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Gwen Graham opens campaign HQ in Orlando

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gwen Graham opened a new campaign headquarters in Orlando Saturday.

“This is just thrilling. I’m so excited to officially be a resident of Orlando. Central Florida is at the heart of our 67-county strategy,” Graham said, “After 20 years of Republican dominance, we face so many challenges. That’s why I’m running for governor. We must restore our promise to public education, protect our environment, and build an economy that works for everyone.”

The former congresswoman was joined by supporters and a handful of Orlando-area elected officials for the opening celebration, including Democratic state Sen. Linda Stewart, who endorsed Graham ahead of the weekend event.

“I’ve had enough of the portraits of men hanging in the Governor’s mansion. We have a real chance to do something about a generation of failed leadership in Florida,” Stewart said Saturday. “I believe in Gwen Graham. I am voting for her. And I am proud to endorse her as the next Governor of the State of Florida.”

Stewart is a leader in Democrats’ fight for an assault weapons ban. Graham reiterated her support of such a measure Saturday.

 “I was actually in Orlando when the Pulse shooting happened and then I was able to sit with Congressman John Lewis on the House floor and call for action. I still can’t believe nothing happened,” she said. “After the shooting at Stoneman Douglas, we must take action. When I’m governor, I’m going to listen to the students who are crying out for commonsense gun safety.”

Along with Stewart, Orlando Rep. Amy Mercado, Attorney General candidate and Tampa Rep. Sean Shaw, HD 47 candidate Anna Eskamani and former Rep. Karen Castor Dentel attended the headquarters opening.

Graham’s new HQ is not far from Democratic Primary opponent Chris King’s base, opened last month. Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine also recently opened a campaign office in Central Florida, though his is in Kissimmee.

Graham faces Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, King and Levine in the primary.

Through March, she held the No. 2 spot in primary race fundraising with about $6.5 million raised and $3.9 million in the bank. Levine has been in the top spot since entering the race last year, though much of his funding comes from his personal fortune.

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and Northeast Florida U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis are competing for the Republican nomination. House Speaker Richard Corcoran could join them in the race as soon as this week.

Anna Eskamani grabs Jerry Demings’ endorsement

Democratic Florida House District 47 candidate Anna Eskamani has received the endorsement of Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings, her campaign announced Monday morning.

Demings also is a Democrat, and Eskamani faces two Republicans in her quest to win HD 47, which is being vacated by Republican state Rep. Mike Miller, who is running for Congress

Demings is running for Orange County mayor against two Republican candidates, though that office officially is nonpartisan.

“I have known Anna since her days as an officer of the College Democrats at UCF. That was nearly ten years ago, and it has been incredible to watch her grow into the community leader she is today,” Demings stated in a news release issued by Eskamani’s campaign. “Anna is someone who gets it — she works hard, takes time to understand the issues, and is always looking for common ground. She cares deeply about public safety and our first responders too. We will be in good hands with Anna as our next State House representative.”

Eskamani faces Orlando lawyer Mikaela Nix and Winter Park businessman Stockton Reeves VI, who will face off in the August 28 Republican primary for HD 47. The district covers north and central Orange County.

“I am honored to have the support of Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings. Jerry is one of the most well-respected leaders in our community and his trust in me speaks volumes to my ability to serve the great people of House District 47,” Eskamani stated in the news release. “The health, safety, and security of Florida families will always be my biggest priority, and together with partners like Jerry, we will work hard to ensure that every person in this state can live life to its fullest potential.”

Darren Soto versus Alan Grayson showdown set

The Democratic primary showdown between U.S. Rep. Darren Soto and his predecessor Alan Grayson officially became a two-man battle Friday afternoon as ballot qualifying closed for Florida’s 7th Congressional District.

The winner will be met by Republican candidate Wayne Liebnitzky, who drew no Republican primary challengers between him and the November general election.

Soto, completing his first term representing CD 9, covering Osceola County, south Orange County, and eastern Polk County, is an Orlando lawyer and former Florida state representative and state senator.

Grayson, who served CD 9 for two terms and CD 10 for one term, is an Orlando lawyer who took the past couple years off from politics after losing the Democratic primary for Florida’s U.S. Senate race in 2016.

Their battle for the August 28 Democratic primary is expected to be a bruising, marquee contest.

Liebnitzky, a St. Cloud businessman, lost the 2016 general election to Soto.

He is the only candidate of the three who qualified for the ballot this time by petition, turning in more than 5,000 certified signatures. Soto and Grayson sent in $10,440 checks.

Another Republican had filed, but Sean Buchan stepped out of the race months ago without formally withdrawing and did not qualify for the ballot.

