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Alan Grayson taking on Donald Trump

A bored and angry Alan Grayson can be a can be dangerous for someone, and he’s aiming now at President Donald Trump.

The former Democratic, hard-boiled congressman from Orlando, who continues to keep a campaign warm for a possible return-to-Congress effort, has started a leadership political action committee called Lock Him Up Now  to pursue and keep track of evidence of alleged crimes and misdemeanors of the 45th president of the United States, and to raise money for an anti-Trump effort.

With a webpage subtitle of “The Resistance, Help End the Trump Presidency,” the organization’s goal is to compile and even create legal cases for impeachment or forced resignation.

“Our side needs somebody concentrating on what it will actually take to get rid of him,” Grayson said. “I think he’s already crossed the [impeachment] threshold.”

Grayson of course is known for his harsh, often bombastic, knee-breaking, sometimes outrageous, progressive-oriented political rhetoric.

Yet he also was one of the more successful whistle-blower lawyers in the country. Grayson said he intends to use that experience and knowhow to try to draw out any potential whistle-blowers on Trump, and get them to provide information, leaked or otherwise, that could be compiled into cases. His organization’s website is set up partly for that.

He said he has confidence that an independent, whistle-blower-oriented investigation could have opportunities beyond what either the official U.S. Congressional inquiries or FBI Director Robert Mueller can pursue.

Grayson served three [non-consecutive] terms in Congress. He represented Florida’s 10th Congressional District but was defeated for re-election by Republican U.S. Rep. Dan Webster. Then he served two terms representing Florida’s 9th Congressional District, but stepped out last year for an unsuccessful bid for the Democratic nomination to run for the U.S.

Since leaving office he’s kept a relatively low profile until now, but has kept open his congressional campaign fund. Because of that, last winter he filed to run against Webster again, this time in Florida’s 11th Congressional District. Yet he insisted then, and continues to insist now, that filing was just a paperwork matter to keep the option open and money flowing, and he hasn’t decided if he’ll run again, or where, or against whom.

Meantime, Lock Him Up Now is pursing both evidence and money, and seeking to become a rallying point for anti-Trump efforts

“We’ve struck a cord. A very large number of people think Trump needs to be impeached and forced out of office, or to resign,” he said.

Grayson’s critics, and there are numerous in both parties, may argue a collapsed U.S. Senate campaign and eight months out of office, Grayson’s fundraising opportunities might be limited. But he contends he’s raised $600,000 from 37,000 individual contributors for his still to-be-determined congressional run.

“I have a very broad base of support. People continue to contribute, notwithstanding my lack of success in the Senate race last year,” he said.

The Lock Him Up Now organization recently commissioned a national poll, which Grayson said he paid for himself. It asked 1,245 voters nationwide a series of questions about Trump, with what he said is a margin of error of 2.8 percent.

Yes, the questions were leading.

One asked: “Is Donald Trump a pathological liar?”

Grayson said 69 percent responded yes, 20 percent no, and 11 percent maybe.

“Is Donald Trump a jerk?”

Grayson said 77 percent responded yes, and 23 percent no.

And, he added, political party breakdowns didn’t change that, saying 88 percent of Democrats said they thought the president was a jerk, 80 percent of independents, and 61 percent of Republicans.

Has Bobby Olszewski already won the HD 44 election?

Democratic nominee Paul Chandler‘s stealth resignation from the special election for Florida House 44, combined with Hurricane Irma, might have already given the election victory to Republican nominee Bobby Olszewski.

Chandler filed his resignation Friday, but the Florida Secretary of State’s office was closed Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday because of Hurricane Irma. So the resignation was not noticed until Wednesday. The Florida Division of Elections posted it Wednesday, and notified elections and party officials that Chandler was out.

If a political party wants to replace a candidate who withdraws, the party has five days to do so, under Florida law. The candidate then has two days to qualify for the ballot.

The election is Oct. 10. Some absentee ballots already have been filled out. Democrats are trying to organize a meeting to pick a replacement candidate. If it all works out for them, voters in HD 44 would be notified that a vote for Chandler will be counted as a vote for the replacement nominee.

But does the five-day period for that selection, followed by two days for the new candidate to qualify, begin when Chandler notified the state, or when the state notified the party? Saturday. Sunday. Monday. Tuesday. Wednesday. Does that count?

Orange County Democratic Chairman Wes Hodge said he is confident the clock began ticking when the party was notified, on Wednesday. That is when he and Florida Democratic Party Chairman Stephen Bittel received notification from the Florida Secretary of State’s office of Chandler’s resignation, and the notification stated that the county party has until Sept. 20 to select and qualify a replacement candidate.

