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Darren Soto: Congress must quickly approve robust relief package for Puerto Rico

After touring Puerto Rico earlier this week, U.S. Rep. Darren Soto declared the island is in emergency need of robust emergency federal funding, not just to assure full federal relief efforts from Hurricanes Maria and Irma, but to keep the commonwealth’s government operating in a place where almost no one can work.

“The stories that you’re reading and seeing from Puerto Rico are all true,” the Orlando Democrat, who is of Puerto Rican descent, stated in a release issued late Tuesday. “Our fellow American citizens are facing unthinkable tragedies. I saw people all over the city waiting in long lines for groceries and gas, most areas lacked electricity, cell phone service, and functioning traffic lights. Debris still covered many roads. Most buildings sustained minor or major damage. Hopefully President [Donald] Trump’s visit today will tell him what I already saw firsthand: the damage is real and people need our help.”

In related news, U.S. Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart and Debbie Wasserman Schultz announced they are leading a bipartisan push to urge the Trump administration to send Congress an official request for additional disaster relief funding. The letter was co-signed by 21 of Florida’s 27 members of Congress, including Soto, as well as more than a dozen other members of Congress from other states.

Soto issued a lengthy report on his findings that ranged from the widespread obvious problems [an island without electricity, cell phone service and massive destruction]; to pending problems, such as the government’s anticipation that it will run out of operating money in two to three weeks; to minor issues that could result in public health matters, such as ad-hoc trash dumps appearing everywhere because there is no refuge service.

In tours that included briefings from Federal Emergency Management Agency officials, Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rosselló, local officials, and aid workers, Soto reported that he confirmed that relief supplies are moving slowly and said that many people in the interior told him they have never seen federal relief workers, let alone supplies.

He said FEMA officials told him the agency will need $1.7 billion to cover its operations for the next six months, and that the government of Puerto Rico has only enough money to operate for another two to three weeks.

Among findings and observations Soto mentioned in his report:

Damage estimates across the island run from $40 billion to $70 billion, more than 100,000 homes were completely destroyed, and “vast parts of the transportation, communication and electric infrastructure will need to be rebuilt,” Soto reported.

– “The official death toll stands at 16. Several sources believe the death toll related to Hurricane Maria will ultimately be much larger due to lack of medical supplies and treatment, lack of potable water and food, as well as the continued harsh living conditions.”

– “Known transportation obstacles include lack of cell phone service, clogged roadways, no street lights and lack of available local truck drivers (many were still dealing with the disaster themselves).”

– “A substantial force of military transportation professionals is desperately needed. In the meantime, hundreds of containers of essential food, water and medical supplies will continue to be slowly transported to the hardest hit communities.”

– “It was apparent from the air that thousands of homes had been destroyed, and few had received blue tarps. Flooding had begun to subside but many neighborhoods were still very wet. Due to high winds, most trees were destroyed or leafless.”

– “Many brick and mortar businesses still appeared to be closed. Since many residents operate small businesses out of their homes, many of these were also affected.”

– “Hurricane Maria decimated the banana crop and damaged the coffee plants. Various agricultural structures such as chicken coops and barns had also been destroyed.”

– “We flew over the Guajataca Dam, and observed that it had been breached on the right side, had flooded adjacent roadways and was overflowing the river. Numerous homes are in danger of flood damage should the river continue to rise.”

– “While in the air, I saw no other helicopters flying, no military vehicles driving around, and no federal personnel. Rural towns will continue to suffer if resources and personnel are not dispatched to these areas.”

– “The pilot pointed out a disturbing trend of large trash piles beginning to form in empty lots on the side of roads and next to rivers. This growing trash problem coupled with rotting debris could pose a major potential health hazard if not corrected soon.”

