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Anna Eskamani announces star-studded fundraiser for HD 47 candidacy

Democrat Anna Eskamani‘s House District 47 campaign announced Thursday it will be holding an August fundraiser with co-chairs including Alan Grayson, Alex Sink, Bob Poe, and Steve Schale.

The August 15 fundraiser will be held at The Abbey, a popular downtown Orlando watering hole, especially for Democrats.

Eskamani, a Planned Parenthood director of external affairs and progressive Democratic organizer from Orlando, is first-in seeking to replace Republican state Rep. Mike Miller of Winter Park, who announced last month he’ll run for Congress rather than seek election.

The district serves north and central Orange County, including Winter Park and downtown Orlando.

The Democrat who ran against Miller last year, television producer Beth Tuura, is among the event chairs. Former Congressman Grayson, Former Florida Chief Financial Officer Sink, Democratic fundraiser Poe, Democratic operative Schale, former Orange County Comptroller Martha Haynie, lobbyist Kelly Cohen,  and fundraisers Jim Kitchens, Ted Maines, and Jeffrey Miller are among those listed as co-chairs.

“Some say that fundraising during the summer is tough, but with a community like ours, anything is possible,” Eskamani said in a news release.

Republican Scott Sturgill announces for CD 7

Republican Sanford businessman Scott Sturgill announced Wednesday he is running for Congress in Florida’s 7th Congressional District, setting up a primary showdown with state Rep. Mike Miller of Winter Park.

Sturgill, owner of a company that produces work safety equipment such as hard hats, made his announcement at the Sanford Regional Chamber of Commerce surrounded by about 100 guests, including numerous members of the chamber, and several Seminole and Sanford elected officials including Sanford Mayor Jeff Triplett.

He called for a return of civility to Washington D.C. and promised a platform that would put heavy emphasis on pushing for more reform of the Veterans Administration to assure quick, quality health care, and for aggressive efforts to keep and support the military presence in Central Florida, notably the simulation and modeling industry.

Sturgill is pushing his business background.

“Washington has been out of touch with reality for far too long. But there are too many bureaucrats, political appointees and career politicians who refuse to address or understand the issues that impact us every da,” he said. “Because they have never experienced what it is like to sign a paycheck. They’ve only signed the back. If we continue down this path we will see another economic downturn, only next time it will be much worse

“We will be able to take our entrepreneurial experience and work with both parties and all branches of government with civility, despite personality conflicts or differences,” he added.

Also there was Seminole County Joel Greenberg, who also had discussed a run in CD 7. On Wednesday he said he fully supported Sturgill. So that reduces the potential field wanting to take on Democratic U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy of Winter Park, who won the seat last fall, ousting longtime Republican U.S. Rep. John Mica. Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs also has been mentioned as a potential Republican candidate, but recently seemed to dismiss the prospect.

Miller announced his candidacy last month.

Sturgill had run for the Florida House of Representatives in 2014, losing in the Republican primary to now-state Rep. Bob Cortes of Altamonte Springs.

He said he wants to push for veterans to select their own doctors close to home for health care, to be covered by the VA. And he said the military, thanks to the modeling and simulation industry, has become the second largest employment industry in Central Florida. “I will do everything in my power to assure we keep these jobs right here,” Sturgill pledged.

Sierra-Nevada’s space plane ‘Dream Chaser’ to launch atop Atlas V

Sierra-Nevada Corp. has caught a flight to space for its space plane, Dream Chaser, which will be the first spacecraft available to NASA and the the commercial sector since the space shuttle that can fly and land like an airplane.

The company picked United Launch Alliance to provide the rockets to lift the Dream Chaser and its cargo, and possibly one day its astronauts, into lower-Earth orbit. Sierra-Nevada announced Wednesday it will be using the ULA’s venerable Atlas V rocket for its first two missions hauling cargo to and from the International Space Station under a cargo resupply contract with NASA.

Liftoff would be from ULA’s launch facilities at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. The Dream Catcher would then come back to Earth and land, presumably at Kennedy Space Center’s landing strip, formerly the Space Shuttle Landing Facility, where it has approved use.

The first launch is scheduled for 2020, the second for 2021.

Sierra-Nevada also has plans to carry cargo for private companies and also has designed the Dream Chaser to carry astronauts. It did not win a NASA contract for astronauts, but the company has been marketing it for private astronauts. The company also has indicated it could and would land Dream Chaser at large commercial airports, if occasion calls for it.

