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Draft-Anna Eskamani for Orange Mayor movement draws Bob Poe backing

A social media campaign to draft Anna Eskamani to run for Orange County mayor is catching steam on Facebook and has convinced at least one major potential mayoral candidate to declare he won’t run because he’d rather back her – Bob Poe.

Eskamani, a 26-year-old Orlando Democrat who is director of external affairs for Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida, said Tuesday she is inspired and humbled, and is exploring the possibility of running for the top job in Orange County this year.

“I’m definitely giving it serious thought. But at the end of the day, I’m listening to the people,” she said.

So far, no serious candidates have filed, though several are known to be organizing support for a run in 2018, when incumbent Republican Mayor Teresa Jacobs will be term-limited. The two registered candidates are Harry Legrand-Torres and Robert Edward Melanson.

Poe was one such potential candidate. A businessman and major Democratic campaign fundraiser, fresh off a failed run for Congress, Poe said on Tuesday that he has decided to not run for mayor. Instead, after he saw the draft-Anna page, Poe decided he wants to back Eskamani, and is urging others in his orbit to do so as well.

“I’m out,” Poe said. “And I’m encouraging Anna.”

By late Tuesday, the “We Want Anna Eskamani for Orange County Mayor” page started Sunday afternoon on Facebook had more than 700 likes.

Eskamani is young, but an already well-established figure in Central Florida Democratic circles. She’s known for strong progressive views, fiery speeches, sharp preparation on issues, and appearing at nearly every progressive politics event in the area.

She has a twin sister Ida Eskamani, who fits the same bill and serves as a legislative aide to Democratic state Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith of Orlando.

“We deserve an authentic voice,” Anna Eskamani said. “We deserve a mayor who works for all people and pushes back against dangerous policies that come from Washington D.C. and Tallahassee. For me, organizing, fighting for equality, is what I have committed my life to.

“And I’m absolutely inspired by this new-found energy around the potential of me running for mayor. And I would be honored to serve this county and its people.”

Poe said he is attracted to her youthful energy and fearlessness, and his belief that the Democratic Party needs a new generation of leaders. He called her a leader who does her homework.

“She’s been on the cutting edge of what has been happening politically here,” Poe said. “She is a driver. I’m encouraging Anna to run. And I’m going to encourage other people to encourage Anna to run.”

While they make up their minds, so are several other potential candidates and their backers. Another draft page has been started on Facebook for Democratic Orange County Property Appraiser Rick Singh. Democratic Orange County Tax Collector Scott Randolph and Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings also been frequently projected as candidates. Potential Republican candidates have included Orange County School Board Chair Bill Sublette, former Florida Senate President Andy Gardiner and Former Orange County Commissioner Scott Boyd.

Darren Soto: Current GOP health care bill won’t pass

The current bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act will never pass Congress in its current form, freshman U.S. Rep. Darren Soto, an Orlando Democrat, told members of the Polk County Tiger Bay Club during a Monday lunch in Bartow.

“I believe ‘Trumpcare’ will be difficult in the House now that the joy of victory has subsided. And things in the Senate can come unraveled,” said the new congressman from Florida’s 9th Congressional District, which includes Osceola County and parts of Polk and Orange counties, during a post-luncheon interview.

“We must have a health care system other than (patients going primarily to) emergency rooms, which is the most expensive option,” Soto said.

A uniform bill with both parties working together is needed, respecting both sides.

But it is also an opportunity for the minority Democrats to have a say in defending or preserving parts of the Affordable Care Act because Republican lawmakers are so divided.

“In chaos, there is opportunity,” Soto said.

He has no problems calling the current bill “Trumpcare.” It is a play on words after Republicans called the ACA “Obamacare,” he said.

“He endorsed it (the Republican repeal and replace bill) so he owns it,” Soto said.

He also told his audience that the deportation of undocumented immigrants could devastate the agricultural and tourist industries in Florida, two of the three pillars of the state’s economy.

“This is the opinion of many ranchers and growers,” he said. “You are not going to have mechanical pickers in the groves. That is not going to happen. You need a guest worker program that actually works and need overall reform.”

Soto serves on the House Committee on Agriculture and on the House Committee on Natural Resources.

