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Orange County Republicans call for Kathy Gibson to resign RPOF post

The Orange County Republican Executive Committee called Wednesday for Kathy Gibson to resign as the county’s state committeewoman to the Republican Party of Florida.

The Republican panel made that decision Wednesday afternoon shortly after Republican congressional candidates Wayne Liebnitzky and Mike Miller made similar demands, joining gubernatorial nominee Ron DeSantis in calling for Gibson to step aside.

The calls for her immediate resignation developed from outrage over a social media meme that appeared under Gibson’s Facebook account, falsely claiming that Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum was going to make Florida pay for its part in slavery. The meme, widely denounced as racist, appeared Monday night, and has since been deleted. Gov. Rick Scott also condemned any statements that would seek to “divide the people of Florida by race or ethnicity,” though he stopped short of calling for Gibson’s resignation.

She later claimed, in another Facebook post, that it was not hers and that her account had been hacked.

Republicans apparently are not buying that.

The controversy grew Wednesday in advance of the big Republican unity rally that Orange County is set to host Thursday.

It is to feature Scott, DeSantis, Liebnitzky, Miller, and almost all other top Republican statewide and Central Florida candidates and officials. It is supposed to be the Republicans’ big celebration and kickoff to a 2018 election campaign.
In addition, Vice President Mike Pence is coming to Orange County Thursday for a fundraiser, but apparently is not arriving in time to attend the rally.

“We need people with a moral compass,” Liebnitzky said after calling for Gibson to resign.

“Kathy Gibson’s insensitive comments on Facebook have no place in politics. She should resign immediately,” Miller, a state representative from Orange County, said in a news release.

Earlier, both DeSantis, the congressman from Ponte Vedra Beach, and Scott denounced the post. In a statement to POLITICO, DeSantis called the thinking behind the meme “disgusting” and called for her to resign.

Orange County Republican Chair Charles Hart said Wednesday afternoon the county party’s board called for her resignation.

Gibson could not be reached Wednesday for comment.

However, on her Facebook page, around midnight going into Wednesday Gibson wrote, “To All Family & Friends Please be Advised that my Facebook Page was Hacked today. All Passwords & Codes have been Changed. If you saw anything today that didn’t sound like me, please let me Thank You.”

The response comments on that post were mostly not sympathetic. “Nice try,” one person commented. “God shall not be mocked. He knows you posted untrue information and are now lying about it,” wrote another. “Grow up and own it,” said a third. Others used foul language to say the same things.

If Gibson resigns, she would be the second state official to the Republican Party of Florida from Orange County to resign this summer. Earlier, State Committeeman Paul Paulson resigned over scandalous reports involving a fraudulent charity he was running. He was replaced by Rich Crotty.

Gibson is an elected official, so she would have to submit a resignation to RPOF Chairman Blaise Ingoglia. However, the Orange County Executive Committee would have to select a replacement, as it did in Paulson’s situation.

HD 47 push poll question on Iran has both Anna Eskamani and Stockton Reeves incensed

The House District 47 race just went hard-core ugly with a reported third-party push poll call that has both the apparent target, Democrat Anna Eskamani, and the perceived beneficiary, Republican Stockton Reeves, expressing outrage Wednesday.

A pollster in a live-interview telephone call Tuesday night asked if the recipient’s views of Eskamani would change, “if you knew that she was born in Iran and has strong ties to the murderous, anti-American Iranian regime, which is the biggest producer of terror?” said Louis Reale, a Colonial High School teacher who lives in HD 47 and took the call.

Eskamani was born in Florida and has lived her whole life in the Sunshine State. Her parents were Iranian immigrants who fled the anti-American Iranian regime, became American citizens, started and raised a family and pursued the American dream in Florida.

On Wednesday, Eskamani accused Reeves of sponsoring the call, saying, “without surprise, Stockton Reeves has taken a page out of Donald Trump‘s playbook.”

Reeves insisted that is not true, and said he would never condone anyone saying anything like that for his campaign.

“I am very upset,” he said about the reported push poll.

Later, Reeves called back saying he’d called around, trying to see if he could find out who might be behind the poll, and found no one.

“We’re not dong it. I’m not doing it. our consultants are not doing it. … No reputable pollster would ask a question worded the way you read it to me,” he said.

And then he questioned whether there might be other motives behind it, perhaps a backhanded effort to smear him, rather than Eskamani.

Eskamani and Reeves are battling for an open seat in HD 47, which represents north-central Orange County. Incumbent Republican state Rep. Mike Miller is running for Congress.