“ULA is pleased to partner with Sierra Nevada Corporation to launch its Dream Chaser cargo system to the International Space Station in less than three years,” Gary Wentz, ULA vice president of Human and Commercial Systems announced in a news release issued by ULA. “We recognize the importance of on time and reliable transportation of crew and cargo to Station and are honored the Atlas V was selected to continue to launch cargo resupply missions for NASA.”

There are two other companies hauling cargo to the space station, SpaceX and Orbital ATK, and both use their own rockets to carry conventional space capsules that return by parachuting into the ocean. ULA has provided a couple of rockets on occasions that Orbital ATK’s own rockets weren’t available.

“SNC recognizes the proven reliability of the Atlas V rocket and its availability and schedule performance makes it the right choice for the first two flights of the Dream Chaser,” Mark Sirangelo, corporate vice president of SNC’s Space Systems business area, stated in the news release.


Judge won’t dismiss count against Pulse gunman’s wife

An obstruction charge will remain against the wife of a man who massacred dozens at a Florida nightclub last year, a federal judge ruled Tuesday.

U.S. District Judge Paul Byron denied a request from Noor Salman to dismiss one of the two criminal charges she faces. She is scheduled for trial in March on the obstruction charge and a count of aiding and abetting her husband, Omar Mateen.

The charges were filed in a federal district that covers Orlando, but she’s accused of obstructing investigators during an interview in Fort Pierce, which is in the Southern District of Florida. Salman argued that the obstruction charge was filed in the wrong venue.

The judge said the offense with which Salman is charged had an impact on an investigation in the district in which the counts were filed.

“That is, the offense was continuing in nature, making venue proper in this district,” Byron wrote.

Forty-nine patrons of the gay nightclub Pulse were killed and dozens more were injured after Mateen opened fire in the club in June 2016.

More than 28,000 Venezuelans in Central Florida vote to oppose Nicolás Maduro in straw poll

The rapidly-growing Venezuelan community in Central Florida sent a message home and to Florida and American politicians with a vote Sunday they said drew more than 28,000 people who waited hours in line at six poling places to vote overwhelmingly to condemn the government and policy of that country’s dictator Nicolás Maduro.

Led by radio show host William Diaz of Orlando, who also is Central Florida director of Mesa de la Unidad Democratica, a unified coalition of Venezuelan political parties, the straw poll more than quadrupled the turnout expected by organizers of Central Florida refugees and Venezuelan-American permanent residents and naturalized American citizens.

“Locally, we were prepared to get about 6,000 votes,” Diaz said  at a press conference held Tuesday at the Saint Issac Jogues Catholic Church in southeast Orange County.

The referendum was quasi-official, as it was organized and directed internationally by the opposition parties within Venezuela,

Statewide almost 150,000 votes were cast Sunday, and 700,000 total internationally in the straw poll, said Venezuelan refugee Samuel Vilchez.

“The results are incredible,” Diaz said.

All but five of the 28,328 votes cast in Central Florida, backed by signatures, Venezuelan identification numbers and thumb prints, voted yes on three questions that essentially declared opposition to Maduro and called for restoration of the country’s previous constitution, Diaz said.

Whether that message might have any affect on Maduro and his government, Diaz and others gathered for a press conference announcing the results said it should announce to the world how strong and determined the refugee community is in Florida, particularly in Central Florida.

“I know and I understand we have a new voting power in Central Florida, the Venezuelans” said Luis Figueroa, an official with the Puerto Rican Chamber of Commerce of Central Florida who volunteered to be a poll observer.

“It was really motivating, it was inspiring, to see so many people passionate about their country, passionate about their freedom, passionate about their family members who are still back there, and hoping, some day, to go back to their country as a free country,” said state Rep. Rene Plasencia, an Orlando Republican.

The resulting turnout led to long lines, but people were patient and eager to vote, Figueroa said He said he knew one woman who waited in line more than six hours and was happy to do so. The polling places were set to close at 5 but at least one stayed open until 10 p.m. The organizers quickly ran out of ballots and kept nearby Office Depot and Staples very busy on Sunday, they said. Nearby restaurants like a Panera’s Bread were swamped.

