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Orlando Democratic guberatorial debate canceled

The Orange County Democratic Party has canceled efforts to have a gubernatorial debate in Orlando next Tuesday because Philip Levine and Gwen Graham would not agree to participate.

Orange County Democratic Chair Wes Hodge expressed regret over the last-week cancellation he announced Friday and that voters in Orange County “will not have the opportunity to hear from the candidates seeking to be their governor in one open, public forum.”

Hodge said Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum and Winter Park entrepreneur Chris King had committed weeks ago, but not former U.S. Rep. Graham nor former Miami Beach Mayor Levine. The fifth candidate, newly-entered Palm Beach businessman Jeff Greene, also had recently committed, his campaign said.

“Regrettably the Orange County Democratic Party has been forced to cancel the planned Democratic gubernatorial debate scheduled for next Tuesday, June 26th, due to an inability to secure all of the candidates for the event,” Hodge said in a statement. “We have been working hard over the past six weeks to make this event a success, and I would like to thank all of our volunteers who worked to make this happen. It is unfortunate that the voters of Orange County will not have an opportunity to hear from the candidates seeking to be their Governor directly in one open, public forum.”

The debate was being planned for Barnett Park on Orlando’s west side, for a 7 p.m. forum.

“The Democratic Executive Committee will be working to find another way to connect our voters directly with our five candidates seeking the governor’s office, and hope to announce another event in the near future,” Hodge added.

Gillum and King blasted their rivals for not being willing to join them. The first four Democratic gubernatorial candidates have debated three times, and Gillum and King have done well, getting strong reviews for their performances. But now Levine and Graham are showing signs of pulling ahead in polls heading toward the August 28 primary.

Gillum said he’s going to come anyway.

“It’s critical that Orange County voters hear about our priorities for this state, and since my opponents refuse to join me for a debate, I’m looking forward to hosting a town hall in its place on Tuesday night,” Gillum said in a statement. “Floridians need to know where we stand, and who we stand for.”

King said it was too bad that neither Orlando nor Jacksonville are getting to see the Democrats go head-to-head.

“Politics and politicians, as usual, have failed progressive values and ordinary Floridians for too long and Democrats deserve to judge for themselves whether the other candidates for governor offer a fresh vision and a break from the past. That’s why I’m disappointed that some candidates in this race have refused invitations to debate in Orlando and Jacksonville,” King said in a statement. “We must compete in every corner of our state and take no one for granted, and that means making sure Spanish language, African American, Caribbean and other diverse media outlets are included as well.”

Levine’s campaign responded with a reminder that the Democrats initially had agreed to five debates, even though that included none in Orlando or Jacksonville.

“Our campaign worked successfully with the Florida Democratic Party on a number of agreed-upon debates and forums. After weeks of negotiations, all campaigns agreed to five debates, including a statewide televised debate that will air in Orange County,” Christian Ulvert, senior advisor to the campaign, said in a statement. “The Mayor is excited and proud to continue to share his vision for Florida and his progressive record of accomplishments directly with voters in the upcoming three debates and town halls.”

Orange County mayoral race becomes 3-man contest it always was

The non-partisan Orange County mayoral contest was already a slugfest between Jerry Demings, Rob Panepinto and Pete Clarke.

With three minor candidates dropping out (or failing to qualify for the ballot), the race for Orange County mayor Friday is now the same three-person contest it mostly has been, pitting Orange County Sheriff Demings against businessman Panepinto and Orange County Commissioner Clarke.

Those three qualified Friday for the August 28 election ballot, while Robert Melanson withdrew and Jose Colom and David Quiros failed to qualify as the window closed at noon.

The non-partisan contest between the three is to succeed outgoing Mayor Teresa Jacobs, who is term-limited and running for Orange County School Board.

If no one gets at least 50 percent of the vote in August, the top two will move on to a Nov. 6 runoff.