In addition to Wasserman-Schultz, a Weston Democrat; Diaz-Balart, a Miami Republican; and Soto; the letter calling for emergency funding was signed by U.S. Reps. Al Lawson, a Tallahassee Democrat; Vern Buchanan, a Longboat Key Republican; Francis Rooney, a Naples Republican; Carlos Curbelo, a Kendall Republican; Kathy Castor, a Tampa Democrat; Stephanie Murphy, a Winter Park Democrat; Ted Deutch, a Boca Raton Democrat; Val Demings, an Orlando Democrat; Tom Rooney, an Okeechobee Republican; Charlie Crist, a St. Petersburg Democrat; Frederica Wilson, a Miami Gardens Democrat; Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Miami Republican; Alcee Hastings, a Miramar Republican; John Rutherford, a Jacksonville Republican; Brian Mast, a Palm City Republican; Lois Frankel, a West Palm Beach Democrat; Dennis Ross, a Lakeland Republican; and Gus Bilirakis, a Palm Harbor Republican.

Teresa Jacobs: Orange County’s role limited for Puerto Rico, Puerto Ricans

Help for Puerto Rico and for Puerto Ricans evacuating to Florida is going to be best provided by the rapidly-rising group of private groups, churches, and companies and government coordination will have to be done by the state, leaving little direct power for Orange County and other counties, Mayor Teresa Jacobs said Tuesday.

Jacobs and the Orange County Board of Commissioners struggled Tuesday to come to any clear role for the local government, particularly in anticipation of a likely but still-undefined exodus that has the potential to relocate 100,000 or more islanders to Florida, many of them to Central Florida.

Jacobs and the commissioners, notably Pete Clarke and Jennifer Thompson, whose districts have large Puerto Rican populations already, and Emily Bonilla, who is is Puerto Rican, all expressed strong desires to help. But Jacobs made it clear she is convinced that the Florida Division of Emergency Management has to do all coordination, especially with federal agencies, and local groups like CASA, I-4 For Puerto Rico and others will be best off without local government trying to direct them.

As for housing, warehousing for donations and other services, those too, appear to be outside the county government’s hands, she said.

“I know there is this assumption that because we are the government closest to the pole in Orange County, that we have more authority than we have in the process,” she said.

The discussion included a strong consensus on that point from the other commissioners, even Bonilla, who had sought the forum with the hope that the county might set up a coordinating committee or something. Jacobs conceded that she would look for a point person in the administration to become a liaison between ground-level private and volunteer groups and state officials, and to identify county red tape that might be cut.

“The important thing is the direction has to come from the state,” Jacobs said later. “We’re the boots on the ground. We very well might need to execute, but we need the state to decide what the plan is. You have to remember, this is not an Orange County situation, or an Osceola County situation. We have evacuees that will be coming all over the state, but primarily to six or seven counties that have large Puerto Rican populations. We would expect those to be the homes of most of the evacuees…. It needs to be a unified approach.”

That would include any additional county spending, which would have to be coordinated by the state through the Federal Emergency Management Agency to assure they are eligible for federal reimbursements, she said. The county has no warehouses, and Jacobs expressed doubt that the massive Orange County Convention Center would be appropriate.

The commission’s discussion came six hours after a series of volunteer activists and others working to help Puerto Rico and Puerto Ricans evacuating to Florida pleaded with the commission to help make the connections to plug government services and muscle into the ground-level efforts well underway. Jacobs was ill and did not attend the morning session, but said she watched it on the County’s TV link.

Many of those who spoke from the grassroots effort sought to make sure they were critical to local response, something that Commissioners Bonilla, Clarke and Thompson all agreed with.

“We have seen our community come together in ways we have never seen in the past. Each one of us has a loved one back home that has lost everything. Schools, hospitals and entire communities were destroyed,” said Jimmy Torres, organizer of CASA, a coalition of numerous groups that has collected hundreds of pallets of supplies and arranged to send it to Puerto Rico.

I-4 for Puerto Rico, co-organized by Randy Ross, has led a similar effort.

Yet there were numerous calls for direct help from the county.

Among those who spoke was Eddy Dominguez, a Democratic candidate for next week’s special election to fill the vacancy in Florida House District 44, who identified himself as arriving with numerous hats, including as a volunteer and supporter with CASA; chair of LatinoLeadership, which is partnering with the Florida Hispanic Chamber of Commerce to run the Puerto Rico Family Response Center on the county’s east side; and as senior executive vice president of Resource Employment Solutions, which is working to find jobs for Puerto Rican evacuees.