Diaz and Vilchez said the Venezuelan community got plenty of assistance from non Venezuelans such as Plasencia and Figueroa, from Cubans, Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, Mexicans and Anglo-Americans to run the polls on Sunday.

The vote also was a coming out for the strength and unity of the Venezuelan community, Diaz said. He said there were thousands of people who came who could not vote because they were too young, or because, for various reasons, they could not qualify, and estimated there were 50,000 people who showed up at the polling places. Therefore, he estimated 100,000 Venezuelans live in Central Florida.

“I was here on Sunday morning and I was completely floored by what I saw. It was incredible,” Plasencia said. “To see the number of people voting, from one country, in one day, I was awestruck.”

The rapid expansion of the Venezuelan community has been apparent to local officials. Earlier this month the Orange County Public Schools said Venezuela is now the top origin of transfer students from outside the United States, ahead of Puerto Rico. Likewise, Orange County Tax Collector Scott Randolph said his driver’s license bureaus have seen dramatic numbers of people from Venezuela seeking driver’s licenses.


Mike La Rosa draws Democrat challenger

St. Cloud Republican Rep. Mika La Rosa picked up a Democratic challenger in his re-election bid House District 42 Monday.

Barbara Cady is the first major-party opponent to file against La Rosa for 2018. Last month, no-party candidate Lonzell Ivory Jr. opened up a campaign account for the seat, which covers parts of Osceola and Polk counties.

Cady attended the Democratic National Convention last year as a delegate for 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and was the lead coordinator for Clinton’s campaign in Osceola County. On Twitter, Cady describes herself as a “liberal progressive, radical feminist, freedom fighter, human rights activist.”

The Kissimmee Democrat is also a SUNY New Paltz alumna who holds a degree in Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies.

Despite having more registered Democrats than Republicans, HD 42 has a reliable GOP lean and La Rosa will likely waltz into a fourth term.

Last year, the 35-year-old Republican went up against Democrat Benny Valentin on Election Day and won by more than 10 points. In 2014, a mid-term election year, his margin was more than 20 points over Democratic challenger Chad Carnell.

So far this cycle, La Rosa has raised about $32,000 and has $18,000 of that money on hand. Ivory has not yet reported any monetary contributions to his campaign, and Cady’s first campaign finance report will not be available until mid August.

Sam Allen seeks to push ACA in challenge of Daniel Webster

Republican U.S. Rep. Daniel Webster has picked up a Democratic challenger in Florida’s 11th Congressional District, with Samuel Allen seeking to make the Affordable Care Act the centerpiece of his campaign.

Allen, 30, of Tavares, is a telecommunications specialist who once ran unsuccessfully for town council in Howie-in-the-Hills in Lake County,

While he’s ready to campaign on issues such as education, particularly higher education, he said the Republican health care bills and attacks on the Affordable Care Act motivated him to run, and will be the foundation of his challenge of Webster, a four-term member of Congress who’ll be seeking his second term representing CD 11, which covers of Lake, Sumter, Marion, Citrus and Hernando counties in west-central Florida.

This is an overwhelmingly Republican district, as the GOP has a 15 point advantage in voter registration, according to the Cook Partisan Voting Index. In 2016, his first run in CD 11 after moving from neighboring Florida’s 10th Congressional District, Webster drew 65 percent of the vote against a Democrat and an independent.

Allen does not yet have any political consultants, nor any campaign insurance short of his Howie-in-the-Hills run in 2004.

“The reason I’m running is I believe the Affordable Care Act is something to be built upon. What has been put forth in both the House and the Senate is atrocious,” Allen said. “What it will do for Floridians, is not OK. I’ve decided to run to make changes for the 11th District of Florida, and for all Americans.”

His plan: expanding Medicaid to allow a tiered buy-in by people who make too much money to qualify for Medicaid now.

“I think that will be not only helpful, but it would be the most cost effective way to make sure that health care is affordable and available for all Americans,” Allen said.

Webster held out for a long time this spring before voting yes on the American Health Care Plan, which was approved by the House of Representatives 217-213, but has been ignored so far in the U.S. Senate.

“Dan Webster showed himself, with the health care act,” Allen said.

Allen is married with three children, and is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in history from Arizona State University.


Jason Brodeur now at more than $450K raised for Senate bid

Through the end of June, Republican Rep. Jason Brodeur had more than $450,000 on hand between his campaign account and his committee account for his 2020 state Senate run.