Orange County Sheriff election set for November with three candidates

There will be no primaries in the Orange County Sheriff’s election this year as only one partisan candidate, Darryl Sheppard, qualified for the ballot while Jose “Joe” Lopez switched to run as an independent.

Another Democrat also failed to qualify.

Consequently, Orlando Police Chief John Mina, already running as an independent candidate, will face Lopez and Sheppard in a November election to decide the successor to longtime Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings.

Both Mina and Lopez had registered last year as Democrats, but both did so too late to qualify for this year’s ballot as Democrats. Consequently, Mina initially filed to run as an independent when he first submitted candidate paperwork in February. Lopez initially filed to run as a Democrat in February but changed that in new filings presented this week to run as an independent. There are no Republicans in the partisan election. Republican Thomas Stroup initially entered the race but withdrew.

Mina, retired Florida Highway Patrol Chief Lopez, and Sheppard all qualified for the ballot this week, while former Eatonville Police Chief Eric McIntyre, who’d filed as a Democrat, did not qualify to run when the window closed at noon Friday.

Moneywise, Mina and Lopez started close, but Mina has been raising far more campaign money over the past few months. Through May, Mina raised about $113,000, Lopez about $49,000; Sheppard, $3,000.

Four candidates make ballot for Orange Co. School Board chair

Four candidates, including Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs and Orange County School Board Member Nancy Robbinson, have made it onto the ballot for the August 28 election for the countywide chair position of the Orange County School Board.

Jacobs and Robbinson were joined by Orange County teacher Robert Prater and Orange County Public Schools administrator Matt Fitzpatrick.

Prater has been running since November, Robbinson since December, Fitzpatrick since January, and Jacobs since April in a quest to succeed outgoing Orange County School Board Chair Bill Sublette, the only person to hold the position since it was created

If no one gets more than 50 percent of the vote in the August 28 election, the top two finishers move on to a runoff in November.

Many consider this a two-person contest as Robbinson, long a fixture in Orange County politics, entered the race with widespread support in the nonpartisan contest, while Jacobs, completing two terms in the county’s highest post, is among the best-known politicians in Central Florida. Prater and Fitzpatrick have taught and worked as administrators in the district for decades.

Through May, Robbinson had raised more than $122,000 for the campaign and Jacobs $69,000, in less than two months. Fitzpatrick’s campaign had attracted about $7,000, and Prater’s about $3,000.

Anna Eskamani gets primary opponent

Anna Eskamani, campaigning for the Orange County seat opening up in Florida’s House District 47 for more than a year, drew a Democratic primary opponent with the unexpected entry of Ocoee real estate agent Lou Forges, provided he qualifies for the ballot.

The entry came as a surprise to Orange County Democratic Party leadership, leaving the party scrambling, with little success Thursday, to talk with Forges, find out who he is, and why he chose to enter a last-week challenge to a candidate the party has strongly backed.

Orange County Party Chairman Wes Hodge said Forges declined to talk to him about his campaign Thursday, telling the party chair he was waiting until after qualifying. Hodge said he has questions about Forges’ residency, and about his campaign consultants, who’ve previously largely worked on Republican campaigns, including that of state Rep. Mike Miller, the incumbent in the district.

“We have serious concerns,” about his candidacy, Hodge said.

Forges did not return calls Thursday from Orlando-Rising.

Forges, who turns 48 on July 1, filed his paperwork Wednesday.

Eskamani, of Orlando, is aiming for the seat being vacated by Miller, who is running for Congress. Two Republicans, lawyer Mikaela Nix of Orlando and businessman Stockton Reeves VI, also have been campaigning for the seat.

Through early Friday morning, only Eskamani and Nix had qualified for the ballot.

HD 47 covers north and central Orange County, including much of Winter Park and Orlando, including downtown Orlando and its surrounding neighborhoods.