“We’re here for a very important reason, and that’s to request your assistance and your support as representatives of Orange County government,” Dominguez said. “You can stand up. You can be the beacon. You can shine the light. We need logistical support. We need access to county resources, so our efforts can be put to most efficient use. We need financial support. Our efforts can be multiplied exponentially with support of the county, through both monitory assistance as well as access to County facilities and operational support.”

“And last, public solidarity. It would mean the world to the many volunteers… if you stand up as unified, to let everyone knows that Orange County government stands together to assist in this time of crisis,” Dominguez said.

At least that last point was assured. Jacobs, Bonilla, Clarke, Thompson and the other commissioners all expressed strong personal empathy, even connections, with the plight of Puerto Rico and the realization that many people who lost everything likely were coming.

It was left to Vice Mayor Victoria Siplin to express that to the morning speakers, and she added the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico are places that are suffering.

“We know, especially the family members here, we understand your pain, your suffering, your wanting to help, your willingness to help those in need, and yet you don’t have that access, to help somebody,” Siplin said. “I want you to understand that we feel you. We understand what you are going through. We will get through this together.”

Thad Altman draws GOP challenger for HD 52 seat

Longtime Republican lawmaker Thad Altman has drawn a primary challenger as he seeks re-election to the House next year. Melbourne Republican Matt Nye has opened a campaign account to challenge the Indialantic Republican in 2018 in Brevard County’s House District 52, according to the state Division of Elections website.

Altman was elected to the seat in 2016 after serving eight years in the Senate and an earlier five-year stint in the House.

Meanwhile, in South Florida, Ocean Ridge Democrat James Bonfiglio has become the fourth candidate to open a campaign account to try to succeed term-limited Rep. Bill Hager, a Delray Beach Republican, in Palm Beach County’s House District 89.

Bonfiglio joined fellow Democrat Ryan Rossi and Republicans Matt Spritz and Tommy Zeichman in planning to run for the seat next year.

Republished with the permission of the News Service of Florida.

Puerto Rico exodus begun; groups struggling to help

Monday morning there was a line through the parking lot at the Puerto Rico Family Response Center in Orlando: Puerto Rican families waiting for it to open to offer relocation help in Florida, and LatinoLeadership Inc. President Marytza Senz, who is running the ad-hoc center, said she also took 40 calls by 7:30 a.m.

That’s in addition to the 150 or more calls that came in over the weekend, she said.

“We are overwhelmed,” Senz said, though the center, a crowded bustle of activity on Orange County‘s east side, was successfully helping Puerto Ricans evacuating from the devastation of Hurricane Maria with everything from places to stay to enrollment of children in Orange schools, and from job placement to obtaining prescriptions.

On Monday Gov. Rick Scott announced the state would open Puerto Rico disaster relief centers at Orlando International Airport and in Miami to help the still-unknown number of islanders who are, or will be, fleeing to Florida because they have nothing left at home.

He also declared a state of emergency in Florida, freeing up officials to provide a variety of help.

Other agencies are gearing up too, along with various churches and civic groups. Yet coordination and red-tape management already are adding to more fundamental problems, like families who once had decent lives showing up in the Sunshine State without paperwork and, in some cases, without an extra set of clothes.

LatinoLeadership and the Florida Hispanic Chamber of Commerce have established the Puerto Rico Family Response Center at LatinoLeadership’s modest and hard-to-find center at 8617 E. Colonial Dr. They also have another advantage: Senz’ son-in-law is state Rep. Rene Plasencia of Orlando, who, since returning from Puerto Rico himself over the weekend, is lending a full-time hand there. He’s using his connections to reach into local and state bureaucracies, even Scott’s executive office, to get help.

They’re planning to move some of the program soon to the Azalea Park United Methodist Church, which is not far from Orlando International Airport.

