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Darren Soto blasts immigration plan as against American values, curb on economy

Democratic U.S. Rep. Darren Soto of Orlando on Thursday blasted the new immigration bill pushed by President Donald Trump, saying it would “go against American values” and curb economic growth.

Soto responded to the RAISE Act, announced Wednesday by Trump and the bill’s sponsors, Republican Sens. Tom Cotton of Arkansas and David Perdue of Georgia. The bill would cut in half the number of green cards issued annually, to 500,000, curtail some of the avenues through which foreigners seeking entry in the United States could apply, and make English proficiency a key determining factor.

“The RAISE Act is a flagrant attack on legal immigration; it goes against American values and does not put ‘America First,’ Soto stated in a news release issued by his office. “These radical cuts to visa allotments would not only hurt the American economy, but would also tear families apart.”

“By eliminating all family-based legal immigration categories (except for spouses and minor children), adult U.S. citizens would now be unable to reunite with their loved ones in the country they call home,” he continued. “Moreover, prioritizing English speaking people and high-skilled immigrants would be a disadvantage to immigrants from war-torn countries or low-income families, and will inevitably force close family members to remain apart. This bill ignores America’s long-standing tradition of accepting all immigrants, regardless of “skill level”, into the United States. “

The release contends that curbing visas for low-skilled workers would “gravely curb economic growth. It cites the Florida Chamber of Commerce for stating that immigration boosts productivity, benefits the economy and complements labor demands in key industries in Florida.

“Our immigrants are working; our laws are not,” Soto declared. “The solution to our nation’s broken and outdated immigration system is moving forward with a bipartisan comprehensive reform, one that keeps families together and recognizes the economic contributions of immigrants in our communities.”

Bruno Portigliatti up with new Orlando TV ad in HD 44 special election

Laughing, smiling, enjoying himself, Bruno Portigliatti declares, “Yeah, doesn’t everybody?” know me yet, in his second TV commercial, up this week in Orlando and taking shots at his two leading rivals, heading toward the Aug. 15 Republican special election primary to fill vacant Florida House District 44 seat.

Portigliatti’s commercial picks up on the theme of his first, which aired two weeks ago, introducing the small businessman to voters who watch Fox News channel on cable or satellite TV, only this time seeking to characterize his main opponents as a politician and a political insider.

He doesn’t name them, but presumably, former Winter Garden Commissioner Bobby Olszewski is the politician, and Kissimmee/Osceola County Chamber of Commerce President John Newstreet is the political insider. Ignored is the fourth Republican in the race, Dr. Usha Jain

“All right, now that you know me, let me tell you why I am running,” Portigliatti says in the spot. “There are too many politicians in Tallahassee. And we won’t solve our problems by sending another one.”

The narrator then declares, “For State House, we have three choices,” as the screen divides into three animated sections, one showing a stocky-looking man labeled, “The Politician,” and one a bow tie-wearing man labeled, “The Insider.” The third melts into live video of Portigliatti shaking hands with someone, as the narrator declaring, “And Bruno, a small-business man.”

Dan Webster joins call for overhaul of Endangered Species Act

Republican U.S. Rep. Dan Webster has joined the Western Caucus in a call for Congress to overhaul the Endangered Species Act, declaring it a failure for endanger species and a “crushing” burden on agriculture.

Webster, of Lake County, was one of 30 Republican congressmen to sign a letter Tuesday to congressional leaders calling for them to take up an effort to rewrite the landmark 1973 environmental protection law. The effort was organized by the Congressional Western Caucus, though some of the signers, including Webster, are not members of that caucus.

“Agriculture is one of the three pillars of Florida’s economy. Farmers and ranchers all over Florida grow and raise the food that ends up on kitchen tables around the world. The economic engine of agriculture must be complimented with sound, long-term policies that balance the importance of protecting our nation’s beautiful lands,” Webster stated in a news release.

“Unfortunately, overzealous bureaucrats in Washington turned the Endangered Species Act into a weapon wielded against hard-working Americans,” he continued. “With President [Donald] Trump, we have an opportunity to reform the ESA to ensure that it meets its purpose without destroying the livelihoods of those who work the land.”

The letter, to the chairs and ranking members of the House Committee on Agriculture and the House Committee on Natural Resources, cites Trump’s April 26 executive order to roll back some rules and regulations associated with the act, but argues the law itself needs full “modernization.”

The letter contends that only 3 percent of the 1,652 plant and animal species that were ever listed as endangered have recovered enough to be removed from protection status, a rate the signatory members of Congress call “a clear failure.”