Citrus greening, a disease that attacks and destroys citrus trees, is a foremost concern he said. He said he is working with Rep. Dennis Ross, a Lakeland Republican, to get more funding for research crucial to Florida agriculture.

He and Ross have worked on several issues and will be among a congressional delegation Soto proposed to visit Iraq to determine the political and military situation.

The Florida Delegation, in fact, has developed a series of bipartisan issues on which members from both parties have agreed to work. They include Everglades Restoration, Infrastructure, Tax Reform and solving Red Tide.

“You can’t drive on 17/92 or US 27 and not understand the need for infrastructure funding,” Soto said. And citrus greening is a major concern to the Congress members from citrus counties, he said.

Soto may be a freshman member of Congress, but is not new to legislating. He served for nine years in a Republican-controlled Florida House and Florida Senate before being elected to Congress, which is Republican majority-controlled.

“I have to take that into consideration and thread the needle with good ideas. An example of that is money I have asked for to provide additional hurricane monitoring aircraft working with both parties. There is only one group to monitor the entire Gulf,” he said.

“Congress is more bipartisan than you may think,” he said. “We pass 10-12 bills a day on voice vote meaning no one objects enough to ask for a vote by name. It is the two or three controversial ones that get the press.”

Federal grant to provide $8.5 million to help Pulse victims

The U.S. Department of Justice is awarding an $8.5 million grant to help the victims of last June’s massacre at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub.

The grant, to be awarded Tuesday by the Department of Justice to the Florida Office of Attorney General Pam Bondi, was announced Monday by the office of U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida.

Florida will get $8,466,970 to assist survivors and victims’ families of the mass shooting, which left 49 dead and 53 wounded, as well as to help witnesses, and first responders. The Antiterrorism Emergency Assistance Program grant, administered through the DoJ’s Office for Victims of Crime, will aim to ensure that victims, witnesses and first responders receive necessary services to help them adjust in the aftermath, begin the healing process and cope with re-traumatization, according to an advisory from the department.

The money also will be used to reimburse authorities for the family assistance center that Orlando, Orange County, Heart of Florida United Way, Florida and the non-profit foundation Orlando United established in the days after the massacre.

The Orlando United Assistance Center was initially opened at the Camping World Stadium in the days immediately following the tragedy, but was moved to a building at 507 Michigan Street later on, where it has remained, with funding set for 2017. There, patients have access to mental health care and other needs, such as referrals for housing and rental assistance, emergency financial assistance, employment, training and educational opportunities.

Orlando judge revokes bond for wife of Pulse nightclub shooter

A federal judge in Orlando on Friday revoked bond for the wife of the gunman responsible for the Pulse nightclub massacre, the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history.

U.S. District Judge Paul Byron reversed the decision of a magistrate judge in Oakland, California, last week to release Noor Salman on $500,000 bond and ordered her jailed pending trial on charges of aiding and abetting and obstruction. Acting upon a request from prosecutors, Byron said Salman hadn’t overcome a legal presumption that she was a flight risk or a danger to the community.

“Upon consideration, this court finds that no condition or combination of conditions of pretrial release will reasonably assure the safety of the community or the reasonably assure the defendant’s appearance during the required court proceedings,” the judge wrote.

Salman was never let go from jail while Byron considered the prosecutors’ request.

Her attorney, Charles Swift in Texas, said in a statement that she maintains her innocence.

“We are currently exploring all available legal remedies on her behalf,” Swift said. “Until all the facts come out in trial, we urge the community to withhold judgment.”

Salman moved to California to be with family after last June’s massacre at the gay Orlando nightclub, and she had her first court appearance there even though charges were filed in Orlando.

At the last of several Oakland hearings, U.S. Magistrate Judge Donna Ryu said it was “debatable” whether the government has enough evidence to convict Salman and ordered her released from jail until trial.

Salman has pleaded not guilty to charges of aiding and abetting, and obstruction of justice.

Prosecutors have said Salman accompanied her husband when he cased locations for potential terrorist attacks, knew ahead of time that he was planning the attack and misled FBI agents about what she knew about her husband’s plans.

Salman’s husband, Omar Mateen, pledged allegiance to the Islamic State during the attack at the Pulse nightclub last June 12. The deadliest mass shooting in recent U.S. history left 49 people dead and dozens more wounded.

