not change what he and his campaign are doing. “We’re focused on our positive, conservative message and reaching voters for great results on Tuesday,” he said.

Alan Byrd, spokesman for Newstreet’s campaign, suggested they may be preparing to fight anything that might invalidate the election.

“John Newstreet is a firm believer in the democratic process our forefathers created with fair elections. More than 3,500 Republicans have voted in this election to date. They have participated in their American right to vote. To have a court invalidate their choice simply cannot happen and we plan to fight to protect their votes,” Byrd said. “If it is true that the Democrat candidate is not qualified to be on the ballot, we would hope he withdraws from the election immediately and ends this cloud hanging over this election today.”

Orange County Democratic Chair Wes Hodge expressed confidence that Chandler’s candidacy is valid and will withstand the challenge. He charged the Republicans as playing “dirty tricks” in an election that already has seen plenty of dirt thrown between Republicans.

“Paul has been a resident of Orange County since April of 2015, so we’re confident he is eligible to run to represent the constituents of House District 44,” Hodge said. “This is an example of more dirty tricks by Republicans to try to maintain control of the Florida Legislature. And hopefully the courts will agree that Paul is a resident and is eligible to run and the voters will have their say on Oct. 10.”

The lawsuit contends that Chandler voted on Nov. 8, 2016, in St. Louis County, Mo., making his voter registration valid there, and therefore making him a legal Missouri resident.

The complaint cites Article III, section 15(c) of the Florida Constitution as saying a Florida legislator shall be “an elector and resident of the district from which elected and shall have resided in the state for a period of two years prior to the election.”

Chandler filed to become an Orange County voter on Jan. 4, 2017. His voter registration record shows his legal address is in Lake Buena Vista, in HD 44. He has said he has maintained residencies in both Florida and Missouri, where his medical records consulting company has offices, but that Lake Buena Vista has been his home for several years.

Stephanie Murphy, Darren Soto join ‘New Democracy,’ to win back middle-class voters

Two Central Florida first-year members of Congress — Stephanie Murphy and Darren Soto — are joining former U.S. Rep. Jim Davis and a group of Democrats determined to extend the party’s reach to centrist voters.

In what reads like an update of the earlier center-leaning Democratic Leadership Council, New Democracy has the explicit mandate to expand the party’s appeal, both demographically and geographically.

Leading New Democracy is Will Marshall, president and founder of the Progressive Policy Institute and a co-founder of the now defunct DLC, created in the aftermath of Walter Mondale‘s landslide 1984 loss to Ronald Reagan. Alumni include Bill Clinton, Al Gore and Florida’s Bob Buckhorn and Rick Kriseman.

“New Democracy is a ‘home base’ and support network for pragmatic Democrats determined to make our party competitive in every part of America,” Marshall said. “These leaders — governors, mayors, state officials and Members of Congress — know how to reach beyond core partisans and build governing majorities from the ground up,” he added.

Since Hillary Clinton‘s November defeat much has been made about the Democratic Party losing white, middle-class voters to Donald Trump, particularly in the industrial Midwest. In addition to losses in the House, Senate and White House to Republicans, Democrats have also dropped 900 seats in state legislatures over the past nine years.

Marshall said New Democracy will focus on four key priorities for building a bigger Democratic tent: reclaiming economic hope and progress; engaging voters across America’s cultural divides; decentralizing power to more effective and trusted local governments, and putting national and personal security first.

“Democrats don’t need to choose between center and left — we need to expand in all directions,” he added. “Building a broad coalition is the Party’s best chance of rectifying today’s dangerous imbalance of political power and stopping the harmful Trump-Republican agenda.”

Along with Florida Democrats enlisted to help guide New Democracy’s strategy is Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu and former Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear. 

Voter turnout in HD 44 special election primary favoring central precincts

With a week left before voters in Florida’s House District 44 decide who will be the Republican nominee seeking to fill the vacant seat, nearly 3,000 votes have been cast, with a large portion of them coming from the Dr. Phillips and Windermere areas of the sprawling southwest Orange County district.