No Republican opposition for Val Demings

U.S. Rep. Val Demings need only win her August 28 primary to earn re-election to a second term representing Florida’s 10th Congressional District as no Republicans qualified for the ballot to oppose her.

With qualifying ending Friday, Demings drew a Democratic primary challenge from Wade Darius, but no one else, creating an open primary vote on August 28, with no general election to follow.

Darius, of Orlando, is chief executive officer of TD Homes Marketing of Orlando.

Demings is completing her first term in Congress after having won overwhelmingly in the 2016 primary and general election. She is a retired Orlando police chief and is married to Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings, who is running for Orange County mayor.

Both Demings and Darius qualified for the ballot by submitting campaign checks for $10,440. Two Republicans had filed early paperwork to run, but neither Richard Baptist nor Benjamin Leon qualified for the ballot either by check or petition.

The district covers west Orlando and west Orange County.

Three Republicans, one Democrat qualify to challenge Stephanie Murphy

Republicans state Rep. Mike Miller, Scott Sturgill, and Vennia Francois, and Democrat Chardo Richardson all qualified for the ballot with hopes of taking on incumbent Democratic U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy in Florida’s 7th Congressional District.

All five candidates, including Murphy, qualified for the ballot by sending in $10,440 checks.

So on August 28 CD 7 voters in Seminole County and north and central Orange County will have both a Republican primary, with Miller, Sturgill, and Francois; and a Democratic primary, with Murphy and Richardson.

Another Republican who had filed, Patrick Weingart, did not qualify for the ballot.

Murphy is a first-term congresswoman from Winter Park, a businesswoman and former instructor at Rollins College.

Miller is a two-term member of the Florida House from Winter Park, who had served on the staffs of U.S. Sens. Connie Mack and Mel Martinez.

Sturgill is a Sanford businessman who previously ran for the Florida House in 2014.

Francois is an Orlando lawyer who also served on Martinez’s staff, as well as that of U.S. Sen. George LeMieux.

Richardson is an Air Force veteran and former head of the Central Florida Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.

Orange County mayoral candidates offer subtle differences on outreach, transportation

Orange County can expect the next mayor to create more outreach to the Hispanic community, more efforts on   developing affordable housing, simplifying licensing, and focus more on coordinating public transportation, though to varying degrees.

At a debate Friday morning at the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Metro Orlando, Orange County Commissioner Pete Clarke, Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings, and Winter Park entrepreneur Rob Panepinto all could do more, particularly in offering assistance to the burgeoning influx of Puerto Rican migrants.

They are all vying for Orange County’s most powerful elected job, mayor of Orange County, seeking to succeed Teresa Jacobs.

Much of Friday’s debate found general agreement among the trio, yet still highlighted the different themes each of the candidates has built his campaign around: Clarke’s push to provide services through partnerships with non-profit organizations, Demings experience with decades in public service and reputation for bringing people together, and Panepinto’s pledge to  bring new, entrepreneurial ideas to the office.

Clarke proposed several reforms seeking to streamline government, particularly across independent agencies, such as creating reciprocity in licensing and registration efforts between Orange County and such agencies as the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority and the Central Florida Expressway Authority.

He also vowed to create an Orange county “welcome wagon” office specifically focusing on Hispanic newcomers and businesses relocating to Orange County from Puerto Rico or Latin America. Both Panepinto and Demings also showed interest or support for a Hispanic outreach office in the county.

That led to a bolder proposal from Panepinto, who proposed that the coordination and money problems facing the bus service, Lynx, the commuter train railroad, SunRail, and the toll road agency, the Central Florida Expressway Authority.

He talked about the critical need to get SunRail extended to the airport and to have later hours and weekend service, and to get Lynx better connected. But they don’t have money. The expressway authority has money.

“I think there is an opportunity to have the expressway authority, Lynx and SunRail work much closer together,” Panepinto offered. “There’s been some talk about how toll money can be used to feed Lynx. It is a strategic conversation. It is going to involve the state and a lot of jurisdictions. But I actually think there is the opportunity to have the organizations come closer together…. I think may be a better move for us in the longterm to solve this issue.”

Clarke also called for some conversation about  consolidation – but between Lynx and SunRail for a possible dedicated source of tax dollar funding, possibly as a sales tax or property tax, particularly to build some east-west rail service.

He did not commit to supporting such a dedicated tax himself, but said it would have to be a community decision.

Demings agreed that there should be a conversation on finding a funding source, adding, “and we have to look at public-private partnerships.”

Demings, with a career in law enforcement including as sheriff and Orlando chief of police, took a deep view of the concerns and funding challenges the county faces in having to provide school resource officers – armed security – required at Orange County Public Schools.