Other issues are more complicated and specific to unique needs, with some groups beginning to step up. The Puerto Rican Bar Association of Florida, for example, recognized that all three law schools in Puerto Rico are shut down indefinitely. Two of them, and their deans, cannot even be reached. So the group, led by Anthony Suarez of Orlando and Marie Masson of Clermont, is arranging to get Puerto Rican law students admitted to stateside law schools on an emergency, temporary basis. Already 51 are in the process of transferring, and more are expected as word somehow gets to them on an island where almost no one has electricity or phone service.

No one is certain how many Puerto Ricans might be coming to Florida, and transportation off the island still is limited, booked up for weeks. Plasencia said he supposed 50,000-100,000 may be coming. Other estimates have exceeded 100,000, and he said he heard that while he was on the island caring for family over the weekend.

Clearly, as evidenced by the crowds at the newly-named Puerto Rico Family Response Center, the flow has begun.

About half of those showing up now have family or friends in Central Florida, but many do not, Senz said.

“They are homeless,” she said. “Families are showing up homeless.”

“When they are filling out paperwork for food stamps they are being asked for a permanent address, and they don’t have a permanent address,” she said.

Some have health crises. One cruise ship came into Miami filled with hospital patients. One woman from that ship arrived at the center this morning in the midst of cancer treatment. She had nothing, and no idea where to go. Another family showed up that had been on a pleasure cruise when the hurricane hit, and rather than return to Puerto Rico, the ship dropped everyone in Fort Lauderdale. The family made their way to Orlando, and to the center, where they said their 11-year-old son has diabetes and needs insulin.

They’re working on it, she said.

LatinoLeadership had run a pantry, and had filled it with goods in the previous week to send to Puerto Rico, but now has decided to hand it out to evacuees instead, because they are arriving with nothing. Even those with families and friends locally, many times those families already are struggling financially themselves, so adding four, five, six new family members is almost impossible. The center also has to deal with landlords reluctant to waive lease conditions limiting how many people can sleep in an apartment.

One thing the center can provide, that Senz and others worry the official state centers might neglect, are people from Puerto Rico, who speak the language, who know the towns, who’ve made the transition.

“They need everything. The most important thing is the guidance, somebody who knows the culture really makes a difference,” Senz said.

“What I’ve seen today, some of them, Orlando is going to be home, permanently. Other ones are here here saying, ‘I want to go back.’ But they are crying, because they feel they left their country, they left those they love,” she said. “But what I am saying is they did the right thing for the security of their family.”

Others are finding bureaucratic nightmares, such as the families applying for food stamps but being told they need permanent addresses.

Of the promises from state and local officials to offer whatever they can, “Right now, if it’s happening, it’s a quiet initiative, and nobody knows,” Senz said. “When you see everybody coming here from Puerto Rico, that means people don’t know.”

Plasencia said he’s made those calls and sees the state and local officials mobilizing, but added, “I don’t know if we’ve made the right adjustments already. With the influx of people coming, you just can’t anticipate some of these kinks that are happening. And that’s what we’re dealing with right now.”

One woman in the office Monday said she’s trying to enroll her young brother from Puerto Rico in an Orange County school, but was told she couldn’t without his transcripts. Plasencia assured her that Orange County Public Schools has waived those requirements.

But the school she contacted apparently hadn’t read that memo.

It was another call to make Monday.

Jack Miles endorses Stockton Reeves in HD 47 race

Former Florida Department of Management Services secretary Jack Miles issued his endorsement Monday of Republican Stockton Reeves in the race for Florida’s House District 47 seat.

Reeves, a Winter Park businessman, faces Democrat Anna Eskamani, a Planned Parenthood executive, in the 2018 election race to succeed state Rep. Mike Miller, a Republican who is running for Congress rather than for re-election.

Miles, a former executive with Cigna, served as management services secretary under Gov. Rick Scott, and currently serves as a member of the board of directors of national and local non-profits, on the advisory board of four early stage, pre-initial public offering firms.  He also served as a trustee for Florida TaxWatch and a member of the TaxWatch Center for Government Efficiency, and also as a member of the Government Efficiency Task Force for the State of Florida.