Orange County Supervisor of Elections Bill Cowles said he is researching the matter with officials from Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner’s office but does not have an answer.  Traditionally, he said, official correspondence are not considered delivered if they arrive on a day the office is closed, but the law does not specify “business days” or indicate that the department actually has to open the letter before the clock starts.

Olszewski had no comment, except for a written statement about Chandler’s resignation.

“First and foremost my thoughts and prayers are with our state as together we recover from Hurricane Irma.  Once our community regains a sense of normalcy in the coming days, nothing changes for us, regardless of what’s happening with Mr. Chandler or other candidates,” Oslzewski stated. “We are going to continue to focus on speaking with as many voters as we possibly can between now and Election Day and listening to what they want to see out of their next State Representative and how we can work together to improve our community and our state.”

 

FEMA declares Central Florida counties eligible for individual assistance

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has declared six inland Central Florida counties to be eligible for individual assistance from the disaster declaration for Hurricane Irma, U.S. Rep. Darren Soto announced Wednesday

The declaration came hours after Soto and four other Central Florida members of Congress sought federal designations for Orange, Seminole, Lake, Osceola, and Polk counties that would allow the Central Florida counties directly affected by Hurricane Irma to apply for FEMA financial assistance under the individuals and household program.

FEMA had previously declared most of Florida’s coastal counties as eligible. There now are 21 Florida counties eligible.

Residents from those inland Central Florida counties now are eligible to apply for FEMA’s Individuals and Household Program, an emergency fund available for residents who are financially unable to cover personal and home repair costs caused by Hurricane Irma.

Soto was joined in his letter seeking the declaration by U.S. Reps. Dennis Ross of Lakeland, Stephanie Murphy of Winter Park, Thomas Rooney of Okeechobee, and Val Demings of Orlando.

Democrat Paul Chandler withdraws from HD 44 special election

Democratic Paul Chandler withdrew Wednesday from the Oct. 10 special election set for Florida House District 44, making the already heavily-favored Republican nominee Bobby Olszewski even more so.

The move, which caught both elections’ and Democratic party officials by surprise, is the latest in the Chandler saga. In the last five weeks his eligibility was challenged  in court, he announced he would resign from the ticket, he changed his mind and indicated he was going to fight the court case and go forward with his campaign, preventing Florida Democrats from getting another name on the ballot. He then went silent, and now has resigned.

This time it is official. A resignation letter from him was posted by the Florida Division of elections Wednesday.  The letter, declaring simply, “I hereby resign as the Democratic candidate in the Florida House of Representatives Special Election for Oct. 10, 2017,” was dated last Friday, but the offices have been closed, and it was not posted until Wednesday.

Chandler, a Lake Buena Vista businessman, could not be reached Wednesday for comment.

The Democrats still can pick and qualify a replacement candidate, but she or he would have to run under Chandler’s name. They have a week to do so.

Either way, the event creates one more advantage for Olszewski of Winter Garden, a former city commissioner with high name recognition in the district, who won a hard-fought primary battle on Aug. 15, and was priming for war against the underfunded, little-known Chandler, whose standing with his Democratic Party had gone from bad to worse.

The district covers southwest Orange County. Olszewski seeks to succeed former state Rep. Eric Eisnaugle, a Republican who resigned this past spring to take a judicial appointment.

The Orange County Democratic Party has five days to select a replacement candidate, who then would have two days to qualify for the ballot.

If the party decides to do so, and the person qualifies, The Orange County Supervisor of Elections would send notices to absentee voters and post notices in polling places indicating that a vote for Chandler is a vote for the new nominee.

Absentee ballots began going out more than two weeks ago and 267 already have been filled out and returned. A total of 19,935 have been distributed. Anyone who voted for Chandler may have in fact voted for a candidate-to-be-named-later without knowing it.

One Democrat, Dawn Marie Antonis, already has filed to run in HD 44 next year. She said Wednesday she is undecided if she is interested in replacing Chandler.

Orange County Democratic Chairman Wes Hodge said he found out about Chandler’s resignation this afternoon when Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner notified him. Hodge has not heard from Chandler.

Hodge said he is trying to schedule a meeting of the county party’s executive committee in the next few days. Nominations would be taken from the floor and voted upon for a new nominee, he said.

“We’re also trying to get a list of potential candidates so we can do screening, to make sure we don’t have any issues with anyone,” he said.

Darren Soto named to Congressional Democrats’ jobs task force

U.S. Rep. Darren Soto of Orlando has been named one of four co-chairs of a new jobs task force created by the Democratic Caucus in the House of Representatives.

