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Linda Stewart to try again for assault weapons ban

Three Central Florida Democrats will continue their efforts to curb gun violence on Saturday as lawmakers continue to grapple with the post-Parkland political environment.

Linda Stewart will renew her push of an assault weapons ban during a rare Saturday floor session of the Florida Senate, while state Reps. Amy Mercado and Carlos Smith will host a gun safety roundtable with survivors of the 2016 mass shooting at Pulse nightclub.

On Friday, Stewart reaffirmed her pledge to push for legislation that bans civilian versions of military-style assault weapons and high capacity magazines.

Stewart was the senate sponsor for bills filed before session that would ban semi-automatic assault rifles (SB 196) and bump stocks (SB 456). Smith filed the House version of the assault weapons ban, while Miami Beach Democrat David Richardson filed the bump stock ban in the House.

None of the bills were heard in committee.

“Floridians overwhelmingly support an assault weapons ban and they want action,” said Stewart. “Our kids have said #NeverAgain. The path to reduce gun violence and prevent these massacres has to include restrictions on assault weapons that only serve the purpose of killing people.”

Stewart will take up the issue when her colleagues debate the Senate’s gun legislation (SB 7026) which establishes the Florida Sheriff’s Marshal Program to arm teachers and faculty.

While the Senate takes up that issue, Mercado and Smith will sit down with survivors and families of victims of the Pulse tragedy, along with parents, students, teachers and advocates to discuss current gun safety proposals introduced by the Legislature.

The roundtable will take place at Acacia Banquet Hall in Orlando. The event begins at 10:00 a.m.

Democrats’ Orlando billboard proclaims ‘Rick Scott did nothing’ after Pulse

Democrats have launched billboards in Orlando and Tallahassee that declare that Gov. Rick Scott did nothing to address gun safety following the June 12, 2016, Pulse nightclub massacre in Orlando.

The Florida Democratic Party has leased two billboards, and the one in Orlando went live Friday. The message charges that the Republican governor’s commitment to addressing gun violence since the Feb. 14 massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School lacked in the days following the Pulse mass shooting.

Specifically, the 612 days that transpired between the two tragedies.

The Democrats’ message is one of several in rotation on that particular digital billboard in Orlando. It cites an editorial published in the Sun-Sentinel of South Florida and presents this message to drivers heading westbound on Colonial Drive toward downtown Orlando:



–The Sun Sentinel”

The billboard faces the route downtown from one of Orlando’s largest Hispanic communities, Azalea Park. Many of the 49 people murdered at Pulse were Hispanic as the mass murder occurred during the popular nightclub’s Latino night. That east-side community was particularly hard hit.

The Tallahassee billboard will go up at Magnolia Road and Mahan Drive, facing inbound traffic, and go live on Sunday.

“Rick Scott’s long record of opposing common-sense gun safety measures shows exactly who he is: a self-serving politician who says one thing and does the opposite — while Floridians pay the price,” Florida Democratic Party Executive Director Juan Penalosa said in a news release announcing the billboards.

“He broke his promise and did nothing to make Floridians safer from gun violence after the Pulse tragedy because he was more concerned about looking out for his political interests and the agenda of his gun lobby backers. Now he’s ignoring the clear calls from Parkland students and gun safety advocates by refusing to back an assault weapons ban.“

The Sun-Sentinel editorial that the billboard cited criticized Scott and President Donald Trump‘s responses to the Parkland shooting, as well as Scott for refusing to consider a ban on assault weapons in the wake of the Pulse shooting.

It didn’t explicitly refer to the period between Pulse and Parkland or enumerate the days.

The editorial stated: “After Sandy Hook, Pulse, the Fort Lauderdale airport shooting or any other mass shooting, Scott did nothing on guns or school safety.”

Scott’s office responded Friday with the following statement: “Following the terrorist attack at the Pulse Nightclub, Governor Scott proposed and took action on ways to make our state safer against threats of terrorism. The Governor proposed and then signed $5.8 million for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to add 46 counterterrorism agents to the Terrorism Task Forces. This year, the Governor also proposed $1.3 million to the FDLE for incident command vehicles and emergency ordinance disposal vehicles to strengthen counterterrorism and intelligence efforts.”

John Boehner brings support, challenge for Scott Sturgill backers in CD 7 race

Republican congressional candidate Scott Sturgill got the backing of former Speaker of the U.S. House John Boehner Thursday night as he offered a challenge to Republicans to go “all in” for the businessman in the contest for Florida’s 7th Congressional District.