Through Tuesday, 2,940 votes have been cast, and more than 30 percent have been cast in just six of the 38 precincts, according to data posted at the end of the day by Orange County Supervisor of Elections Bill Cowles. The vote totals include mail-in votes and early voting, which began on Saturday and runs through next Saturday.

The Republican primary special election day is Aug. 15 for HD 44.

Those six high-vote precincts spread through the central part of HD44, around the Windermere/Lake Butler area and the adjacent Dr. Phillips community, largely affluent neighborhoods, which are homes to three of the four candidates, John Newstreet, Bruno Portigliatti, and Usha Jain.

Two of those precincts, 128 and 113 in the Dr. Phillips area, already have reached 11 percent voter turnouts.

The fourth Republican candidate, Bobby Olszewski, hails from the northern part of HD 44, from the areas of the western Orange County suburbs of Winter Garden (his hometown,) Oakland and Ocoee. Voting has been slower there so far, with turnouts mostly ranging from 5-7 percent combining early-voting and mail voting. The combined turnouts mostly have been in the 8-11 percent range in the Windermere/Lake Butler and Dr. Phillips precincts, according to the Supervisor of Elections Office data.

Few people are voting in the southern precincts of the district. Part of the reason for that is much of that region is occupied by Walt Disney World and tourist district businesses, hotels, and time-shares, as well as pockets of Walt Disney World employee housing. Still, even the voter rates are low in many of the southern precincts, with many running 2 or 3 percent so far. One precinct stretching along International Drive and including numerous apartment complexes, Precinct 124, has 1,007 Republican registered voters, but just 25 of them had cast votes early or by mail through Tuesday.

Olszewski, Newstreet, Portigliatti, and Jain seek to replace former state Rep. Eric Eisnaugle of Windermere, who quit the seat this spring to take a judicial appointment. The winner of next Tuesday’s primary will face Democrat Paul Chandler in an Oct. 10 special general election.

Bob Cortes blasts Public Service Commission for Seminole water rate hike

State Rep. Bob Cortes is speaking out about a rate hike approved by the Public Service Commission last week.

The Altamont Springs Republican believes the hike will double water and sewer rates for western Seminole County residents.

“This decision, which doubles rates for western Seminole residents, demonstrates that the Public Service Commission is not standing on the side of consumers,” Cortes said of the decision the commission made Aug. 3. “Without a compelling case from Utilities Inc. and despite a public hearing where citizens expressed their concerns, the PSC moved ahead with a decision that would clearly impose an unfair burden, especially for seniors on fixed incomes.”

The commission approved the new rate structure and some other issues for Utilities, Inc. of Florida, in a long-standing rate case that is complex because the company owned several water and sewer utilities around the state and brought in a comprehensive proposal.

A commission spokeswoman said Tuesday the commission staff has not yet worked out what the new rates would be, and that information would not be available until late this week at the earliest. She provided a list of Utilities, Inc. of Florida’s current rates for its 17 systems in Florida, three in Seminole, which show the Seminole rates currently are in the midrange of what the company charges.

Cortes said there are more than 10,000 Utilities, Inc. of Florida customer households and businesses in Seminole County.

Part of the case and the petition for increases involved quality of service problems for Utilities, Inc. of Florida at some of its local utilities, and the commission cited several as being low quality. The company sought rate increases to cover capital investment in its petition to upgrade aging infrastructure and to replace aging water main piping for systems in Seminole, Orange, Pasco and Pinellas counties.

While approving the package and the rate increases last week, the commission reduced the quality of service rating from satisfactory to marginal for six of the company’s systems,

Cortes and other lawmakers from the service areas — including state Rep. Scott Plakon and state Sen. David Simmons from Seminole — had argued against the rate increases at public hearings earlier this year and in correspondence. Seminole County Commissioner Lee Constantine also was active in opposing the Seminole rate increase.

Cortes said he is not done. He said he is following up with a letter to the commission rebuking it for failing to follow the policy positions expressed by the Florida Legislature to ease burdens on consumers.

“They have a valid point they need upgrades, but the way they are doing it is an outrage,” Cortes said.

Second candidate attacked by shadow group in HD 44 special election

Who is behind the attack ads in the Florida House District 44 special election primary set for a week for Tuesday?