Soto, a freshman, joins U.S. Reps. Susan DelBene of Washington, Debbie Dingell of Michigan, and Raja Krishnamoorthi of Illinois as co-chairs of the newly-formed House Democratic Caucus New Economy Task Force, Soto’s office announced Wednesday.

“In developing legislation to strengthen our economy, we need to think long-term – beyond the next election cycle and beyond the present,” Soto stated in a news release. “Our priority must be on preparing the American workforce for the jobs of the 21st Century.”

The Democratic Caucus charged the New Economy Task force with, “looking at rapidly advancing technology, artificial intelligence, advanced manufacturing, and ensuring workers are trained for the jobs of tomorrow.”

“We’ll be working together on legislative solutions to create new jobs and boost our local economies, while keeping America a strong competitive market in a technologically advanced world,” Soto stated.

The New Economy Task Force is one of five newly-created panels under the Democrats’ Jobs for America Task Forces, which the caucus announced as a unified effort from Democrats to craft a legislative agenda. The others are called the Rebuilding America, Jobs With Dignity, Access to Jobs, and Reinvesting in Our Returning Heroes task forces. Soto is the only Florida Democrat named to any of the task forces’ co-chair positions.

Central Florida congressional members seek disaster call for Central Florida

Five Central Florida members of Congress – three Democrats and two Republicans – joined a call Wednesday for Central Florida counties to be designated so that individuals can become eligible for Federal Disaster relief in the wake of Hurricane Irma.

U.S. Reps. Darren Soto and Val Demings of Orlando, Stephanie Murphy of Winter Park, Dennis Ross of Lakeland and Thomas Rooney of Okeechobee co-signed a letter to President Donald Trump urging the administration to designate Lake, Orange, Osceola, Polk, and Seminole Counties as eligible for individual assistance under the Federal Disaster Declaration for the State of Florida.

If granted, the designation would allow the Central Florida counties directly affected by Hurricane Irma to apply for FEMA financial assistance under the individuals and household program.

“We are working closely with our community and our emergency operations center to gather qualifiable evidence on the damage caused by Irma,” Soto, who led the effort, stated in a news release. “The FEM individual assistance emergency funds would help constituents after this historic storm. Together, we will rebuild our beloved Central Florida.”

On Sunday Trump issued a Major Disaster Declaration for the State of Florida, allowing for federal funds to be used in the recovery phase from Hurricane Irma. Although all 67 counties in the state were designated for public assistance, only sixteen primarily coastal counties’ residents are currently eligible for individual and household assistance.

Their letter noted that on Sunday Hurricane Irma was expected to go through Tampa Bay and then northwest from there, but instead veered east and came through western Central Florida, pounding the inland counties. The letter also noted the widespread power outages in Central Florida, affecting well over half of all customers, as evidence of the storm’s impact.

Kennedy Space Center remains closed, but spared major damage

NASA’s Kennedy Space Center remained closed Tuesday but appeared to have weathered Hurricane Irma well.

The same holds true at adjoining Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

Power was restored to NASA and Air Force facilities but water service was still out Tuesday. Until that’s restored, officials said Kennedy would stay closed to non-essential personnel. Inspection crews were out in full force.

At Kennedy’s tourist area, life-size replicas of the space shuttle fuel tank and booster rockets were still standing outside the home of shuttle Atlantis. No major damage was reported at the visitor complex, which remains closed through Wednesday, and Atlantis and all other space artifacts were safe and in good shape, said spokeswoman Rebecca Shireman.

“We dodged another bullet,” said Brig. Gen. Wayne Monteith, who’s in charge of Air Force operations.

Last October, Hurricane Matthew stayed safely off shore. On Monday, Hurricane Irma’s path remained well to the west of Cape Canaveral, which got hit with high winds and heavy rain.

About 9,000 people work at Kennedy, most of them contractors.

Several private companies, including Boeing and SpaceX, have operations at Kennedy and reported minimal damage. In addition, the Air Force’s secretive X-37B space planes – one rocketed into orbit just last week – use a couple of former shuttle hangars. At the Air Force station, rocket maker United Launch Alliance reported only minor damage to its buildings

Massive sinkhole opens in Orange County during Irma

A massive sinkhole opened at the edge of an apartment building in Orange County, swallowing air conditioning units and bushes and a concrete slab. The sinkhole destabilized the building so seriously that firefighters evacuated dozens of residents amid the hurricane’s winds and pouring rain.

The Associated Press reports that Ronnie Ufie heard a loud bang and her 6-year-old grandson saw sparks shoot up behind the building, then their power flickered out.

The fire alarm started screaming.

Ernest Almonor, who lives next door to Ufie, ran outside but saw no fire and went back inside.

