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Mike Miller appealing to Donald Trump supporters for CD 7 fundraiser

Republican state Rep. Mike Miller is making his appeal to supporters of President Donald Trump at a fundraiser tonight in Winter Park for his congressional run.

Tuesday evening’s fundraiser features state Rep. Joe Gruters of Sarasota, advertised for the event in his role as chairman of Donald Trump for Florida. Also among the listed host committee members is Randy Ross, founder of the Trump 2020 Club in Central Florida.

Gruters had previously endorsed Miller, expressing confidence that he would support Trump.

Miller, of Winter Park, faces Sanford businessman Scott Sturgill in seeking the August 28 Republican primary nomination to take on Democratic U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy of Winter Park in Florida’s 7th Congressional District, covering Seminole County and north and central Orange County. Also in the Republican field are Vennia Francois of Winter Park and Patrick Weingart of Altamonte Springs.

In recent weeks Miller and Sturgill have been battling each other over who is more loyal to the party. On Monday the Miller campaign charged that Sturgillin a 2014 interview, had misstated his background of having once been a Democrat. Previously, Sturgill’s campaign had charged that Miller’s voting records in the Florida House of Representatives had undercut Gov. Rick Scott‘s agenda.

The happy hour event is set for 5:30 p.m. at the Bear and Peacock Brewery in Winter Park.

Alan Grayson comes out ready to brawl

Former U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson is entering the Democratic primary field against his successor U.S. Rep. Darren Soto ready to brawl, already going after the incumbent as someone he said has done nothing meaningful regarding the district, Puerto Rico, or President Donald Trump.

In an interview Tuesday morning, Grayson took the fighting stance that recalled his image, during three terms in Congress, as a puncher, and he contended that a fighter is needed now in the time of Trump. And Grayson immediately took swings at Soto.

Grayson said his paperwork to run in Florida’s 9th Congressional District, “my old seat,” has been submitted.

“I take no pleasure in saying this saying this because my own sense is I want what is best for the people in Central Florida. But I think he’s been entirely ineffective,” Grayson said of Soto. “I literally can’t think of anything meaningful he’s accomplished in the 16 months he’s been on the job.”

Grayson compared his perception of Soto to his self perception of his own record, serving CD 9 from 2012-’16, and serving in Florida’s Congressional District 10 from 2008-’10. Grayson took credit for bringing the new Veterans Administration Hospital to Orlando; for getting funding to extend SunRail into “the minority southern end of town,” for “fending off the Obama administration’s decision to close [the air traffic control operations at] the Kissimmee Airport;” and for bringing in an extra $100 million in competitive federal grants for the district.

“And… I passed more legislation than any other member of Congress, 121 amendments, bills and resolutions, in four years,” Grayson said. “I don’t see that kind of activity or anything remotely resembling that activity from the Soto office. And I think both the region and Puerto Rico are suffering for it.”

Soto quickly responded with a written statement defending his record on progressive values, and on building local alliances. The latter observation was a jab back at Grayson, whose bombastic  character has often alienated him, even among party regulars.

“I have been endorsed by the Congressional Progressive Caucus and every Democratic member of the Florida House delegation precisely because I have stood up for progressive values in Congress and delivered for the district,” Soto stated. “I will be joined by numerous local and state officials and supporters on Thursday to launch my reelection campaign. In contrast, Grayson stands alone today pushing his typical self-promoting smearfest.”

Grayson contended that polls show him doing very well against Soto. And he argued that he did better with voters within CD 9 during the 2016 Democratic primary, when Grayson ran against eventual U.S. Senate nominee Patrick Murphy and Pam Keith, while Soto ran against Grayson’s wife Dena Grayson and Grayson’s former congressional office field director Susannah Randolph, in the CD 9 primary.

There is at least one Republican running this year in CD 9. Wayne Liebnitzky, whom Soto beat in the general election last time, said his paperwork also has been submitted for the 2018 election. Yet barring unforeseen developments, this seat, representing Osceola County, eastern Polk County, and southern Orange County, likely will be decided in the Democratic primary on August 28.