Mateen was killed by police during a shootout at the end of a three-hour standoff.

The judge’s order offered new details about psychiatric tests given to Salman by a doctor that were ordered by the federal magistrate.

The doctor concluded that Salman had Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and also had a high probability of intellectual impairment, although the results weren’t definitive, according to the order.

The judge’s order also said that Salman wasn’t given her Miranda warnings, which tell suspects they have a right to remain silent and have an attorney, when she was interviewed for 16 hours by FBI agents after the massacre.

A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office late Friday didn’t respond to an email asking how that would affect the case.

Jason Brodeur raises nearly $400K for 2020 state Senate bid — then gives $165K back

Republican state Rep. Jason Brodeur had a very, very good fundraising month in February for his campaign for state Senate District 9, raising nearly $88,000 in his campaign account and another $318,000 for his political committee.

But then he gave much of it back.

“We worked real, real hard,” Brodeur, of Sanford, stated in comments to FloridaPolitics.com, adding that his PAC, Friends of Jason Brodeur, is going to report in April that it raised another $100,000 in the first few days of March before the Legislative Session started and shut down all fundraising.

However, a big chunk of the money went around in a circle, leaving Friends of Jason Brodeur’s coffers just a few days after it came in.

The incoming money to Friends of Jason Brodeur included a Feb. 8 $150,000 donation from the Florida Committee for Conservative Leadership, run by Republican state Reps. Ben Albritton, Jr. of Wauchula and Matt Caldwell of North Fort Myers.

Then, at the end of February, Friends of Jason Brodeur donated $165,000o to Friends of Matt Caldwell, another committee supporting Caldwell.

All totaled, Friends of Jason Brodeur brought in $318,000 in February but donated or spent $173,000.

Seven other political committees also each donated more than $10,000 to Friends of Jason Brodeur during the month, from other political committees, health care and food interests.

His official campaign picked up scores of checks for $1,000, primarily from political committees and health care and hospitality interests.

Brodeur is running to succeed state Sen. David Simmons, who’ll be term-limited out in 2020.

His February hauls give him $100,000 in his official campaign chest, and $910,000 in his PAC.

That dwarfs other Senate candidates from Central Florida.

Democratic state Sen. Randolph Bracy of Oakland raised $17,000 in February to start his campaign fund for a 2020 re-election bid in Senate District 11. Democratic state Sen. Victor Torres of Orlando has not yet reported raising any money for his 2020 re-election bid in Senate District 15.

Space Florida approves loan to get OneWeb factory under construction

With a $17.5 million, third-party loan arranged and approved Friday by Space Florida, OneWeb expects to begin construction of its satellite factory next week outside the gates of Kennedy Space Center.

OneWeb already had received approval for a $17.5 million package of state incentives through the Florida Department of Transportation in a deal SpaceFlorida worked out last year. The loan, through SunTrust Bank, approved Friday by the SpaceFlorida Board of Directors, expedites the flow of that money to get construction started, while OneWeb and its partners, principally Airbus, work through some corporate arrangements on longterm financing.

The company is committed to building a $300 million satellite factory in Exploration Park, a business park operated by SpaceFlorida. OneWeb’s factory will go in across the street from another space factory already being built there by Blue Origin, for the construction of that company’s next generation rocket, the New Glenn.

Earlier this week OneWeb and Blue Origin announced plans for five launches of OneWeb satellites on New Glenn rockets, from a launch site Blue Origin has leased at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

OneWeb tentatively is talking about breaking ground for the first phase of its new plant next Thursday. When the factory was announced a year ago, OneWeb founder Greg Wyler pledged 250 jobs paying an average salary of $86,000.

The Space Florida board went through the loan arrangement with virtually no debate or opposition.

According to Dale Ketcham, chief of strategic alliances for Space Florida, the loan is to be paid back by OneWeb or its partners, and if for some reason they cannot, the loan will be paid back through the money the Department of Transportation set aside for incentives last year. “Space Florida is not on the hook,” for the money, he said.


Former Florida lawmaker charged with misusing campaign funds

Former Florida lawmaker Dwayne Taylor has been charged with wire fraud in an indictment that alleges he misused campaign funds.