Reale said on Tuesday night he listened to the pollster’s call on his phone’s speaker, with his wife also listening in. The first few questions clearly sought negative responses toward Eskamani, but were relatively mundane, he recalled. A woman caller asked him how he would feel if he knew about Eskamani’s former employment with Planned Parenthood, her activities as a community organizer, and her various liberal positions.

 Then came the question about Iran.

Reale provided the phone number of the call – from the 813 area code – and Florida Politics called, reaching a full voicemail box with a male name. Florida Politics texted an inquiry to the number but has not received a response.

Eskamani followed up by saying she still believes Reeves was behind the call. She accused him of a history of ugly, negative campaigning, citing mailers his campaign sent out late in the Republican primary season attacking his primary opponent Mikaela Nix.

“If he wants to spread lies about me and lie about his campaign, based on his track record this is how he operates a campaign,” she said.

Reeves strongly disputed that, saying whoever is behind the call “is not supporting me.”

He said that early on a campaign consultant had asked about whether Eskamani’s Iranian heritage ought to be an issue. Reeves said he replied that he did not want it raised, “in any way, shape, or form.”

“What difference does it make?” he said of her heritage.

Florida, schools getting $95.8 million for Puerto Rico students

Florida and county school districts are receiving $95.8 million in federal reimbursements to cover costs of taking in thousands of students from Puerto Rico who fled the island for Florida after Hurricane Maria last year, the office of U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy announced Tuesday.

The money is coming in through the U.S. Department of Education to Florida, and then much of it will be distributed to county school districts. The money became available through Murphy-led bipartisan efforts to get the funds included in the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018, approved in February, her office reported in a news release.

Under the plan, Florida will retain $47.7 million and distribute another $46.8 million to 52 county school districts to cover costs they incurred when absorbing the influx of displaced students who moved to Florida after Hurricane Maria closed schools and made much of the island uninhabitable last September.

Orange County Public Schools, which took in the most displaced students, about 4,000, will receive the largest federal reimbursement grant, about $12 million. Other school districts set to get at least $1 million include Osceola County, which will receive about $5 million; Broward County, $4.4 million; Miami-Dade County, $4.2 million; Collier County, $3.1 million, Palm Beach County, $1.8 million; Polk County, $1.7 million; Seminole County, $1.7 million; Volusia County, $1.4 million; Hillsborough County, $1.4 million; Lake County, $1.2 million; and Pinellas County, $1.2 million.

Murphy’s district, Florida’s 7th Congressional District, covers Seminole and north and central Orange counties. She’s seeking re-election this year against Republican state Rep. Mike Miller, who, like Murphy, is from Winter Park.

“I’m proud to have secured these federal investments in our young people, helping to support Florida school districts who did the right thing and took in students displaced by Hurricane Maria,” Murphy stated in the release. “After last September’s hurricanes, tens of thousands of American families from Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands relocated to Florida, and thousands of children and youth enrolled in our schools after the school year had started. This required the State and counties to spend more money than they anticipated spending at the start of the school year. As a result of our effort in Congress, the federal government is now making our state and our school districts whole again.”

In addition to providing funding for K-12 schools, the Murphy-led initiative provided a total of $75 million in funding for colleges and universities around the country that enrolled displaced students, her office stated.

She recently announced that the U.S. Department of Education allocated nearly $5 million to eight colleges and universities in Florida, including nearly $2 million to the University of Central Florida.

Central Florida Republicans start House general campaigns with strong financial edges

Several Central Florida Republican Florida House candidates entered the fall general election with solid financial advantages over their Democratic challengers.

That was the case with several House incumbent members seeking re-election and also is the case for David Smith who is running to win an open seat for Florida’s House District 28. It’s not the case with Democrats, excepting Anna Eskamani.

Neither Smith, a Winter Springs business consultant, nor Democratic nominee Lee Mangold, a Casselberry cyber-security business owner, had a primary challenge in HD 28 in northeast Seminole County. So both enter the fall stretch without having had to spend much, and Smith enters with a decided advantage in campaign cash.

Smith, who lent his campaign $85,000 to start, also had raised $146,000 through more than 1,300 contributions. Even though he spent considerably this year he still came through last Tuesday’s primary season with $136,118 left in the bank, according to the most recent campaign finance reports available through the Florida Division of Elections, covering activity through Aug. 23, the final report before the primary.