Sturgill, a Sanford businessman, hosted Boehner at a Lake Mary fundraising event attended by about 125 on Thursday for his Republican primary race against state Rep. Mike Miller of Winter Park. According to a news release issued by Sturgill’s campaign, the retired Ohio congressman indirectly referenced Miller and a third Republican in the contest, Patrick Weingart of Altamonte Springs, with a call to clear the field for a Sturgill challenge in the fall to Democratic U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy of Winter Park.

In addition to Boehner, the event also drew former U.S. Rep. Sandy Adams of Oviedo, Seminole County Republican State Committeewoman Susie Dolan and businessman and philanthropist David Maus, among others.

“This impacts the race because we are the campaign with the momentum right now and leaders and Republicans in the 7th District know that,” said Frank Torres, a campaign consultant and former local political journalist recently hired as campaign communications director by Sturgill. “The speaker is just the beginning of a list of leaders from Washington and here in Central Florida that will be publicly supporting our campaign. We’re out of the gate and picking up speed. The other candidates in this primary can’t say that right now. You’re not going to win in November if it’s March and your campaign hasn’t gotten out of bed yet.”

The district covers Seminole County and north-central Orange County. Nationally, Republicans are targeting the seat as one they hope to win back this November.

David Smith picks up more local officials’ endorsements in HD 28 contest

Republican House District 28 candidate David Smith has picked up several more endorsement from local officials in Seminole County including County Tax Collector Joel Greenberg, and officials who praised his education and environmental views.

In addition to Greenberg, Smith’s campaign announced the new backings of Seminole County School Board Member Abby Sanchez and Seminole County Soil and Water District Vice Chairman David Mahnken on Thursday.

“He is a true patriot and will serve House District 28 well and faithfully,” Greenberg said of the retired U.S. Marines colonel, in a news release issued by Smith’s campaign.

“He is a proven leader and I’m confident that education will always be a priority for him,” Sanchez stated.

“His working knowledge and understanding of the environmental changes facing Florida comes from his willingness to listen and learn,” Mahnken said.

Smith, of Winter Springs, faces Democrat Lee Mangold of Casselberry in the contest seeking to succeed Republican state Rep. Jason Brodeur in the eastern Seminole County HD 28.

In addition to announcing the new endorsements, Smith’s campaign also announced a new fundraiser to be hosted by Seminole County Sheriff Dennis Lemma on the evening of March 12 at the Cork & Olive restaurant in Lake Mary.

“I’m very pleased to have the full support of School Board Member Abby Sanchez, Vice Chair David Mahnken and Tax Collector Joel Greenberg” Smith stated in the release. “They are all principled leaders in their respective roles, serving our community to make it a better place for our residents, students and businesses. Their support is greatly appreciated.”

Anna Eskamani draws backing from National Iranian American Council

Democratic House District 47 candidate Anna Eskamani, an Orlando native born of Iranian immigrants, has garnered the national endorsement of the National Iranian American Council Action, her campaign announced Tuesday.

Eskamani is just the second candidate the organization has endorsed this cycle, after a congressional candidate in California. NAIC Action is a political action organization related to the National Iranian American Council, and committed to “advancing peace and championing the priorities of the Iranian-American community” and to “maximize the political influence of Iranian Americans and the pro-peace community.”

Eskamani is seeking election to what is expected to be an open seat in HD 47, with Republican incumbent state Rep. Mike Miller running for Congress. Two Republicans are running for the seat, Stockton Reeves VI of Winter Park and Mikeala Nix of Orlando.

“We’re excited to announce our endorsement of Anna Eskamani, who is running for the Florida House in District 47,” Jamal Abadi, executive director of NIAC Action, stated in an email blast. “Her connections to the Iranian-American community, and the issues that affect us, run deep – she has organized activists locally against [President Donald] Trump’s Muslim ban and would become the first Iranian American ever elected to the Florida legislature!”

Eskamani, whose mother was born in Tehran and father in Tabriz, before they each immigrated to the United States and eventually met in Orlando, added the following statement in the news release:

“We are a nation of immigrants, and my story is not unlike that of many other fellow Americans, or of those who aspire to become American citizens one day. My personal identity and experiences compel me to be a passionate advocate for all people, and to push back against political agendas that marginalize and attack people because of how they look, talk, or who they worship. I will always stand up to bigotry and hate, and thank NIAC Action for bringing a national spotlight to our campaign and movement.”