Brodeur has run into term limits in his current House District 28 seat and filed to run for the Senate District 9 seat currently held by Republican Sen. David Simmons.

His fundraising got off to a quick start, with more than $400,000 in the bank ahead of the start of the 2017 Legislative Session.

Since then, he has raised $50,450 through his campaign and $125,500 in committee cash, much of it coming in the first few days of March before session began.

March committee money included $25,000 from Disney, $10,000 from Gulf Coast Health Care, and $5,000 a piece from Growing Florida’s Future, Walgreens, the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association and many others.

May saw $16,500 from The Committee for Justice, Transportation and Business, chaired by lobbyist David Ramba, and June included $10,000 from the GOPAC Election Fund and $5,000 from Florida Power & Light, among a handful of other donors.

The campaign cash came in through 75 contributions, including 39 for the maximum donation of $1,000. Donors included Teco Energy, Publix, Charter Communications and many others.

The last few months have also seen the Sanford Republican spend $36,488 in committee money and nearly the same amount from his campaign coffers, leaving him with $337,000 in his committee, “Friends of Jason Brodeur,” and $113,000 on hand in his campaign account.

The only candidate filed to run against Brodeur so far is Oviedo Democrat James Ashby, who entered the race in mid May. He has yet to show any contributions to his campaign.

SD 9 has a health Republican lean. The district has about 17,000 more registered Republicans than Democrats and Mitt Romney would have carried the seat by 8 points back in 2012.

The district covers all of Seminole County and part of Volusia County.

Rick Scott reassigns 2 more Aramis Ayala cases, involving alleged child killers

Gov. Rick Scott has reassigned the cases of two women accused of abusing a three-year-old Orange County boy to death, transferring their cases from Orlando’s State Attorney Aramis Ayala to Ocala’s State Attorney Brad King.

The transfers are like more than 20 others the governor has reassigned from Ayala to King since March, when Ayala, the elected state attorney for Florida’s 9th Judicial Circuit, said she would not pursue the death penalty in any murder cases in her district under Florida’s current laws.

This time the transferred cases involve an incident that occurred earlier this year, in which Callene M. Barton and Lakesha C. Lewis were arrested for allegedly beating the pre-school son of their other roommate with a window blind rod, and then throwing him down a flight of stairs. The boy died.

Scott’s authority to reassign such cases, and Ayala’s authority to refuse to pursue death penalty prosecutions, are in the hands of the Florida Supreme Court. The two took to the Supreme Court to battle out what outside interests have called a major case defining the powers of elected state attorneys and governors. The two made their oral arguments last week. A decision could come any day.

The case and the stakes involved have divided legal and lawmaking authorities, not just in Florida but nationally.

Lewis, 28, was booked earlier this month on charges of first-degree murder and aggravated child abuse.

Barton, 58, was booked earlier this month on charges of first-degree murder, aggravated child abuse, and tampering with a witness.

Anna Eskamani draws 10 Democratic lawmakers’ endorsements in HD 47

Democratic candidate Anna Eskamani announced the endorsements Monday of 10 Democratic members of the Florida House of Representatives in her bid for Florida’s House District 47.

In addition to the endorsements from Democratic state Reps. Amy Mercado and Carlos Guillermo Smith of Orlando, announced earlier, the backing comes from Democratic state Reps. John Cortes of Kissimmee, Daisy Baez of Coral Gables, Emily Slosberg of Delray Beach, Evan Jenne of Hollywood, Lori Berman of Boynton Beach, Robert Ascencio of Miami, Sean Shaw of Tampa and Shevrin Jones of West Park.

Eskamani, or Orlando, filed to run for what would be an open seat representing east-central Orlando including downtown, Winter Park and much of central Orange County. Republican incumbent state Rep. Mike Miller of Winter Park, filed to run for Congress instead of re-election.

Eskamani is the only candidate in the race so far.

“I’ve had the pleasure of working with Anna since she was a UCF College Democrat,” Mercado, a former Orange County Democratic chair, stated in a news release issued by Eskamani’s campaign. “She is an amazing individual who puts all her energy and passion in rolling up her sleeves to fight for community, which is exactly what we need in Tallahassee. She will be an amazing addition to the Florida legislature.”

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