But firefighters arrived and told them they had to leave the building. Ufie, who cares for her two young grandsons, grabbed some coloring books and crayons and headed through the rain to a neighbor’s house.

But most residents, around 25 people, ended up scrambling through the storm to hunker for the night in the complex’s clubhouse.

372,000 customers without power in Orange County, 1.1 million in Central Florida

Central Florida is mainly dealing with power outages throughout, with more than 1.1 million residences and businesses reported without electricity Monday, a situation that also plagues traffic lights and other services.

With an estimated 372,000 residences and businesses without power and counting countywide, Orange County’s curfew remains in effect through 6 p.m. Monday.

The Orange County Office of Emergency Management reported that nearly half the traffic signals in Orange County are out, and street debris is a problem county-wide.

As of noon, there were 6.5 million customers without power statewide. That included 356,000 in Orange, 121,000 in Lake County, 39,000 in Osceola County, 226,000 in Brevard County, 222,000 in Volusia County, and 157,000 in Seminole County.

Osceola County’s curfew also remains in effect until 6 p.m. Seminole County lifted its curfew at 11 a.m. Monday.

Orange County Utilities’ post-storm assessment has confirmed that all regional water treatment facilities and the County’s drinking water system are operational and safe with no system-wide precautionary boil water advisories in place. Orange County Utilities has received reports of one water main break and multiple individual service line breaks that may be affecting customers in isolated areas and are working to address these impacts, the county reported.

Central Florida shelters still have room for evacuees

Central Florida shelters have plenty of space as Hurricane Irma’s path shifted west and many residents have decided to weather the storm at home.

Only two of 18 Orange County shelters are full. Shelters at Apopka and Colonial high schools were the first to fill.

The gymnasium at Colonial High School was covered with inflatable mattresses, blankets and cots Sunday as 493 people filled the shelter. Officials said the shelter was full by 5:30 p.m. Saturday.

Milagros Cruz packed up her two children Jafet, 7, and Faith, 2, and left her Orlando mobile home Saturday. Her husband is in the Army and stationed in Georgia and could not come home.

“When the governor gave the order, we decided to leave,” said Cruz, who joined her mother and sister and her four children at the shelter. “We wanted to be in a safe place for the kids.”

“I didn’t want to take any chances,” said Marihon Quintero, who lives in a modular home in Orlando. She packed inflatable mattresses, coloring books and Legos that her son, Christopher, found drew a crowd of new friends.

Terri Philips sat on a fold-up lawn chair surrounded by blankets, three jugs of water and a shopping bag with chips, tuna and artichoke hearts.

“I live on the top floor of an apartment with a flat roof,” said Philips. “The air conditioner is on the roof and I was afraid with the sustained winds that the A.C. or the roof wouldn’t make it.”

The Orlando woman said she will never forget driving with her family to a shelter in New Orleans during Hurricane Camille in 1969.

“My dad drove through blinding rain and over downed power lines to get us to safety,” she said. “That’s an experience you never forget and I didn’t want to wait until the last minute.”

The Salvation Army of Orlando opened its shelter to homeless women, children and men at 4 p.m. Saturday and all 250 spots were full by Sunday morning, said Tiffani Jett, spokesperson for the Salvation Army.

“We are standing with the City of Orlando to keep our most vulnerable population safe in the storm,” said Major Ted Morris, Salvation Army area commander.

Orange County fire and rescue officials have gone door-to-door at 124 mobile home communities and reached over 7,600 residents. Fifty percent said they are evacuating.

Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs said that given the size of Hurricane Irma, “tornados are our greatest risk.” She urged residents to stay indoors following the storm until they hear it is safe to travel.

“The greatest casualties happen afterwards as people venture out on roads not realizing that we have power lines that may be down, or still active, hazards on the roads and signals not working,” Jacobs said.

Residents still have a few hours left to find shelter. Osceola County has 10 shelters, nine are open in Seminole County, 24 in Brevard and 23 in Volusia County.

The Florida Division of Emergency Management estimates that 6.3 million Floridians have been ordered to evacuate. There are 117,818 individuals in the state’s 489 shelters.

For a full listing of shelters and locations, go to:  floridadisaster.org/shelters/summary.aspx.

Orange and Seminole county officials have issued a mandatory curfew beginning at 7 p.m. Sunday and lasting until 6 p.m. Monday. Volusia County will have a curfew in effect from 9 p.m. Sunday to noon on Monday.

The curfews prohibit people from being on public streets, highways, parks or other public places. Exemptions include people in search of medical assistance or food, emergency personnel, medical professionals, and pharmacists.

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