‘Brazil is back!’ declares Orlando airport director

In an economic wave sure to splash throughout the tourism economies of Orlando and Florida, projections and airline activity indicate that a rebounding Brazilian economy is expected to show up big at Orlando International Airport this year, officials said Tuesday.

“Brazil is back! And this resurgence from our third largest international market brings a welcomed boost to the local economy,” Phil Brown, CEO of the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority, said in a news release Tuesday.

Brown’s declaration comes after news of economic projections showing a strong rebound in Brazil this year from an economic recession, along with news of airline seat statistics indicating that Brazilian visitation is on track to shatter record numbers.

Brazil long has been the third biggest market for international tourists coming to Orlando, behind Great Britain and Canada. But Brazilians’ visitation dropped sharply in recent years because of that country’s economic woes. And the loss of many Brazilian tourists has been a weight on the rising Orlando and Florida tourism industry.

According to the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority, scheduled airline seats from Brazil to Orlando this year now number 486,000. That’s more than 30 percent above the record of 361,000 set in 2016. GOAA also cited a Reuters report forecasting that Brazil’s GDP would increase 2.3 percent in 2018, compared with 0.7 percent in 2017, citing growth in local demand, continuing improvement in household spending and increases in investments and capital expenditure.

Part of the anticipated visitation increase also is supported by, an increase in the numbers of airlines flying between Orlando and Brazil, and an increase in the number of Brazilian cities to which they will connect. GOL Airlines is coming to Orlando this year, connecting with the new Brazilian destinations of the capital Brasilia and the historic north coast city of Fortaleza. LATAM airlines also is adding service to Fortaleza this year. LATAM, Azul, and Delta already provide service between Orlando and Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo, Recife, and Belo Horizonte.

“With the recent additional seats from Brazil, the projected economic impact for 2018 is nearly $1 billion, up 111% from 2013,” Brown added.

Democrat Joy Goff-Marcil enters HD 30 race

Democrat Joy Goff-Marcil, a lawyer who is on the Maitland City Council and serves as vice mayor, has entered the contest to run for Florida House District 30.

Goff-Marcil is the second Democrat in the race, joining Clark Anderson of Winter Park, seeking to take on Republican state Rep. Bob Cortes of Altamonte Springs this year.

A lawyer working primarily in probate law, she’s been a Maitland resident since childhood. She was first elected to the Maitland City Council in 2013, and re-elected in 2016 without opposition. Prior to running for office, she’d been a longtime advocate for school and health care issues in the area. She served as regional coordinator for the Florida Department of Health’s “Communities Putting Prevention to Work” program.

Goff-Marcil, 49, attended Maitland Middle School, graduated from Winter Park High School, earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from Florida State University, and a law degree from Stetson University, according to her Maitland City Council biography. She and her husband Rich Marcil have three children.

She filed her candidacy papers on Feb. 16.

District 30 covers south-central Seminole County and north-central Orange County.

Orange County voters might not see a Democrat for Sheriff on 2018 ballot

Orange County voters might not have the choice to vote for a Democrat for the position of sheriff this year even though it is a partisan office and Democrats dominate the county’s voter rolls.

There are two registered Democrats, Orlando Police Chief John Mina and retired Florida Highway Patrol Maj. Jose “Joe” Lopez, running for sheriff in Orange County. But neither will appear on November’s ballot as a Democrat. Mina already is running as an independent, and Lopez would have to change to independent status to stay in the race this year.

They both used to be Republicans. And they both switched and joined the Democratic Party last year — too late to be able to qualify to run this year as Democrats.

Officially, the office doesn’t come up again for re-election until 2020, so both Mina and Lopez would be OK if that’s when the election took place. Demings, who was just re-elected in 2016, is running for Orange County mayor this year. He is expected to stay in that race [for which he’s the early favorite] and therefore submit his resignation by June 8, to take effect in December. That would open up his sheriff’s office to special elections this year for a two-year term, with partisan primaries set for August 28 and a general election for Nov. 6.

Florida law says a candidate has to wait 365 days to run as a partisan after joining a party.

Mina switched his party affiliation on Sept. 1, 2017, becoming a Democrat four days too late to be able to run in the 2018 Democratic primary. Two weeks ago, he filed to run for sheriff as an independent candidate.