“We’re going to see a public safety paradigm shift now because we are going to have to put law enforcement officers more on the campuses. There’s not enough money by the way from what the governor brought forward. So the county is going to have to fill that gap. It is going to be millions of dollars,” Demings said. “Unfortunately, we do live in a world now where we see individuals carrying assault rifles, so it’s going to be costly to now arm our law enforcement officers with better firepower and other protections to deal with those issues.

“And it’s also a challenge for our children. I have a granddaughter in the public schools, and even she sometimes is concerned about what happens in our schools,” Demings said.

For much of the campaign, Panepinto has been the one most focusing on the income inequality in Central Florida, calling for the county to be more aggressive in preparing for and seeking higher-wage jobs, as the starting point for all other issues.

“There is so much positive here, so much potential, it is easy to see, the growth, the jobs, the inclusiveness, the diversity, downtown. But we are also a community that is continually at the lowest end in terms of average wage,” he said, also adding concerns about housing, transportation and children living in poverty. “And so I feel at this point in time we need people who have other skill sets to solve some of these issues than those who spent their entire lives in government and in politics.”

Demings offered the line of the day, after arguing that “there is no substitute for training and experience:”

“I assure you there will be drama-free leadership from Mayor Jerry Demings,” he said.

Linda Stewart endorses Gwen Graham in governor’s race

Orlando Democratic state Sen. Linda Stewart is throwing her support behind Gwen Graham in Florida’s Governor’s race.

“I’ve seen the damage that 20 years of one-party Republican rule in Tallahassee has caused. They’ve neglected our environment, they defunded our public schools, and they gutted our gun laws. We need strong leadership, focused on the needs of Floridians, and that’s why I’m proud to support Gwen Graham for governor,” Stewart stated in a news release issued Friday by Graham’s campaign.

Stewart, also a former Orange County Commissioner and state representative, has led the fight for an assault weapons ban in the state Senate. She’s also working to secure funding for a Pulse Memorial in Orlando. And In addition to her leadership on gun safety, Stewart has been an advocate for the environment and higher education.

Graham faces Winter Park entrepreneur Chris King, former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum in the Democratic primary fight to run for governor.

“After Pulse, Rick Scott and the Republicans in the Legislature offered their thoughts and prayers — and then failed to act. They turned their heads and did nothing to prevent another mass shooting or to stop the daily violence that plagues communities across Florida,” Graham stated in the release. “Despite opposition, Senator Linda Stewart has fought for bold proposals to stop gun violence. She has stood strong for the environment and education, and I admire her leadership under pressure. As governor, I will work with her to pass universal background checks, ban military-style assault weapons, and secure funding for a Pulse Memorial.”

Darren Soto calls for election battle about ‘respect and dignity’

Digging in for a potentially bruising primary battle, Democratic U.S. Rep. Darren Soto kicked off his 2018 re-election campaign Thursday with a rally at which he called for an election about “respect and dignity… humility and service.”

The call appeared as a response to Tuesday’s news that Soto now faces his predecessor Democratic former U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson in a primary battle for Florida’s 9th Congressional District. Grayson already has shown his fighting form, attacking Soto’s record and commitment to progressive causes.

“People are sick of nasty politics and I plan to rise above it once again,” Soto said, without mentioning Grayson by name. “As First Lady Michelle Obama once famously said, ‘when they go low, we go high.'”

The reference could only be to Grayson, as the only Republican in the field, Saint Cloud businessman Wayne Liebnitzky has largely refrained from attacking Soto, except on policy debates.

In a 12-minute speech in Kissimmee with a handful of supporters beside him, including state Sen. Victor Torres and state Rep. John Cortes, who both represent Kissimmee, Soto laid out some of his positions, efforts, and accomplishments on issues ranging from Puerto Rico relief and recovery to Social Security. Some of the statements sounded, in part, like rebuttals to Grayson’s opening criticisms on Tuesday.

Yet Soto’s speech also was offered as an affirmation of the freshman congressman’s first 16 months in office.

And he pledged a positive campaign and called for a united Democratic party.

“Like in 2016 we face another major Democratic primary,” said Soto, who beat Grayson’s wife Dena Grayson, among other Democrats, in the 2016 primary. “And it has already become nasty. As with back then, I will continue to run a positive and inspiring campaign. We’ll focus on the issues that matter to us as Democrats.”

Soto highlighted his efforts to help with hurricane relief in both Florida and Puerto Rico, and a whole host of progressive policies from supporting labor unions to supporting the gay community, from advocating to reinstate the assault weapons ban to sponsorship of a sexual harassment bill, and from opposing the Republican tax reform bill, to opposing President Donald Trump‘s wall.