“Stockton Reeves has always impressed me as someone with an understanding of financial planning and budgeting for the future,” Miles stated in a news release issued by Reeves’ campaign. “He helped start and grow several successful business ventures and served as a trustee for a cherished Central Florida cultural institution, the Maitland Art Center, for almost 20 years including an unprecedented three terms as its chairman.”

“He has overseen the growth of his family’s business from a locally based planning and design firm to one that now serves clients across the nation. That’s impressive because in the face of one of nation’s deepest recessions, they expanded by opening an office in Texas and today are working in sixteen states across the United States. Their client base is local governments so Stockton understands the importance of spending tax dollars wisely and seeking the best value for every expenditure,” Miles added.

“To grow and expand in uncertain economic times takes foresight, courage and planning. Stockton exhibits all of these qualities and I believe he would be an excellent representative for Central Florida and an asset to the state. His business experience and background would serve us all and that’s why I am proud to offer my help and support for Stockton. I truly believe he is best prepared to serve,” Miles concluded.

Slow early-voter turnout for HD 44 special election favors Republicans

With very little early-voter turnout during the first weekend heading towards the Oct. 10 special election to fill the vacant seat in Orange County‘s House District 44, Republican Bobby Olszewski appears to have a clear advantage over his Democratic rival Eddy Dominguez, a late-addition replacement candidate.

Just 443 votes were cast Saturday and Sunday in the first weekend of early voting, less than a half-percent of the total registered voter base in the district, which covers southwest Orange County including parts or all of the cities and towns of Winter Garden, Ocoee, and Windermere, and the large unincorporated communities of Dr. Phillips and Hunters Creek.

Another 4,488 mail-in ballots had been received by the end of Sunday, according to the Orange County Property Appraiser’s Office. That brings the  votes to just under 4 percent of the electorate.

On Friday, Orange County Supervisor of Elections Bill Cowles said he was expecting somewhere between 11 and 14 percent voter turnout in the race to replace Republican former state Rep. Eric Eisnaugle of Windermere, who resigned last spring to take a judicial appointment.

Cowles’ office released the party breakdown of the early voters, and it shows a commanding advantage for Republicans, though the raw numbers were small. Of those people who came to one of the three early-voting centers on Saturday or Sunday, 251 were Republicans —that’s 57 percent of the early-voting turn-out. Just 133 Democrats came early, plus 59 independent voters.

In recent years, Democrats usually had early-voter advantages over Republicans, while Republicans held advantages among mail-in voters.

With the voter registration book closing, HD 44’s voter base was 36 percent Republican, 32 percent Democrat, and 32 percent independent or other-party voters.

Olszewski, a businessman and former Winter Garden city commissioner, won a bruising Republican primary election on Aug. 15. He’s campaigned since March.

Dominguez was named less than two weeks ago as the Democrats’ replacement candidate after Paul Chandler withdrew. Dominguez is not on the ballots, but any votes for Chandler are being counted for him.

Early voting runs through Saturday, Oct. 7.

Darren Soto lands in Puerto Rico

U.S. Rep. Darren Soto, the first congressman of Puerto Rican heritage from Florida, landed in San Juan early Monday.

“I am heading to the Emergency Operations Center to get a helicopter tour of the Island and to meet with local elected officials,” the Orlando Democrat said.

Many news reports have cited villages and rural areas completely cut off following the direct hit from Hurricane Maria.

“There is obvious devastation including major building damage. Roads still have debris blocking, and most trees have their leaves blown off,” Soto said. “I saw hundreds of containers still at the port with few trucks to transport them.”

The administration has said relief efforts are working well and on time, while some island officials said relief has been slow, disorganized and not getting to the rural, isolated areas. Soto said he is there to observe and find the needs.

His 9th Congressional District has a large number of Puerto Rican voters. Those with Puerto Rican heritage also make up a large percentage of the Hispanic voters in Florida, which may become larger if the number of citizens on the island keep their promises to move to the mainland U.S.