Hodge said the address Forges lists on his voter registration a house in Ocoee, well outside HD 47, which Forges apparently sold 18 months ago. And the address Forges uses for a homestead exemption is in Apopka, also well outside HD 47, Hodge said.

Forges is working with Corridor Consulting Group, an agency that has worked on the campaigns of Republicans Miller, former state Rep. Eric Eisnaugle, Orange County Commissioner Betsy VanderLey, and Orange County Commission candidate Bobby Lance, among others, Hodge said.

Eskamani, an official with Planned Parenthood, has been a grassroots organizer for years, and has a strong ground game to go along with more than $244,000 in campaign money she has raised. At the end of May, she still had more than $178,000 left in the bank. Reeves, who has lent his campaign about $95,000, ended May with about $104,000 in the bank. Nix, who entered the race in January, had about $36,000 going into June.

Associated Builders and Contractors endorses David Smith for HD 28

Winter Springs Republican David Smith announced Thursday that the state’s largest commercial construction trade group has endorsed his campaign for House District 28.

Associated Builders and Contractors is the commercial construction trade association for Central Florida and we are pleased to endorse David Smith for Florida House District 28,” said Mark Wylie, president and CEO of the Central Florida Chapter ABC.

“Our members include general contractor and subcontractors in all trades, as well as material and service providers, for the industry. David’s knowledge and understanding of the key issues affecting our industry, as well as specific educational programs is impressive. We believe he will work to create and sustain a business and regulatory environment that will result in a strong Florida economy and a growing workforce.”

The new endorsement for Smith, a Marine Corps veteran, follows recent nods from Republican Sen. David Simmons and current HD 28 Rep. Jason Brodeur, who leaving the seat due to term limits.

“I’m honored to have the support of the Associated Builders and Contractors,” Smith said. “As someone who graduated vocational training and started my work-life as a certified welder, I have great respect for the men and women that work in the trades. We see eye to eye on the issues that affect not only their industry, but what’s needed to create good jobs for Central Florida families.” Smith added.

HD 28 covers part of northeastern Seminole County, including Sanford, Winter Springs, Casselberry and Oviedo. Republican voters make up nearly 40 percent of the electorate in the Central Florida district, compared to a 33 percent share for Democrats.

The only other candidate running to succeed Brodeur is Democrat Lee Mangold.

As of May 31, Smith had nearly $150,000 in the bank for his campaign account including $85,000 in loans. Through the same date, Mangold had about $15,000 at the ready. His total includes $10,000 in loans.

Space Coast Business Force endorses Rene Plasencia, Thad Altman, Dorothy Hukill

Business Voice of Florida’s Space Coast has endorsed the re-elections of state Sen. Dorothy Hukill and state Reps. Rene Plasencia and Thad Altman in Brevard County districts, the organization announced.

Those endorsements are in addition to the previously announced nod toward Tyler Sirois for the open seat for House District 51.

All four are Republicans and all of them except Hukill have Republican primary challenges on August 28.

The organization, established to be the political voice for the Space Coast business community, also made endorsements of Chuck Nelson and Curt Smith in the Brevard County Commission District 2 and 4 elections, respectively; and Misty Belford and Andy Ziegler in the Brevard County School Board District 1 and 5 races, respectively.

“The state legislature, the county commission and our local school board have an incredible impact on the local economy,” said Kathryn Rudloff, executive director for the group, in a news release. “Ensuring the Space Coast remains a great place to live, work and do business is our priority. That is why local job creators are excited to support these proven leaders who are committed to the long-term health and sustainability of our diverse regional economy.”

Hukill is clear until November when she faces the winner of the Democratic primary, either Brandon Maggard or Mel Martin, for Senate District 14.

Plasencia faces George Collins in a Republican primary for House District 50, while Altman faces Matt Nye in the primary for House District 52. Democrats will be awaiting the winners in November.

“These candidates are asking the voting public for a job. The business community takes very seriously the opportunity to interview candidates and consider their qualifications for the office they seek,” Rudloff added.