The attack ads went after Republican John Newstreet two weeks ago, and now they’re going after GOP primary rival Bobby Olszewski in what looks like an effort to play both sides against each other.

Everyone denies any connection with the group. Its leadership and ultimate funding sources have not been revealed.

The Florida First Initiative has now been revealed, through a new state filing, as the source of money to another group, Central Florida Republicans for Truth, for a series of campaign mailers that went in late July attacking Newstreet, who is president of the Kissimmee/Osceola County Chamber of Commerce.

Last week Newstreet and his campaign expressed certainty that Olszewski, a small businessman and former Winter Garden commissioner, was behind Central Florida Republicans for Truth and the attack ads. Olszewski insisted that was not true.

But now, The Florida First Initiative is running TV ads attacking Olszewski. And the new attack even criticizes Olszewski  for attacking Newstreet, attacks that were done by the committee that The Florida First Initiative has funded, Central Florida Republicans for Truth.

The latest campaign finance filings posted by the Florida Division of Elections shows that The Florida First Initiative gave Central Florida Republicans for Truth $27,500 on July 28. That’s the only money CFRFT has reported receiving.

The fact that the political committee behind attack ads against Newstreet is now attacking him, is a vindication of sorts for Olszewski, even if the new TV commercial brutalizes him.

“This revelation only confirms what we have been saying all along, that we are running a positive campaign focused on what we can do for District 44,” Olszewski said in a statement to FloridaPolitics.com. “This does highlight the fact that some of my opponents have not been telling the truth about who is behind these attacks. Over the next eight days I will continue to focus on our positive and conservative message.”

Oszewski has previously denied the claims made against him in the TV commercial.

Newstreet’s campaign is sticking to its earlier suspicion, but saying that Olszewski must have made The Florida First Initiative change its mind about him after it initially funded Central Florida Republicans for Truth attack to benefit him.

“We were unaware that The Florida First Initiative was ever supporting our opponent, but, it comes as no surprise they would drop support for him, just like the mayors of Windermere and Ocoee did last week,” campaign spokesman Alan Byrd said in a statement. “We believe it must be because the egregious, misleading and untrue claims made in the mailers against the lifelong conservative John Newstreet.”

There are two other Republicans in the primary, Bruno Portigliatti and Dr. Usha Jain.

“I have absolutely nothing to do with any of these groups and don’t know who’s involved,” Portigliatti said in an email response. “We have been extremely transparent with our campaign. In fact, it surprises me that the group attacking Bobby on TV is the same group that supplied money to attack John – that doesn’t make any sense.”

“I am running a grass root campaign and I have no idea,” Jain said in an email.

They’re all seeking to replace former state Rep. Eric Eisnaugle, who quit the seat this spring. The Republican primary special election is Aug. 15, and early voting began last Saturday. The winner will face Democrat Paul Chandler in an Oct. 10 special general election.

The new TV commercial in the Republican primary fight, which has a disclaimer saying it was sponsored by The Florida First Initiative, begins with a shot of Olszewski stating, at a recent debate, “The best indicator of behavior is past behavior.” A narrator then calls him a career politician and raises past allegations, that he failed to show up for meetings of a MetroPlan Orlando committee he served on, that a deal with a Democratic mayor “fleeced taxpayers” and brought money to his own company, and that “Bobby O and his liberal friends” are “attacking conservative veteran John Newstreet.”

The Florida First Initiative has been around, in a couple of different forms, since 2009, but its leadership has not been revealed. It first came to light in the 2010 gubernatorial election, running attack ads against then-candidate Rick Scott. At least one published report linked The Florida First Initiative to former Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum, who ran against and lost to Scott in the 2010 Republican primary. But on Monday McCollum, of Longwood, said he was never connected to the group and does not know who is behind it.

The Florida First Initiative has received funding from scores of sources over time. However, the group was essentially down to zero money until June when it got $25,000 from R.A. Real Estate Inc. of New York. Bloomberg indicates that company is a subsidiary of of the Great West Life Assurance Co. of Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

But it’s unlikely that a Canadian insurance company or its New York real estate subsidiary might be interested in an Orlando state house Republican primary, so all eyes await the July 10 campaign finance disclosure reports.