Liebnitzky said the race should be about integrity.

Grayson’s references to Puerto Rico essentially are preemptive. Soto is of Puerto Rican descent, in a district that has the largest concentration of Puerto Rican residents of any in Florida, a community that has grown dramatically in the past couple of years.

While Soto has been very active pushing for relief and support for Puerto Rico, and visited the island several times since Hurricane Maria devastated it last September, Grayson contends he was ineffective in actually getting help for the island, and that he failed in preventing tax changes that punish Puerto Rico in the new tax reform law Congress approved late last year.

“I was constantly blocking efforts, and reversing efforts, to discriminate against Puerto Rico when I was in Congress,” Grayson said. “And this has been the worst year in history for Puerto Rico, not only because of the hurricane, but because of the vicious discrimination that has been perpetrated against Puerto Rico since then that Darren has been unable or unwilling to try to stop.”

The former congressman didn’t stop there. He took on Soto over a wide range of progressive Democratic issues. Among them, Grayson contended that the incumbent abandoned U.S. House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi‘s call to vote against the budget continuing resolution because it did not extend the DREAMers program, and that he made statements in his 2016 campaign suggesting he was “open minded” about cutting Social Security benefits.

Then there is Trump. In the past year Grayson, a lawyer who specialized in whistle-blower cases, established a political action committee with the stated goal of ending Trump’s presidency, called LockHimUpNow.Org.

Grayson charged that Soto has twice voted against impeachment efforts in the House. Grayson vowed he would fully support impeachment, immediately, charging that evidence indicates Trump was complicit in the hacking theft of “tens of thousands” of Democratic Party files, and that coverup evidence already includes Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey “over that Russia thing,” paraphrasing Trump’s interview statements.

“Somebody has to stand up to this bully,” Grayson said of Trump. “And I don’t see that happening right now with Soto.”

Alan Grayson entering CD 9 to take on Darren Soto

Former U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson wants his old seat back, and is preparing to file Tuesday to take on fellow Democrat and incumbent U.S. Rep. Darren Soto in Florida’s 9th Congressional District.

Grayson, who has been preparing for months for a last-minute announcement on a new run for Congress, holding back only the where, not the what or when, told WESH-TV News that he is filing in Florida’s 9th Congressional Disrict, which he represented from 2012-2016, before he left it for a failed run for the U.S. Senate.

Grayson also represented Florida’s 10th Congressional District from 2008-2010. In recent weeks he has hinted about seeking possible returns in either of those districts, as well as possibly in several others in the Central Florida area.

Soto, a former state senator, was elected in 2016 to represent the district covering Osceola County, eastern Polk County, and southern Orange County.

Grayson told WESH-TV that polling suggests he remains popular in CD 9, and that he believes he has more appeal among Hispanic voters than does Soto, who is of Puerto Rican descent, “because people know that I’ve done useful things.”

Both Soto and Grayson are lawyers.

The leading Republican in the race is Saint Cloud businessman Wayne Liebnitzky, who said he expects to qualify Tuesday for the ballot.

Soto is formally kicking off his re-election campaign at a rally Thursday morning in Kissimmee.

Grayson’s political star rose during his first term in Congress when he said Republicans’ health care plan for America was “Don’t get sick … and if you get sick, America, the Republican health care plan is this: Die quickly.”

That and other provocative comments played well with the far-left contingent of the Democratic Party and earned him plenty of appearances as a talking head on shows such as HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher, but they were less well-received by DNC higherups, who kept Grayson at arms length for most of his political career — a status he still wears like a badge of honor in campaign emails.

By 2016, Democratic leaders were openly contemptuous of Grayson, with former U.S. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid telling him “I hope you lose” during the 2016 Democratic Primary for U.S. Senate.

And lose he did.