Darryl Block wins AFL-CIO endorsement in HD 29 race

Florida House candidate Darryl Block has received the endorsement of the Florida AFL-CIO heading toward the Democratic Democratic primary to run in House District 29.

It’s the second endorsement Block recently has picked up, following the blessing he received from Democratic state Sen. Victor Torres of Orlando.

Block, a Lake Mary lawyer, social worker and mediator, is battling with Longwood lawyers Tracey Kagan and Patrick Brandt for the August 28 Democratic primary nomination. The prize is the task of facing longtime Republican incumbent state Rep. Scott Plakon in the general election.

In a news release issued by his campaign, Block said he was thrilled to receive the backing of the labor union with more than 1 million members, retirees and their families. Block expressed his commitment to serve working families and veterans and be a strong advocate of employee rights, pay equality, environmental protection, public schools and sensible gun-control legislation, and to advocate for Puerto Ricans in Central Florida.

Block also slammed Plakon for his bill last winter setting new regulations on teachers unions and other public employee unions.

“The action taken this week by the AFL-CIO is just the beginning of our battle to bring fairness and equity to Florida workers, who have been ignored for far too long by a hostile Legislature,” Block stated in the release. “I look forward to joining my fellow progressives in championing workers’ rights in Tallahassee.”

Tyler Sirois picks up Business Voice endorsement in HD 51 race

Republican Tyler Sirois has received the endorsement of the Business Voice Political Committee, a group representing a broad cross-section of Brevard County businesses and entrepreneurs, in his quest to be elected to the House District 51 seat, his campaign announced.

Five candidates are running for the seat opening up because incumbent Republican state Rep. Tom Goodson is leaving due to term limits. So far, only Sirois, of Merritt Island, and Democrat Mike Blake of Cocoa have qualified for the ballot. Also running are Cocoa Mayor Henry Parrish, a Republican; Thomas O’Neill, a Republican; and Shain Honkonen, who is running as an independent candidate.

In a letter to Sirois, Business Voice Political Committee Chairman Larry McIntyre and Executive Director Kathryn Rudloff jointly declared that “due to your commitment to bring common sense leadership to Tallahassee and support local job creators, we believe you are the right choice to represent the Space Coast.”

HD 51 includes Cape Canaveral, Cocoa, Cocoa Beach, Merritt Island, and Rockledge in Brevard County.

“On the Space Coast, job creators and employers want to see a greater emphasis placed on vocation and technical skills in our public schools,” Sirois stated in a news release. “Parents want their kids prepared to enter the workforce and participate in the economy. The support of Business Voice underscores the importance of this message, and I am grateful for their support.”

Darren Soto picks up Human Rights Campaign endorsement in CD 9 race

The national Human Rights Campaign, the nations’ largest LGBTQ civil rights organization, has endorsed the re-election bid of Democratic U.S. Rep. Darren Soto in Florida’s 9th Congressional District.

The endorsement is part of Soto’s efforts to shore up the progressive wing of the Democratic Party as he prepares for the August 28 Democratic primary showdown with his predecessor in the CD 9 seat, former U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson.

The winner faces Saint Cloud Republican Wayne Liebnitzky. CD 9 covers southern Orange, Osceola and eastern Polk counties.

JoDee Winterhof, senior vice president of policy and political affairs for the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement:

“HRC is proud to endorse Darren Soto for re-election to Congress. Darren has been a strong ally to the LGBTQ community throughout his career, including standing up to the Trump administration’s hateful anti-LGBTQ policies and pushing for progress to expand civil rights and protections under law.

“In Central Florida, he brought community leaders together when the Trump administration rescinded protections from transgender students. He has fought for workforce and housing protections, and he supports legislation to make sure our elders get the care and services they need.

“We need Darren Soto in Washington, and we encourage Central Floridians who support LGBTQ rights to support him.”

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