Their call makes few specific recommendations for reforms, though it does say “attacks on property rights through substantial federal regulation” must be curtailed, and that the act’s “one-size-fits-all approach to species protection … has little regard for solutions from states and local shareholders. It also calls for better-defined recovery goals, and for “society as a whole to bear recovery costs… not specific property owners and employers.”

“The letter encourages the committees to work together to adopt a system that induces and incentivizes thoughtful and collaborative regulation,” stated a news release from the Congressional Western Caucus. “Such a process will empower farmers and ranchers to do what they do best—produce food and other agriculture products in abundance for the American people and the rest of the world.”

Stephanie Murphy: Congress must exercise powers on national security

With the administration of President Donald Trump still not filling numerous positions in the U.S. Departments of State and Defense and not issuing a foreign policy statement, Democratic U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy said Wednesday

“As Secretary Albright has said, ‘It’s Article I time,'” Murphy said Wednesday morning, meeting with reporters before attending a private event at an English-language learning center in Orlando.

That reference was to comments former U.S. Secretary of State Madeline Albright made at a June 21 meeting of the congressional Democrats’ national security task force, which Murphy chairs with U.S. Reps. Seth Moulton of Massachusetts, and Jimmy Paneta of California.

Murphy has been critical of the Trump White House’s national security, questioning its direction, and has sought to influence it several times with bills she introduced. She also joined a letter this spring urging Trump to submit a national security strategy statement to Congress, as required by law in the first 150 days. It still has not been submitted.

A member of the House Armed Services Committee and a former U.S. Department of Defense intelligence analyst, Murphy has taken other opportunities in her first six moths in Congress to flex her national security chops. Last week she was a panelist on a bipartisan national security committee speaking at the Aspen Institute’s Aspen Security Forum.

Article I of the U.S. Constitution lays out the powers of Congress.

“Congress has to exercise the powers it has been granted in Article I, and we have oversight powers as well powers of the purse,” she said. “So we can engage robustly there. I think that it’s really important as a country we invest in all the elements of national power, and that’s diplomatic, intelligence, military and economic. Personnel and resources are a key part of that.”

“I also want to make sure we’re properly resourcing the Department of State, money as well as personnel,” she said. “I’d like to see some of those appointments put in place.”

Trump’s budget proposal recommended a 30 percent cut in that department’s funding. To date, few of the undersecretary or assistant secretary positions have been filled under Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. A similar situation exists at the Departments of Defense and Commerce.

News reports also indicated Wednesday that Tillerson has declined to use $80 million appropriated by Congress for anti-propaganda programs targeting ISIS and Russia.

“At a time when we have seen unprecedented amount of interference in our Democracy from external forces, adversarial governments, it’s more important than ever that we provide the resources so that we can defend against those attacks,” she said.

Anna Eskamani gets Darren Soto’s endorsement for HD 47

Democratic U.S. Rep. Darren Soto is weighing in on the Florida House District 47 race, offering an endorsement of Anna Eskamani, who’s trying to grab an open swing seat being vacated by state Rep. Mike Miller, who’s seeking a spot in Congress himself.

“Anna is a real fighter with strong experience and knowledge of our community. She will serve us well in Tallahassee!” Soto stated in a news release issued by Eskamani’s campaign.

Soto spent five years in the Florida House himself, and then four years in the Florida Senate, before being elected to Congress last year.

Eskamani faces Republican Winter Park businessman Stockton Reeves for the HD 47 seat, which covers north-central Orange County, including Winter Park and downtown Orlando.


PBA backs John Newstreet in HD 44 special election

The Central Florida Chapter of the Florida Police Benevolent Association, one of the largest law enforcement organizations in the region, has endorsed Republican John Newstreet in the special election for state House District 44, his campaign announced Tuesday.

“Of all the candidates in this special election, John Newstreet is the only one who truly understands the value of service to one’s community,” Ron Beardslee, political director of the Central Florida Chapter of the Florida Police Benevolent Association, stated in a release. “He showcases the value of what we are looking for to represent our members and are encouraging everyone who we represent to vote for him.”

The Central Florida PBA represents officers in a dozen departments, including the Orange County Sheriff’s Office, the Orlando Police Department, and the Winter Garden and Ocoee police departments.

Newstreet is in a Republican primary race with three rivals, Bobby Olszewski, Bruno Portigliatti, and Dr. Usha Jain. Absentee voting already is underway, early voting begins Saturday, and the primary election day is Aug. 15. The winner faces Democrat Paul Chandler in an Oct. 10 general election to replace former state Rep. Eric Eisnaugle, who resigned this past spring.