Mangold entered the general election campaign season with $15,265, built from a fairly robust 367 donations, plus $10,000 he lent his own campaign, minus more than $21,000 he has spent so far on his campaign.

Smith’s $120,000 campaign finance advantage was the third-best cushion heading into the fall election of any Central Florida Florida House candidates, behind only Democrat Eskamani and Republican state Rep. Bob Cortes, who also did not have primary challengers.

In House District 47 race in Orange County, first-time candidate Eskamani of Orlando reported having raised more than $309,000 in her official campaign fund and another $36,000 in an independent political campaign, putting her about $300,000 ahead of Republican nominee Stockton Reeves VI of Winter Park, who had to win a primary to enter the fall campaign. On Tuesday she reported that her next reports will put her over $350,000 raised. Reeves, who had to win a tough Republican primary, entered the fall with about $41,000 in his account.

Cortes, of Altamonte Springs, enters the fall campaign with $135,081 in the bank for the HD 30 race in south Seminole and north Orange counties. His Democratic opponent, Maitland City Councilwoman Joy Goff-Marcil, emerged from a highly competitive three-way Democratic primary with just $3,657 left in her campaign account.

Republican state Reps. Scott Plakon of Sanford in Seminole County’s House District 29 and Bobby Olszewski of Winter Garden in Orange County’s House District 44, who also had no primary challenges while their Democratic opponents did, also emerged into the fall with sizable money advantages.

That wasn’t the case across the board. Several incumbent Florida House members who had primary challengers enter the fall campaign a bit financially spent, including state Rep. Thad Altman of Indialantic in District 52 in Brevard County, who spent so much to win his primary that his autumn opponent, Democrat Seeta Begui of Melbourne, a first-time candidate, actually starts the fall campaign with more than a $3,000 campaign money advantage in the bank, according to reports through Aug. 23.

None of the Democratic members of the Florida House seeking re-election enter the fall with much financial advantage.

First-time Republican candidate Ben Griffin of Orlando was given $50,000 by the Republican Party of Florida to run against Democratic state Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith of Orlando in House District 49 in Orange County, and Griffin raised only another $3,260 on his own. Still, Smith starts the fall campaign with only a $15,476 advantage.

In House District 48 in Orange County, Democratic state Rep. Amy Mercado‘s Republican opponent has raised no money, but she hasn’t raised much either. So Mercado, of Orlando, enters the fall campaign with a $17,262 campaign finance advantage over George Chandler of Orlando.

Among the other Central Florida races for the Florida House:

— Plakon entered the fall HD 29 campaign in Seminole County with $98,541 in the bank, compared with $8,582 for Democrat Tracey Kagan of Longwood.

— Republican state Rep. Jennifer Sullivan of Mout Dora entered the fall campaign for HD 30 with $53,827 in the bank in the House District 31 race in Lake and Orange counties, compared with $6,264 for Democrat Debra Kaplan of Eustis.

— Republican state Rep. Mike La Rosa of St. Cloud had $81,894 in his campaign account entering the fall House District 42 race in Osceola County, compared with $25,392 for Democratic challenger Barbara Cady of Kissimmee.

— Olszewski came into the fall with $120,166 in the HD 44 contest, while former state Sen. Geraldine Thompson of Orlando, who had to win a Democratic primary, enters with $9,532, according to reports through Aug. 23.

— Republican state Rep. Rene Plasencia of Orlando had to spend big to stave off a primary challenger, and so he entered the fall with just $36,309 to defend his House District 50 seat in east Orange County and north Brevard County, while Democrat Pam Dirschka of Titusville came into the fall campaign with $7,745 in the bank.

Tyler Sirois of Merritt Island, who also had to spend big to win a Republican primary. He came into the fall House District 51 race in north Brevard County with just $12,460 in the bank, compared with $7,152 for Democrat Mike Blake of Cocoa.

Anna Eskamani clears $350K in her fundraising for HD 47

Democrat Anna Eskamani has raised more than $350,000 in her bid for Florida House District 47, her campaign announced Tuesday.

The amount, according to her campaign, is an extraordinary total for a first-time candidate to a Florida House seat. It speaks to both her campaign’s fundraising prowess and to the unusual phenomenon of her campaign, which has drawn national attention as a 28-year-old progressive, landing Eskamani on the covers of national magazines for her run for a relatively obscure political position.

Yet, it does not necessarily reflect her chances of victory in a purple district in which she’s facing an experienced political hand in Republican nominee Stockton Reeves VI, who last week dispatched his Republican primary rival Mikaela Nix in tough and highly contentious battle.