Democrats unleashed a torrent of opposition research on one of their own, alleging Grayson had a history of spousal abuse. While his culpability remains hazy — Grayson’s daughter spoke in his defense and said her mother’s domestic abuse calls, including one against her, were bogus — the allegations played no small part in Grayson’s dismal 18 percent showing in the primary race. He also faced serious questions over a hedge fund he managed while a congressman.

How those scandals and his at times abrasive personality will play in his former district remains to be seen. He was indeed popular among his constituents, who elected him to the new CD 9 in 2012 with 63 percent of the vote and re-elected him with 54 percent of the vote two years later in a Republican wave election that saw Democrats lose 13 seats nationwide.

Mike Miller ad charges that Scott Sturgill was not ‘lifelong Republican’

A new internet ad being released by the campaign of Republican state Rep. Mike Miller blasts a primary opponent in Florida’s 7th Congressional District, charging that Scott Sturgill had falsely claimed to be a lifelong Republican.

The new ad, “Democrat,” charges that Sturgill first registered to vote, in 1998, as a Democrat, and did not change his party affiliation to Republican until 2008.

Sturgill, of Sanford, and Miller, of Winter Park, are in a battle for the August 28 Republican primary for a chance to take on Democratic U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy in CD 7, covering Seminole County and north-central Orange County. There also are a couple other Republicans and another Democrat in the fields.

In the new digital ad, and a press release, Miller’s campaign focuses on an interview Sturgill gave to the Orlando Sentinel editorial board in 2014, when he faced state Rep. Bob Cortes in a primary battle for the Florida House District 30 seat, which Cortes won. In the interview, archived on YouTube, Sturgill states, “I’m a lifelong Seminole County resident; I’m a lifelong Republican.”

Miller’s ad contends that voter registration records do not back that up. And the ad states that while Miller was supporting Republicans, Sturgill was voting for Democrats, and it concludes with a plea for Republican primary voters to “stop Sturgill.”

Sturgill campaign spokesman Ross Hackney replied by noting many Republicans were once Democrats, by denying that Sturgill had actually voted for Democrats, and by charging the Miller campaign with trying to redirect.

The response did not address Sturgill’s 2014 statement that he had been a lifelong Republican.

“If left to Mike Miller some of our greatest leaders would not have been welcomed into our party such as President Ronald Reagan, Governor Rick Perry, and President Donald Trump,” Hackney noted.

“Mike Miller is trying to change the conversation from his campaign’s shortfall of enthusiasm and lackluster fundraising with another misleading video,” Hackney continued. “To say Scott voted for Democrats is simply false, while we can say that Mike has indeed voted with Democrats while serving in the state legislature on issues like supporting Planned Parenthood and his record is there to prove it.”

Miller’s campaign spokeswoman Dana Loncar stated, “It is disgraceful that Scott Sturgill makes false statements to deceive Republican voters into believing he is a lifelong Republican. It’s clear Scott Sturgill will say or do anything in a shameful attempt to get elected to public office.”

Bill Posey, Sanjay Patel qualify for ballot for CD 8 contest

Republican U.S. Rep. Bill Posey and Democratic challenger Sanjay Patel became the first Central Florida congressional contest formally set Monday when they both qualified for the ballot in Florida’s 8th Congressional District.

Patel, of Rocklege, a business consultant and Democratic Party officer in Brevard County, qualified by petition after having more than 9,100 signatures verified, while only needing 5,289.

Posey, the five-term incumbent from Rockledge, failed to gather enough signatures, with just 4,889 verified, but submitted a $10,440 check to qualify that way.

There are no other candidates who have filed to run in Space Coast-based CD 8, though they have until Friday to qualify.

Shaq endorses John Mina in Orange County Sheriff race

Basketball Hall of Famer Shaquille O’Neal, the former Orlando Magic superstar center who lives in the Windermere area, has endorsed Orlando Police Chief John Mina in the race for Orange County sheriff.