In particular, Soto focused on his environmental record, noting he is the only Florida member of Congress with a 100 percent rating from the League of Conservation Voters, saying, “many of you know I am thrilled to lead the charge for the Florida delegation to keep oil drilling off our shores, to protect our waters and beaches, to save the Everglades, and to protect critical wildlife corridors.”

Afterwords, speaking with the press, Soto took issue with one of Grayson’s points of criticism, when the former congressman accused Soto of ignoring the call by House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi to vote against a funding bill unless the Republicans agreed to extend the DREAMers Act. Soto maintained that he always has been a strong supporter of that act, and still intends to pursue “a clean bill” providing legal status to young, undocumented immigrants. But he noted that the funding bill he voted for included money for Puerto Rico and Florida hurricane relief. The bill passed.

“Grayson attacked me for that. That’s a key difference. I’m willing to cross the aisle for the betterment of our state, along with half the Democrats, and half the Republicans,” Soto said. “And I stand in favor of Puerto Rico, and he obviously stands against the disaster relief.”

Soto also disputed Grayson’s claim that he has accomplished nothing. Soto offered he was behind numerous bills and amendments that have been approved.

“This is a diverse district. It’s Democratic leaning but not overwhelmingly so. So while I will continue to fight for progressive values, and I got the endorsement of my peers in and in the progressive caucus as a result, it also takes reaching across the aisle to work on issues that matter to the district, like disaster relief, like citrus greening, like protecting our environment,” Soto said. “We passed dozens of amendments.”

Amol Jethwani, Anna Eskamani named ‘champions’ by progressive group

Democratic Florida House candidate Anna Eskamani is one of 70 candidates nationwide named as “champions” by the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, identifying candidates around the country deemed as fighting for progressive priorities, her campaign announced Thursday.

Also named a champion in Florida was Democrat Amol Jethwani of Gainesville, who is running for Florida House District 21. Eskamani, of Orlando, is running in Florida House District 47.

“The candidates on our champions list are running great campaigns powered by the grassroots, not corporate interests,” the political action committee stated on its webpage.

Progressive Change Campaign Committee, was founded in 2009, and is described as having been closely allied with U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, the Massachusetts Democrat. It raises money and provides it to the campaigns it is supporting.

Eskamani is seeking to succeed state Rep. Mike Miller of Winter Park, who is not seeking re-election. Also vying for the seat are Republicans Winter Park businessman Stockton Reeves VI and Orlando lawyer Mikaela Nix.

Jethwani is seeking to take on incumbent Republican state Rep. Charles Clemons of Newbury. So is Democrat Jason Haeseler of Gainesville.

Eskamani and Jethwani were the only candidates selected in Florida.

“Our 2018 Champions across the country are committed to solving big problems affecting their communities,” said Marissa Barrow, a spokesperson for the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, stated in a news release issued by Eskamani’s campaign. “Selected for their bold vision, these candidates are highly capable leaders ready to make change.”

“Our campaign to take back Florida State House District 47 is more than just a moment; this is a movement, powered by the people of Florida,” Eskamani stated in the release. “For the past ten years, I have committed my life’s work to holding politicians accountable while empowering my community and protecting our rights. Our election will be historic, and it feels good knowing that we have PCCC members by my side.”

Lee Mangold gets backing of Working Families Party in HD 28 race

Democratic Florida House candidate Lee Mangold has gotten the backing of the Working Families Party in his quest for Florida House District 28, his campaign announced Tuesday.

The Working families Party is a national, progressive, political organization that advocates for such things as increased minimum wages and paid sick days, and claims a grassroots operation reaching hundred of thousands of people each month. With its endorsement of Mangold, the party pledged to mobilize supporters to volunteer for his campaign.

“We are proud to support Lee Mangold for the Florida State House. Lee is the type of leader who will fight for the issues that matter most to working families in Tallahassee – quality public education, affordable access to healthcare and building renewable sustainable energy,” Ari Kamen, political strategist for Working Families Party, stated in a news release issued by the Mangold campaign. “Lee will be a powerful force for working families in the state House, and we enthusiastically support him.”

Mangold, of Casselberry, faces Republican David Smith of Winter Springs in the HD 28 contest to represent eastern Seminole County.

“The Working Families Party is a fantastic organization of progressive activists, working to ensure that we have processes and an economy in this country that work for all of us,” Mangold stated in the release. “I’m proud to receive this endorsement – and all my endorsements – because I truly believe in the causes they fight for. The Working Families Party stands with everyday people – and so do I!”

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