Lopez switched his party affiliation on Dec. 19, 2017, becoming a Democrat months too late to run under the party. Nonetheless, on Feb. 1 he filed to run for sheriff as a Democrat. He would have to switch to independent status by the June qualifying period to be on a ballot this year, Orange County Supervisor of Elections Bill Cowles said.

Lopez said on Monday he was considering an independent run. But he also held out the prospect that Demings might change his mind. So, Lopez said he is considering not officially revising his status unless and until he officially has to, and that would not be until Demings submits his resignation.

That’s not a problem for the third candidate in the contest. Retired Orange County Sheriff’s Capt. Thomas Stroup has been a Republican at least since 1994, which is how far back the county’s electronic records go.

If any other Republicans enter the race, there would be an August 28 primary, and Stroup would be in it. If not, or if he wins such a primary, he can appear on the Nov. 6 ballot as a Republican.

Meanwhile, if any other Democrats decide to get into the race, they could grab the Democrats’ track onto a November ballot that also could feature Republican Stroup and independents Mina and Lopez.

Normally, Democrats can expect a huge advantage in Orange County. Party members currently hold all county constitutional offices: sheriff, supervisor of elections, clerk of courts, tax collector, comptroller and property appraiser. Forty-two percent of the county’s voters are registered as Democrats, and 27 percent as Republicans. Independent voters make up 31 percent of the Orange County electorate.

Jerry Demings, Rob Panepinto, Pete Clarke introduce Orange County mayor’s race at Urban League

In the first event putting Orange County’s three top candidates for mayor on the same program, Jerry Demings, Rob Panepinto, and Pete Clarke presented themselves to the Central Florida Urban League Friday respectively as the known steady hand, the visionary, and the veteran of community building.

“What you get from Jerry Demings is scandal-free leadership, a man who comes to work every day to ensure that this community is the best community for us to live, for us to work, for us visit, for us to raise a family,” Orange County Sheriff Demings, who’s been sheriff, county deputy administrator for public safety, and Orlando Police chief over the past 20 years, told Friday’s breakfast meeting of the Urban League’s Gala Weekend in Orlando.

“I believe I’ve got the right breadth of experience in creating jobs, building businesses, and serving our community that we need, and a blueprint to move us to a wonderful period of growth and opportunity for the next 20 or 30 years,” said Panepinto, a Winter Park businessman, entrepreneurial-economy advocate, and former leader of the Orlando Regional Chamber of Commerce.

“Poverty without hope is the problem. If you look at my resume throughout my career, I give hope. That’s my mission,” said Orange County Commissioner Clarke, who has helped organize and run health care and housing non-profit groups.

The trio gave separate speeches and did not take questions nor face each other on Friday. There were no hard-edged discussions on divisive issues. But the forum gave each the opportunity to define himself and his priorities.

And in doing so, each managed to subtly define some of their differences as well.

“We are in a good place now,” Demings declared.

He stressed his career in law enforcement. He said his priorities are to make Orange County a safer, more prosperous, and stronger county, by focusing on smart growth, public safety and regionalism.

“I believe that the next mayor of Orange County is the person who has to lead and to work with mayors in our municipalities, as well as working with the other counties,” Demings said, offering a hint of criticism toward outgoing Mayor Teresa Jacobs, who sometimes has been criticized for not working closely with others. “We’re going to look at and focus on improving affordable housing in this community, on improving health care in this community, of improving the lives of our children in this community, of our seniors in this community.

“In terms of improving the prosperity of this community, we are going to work with businesses, we are going to work with young people, to encourage them to have a more entrepreneurial attitude,” Demings added.

And he also offered himself as the known commodity, someone who’s been in law enforcement or public service for 37 years, the last 20 in leadership positions.

“You don’t have to guess of whether or not I can lead in this community, because you have seen me do it,” Demings said.

“A vote for Jerry Demings is a vote for the right leadership at the right time,” he concluded.

Panepinto may be a known commodity in Central Florida business circles, but that does not extend much beyond yet, and even his introduction Friday included a botching of his name.

He quickly turned against the status quo assumption that Orange County is in a good place, arguing that with all its prosperity it still has stark income disparity, poverty and critical affordable housing problems. The challenge, Panepinto said, is that the county’s talent and potential have not been tapped. That message, he offered, was clear from the rejection of Orlando last month by Amazon for its second world headquarters. Amazon declared, Panepinto interpreted, that Orlando is not ready yet for what Amazon wants to do.