The two are battling over a seat held by Republican state Rep. Mike Miller who is running for Congress. It has flipped twice in the past three elections, serving north and central Orange County including downtown Orlando.

Eskamani’s declaration that she has topped $350,000, from 2,200 individual donors, includes at least $309,000 into her official campaign and another $36,000 into her independent political committee, People Power For Florida, according to the latest posted state campaign finance reports. Those totals do not include her most recent contributions since Aug. 23 for her official campaign.

“I never thought I would run for office one day,” Eskamani stated in a news release issued Tuesday. “My drive to hold politicians accountable and fight for Florida families is grounded in my lived experiences and the personal loss of my Mom when I was thirteen years old. I want to build a state where no kid loses their parent, and no parent loses their kid. This is personal for me, and I am honored to be paving the way for the next generation of leaders in Florida.”

She emerged from last Tuesday’s primary season — she was unopposed after a Democratic challenger dropped out — with more than $254,000 in the bank. Reeves, who donated $94,000 to his own campaign, entered the post-primary period with about $41,000 in the bank.

E-ZPass coming to Orlando area

E-ZPass will arrive Saturday in Florida, with users of the toll-collection system in 16 other states being able to use their transponders without facing extra fees on Central Florida Expressway Authority roads.

“The more than 35 million E-ZPass users can now drive in metro Orlando and avoid having to fumble for change at CFX toll gantries,” the Central Florida Expressway Authority said Friday.

For the nearly 400,000 account holders of the Central Florida Expressway Authority’s E-Pass system, the change will be one-way for now.

The authority continues to work on a new transponder to be called E-Pass Extra — expected to be introduced in the fall — that will combine the systems.

Also, E-ZPass customers traveling on roads operated by Florida’s Turnpike Enterprise under the SunPass brand will continue to be invoiced for tolls via Florida’s “toll by plate” program.

E-ZPass is a network of toll agencies operating from Maine to Illinois and south to North Carolina.

Republished with permission of the News Service of Florida.

Central Florida hoteliers back Manny Diaz, Dana Young, Stockton Reeves

The Central Florida Hotel and Lodging Association announced five new endorsements following Tuesday’s primaries, including state Sen. Dana Young and state Rep. Manny Diaz for the Florida Senate and Stockton Reeves VI for the Florida House.

The association, a powerful interest group in Central Florida’s tourism-based economy, also announced endorsements of Pete Crotty for the Orange County Commission’s District 3 seat and Melissa Byrd for the Orange County School Board District 7 seat.

On Tuesday neither Young nor Diaz, both Republicans, had primary opponents, and neither are running in districts in Central Florida, yet the area’s hoteliers offered their backing. Young now faces Democratic state Rep. Janet Cruz in the contest for Senate District 18. Diaz will go up against Democrat David Pérez for the Senate District 36 seat.

Reeves defeated Mikaela Nix in the Republican primary and now faces Democrat Anna Eskamani in the House District 47 race.

In the county elections Tuesday, Crotty finished second to Mayra Uribe. Since neither got a majority of votes on Tuesday, the two are headed to a Nov. 6 runoff election.

Byrd finished first in the Orange County School board election Tuesday. Since she did not get a majority, she and second-place finisher Eric Schwalbach move on to the Nov. 6 runoff.

This past spring the hotel association announced earlier endorsements including Jerry Demings for mayor and Teresa Jacobs for school board chair. Those two and others won Tuesday while most backed by the hoteliers moved on to the Nov. 6 election. The group said there may be more post-primary endorsements coming.

Mike Miller starts CD 7 campaign in striking distance of Stephanie Murphy

Republican state Rep. Mike Miller is starting his campaign within striking distance of Democratic U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy.

A new poll from St. Pete Polls taken Thursday shows Murphy with 47 percent of voter support and Miller with 46 percent, with just 7 percent undecided. Miller’s competing to unseat Murphy from her Congressional District 7 seat.

The poll puts the gap between the congresswoman and the state representative, both from Winter Park, inside the poll’s margin of error of 4.7 percent.

Miller, the two-term state lawmaker, easily won a contentious primary to run in CD 7, which covers Seminole County and north and central Orange County stretching through downtown Orlando. Murphy is the freshman member of Congress who won an upset victory in 2016 in a district that Republicans had held forever, then easily brushed past a left-wing challenge in the Democratic primary Tuesday.