Long-distance romance: Karen and Pete Sessions calling Dallas, not Winter Park, home

Ever since former Winter Park City Commissioner Karen Diebel married Texas’ U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions in 2012, questions swirled about whether Winter Park was unofficially gaining a member of Congress or losing a fixture in Central Florida politics, most recently with renewed questions about whether the congressman was living in Texas or Florida; but both Sessions insist it’s Winter Park’s loss, not gain.

Karen Sessions and Congressman Sessions’ press secretary both said late last week that it’s Karen Sessions who is commuting regularly from Texas to Florida, not him. Their Dallas home has officially become her home, even though she’s staying in Florida as much as she can until her last son graduates from high school.

The issue emerged again last week, from Democrats, when Republican state Rep. Mike Miller of Winter Park set fundraisers in Winter Park and Washington for his congressional campaign in Florida’s 7th Congressional District. Karen and Pete Session, both Republicans, were listed as hosts, though neither actually attended either fundraiser.

Democrats, following a suspicion first raised by Congressman Sessions’ Republican critics three years ago, are charging that he’s not in Dallas, at least not much. The Democrats are targeting Sessions in the 2018 election, partly because his district went for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election, suggesting a partisan evolution.

“It makes sense that Congressman Pete Sessions is hosting a fundraiser in Florida, where his family has called home since 2012; what’s weird is the fact that Pete Sessions is still running for office in Texas. He’ll have some explaining to do to people back in Dallas, but first he’ll have to introduce himself – from what I hear they haven’t seen him in a while,” said Cole Leiter, spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Pete Sessions has served in Congress since 1997 and now is the powerful chairman of the House Rules Committee. With two sons of his own from a previous marriage, he’s kept a Dallas home and maintained a Texas homestead exemption on that house. Karen Sessions is now listed on that homestead exemption as well.

Karen Sessions, who ran for Congress herself in 2010, has kept her home in downtown Winter Park, raising her three sons there since her first husband was killed in a tragic accident. She maintained her Florida homestead exemption, making the Winter Park home her official residence, until recently. She said she has withdrawn her exemption now. She also changed her voter registration to Texas last year.

It is a complicated family situation, but the congressman has not left his district, she said.

“I do commute from Winter Park to Dallas. I commute from Dallas to Winter Park, so we can get all my sons out of high school and into college,” said Karen Sessions, a telecommunications consultant. “Pete doesn’t come to Winter Park. He’s based in the district, doing his work, and in Washington, doing his work. It’s always been like that, and it hasn’t ever changed.”

“He’s in Dallas right now. He has a home in Uptown,” Pete Sessions’ communications director Caroline Boothe said on Friday, the day after the Miller Winter Park fundraiser. Uptown is an upscale neighborhood north of downtown. “Their home is in Dallas.”

Suspicions to the contrary first were publicly raised in 2014 by Republicans. Pete Sessions’ Republican primary challenger, Tea Party activist Katrina Pierson [who went on to be a spokeswoman for Donald Trump’s presidential campaign], charged that Sessions was no longer living in Dallas at that time.

Democrats raised it again last week after the Sessionses were listed on Miller’s fundraisers.

Karen Sessions’ Winter Park homestead exemption still is listed online by the Orange County Property Appraiser’s Office. The office of Orange County Property Appraiser Rick Singh said the office has not yet received her request to withdraw it.

 

Bill Sublette entering Orange County mayor’s race

Republican Orange County School Board Chairman Bill Sublette is entering the race for Orange County mayor.

Sublette, a former member of the Florida House of Representatives, filed his paperwork Friday with the Orange County Supervisor of Elections, becoming the first major Republican to enter the race to replace outgoing Mayor Teresa Jacobs, also a Republican, in what is officially a nonpartisan position.

Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings of Windermere is the leading Democrat in the race.

“I am running for Orange County mayor to continue the successful approach Mayor Jacobs has brought to the county, while offering my own vision for our future,” Sublette stated in a news release. “While our economy is strong and unemployment is down, I intend to focus on providing better job opportunities for our citizens – especially our working poor and building a stronger, functional public transportation network.”

Sublette indicated he will hold a formal announcement next Thursday.

Sublette, an Orlando attorney, served eight years in the Florida House and would be finishing his second four-year term as chairman of the Orange County School Board next year.