O’Neal, an analyst on “NBA on TNT,” called Mina the “person best qualified to be our next sheriff,” in a video released Monday by Mina’s sheriff campaign. O’Neal also has dabbled in law enforcement himself, having gone through the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Reserve Academy, and been sworn in as a reserve officer in Miami Beach, and participated in several publicity efforts for law enforcement.

“I know John Mina personally,” O’Neal said in a video recorded on the set of “NBA on TNT.” “He has proven himself in times of crisis. He has shown he can keep our community safe.”

O’Neal said Mina is committed to interacting with Orange County residents in an effort to build trust between the community and law enforcement.

Mina faces retired Florida Highway Patrol Chief Jose “Joe” Lopez in the 2018 election.

Mina called O’Neal’s endorsement a “tremendous honor.”

“O’Neal may be recognized as one of the greatest basketball players of all time, but I know him as a longtime champion of the law enforcement community,” Mina stated in a news release issued by his campaign. “I look forward to serving O’Neal – and all the residents of Orange County – as the next sheriff of Orange County.”

Rod Love appointed to Orange County Commission

Apopka businessman Rod Love was appointed Friday by Gov. Rick Scott to fill out the open term for the District 2 seat on the Orange County Board of Commissioners.

Love, 52, of Apopka, is president and chief executive officer of Community Synergy Group, an Altamonte Springs-based health care company, and also has a legislative government affairs consulting background, and a podcast radio show on politics and government.

He will fill out the unexpired term of Bryan Nelson, who was just sworn in as mayor of Apopka on Tuesday, after being elected to that mayor’s position in March.

Love’s term begins immediately and ends in Dec. 4. The district covers northwest Orange County.

Scott has indicated that he wanted someone to fill the vacancy who had no intention of running to stay in the office after that.

There are five candidates seeking to win that seat in this year’s election, including former state Rep. and Orange County Commissioner Fred Brummer, who held the position before Nelson. Also in the race are Mark Byrd, Orange County School Board Member Christine Moore, Patricia Rumph, and Antuan Bibbs.

Scott made the announcement after 5 p.m. Friday, and Love could not be reached.

Love has been president of Community Synergy Group for seven years, according to his Linkedin account, which also references a background in legislative

He also hosts a weekly podcast radio show called “Let’s Talk About It,” which addresses crime, legislative affairs, healthcare, redevelopment, law enforcement and other issues.

Carlos Guillermo Smith

Carlos Guillermo Smith marching in Puerto Rican Parade Saturday

Orlando Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith is participating in the 2nd Annual Puerto Rican Parade Saturday and encouraged his supporters to do the same in a Thursday email.

“This year’s theme is ‘A New Beginning’ in recognition of the strength and resiliency of the island and its people in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. I’d LOVE for you to march with us in the parade,” Smith said in the email.

“We’ll have plenty of Puerto Rican flags to pass out, and don’t forget to wear comfortable shoes and clothes for marching. Feel free to invite your friends and family– I can’t wait to see you there!”

The parade line up is scheduled to start somewhere near the intersection of Concord Street and North Orange Avenue in Downtown Orlando at 10 am – if the coordinates shift, participants can look for the Smith team’s banner.

The parade itself will begin at 11 am and last until noon, with the parade path heading about a mile down Orange Avenue. After the parade, a festival featuring Puerto Rican food and music will be held in front of the Dr. Phillips Center, 445 S. Magnolia Ave.

Those looking to march in the parade alongside Smith can send in an RSVP for themselves and any tagalongs online.

The same page also allows visitors mark if they want to attend a joint town hall meeting with Smith and fellow Orlando Democratic Rep. Amy Mercado on May 7.

Smith represents HD 49, which covers part of northern Orange County including the main campus of the University of Central Florida and the communities of Union Park and Rio Pinar. He was elected in 2016 and is currently unopposed in his re-election bid.

Early out of state money already fueling CD 7 race

In 2016, millions of dollars from out-of-state political action committees poured into Florida’s 7th Congressional District race in the closing weeks.