Newstreet’s campaign contends he has received “every major endorsement issued by organizations focused on improving the community and the opportunities of its members.”

“To often in today’s society the service our police officers provide our community each and every day is overlooked and taken for granted,” Newstreet stated in a release from his campaign. “It will be an honor working with the men and women in blue who are on the front lines of keeping our citizens safe.”

Wayne Liebnitzky criticizes the $4,600 a month in rent Darren Soto pays for Kissimmee office

Republican congressional candidate Wayne Liebnitzky criticized the rent U.S. Rep. Darren Soto is paying for his Kissimmee office as “unusually extravagant expense of peoples’ money,” while the congressman defended the office Tuesday for its convenience and service to the district.

Soto is spending $4,638 a month for his primary district office, plus $866 a month for a CD 9 office in Orlando, according to Congressional Office Disbursement Reports filed with the U.S. House of Representatives. He also has been opening other satellite and part-time offices, notably in Polk County.

That’s 40 percent more than Soto’s predecessor, former U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson paid. Grayson had his main office in Orlando, for which he spent $3,300 a month in rent, and a district office in Kissimmee that cost $626 a month.

“My opinion of paying $55,000 a year for a congressional office in Kissimmee is an unusually extravagant expense of the peoples’ money,” said Liebnitzky, who lost the 2016 general election to Soto and filed for a rematch in the 2018 election.

“In the uncertain times of increased expenses the people of our community are experiencing, was this a wise decision to spend that kind of money on an office space? What decisions in the future are we expected to hear about that have not been thought through fiscally?” he added.

In his written statement, Soto responded, “We are deeply proud of our Kissimmee district office, which is centrally located to serve our constituents, symbolic of our rancher heritage, and provides a facility that is very conducive to community gatherings.”

Nonetheless, the rents Soto is paying now and Grayson paid last year are both relative middle points in the wide spectrum that Central Florida members of Congress pay or have paid for their offices to support local staffs, the members when they’re back home, and services to constituents.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy pays $7,142 a month for her Winter Park district office in Florida’s 7th Congressional District.

On the other extreme, Republican U.S. Rep. Daniel Webster has three local offices for Florida’s 11th Congressional District, and pays less than $800 a month in rent for each of them.

Then there is Republican U.S. Rep. Bill Posey. He doesn’t pay a dime for his office in Viera for Florida’s 8th Congressional District. That’s because Brevard County has long – predating Posey – provided its congressional representative with rent-free office space in the government center there, something approved by the Congressional Ethics Office.

Members of Congress receive set allocations, adjusted for costs of living in each district, for their offices, staff, travel, and operational expenses. Generally the members are free to budget the money however they see fit. If their spending goes over the allocations, the law requires them to make up the difference out of their own pockets. If they go under, the unspent remainder is returned to the U.S. Treasury, something Webster touts every year. A higher-than-average district office rent likely would have to be offset by lower expenses elsewhere in the member’s budget.

Liebnitzky, a St. Cloud small business owner, questioned whether Soto could have been more economical, especially considering what Grayson spent last year, and considering the rise of internet communications.

“My opinion is an office is a shrine. It serves very little purpose in the technology times of telecommunications and social media,” he added. “Communication with the people you are suppose to represent should be top priority. We must do it better than anyone else can and set the example for the country to experience. This will be part of the performance I shall deliver in 2019. And, yes, I will have offices, but much more reasonable so we can communicate with all of our constituents.”

Soto’s landlord is the city of Kissimmee. The office is a historic old building at 804 Bryan St., in the heart of the Kissimmee government complex. Its 3,613 square feet provides enough space for small town hall meetings.

“It’s location in the Osceola Government Complex fosters critical communication with local and state officials and is ideal to maintain office security,” Soto stated. “We also have important satellite and part time offices in Lake Nona, Winter Haven, Haines City and Lake Wales to more conveniently serve our constituents in Orange and Polk Counties.”

Among other members of Central Florida’s congressional delegation, Democratic U.S. Rep. Val Demings pays $5,319 a month for her office in west Orange County for Florida’s 10th Congressional District. Republican U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis pays $1,700 a month for his primary office in St. Johns, $300 a month for a satellite office in DeLand, and $100 a month for one in Port Orange, for Florida’s 6th Congressional District.

The three freshmen Democrats – Murphy, Demings and Soto – all are spending more than their predecessors.