Panepinto told the gathering it’s time for people to decide “what this community should be over the next 20 or 25 years.”

Yet he outlined existing conditions that he said provide far more potential, with extremely low unemployment, a rising real estate market, low taxes, “a wonderful inclusive culture, a young community, one that came through Pulse in a way many other communities would not have.”

Panepinto framed himself as a successful entrepreneur and businessman. With experience at the Orlando Partnership and other economic development groups and business incubator and accelerator programs, he said he could help people create higher-wage jobs, and deal with social issues including housing.

“With that experience I have developed a pretty full blueprint for an even better Orange County… Job one has to be creating … and attracting more higher-wage jobs in our communities. I am a firm believer in entrepreneurial and small business growth. If you are creating jobs in this county, I want to make it easier for you to grow, not harder,” Panepinto said.

“We also have to make sure we’ve got the right workforce,” he said, stressing the need to develop more pipelines with schools technical schools, colleges and universities to “better match what business needs.”

Clarke, who spent decades working with non-profits, including helping create the Central Florida Primary Care Access Network, has made his name in two terms on the Orange County Commission for pushing for the government to work with non-profits to address community needs, and then for the government to get out of the way. His talk was one of recognizing problems such as affordable housing, health care, and income inequality, but also recognizing that government’s role should not be to solve them, but to coordinate non-profits and the private sector to solve them.

He began his talk to the Urban League by charging that income inequality was an issue 100 years ago, 50 years ago and “today we’re still trying to fight income inequality.”

The next mayor needs to focus on coordinating the county’s organizations and businesses to address the problem, he said. Government, he continued, has inherent slowness and inefficiency, while the private sector and nonprofits have inherent urgencies.

“When there are issues or problems, I’ve had the ability to bring the community together to solve them,” Clarke said. “And you need to know where the government stops and where the community begins.”

For Clarke, that includes job creation. He noted that in his District 3 in south Orange County, the economy is made up of small businesses — particularly Hispanic-owned and run businesses. Many struggle and need a clearer path, he said.

“What I mean to do is to create an environment, to continue an environment, that really does allow people to create jobs,” Clarke said.

Karen Castor Dentel files to run for Orange County School Board

Former state Rep. Karen Castor Dentel has filed to run for the Orange County School Board, for a seat that is technically not yet open yet but likely will be soon, and into a field that has quickly attracted three other candidates.

Dentel, a Democrat from Maitland who flipped the House District 30 seat in 2012, then lost it to Republican state Rep. Bob Cortes in 2014, filed late last week for the Orange County School Board District 6 seat. That seat’s current term runs through 2020, but the incumbent, Nancy Robbinson, is running for the county-wide Orange County School Board chair’s seat, and will have to resign. That would open the District 6 seat to a special election this year.

Consequently, since Robbinson filed for the chair’s position, four candidates now have jumped into the contest for her seat, representing north-central Orange County.

Dentel is a teacher with strong political connections, particularly in her family. Her mother Betty Castor was Florida education commissioner in the 1980s and 1990s, and then president of the University of South Florida. Dentel’s sister, Kathy Castor, is a member of the U.S. Congress, representing Tampa.

Since losing her Florida House seat, Dentel has remained active in behind-the-scenes politics, supporting the current campaigns of Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gwen Graham, Democratic Orange County mayoral candidate Jerry Demings, and Democratic Florida House District 47 candidate Anna Eskamani, among others.

The District 6 seat also has attracted Kelvin Cobaris, a Clarcona real estate agent, who last year unsuccessfully ran for House District 45. Cobaris also has deep ties in the Central Florida Democratic Party, and with several current office holders and candidates. He filed to run for the school board seat on Feb. 5.

The school board seat and the election are non-partisan.

The newest candidate  for the Orange County School Board District 6 seat is Charlene Roberts Norato of Orlando, who filed to run on Wednesday. She is a longtime schools volunteer, PTA leader at her child’s College Park Middle School, and an Odyssey of the Mind Team coach for Edgewater High School.

Another relatively new candidate for the seat is Patricia Fox of Maitland, who filed her paperwork on Jan. 22. Fox previously ran for the seat against Robbinson in 2012, casting herself as a reform candidate. She lost. Fox also was a teacher, who reported in her 2012 campaign that she had developed curriculum for geography and world history courses.

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