“I have spent my adult life fighting for children, for those without a voice, and for consumers,” Sublette continued. “Just as I have spent the past eight years leading the fight for public education and building a world class public school system, as Mayor I will lead the fight to tackle multi-generational poverty, preserve our county’s natural resources, prevent widespread damage to our infrastructure from future hurricanes – including burying power lines, all while providing sound management and fiscal responsibility over taxpayer’s dollars.”

There almost certainly will be other major Republicans entering the race. Orange County Commissioner Pete Clarke has essentially announced his candidacy within the Orange County Republican Party and said publicly he’s 99 percent certain he’ll run, but he has not yet filed. Orlando businessman Rob Panepinto, board president of Orlando Inc. [the Orlando Regional Chamber of Commerce,]  also has been widely discussed as a probably Orange County mayoral candidate.

Already, a non-partisan primary election is assured. In addition to Demings and Sublette,  two other candidates, Robert Melanson and Jose Colom , both of Orlando, have filed. If no one candidate gets 50 percent plus one vote on Aug. 28, 2018, the top two would head for a general election on  Nov. 6, 2018.

Sublette and his wife Suzie live in Orlando and have three children.

He once ran for Orlando mayor and lost in a 2003 primary, in a race still-Mayor Buddy Dyer won. Dyer then appointed him to serve on a city education council, as did then-Orange County Mayor Rich Crotty in 2004. That eventually led to a reorganization of the Orange County School Board, creating a county-wide schools chairman. Sublette ran for and won that post in 2010, and he was re-elected in 2014.

 

Stephanie Murphy touts bill that she voted against

Democratic U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy of Winter Park proudly pushed through a bill amendment that ensured families in Puerto Rico are treated equally under the federal Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting program, and after the full bill passed the U.S. House of Representatives Tuesday, she touted it with a tweet, “House just passed my amdt.”

One complication: Murphy voted against the actual bill she heralded, House Resolution 2824, as did almost all Democrats.

Her strategy, according to her office: get the amendment into the House bill, and then get it from there into the Senate version during a conference committee meeting. The Senate bill, her office indicated, is an acceptable version to Democrats, while the House version is not.

When the House considered and adopted her proposed amendment, Murphy expressed victory in getting her amendment into the “Increasing Opportunity and Success for Children and Parents through Evidence-Based Home Visiting Act,” to right one of the inequities faced by Americans in Puerto Rico.

“The MIECHV program invests in our children in a way that strengthens families, helps lift them out of poverty, and increases the chance that they will become productive and successful citizens. My amendment simply ensures that Puerto Rico gets its fair share of this important federal investment,” Murphy stated in a press release issued on Tuesday. “The unanimous passage of my amendment helps underscore Congress’ commitment to our brothers and sisters in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. We’re all part of one American family, and I’ll continue working across party lines to ensure that Puerto Rico receives this nation’s full and equal support.”

U.S. Reps. Jenniffer González-Colón, a Puerto Rico Republican, and Nydia Velázquez, a New York Democrat, cosponsored the amendment, which Murphy wrote.

Then later on Tuesday, a couple of hours after the entire bill was approved by the House, Murphy tweeted, “House just passed my amdt ensuring families in #PuertoRico receive equal support under a fed prgrm to help families.” Her tweet was greeted by congratulatory and thankful retweets from a number of people.

Yet she and 188 other Democrats had just found themselves on the losing side of the 214-209 vote that approved HR 2824. Only two Democrats, neither of which Murphy nor Velázquez, voted yes.

Democrats in Congress took opposition to the House bill because it would “slash funding for critical investments in home visiting,” according to a statement from Murphy’s office. The Senate bill, introduced by three Republicans and four Democrats, does not do that.

“Congresswoman Murphy saw an opportunity in the House bill to fix an unfair formula that has been hurting Puerto Ricans for years. She introduced her amendment, which passed unanimously, with the goal of getting it into the final conference version of the bill, which she hopes to support,” Murphy’s spokesman, Javier Hernandez, wrote.

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