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Bruno Portigliatti out with first TV spot of HD 44 special election

Republican Bruno Portigliatti has launched his first TV commercial of the House District 44 campaign, an introductory spot declaring, “Now, you know Bruno.”

The spot is airing on the Fox News channel on the Spectrum cable network in Orlando.

“Do you know Bruno?” the playful spot begins, followed by Portigliatti himself smiling, almost laughing, responding, “Yeah, I know Bruno.”

Bruno faces John Newstreet, Bobby Olszewski, and Usha Jain in the Aug. 15 primary to fill the vacant HD 44 seat representing southwest Orange County. The winner will face Democratic nominee Paul Chandler in the Oct. 10 general election to replace former state Rep. Eric Eisnaugle, who resigned this spring.

The 30-second ad, done by Consensus Communications in Orlando, then follows with several neighborly-looking people standing on front porches or a sidewalk declaring, “Bruno’s in my church.” “Bruno’s an experienced businessman.” “He’s not the politician that the establishment wants.”

The narrator then declares him to be conservative, someone who shares the values of lower taxes, less red tape, better schools, and better roads.

“There are a lot of politicians on the ballot,” Portigliatti declares, with a laugh. “But I’m the only Bruno.”


Space groups hailing appointment of Scott Pace as National Space Council executive

While Vice President Mike Pence prepares to take over American space policy as chairman of the resurrected National Space Council, space exploration advocates are hailing his choice as the panel’s executive secretary, Scott Pace.

Pace is a former space policy advisor in the administration of President George W. Bush and an academic who currently is director of George Washington University’s Space Policy Institute, one of the leading space policy think tanks in the world.

“Scott is a leader who will serve the National Space Council well. We look forward to working closely with Scott and the rest of the NSC to advance the United States space enterprise by leveraging the U.S. commercial space industry’s vision, investment, and innovation,” Commercial Spaceflight Federation Chairman Alan Stern, a former NASA official who was the leader of the recent Pluto exploration mission, said in a written statement. The federation represents companies such as SpaceX, Blue Origin and Space Florida.

Mary Lynne Dittmar, president and CEO of the Coalition for Deep Space Exploration, which represents companies such as Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and Orbital ATK, said Pace will bring a “trusted perspective to the council.”

“Dr. Pace’s unique combination of experience in government, the private sector, and academia, and his internationally-recognized expertise in space policy, make him an exemplary selection,” she said in a written statement. “Scott has long been a supporter of NASA’s deep space human exploration, science, and technology programs and of space commerce, and is a recognized leader supporting U.S. geopolitical interests in space.”

The White House announced late Thursday that Pace would be the day-to-day guy behind the National Space Council, which is being reactivated this summer for the first time since 1993.

Pence was at Kennedy Space Center last week, and besides infamously placing his hands on a spacecraft with a sign reading “Do not touch,” he impressed the NASA audience there with his promises to re-energize America’s space programs, to fully commit to a human trip to Mars, and to return to the moon in the meantime.

Pace also served as an associate administrator at NASA in the 2000s, and as a policy analyst with the RAND Corporation’s Science and Technology Policy Institute.

[Photo by and courtesy of William Atkins/The George Washington University.]


Val Demings sharing Central Florida ACA stories

U.S. Rep. Val Demings is responding to the latest U.S. Senate health care bill by soliciting, gathering, videotaping and posting stories of Central Florida residents helped by the Affordable Care Act.

The stories begin with one about someone identified only as a Central Florida small business owner named Kirk, who begins his testimonial by complaining that the price of health insurance had climbed too high, but says he came to appreciate it when he got stage-four bladder cancer.

“When I was diagnosed with that, we were on the ACA,” Kirk said. “By having that insurance coverage in place already, that’s really what helped me survive. Before the ACA, I would have lost my insurance. I would have lost my health care.

“So the laws ACA put in place helped protect people like me to not be discriminated against just because we are sick. It’s not any fault of my own because I have cancer,” Kirk states. “I look at the future and think, ‘What’s going to happen if these protections for pre-existing conditions are taken away?’ It scares me. It scares me to death, quite literally.”

Kirk’s video is one of 10 that Demings has gathered so far that she intends to share on social media, according to a press release from her office.

Demings, a Democrat from Orlando, said she wants to work with Republicans and Democrats to fix the current health care laws, not to repeal them.

“It was so important for me to hear the stories from people in Central Florida who have been affected by the ACA, whether their experience has been positive or negative,” Demings stated in the release. “We know the ACA is not perfect, but let’s work together to make it better, and I’m hoping by sharing some of these stories I can show why that is so important.”

John Newstreet defends residency in, commitment to House District 44

Republican House District 44 candidate John Newstreet dismissed questions Friday about whether he actually lives in the district, and for how long, seeking to end a whisper campaign that publicly surfaced during a debate Thursday.

At the West Orange County Republican Women’s Club debate Thursday Newstreet fielded a question about whether he truly was an area resident, and if so for how long. The answer was: yes, off and on for 13 years, and continuously for the past 16 months.

“I have lived in this district long before deciding to run for office and have paid property taxes in this district for nearly a decade,” Newstreet said in a statement sent to FloridaPolitics.com to clarify the issue.

“I sit in the same traffic as everyone else, I buy my groceries at the Publix on Conroy, I’ve called Holy Family Catholic Church my parish for years and I have witnessed the growth of this district first hand,” he added.