This year, long before those PACs weigh in, out-of-state interest is already fueling campaigns.

Like most incumbent members of Congress, Democratic U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy already is finding love for her re-election from California to New York, with more than half of her campaign’s money coming from outside Florida, through the first quarter of 2018.

For the most part, her challengers in CD 7, four Republicans and a Democrat, are getting some fundraising calls answered outside of Florida, though leading Republicans Scott Sturgill and state Rep. Mike Miller are getting nearly 90 percent of their cash from inside the Sunshine State.

The national flow of money has become more sophisticated in recent cycles as candidates in swing districts can count on national organization targeting certain congressional races to steer money from all over their way. Murphy has been the beneficiary of several such organizations, including ActBlue, Emily’s List, and the New Democratic Coalition.

Because small donations need not be itemized, much of the money cannot be publicly traced to Florida or any other state, so the out-of-state numbers might be even higher than reported here. For example, $178,000 of Murphy’s campaign donations came in small, unitemized amounts.

A review of campaign finances through the first quarter of 2018 finds:

— At least 63 percent of the $1.77 million that Murphy’s campaign has raised has come from out of state. It includes $763,174 in political action committee money, making up the vast majority of the PAC money she has received; plus $362,439 in itemized contributions from individuals, making up about half of those itemized personal contributions.

Murphy’s favorite locales outside of Florida for individual donations start New York, from where she has received 93 individual contributions totaling $85,297; California, 108 checks totaling $69,628; and Texas, 42 checks, totaling $48,578.

— Just under 13 percent of Sturgill’s money is identified as coming from outside of Florida. That goes up to 18 percent if the $150,250 he lent to his campaign is not included in the totals. He has received at least $59,900 from out-of-state individuals, and another $6,000 from PACs outside of Florida.

Sturgill’s favorite places for campaign money outside of Florida appear to be Texas, where his campaign has itemized ten personal checks totaling $13,100; New York, three checks for $7,400; and Colorado, four for $6,400.

— Miller has enumerated only about $21,000 in personal checks from outside of Florida plus another $11,000 in PAC money from outside Florida; those add up to just under 10 percent of the total cash his campaign has collected (11 percent if his $25,000 personal loan to his campaign is not included.)

Miller’s favorite other locations include Virginia, from where he itemized six checks for $7,250; Washington D.C., six for $6,439; and Georgia, three for $3,050.

Murphy’s Democrat primary challenger Chardo Richardson has collected $5,189 in 17 itemized checks from outside Florida, plus $676 in in-kind contributions, which combine to represent about 23 percent of the $25,826 total his campaign has reported receiving. All the rest of the money his campaign collected had come in donations too small to have to be itemized; consequently, his campaign has not yet listed a single contribution from inside of Florida.

Republican Vennia Francois had only been in the contest a few weeks when the filing deadline came. She started with at least 27 percent of her initial campaign money coming from outside of Florida, $4,208 itemized in nine checks from outside Florida, of the $15,579 her campaign collected.

Republican Patrick Weingart has not reported any campaign finance activity.

Scott Plakon fundraiser hosted by publishers

Christian media publishers Steve and Joy Strang are hosting a fundraiser to kick off the re-election campaign of Republican state Rep. Scott Plakon Thursday evening in Lake Mary.

The Strangs, owners of Charisma Media, publishers of magazines and books including best-sellers based on Christian values, will be joined by Seminole County Sheriff Dennis Lemma, 18th Judicial Circuit State Attorney Phil Archer, and 18th Judicial Circuit Public Defender Blaise Trettis in hosting the fundraiser.

The event begins at 5:30 p.m. Thursday at the Charisma Media offices in Lake Mary.

Plakon, of Longwood, is seeking re-election in Florida House District 29, covering northwest Seminole County. Three Democrats are running, Darryl Block of Lake Mary, Patrick Brandt of Longwood, and Tracey Kagan of Longwood.

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