Murphy’s predecessor, Republican former U.S. Rep. John Mica, had three district offices with a total rent of $5,077 a month for the trio.

Demings’ predecessor was Webster. However, due to redistricting, most of her district actually was represented by Democratic former U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown. She spent $3,114 a month for an office in Orlando, and $2,356 for one in Jacksonville. Her total was a little more than what Demings spends now, but with a district spanning parts of two major cities.

HD 44 Republican primary votes coming in

More than 2,000 absentee ballots already have been returned in the upcoming special Republican primary election for House District 44 in west Orange County.

The office of Orange County Supervisor of Elections Bill Cowles reported Tuesday afternoon that 7,175 absentee ballots have been requested and mailed out for the contest, and 2,063 already have been filled out and returned, two weeks out from the Aug. 15 primary election.

There are 44,705 Republican voters in HD 44, which covers southwest Orange including the suburbs of Windermere, Winter Garden, and Ocoee, and was vacated this spring when Republican former state Rep. Eric Eisnaugle resigned.

The GOP race features four candidates: Dr. Usha Jain, Bobby Olszewski, John Newstreet and Bruno Portigliatti. There is only one Democrat running, Paul Chandler, so he’ll face the winner in the Oct. 10 special general election.

Early voting starts this Saturday and runs through Saturday, Aug. 12. Three early voting stations will be open from 10 am. to 6 p.m. through those eight days: the Southwest Library near the intersection of Dr. Phillips Boulevard and Sand Lake Road; the Orange County National Golf Center and Lodge in Winter Garden; and the Supervisor of Elections Office, on Kaley Street south of downtown Orlando.

Cowles said it is too early to make any clear projections on the voter turnout for the GOP primary, but said he’s expecting it to be in the low teens of percentage, of the 44,705 Republicans.

Besides the usual patterns of low turnouts for special elections and district primaries, Cowles cited a few others: Election Day also is the second day of school for Orange County Public Schools, so many families are focusing on school. The campaigns are getting nasty, which can turn off voters.

The 2,063 returned ballots already represents 4.6 percent of the eligible party members. If all the absentee ballots were filled out and returned, that would amount to 16 percent.

Direct mail roundup: Pro-Bruno Portigliatti postcards hit HD 44 mailboxes

An Orlando political committee launched a direct mail campaign promoting Bruno Portigliatti as a political outsider who will get things done in office.

“Conservative state Representative candidate Bruno Portigliatti knows Obamacare is a disaster,” the Liberty and Prosperity Fund mailer proclaims. “It’s going to take a political outsider repeal and replace it.”

The mailer includes cutout headlines of stories on the failure of the Senate Republican plan to repeal the health care law, and says Portigliatti “won’t settle for inaction or the status quo.”

Liberty and Prosperity Fund took in $24,000 in contributions in June. The Florida Assisted Living PAC chipped in $3,000 of that total, while the other $21,000 came from Soar Global Institute, a company Portigliatti is the vice president of according to state records.

“We need more leaders, like Bruno, that produce results for hardworking Florida families, NOT more establishment politicians that get nothing done,” the mailer reads. “On the campaign trail, the politicians will tell you what you want to hear – but once elected, they quickly seem to forget the promises made to their constituents.”

Portigliatti is one of four Republicans running to replace former Rep. Eric Eisnaugle, who stepped down earlier this year to become a judge on the Fifth District Court of Appeal. One Democrat, Paul Chandler, is also running for the seat.

The special primary election for HD 44 is set for Aug. 15, with a general election to follow on Oct. 10.

John Newstreet’s campaign blames Bobby Olszewski for ‘liberal Newstreet’ attack ads; Olszewski denies involvement

The House District 44 Republican primary is boiling, as John Newstreet responded to a shadow group’s attack ads with a Facebook Live video decrying them as “not true” and his campaign blamed rival Bobby Olszewski, who denied involvement and disavowed such politics.

The ruckus is over mailers and an internet site sponsored by a new group called Central Florida Republicans for Truth, which contend that Newstreet is a liberal-in-Republican clothing who supports the Affordable Care Act and amnesty for illegal aliens.

Newstreet says the claims are not true, and his opponents know that.

“They obviously don’t care about truthfulness,” Newstreet states in the Facebook Live video. “I am disheartened that someone who has called me a friend fur years now choses to lie about me for his own political gain.”

Newstreet’s campaign pointed the finger at Olszewski. The two, and two other Republicans, are battling toward an Aug. 15 primary to run for HD 44 in an Oct. 10 special election, to represent southwest Orange County.