Both parties desperately want this district, which is now solidly purple but trending toward a slight Democratic lean in voter registration. National Democratic and Republican organizations and donors will be weighing in heavily heading toward the Nov. 6 election.

StPetePolls, commissioned by Florida Politics, conducted a random telephone survey of 435 registered voters Thursday.

According to the poll, Murphy actually has a lead in Seminole County, the district’s most reliable Republican base, while Miller leads in Orange County, where the district’s Democratic base is strongest. Murphy leads among Seminole County voters 50 to 44, while Miller leads in Orange County 48 to 43.

Miller’s House District 47 is entirely inside Orange County, while Murphy has been representing both counties for the past two years.

Each has strong favorability ratings in both counties, with Murphy having an edge with stronger name recognition. Overall, 50 percent of the voters said they have favorable opinions of the congresswoman, while 29 percent said they have an unfavorable view, and 21 percent have no opinion. For Miller, 42 percent said they have a favorable opinion of him, 24 percent said they have an unfavorable opinion, and 34 percent have no opinion.

The poll shows Murphy solidly leading Miller among independent voters: 57 percent favor her, 34 percent favor him. Otherwise, both of them are holding within their parties. Murphy has 78 percent of Democrats’ votes in the poll; Miller gets 77 percent of Republicans.

Within the small demographic subsamples, there weren’t many significant differences between the two, but there were two groups showing dramatic preferences: 88 percent of black voters want Murphy; 68 percent of young voters, under age 30, want Miller.

Florida Police Chiefs Association backs John Mina in Orange County sheriff race

Florida police chiefs are backing one of their own, Orlando’s John Mina, in the election for Orange County Sheriff, calling him a role model in law enforcement.

The Flordia Police Chiefs Association, which represents more than 900 of the state’s top law enforcement executives, backed Mina over former Florida Highway Patrol Chief Jose “Joe” Lopez and Darryl Sheppard, according to a new release issued Thursday by Mina’s campaign.

In backing Mina, the police chiefs’ group referenced his leadership during and after the 2016 massacre of 49 people at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub. That year the organization awarded Mina its top declaration, the “Outstanding Chief Executive Award.”

“Chief John Mina has been tested in a way no police chief should ever have to be tested during the Pulse tragedy and its aftermath,” FPCA Executive Director Amy Mercer stated in the release. “His professionalism and steady hand showed what kind of leader he is. In those moments of doubt, John Mina and the Orlando Police Department served as the rock the community needed to find peace and feel safe again.

“Mina is recognized as a role model in law enforcement for the community policing standards Orlando implemented to build stronger relationships between officers and the communities they serve,” Mercer added. “The FPCA is proud to endorse John Mina for Orange County sheriff.”

FPCA serves municipal police departments, airport police, college and university police, and tribal police, private business and security firms, as well as federal, state and county law enforcement agencies.

The Orange County sheriff election and office are partisan, but partisan distinctions are complicated this year. Both Mina and Lopez changed their party affiliations from Republican to Democrat in 2017, but they each did so too late to qualify to run for office this year as Democrats. So both are running as independents. Sheppard then won the Democratic nomination by default. No Republicans are running this year.

“The Florida Police Chiefs Association is one of the most respected law enforcement organizations in the United States. To be endorsed by the great men and women who make up the FPCA is an honor,” Mina stated in the release. “As the next sheriff of Orange County, I will continue to uphold the ideals and professionalism of the Florida Police Chiefs Association.”

Bill Posey gets behind Wayne Liebnitzky in CD 9 race

U.S. Rep. Bill Posey is endorsing fellow Republican Wayne Liebnitzky in his campaign to be elected to Florida’s 9th Congressional District, which includes a broad swath of voters Posey once represented.

Liebnitzky is taking on Democratic U.S. Rep. Darren Soto this fall.

Posey’s Florida’s 8th Congressional District covers Brevard County, Indian River County, and east Orange County, while CD 9 covers south Orange, Osceola and eastern Polk counties. Before redistricting, much of what is now in CD 9 was inside Posey’s district.

In a letter to Liebnitzky, Posey recounts that when he first ran he lost the vote in Osceola County, and he was told residents there were not satisfied with the representation they had received over time from their previous representative. “Over the next years, I worked very hard to properly represent them and earn their trust. In the next election, Osceola County voters gave me 4,849 more votes than my opponent!

“Because I know you will work just as hard to represent my former constituents and friends in Osceola County,” Posey wrote, “I am pleased to give you my most enthusiastic endorsement.”

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