Rev. Jesse Jackson visits Florida, discusses voter suppression

The Rev. Jesse Jackson says there was no evidence of voter fraud in the 2016 presidential election but says President Trump’s Commission on Election Integrity should look at the suppression of minority voters in certain states, including Florida.

The civil rights activist visited St. John Baptist Church in Orlando Sunday to encourage voter participation and to talk about voter suppression.

In a call with The Associated Press, Jackson said between 1.3 and 1.7 million voters don’t have the right to vote in Florida because they have a felony conviction although they are no longer incarcerated.

Jackson says his Rainbow PUSH Coalition has set up its own commission of scholars and activists to look into such voter suppression. The group is also focusing on voter registration in closely watched elections in Virginia and New Jersey. And in Florida, the group is focused on restoration of voting rights for felons.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Anna Eskamani raises $52K in first month of HD 47 run

Democrat Anna Eskamani raised more than $52,000 in her first month after announcing her candidacy to run in Florida’s House District 47, her campaign announced Monday.

Eskamani, of Orlando, pulled in $52,517, with her first major fundraiser yet to come, set for Aug. 15, according to her campaign. That has come from more than 300 individual donations.

The campaign also announced the backing of former Orange County Chair Linda Chapin who will be speaking at her campaign kickoff fundraiser.

The swing seat representing north and central Orange County is expected to be vacated, as Republican incumbent state Rep. Mike Miller of Winter Park announced in late June that he is running for Congress instead of re-election. So far, the only other announced candidate is Winter Park businessman Stockton Reeves, a Republican.

“Raising over $50,000 in four weeks was made possible by the over 300 teachers, retirees, students, veterans, physicians, nurses, executives, environmentalists, attorneys, and business owners who donated to our campaign because they want a bold new vision for Tallahassee and a proven community leader who gets things done,” she stated in a news release issued by her campaign. “We all do better, when we all do better. I truly believe that, and Central Floridians from all political persuasions can trust me as their elected voice in Tallahassee.”

Eskamani is senior director of public affairs and communications at Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida and an adjunct professor at the University of Central Florida.

Lolita Grayson starts GoFundMe page, saying legal battles with ex Alan Grayson leave her broke

Lolita Carson Grayson, former wife of former U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, has opened a GoFundMe account, in part seeking help to pay legal expenses of ongoing litigation battles emanating from their 2015 annulment that she says has left her penniless and on the verge of being evicted.

“I really am in bad shape right now. I went to GoFundMe because I’m totally broke and I’m being evicted,” Lolita Grayson said Thursday.

Her GoFundMe.com page says the legal battles through and beyond their divorce proceedings and annulment have exhausted her finances, and yet she still has legal expenses involved in their fights over the disposition of assets. Those assets include the Dr. Phillips house they had shared in marriage, and where she continues to live. He has filed to have her evicted.

She is seeking to raise $20,000.

Alan Grayson, who left Congress this year after not seeking re-election in Florida’s 9th Congressional District, said Thursday that she had agreed to leave the house at the time of their annulment settlement. He said the two sides worked out a detailed, 30-page agreement called for him to sell it. Grayson said he has waited. And in the meantime, he charged, she has caused extensive damage to the house. “She has been squatting in the house for three and a half years [dating to when they first split.] It has cost me over a quarter-million dollars. According to the terms of the annulment, she has no property rights in the house.”

She challenges the latter point. Alan Grayson said she agreed to give up the house in a settlement agreement but then did not sign it. Whether it is enforceable, he said, will be up to the courts.

She said she does not recall agreeing to move out and give up the house.

The Graysons’ marriage ended after a bitter divorce proceeding led to charges, from him, that she still was married to someone else when they wed in 1990, and had committed bigamy. Lolita Grayson eventually acknowledged a former marriage did not end until two years after her wedding to Alan Grayson. In the spring of 2015, 9th Judicial Circuit Court Judge Bob LeBlanc dissolved the marriage.

Lolita said she continues to fight for marriage property and is seeking help through GoFundMe because, “I am fighting for what is right, for what is the right thing to do.”

Last year Alan Grayson remarried, to the former Dena Minning.

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