The nine-count indictment made public on Thursday accuses Taylor of withdrawing money from his campaign fund and depositing that same amount in his personal bank accounts.

The federal indictment in Orlando says Taylor used the campaign money for personal expenses and then submitted false campaign expenditure reports to the state of Florida.

Federal prosecutors are seeking a return of the $62,000 they say Taylor obtained.

Taylor, a Democrat, represented a Daytona Beach House district from 2008 until last year when he made an unsuccessful run for U.S. Congress.

Court records showed no attorney for 49-year-old Taylor.

No one answered the phone at a number listed for Taylor in public records.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Stephanie Murphy bill to repeal ban on gun violence research

Democratic U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy introduced a bill Thursday to repeal the federal ban on scientific research into gun violence and then blasted any fellow members of Congress who “seek to suppress research” as un-American.

Murphy, from Winter Park, specifically referred to the June 12 massacre at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub as one reason for her sponsorship but also noted the 33,000 annual gun deaths in America, calling it “the daily drumbeat of violence.”

Her bill, which she dubbed the “Gun Violence Research Act,” would repeal provisions that prevent the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other agencies from researching gun violence and firearm injury prevention.

“This research would inform policymakers as they consider whether to enact reasonable reforms that both save lives and protect the constitutional rights of law-abiding gun owners,” Murphy said on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives Thursday.

“The decision rests with elected officials about whether to pass new laws designed to keep the most dangerous weapons out of the hands of the most dangerous individuals, in a manner consistent with the Second Amendment,” she continued. “But lawmakers of both parties should have the benefit of the best scientific research on the subject as they deliberate and debate.”

The bill likely will face powerful and potentially united Republican opposition, as the 20-year-old ban on federal funding of gun violence research has been an unmovable position for many years.

Murphy took aim in advance of anyone ready to defend the ban.

“I can respect that elected officials, like the diverse Americans they represent, have a range of views about the wisdom of enacting reasonable reforms within the space allowed by the Second Amendment,” she said on the floor. “What I cannot respect is any lawmaker who would seek to suppress research into gun-related incidents merely because the lawmaker fears this research could serve as the basis for legislative action that the lawmaker does not favor.

“Restricting research because you may disagree with its results is un-American to its core, a deviation from our proud national tradition of free and open inquiry.”

In a press release issued by her office, Murphy proclaimed it is time to act.

“No community should ever go through an attack like we saw at the Pulse nightclub and too many people around the nation are dying from gun-related incidents. It is past time to act,” Murphy stated. “Across the spectrum of public safety, we know research saves lives. To deny lawmakers and other public officials access to critical, life-saving data is to allow decisions to be made based on politics, not facts. My bill allows evidence-based research into one of the leading causes of death in America that will help us save lives.”

Central Florida Expressway Authority to look closely at Split Oak Park highway proposal

Plans to push an extension of the Osceola County Parkway through an environmentally-sensitive Split Oak Forest Park are not yet the concern of the Central Florida Expressway Authority but they soon will be and that agency’s leaders promised worried environmentalists Thursday that they will look closely at it.

“We’re going to engage the environmental community, all of the stakeholders … to be a part of the process,” vowed CFX Executive Director Laura Kelley.

Kelley was responding to a wave of opposition that earlier this week washed over the Orange County Board of County Commissioners, another agency with limited or no jurisdiction yet, and on Thursday onto the CFX Board of Directors meeting.

Specifically, she was referring to the CFX’s plans to essentially go back to square one on planning for the road, with a $1.1 million feasibility study the board signed off on Thursday.

The Osceola County Expressway Authority is set to vote on the route at its April meeting.

The Osceola County Expressway Authority is planning to extend the Osceola Parkway east and south, to eventually connect up with a network of new tollroads that agency has been planning. But the parkway extension plans call for the tolled highway to actually enter Orange County and then pass through the middle of the Split Oak Forest Park. That nature preserve originally established in the 1990s as a wetlands mitigation bank straddling the Orange-Osceola counties line.

Environmentalists, conservationists and others flooded the Orange County meeting on Tuesday and then appeared at the CFX board meeting urging them to recognize that the Split Oak park must not be traversed by a broad, four-lane divided highway and that the financial reasonings behind that preferred route are suspect.