Olszewski completely denied any association with the group behind the mailers and internet video, Central Florida Republicans for Truth, and said he rejects the style of politics they are promoting.

Newstreet and Olszewski are in a race with fellow Republicans Bruno Portigliatti and Dr. Usha Jain. Portgliatti also denied any involvement and repudiated the ads. Jain did not respond Monday, but no one has suggested she might be involved.

Absentee ballot voting already is underway in the primary.

In his Facebook Live video, Newstreet calls the mailers and video, “misleading attack ads.” He declares, “Folks these negative pieces simply are not true.”

Newstreet’s campaign Manager Anna Taylor said in a statement to FloridaPolitics.com, “Bobby has known John Newstreet for more than a decade ago. He knows John is against illegal immigration and amnesty.

“As he’s proven today, with [Windermere] Mayor [Gary] Bruhn and [Ocoee Mayor Rusty] Johnson dropping their endorsement of him because of his flip-flop on home rule, he’s willing to say and do anything to get elected to office,” she continued. “The connection between [Michael] Millner and Bobby’s campaign team is obvious and the fact they are hiding their identity just shows the type of candidate they are working with.”

She did not elaborate about how Millner or the committee’s connection to Olszewski’s campaign was obvious. Millner has been treasurer, chairman, or registered agent for dozens of political action committees all over the state.

[Earlier Monday Bruhn and Johnson withdrew their endorsements of Olszewski, because of his campaign plank to push for local office election term limits.]

Central Florida Republicans for Truth filed to be registered on July 14, with Jacob Milich as chairman and Millner as treasurer. Milich did not return a phone call Monday seeking comments on the campaign, or who is paying for it.

Central Florida Republicans for Truth has not yet filed any campaign finance disclosures that would indicate its source of money.

When asked if he was at all connected with the group, Olszewski responded:

“I don’t know anything about them and reject negative campaigning. I’ve walked thousands of doors, made thousands more phone calls and ask the voters to judge who’s track record is consistently conservative. I will say I like and respect each candidate in this race. Having been on the receiving end of negative ads I understand the need or desire to blame someone. But as I said before I know nothing about any of the groups involved in this race.”

In his Facebook Live video, Newstreet makes it clear that he blames his “opponents” for the attacks, and makes it clear he knows which one, saying the former friend, “choses to lie about me for his own political gain.” Yet Newstreet does not himself name names.

That appears to leave Jain, who is a woman, out of his suspicions.

When he was asked if he were involved, Portigliatti replied, “Absolutely not. We don’t know anything about the group or who is behind the group. We’re disappointed in this type of campaigning; voters in House District 44 deserve candidates that are focused on the issues.”

The mailers charged that Newstreet is new to the district he’s running in. They charge that he supports the Affordable Care Act. And they and a video on a related website charge he told a protest group that supports amnesty that “we’re supportive.”

Two or the charges are not new to the campaign.

Newstreet responded two weeks ago to claims that he was new to the district, saying he’d bought his home there in 2008 and has lived there off and on ever since, most recently for the past 16 months, moving in and out of the district as his jobs dictated, but always holding onto the house as his permanent residence.

The matter of the Affordable Care Act came up in a debate two weeks ago in which Newstreet said he supported 80 percent of the law and opposed 20 percent. His campaign quickly retracted that statement, saying he misspoke in the live conversation, and had meant to say he supported 20 percent of ObamaCare and opposed 80 percent.

The third matter, of amnesty for illegal aliens, dates to when Newstreet was a staff member for then-U.S. Sen. George LeMieux. Newstreet’s HD 44 campaign said protesters were seeking Republican LeMieux’s support for the Dream Act in 2010, and had gathered outside his office. Newstreet, the senator’s district representative, was dispatched to go outside and talk to them. He did so by assuring the protesters that LeMieux’s  office would listen to their concerns, but made no promises or assurances of support for the act, the Newstreet HD 44 campaign said Monday.

LeMieux did not support the Dream Act.

The video Central Florida Republicans for Truth posted on their anti-Newstreet website, uses jarring images and pulsating text to declare, “In 2010, State House candidate John Newstreet addressed a radical group dedicated to increasing illegal immigration and passing the Dream Act.” It then shows him addressing the gathering by saying, “We’re friendly to you. We’re supportive. Hopefully, we can get something done.”

The video does not mention that Newstreet addressed them on behalf of LeMieux, while they were protesting his office.

“Folks, that’s not how we do things in our community,” Newstreet stated in his video.

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