They included former Orange County Commission Chair Linda Chapin, who said the park was created for both conservation purposes and passive park purposes.

“It has served us very, very well for 20 years,” Chapin said. “I do feel compelled to say that the very notion that any entity would contemplate building a major roadway in another county’s jurisdiction, without the very closest of consultation and collaboration, is really quite disappointing.”

CFX is in the process of taking over the Osceola County Expressway Authority and eventually will own and control all that the Osceola County agency now owns, controls and plans. Already, CFX is negotiating contracts to redo some of the planning for the parkway and other longterm projects.

That includes the feasibility study with CH2M Hill, which the board approved Thursday, to begin anew looking at what could or should be done with the Osceola Parkway.

Jennifer Thompson, both a CFX board member and an Orange County commissioner whose district includes the Split Oak Park, convinced the CFX board to require a second public hearing, in Orange County, during the feasibility study process. She also called for presentations before the Orange County commissioners.

“I’ve been working on this project from the Osceola County Expressway side for about two years,” Thompson said.

Brevard County wins twice in pursuit of place on expressway board

Brevard County’s push to get onto the Central Florida Expressway Authority Board won almost simultaneous victories Thursday in a Florida House panel and the expressway authority’s board itself.

The effort is being spearheaded by state Rep. Tom Goodson, a Merritt Island Republican whose House Bill 299 would create a 10th seat on the expressway board and reserve it for a Brevard County representative.

On Thursday that bill swiftly and unanimously cleared the House Government Accountability Committee with no discussion and no debate. It’s the second House committee the bill has cleared. A companion bill, state Sen. Debbie Mayfield‘s Senate Bill 720, awaits two hearings in the Senate.

The matter had come to a surprise to the expressway authority itself, which was not aware of the bills or the effort behind them, until after the bills had been filed. CFX officials initially had expressed confusion about the effort because no CFX highways extend into Brevard, and only very long-term plans – 20 or more years out – envision any, and those plans had anticipated the Brevard portions would be built by the state.

Yet on Thursday, the CFX board decided it liked the idea, given the current and growing cross-commuting and tourist transportation between the two counties and the longterm prospects.

The CFX board got its first briefing on the matter Thursday morning from Brevard County Board of County Commissioners Chairman Curt Smith in Orlando — literally simultaneously with when Goodson presented his bill to the House Government Accountability Committee in Tallahassee.

Ten minutes after the House committee approved Goodson’s HB 299 in Tallahassee, the CFX board crafted and unanimously approved a resolution supporting the bill in Orlando.

Goodson and Smith both made clearer the intentions behind the bill. In his Feb. 22 presentation to the Transportation & Infrastructure Subcommittee, Goodson implied that CFX already has highways in Brevard County. On Thursday, before the House Government Accountability Committee, Goodson clarified that to say only the non-CFX portions of those roads enter Brevard.

“Sections of the expressway also go into Brevard… Now once it hits the county line, it’s not theirs,” Goodson said. “But we encompass a lot of traffic coming from the airport, Disney and all that to the cruises and Port Canaveral.”

In his presentation in Orlando to the CFX board, Smith made it clear that he wanted Brevard to have a seat on the board because the traffic between the two counties is intertwined, and Brevard would like to be involved in any discussions that could lead to new toll roads to serve that traffic.

In particular, he advocated extensions of at least one CFX tollroad into Brevard to carry some of that traffic.

“Brevard would like to come to the table and be a part of CFX. We think we have a lot to offer. It would certainly be beneficial to us,” Smith said. “As Brevard continues to grow, and Central Florida continues to grow, it would provide another east-west corridor and greatly relieve the traffic on [State Roads} 520 and 528. Because if anybody has traveled up the East Coast … they stopped building roads about 20 years ago, but they didn’t stop adding people. And the roads are just crazy, terrible.”

Several CFX board members, led by Seminole County Commissioner Brenda Carey, said they thought a  Brevard voice would be important to long-term planning for the region.

“I don’t know of any east-west roads that we have or that we’ve planned that stop at the east Orange County line,” said Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, chair of the CFX board. “All of them if they reach the Orange County line they go ahead  and go into Brevard County. So I think there is a pretty good consensus here that it would be wise to add a seat to this board and to include Brevard County.”

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