The question raised Thursday may have been legally irrelevant; Florida law requires office holders, not candidates, to live in the district. In other words, any election winner who doesn’t live in the district simply has to move there before taking office. And Newstreet’s residency is established regardless.

But in HD 44, where four candidates are preparing for the Aug. 15 primary, the issue has become more about who has roots in the district.

HD 44 covers southwest Orange County, which has some historically-old communities, but also some of the newest and fastest growing communities in Central Florida.

Newstreet faces Winter Garden businessman Bobby Olszewski, Orlando businessman Bruno Portigliatti, and Dr. Usha Jain in the primary. The winner would face Lake Buena Vista businessman Paul Chandler, the Democrats’ nominee, in the Oct. 10 general election.

Newstreet first moved into the district in 2004, though job opportunities have occasionally moved him out. He bought his current house in the Orange Tree subdivision in 2008, and left in 2012 for a job in Broward County, renting out the house. When he returned in 2013 to become president and chief executive officer of the Kissimmee/Osceola County Chamber of Commerce, his tenants still were under lease, so he rented a place in Osceola County, and moved back into the Orange Tree house in April, 2016.

“I never sold the home because I love this area,” Newstreeet said in the statement.

“A state legislator works on the issues affecting all Floridians. My experience across Florida is a distinct advantage in Tallahassee,” Newstreet added. “I’m not a perpetual politician.”

HD 44 Republicans offer differing views on Obamacare

Updated: Late Thursday John Newstreet issued a statement saying he misspoke about his views on Obamacare, saying he inadvertently reversed the numbers 80 percent and 20 percent when referring to the good and bad.

The four Republicans seeking to win the Aug. 15 primary for the open Florida House District 44 seat in Orange County differed sharply on their views of the Affordable Care Act and what, if anything from it should be salvaged.

In a debate sponsored by the West Orange Republican Women’s Club Thursday, John Newstreet declared that about 80 percent of it was good, but the rest was so bad that it was like sugar and manure.

His allowance for good parts in the deal Republicans typically deride as Obamacare drew sharp contrasts with the other candidates, as Bobby Olszewski and Bruno Portigliatti declared the whole law to be bad, while acknowledging a couple of positives; and Dr. Usha Jain, an urgent care physician, replied, “Obamacare is not for me. I never accepted Obamacare.”

Newstreet, president and chief executive officer of the Kissimmee/Osceola County Chamber of Commerce, later issued a statement saying he misspoke and reversed his numbers. He meant to say 20 percent of the Affordable Care Act was good, and 80 percent bad, he said later.

“Today, I switched my percentages as I spoke about Obamacare. Meaningless rhetorical percentages aside, I was clear later in the forum I want Obamacare repealed,” his statement read.

In the debate, regardless of the numbers, he spoke of both good and bad in the current health care law.

“I think anybody will tell you, 80 percent of it is really, very good. And it’s helped,” Newstreet said. “And about 20 percent? You know, you can’t put sugar in manure and sweeten it up. So that’s how it was handled. The 20 percent has absolutely overshadowed the 80 percent that is good.

“The good?” he continued, “I think is preexisting conditions. The fact that some folks can stay on their parents plan through 26 because they have a need. This helps make sure their health. What the state is looking at, we are looking at improving outcomes and lowering costs so that consumers have access to health care. That is where Obamacare has failed. Instead of a free market, they tried to manipulate the markets. That is where it failed. So I think the state needs to get back to allowing the markets to work. So finding little things and big things, like preventive medicine, like telemedicine, like direct primary care.”

Olszewski, a small businessman speaking next, also took time to praise  pre-existing conditions to be covered, and for preventative medicine, both covered in Obamacare, but started out blasting it.

“Obamacare is an absolute failure. It has made our health care costs rise, and we need to do everything we can to make sure we get back on track to providing health care for our citizens through free-market principles,” Olszewski said. “There is no doubt that by getting everyone back to the table, and that includes physicians, hospitals, providers, insurers, we can figure this out. Competition does make us all stronger.

“There is no question that by opening up the borders on insurance is an easy way to solve that,” he continued. “And at the same level we can walk hand-in-hand with our conservative, free-market thinking counterparts at the national level, because competition is a wonderful thing, and being able to provide for our citizens health care is one of the most critical things we can do as government, and at the same time we need to embrace our free market principals and repeal Obamacare and get it right.”

“I am 100 percent in agreement with that,” said businessman Portigliatti, speaking next.

“It has increased costs for the consumers, it has driven a lot of people out of business, a lot of doctors out of business,” Portigliatti said.

He also touted the pre-existing conditions coverage as something that needs to be continued, and touted telemedicine.

That exchange came closest to bringing out real differences between the four candidates. Earlier questions on abortion, prayer in schools, Bright Futures scholarships, and medical marijuana drew out mostly agreement.

On abortion, all four candidates declared themselves to be stedfast pro-life, and all vowed to oppose late-term abortions and government funding for abortions.

“I have made it a top-priority in my campaign,” Portigliatti noted, holding up a campaign mailer declaring such. “I completely oppose any health care options that include abortion. I support a ban after the 20th week of pregnancy.”

“If you don’t support life, what else is there to debate?” Olszewski said.

Newstreet spoke of a niece born seriously prematurely. “I’ve seen the advances that have brought her to health. I am absolutely, unequivocally pro-life.”

Jain, an immigrant from India, declared, “I am very much pro-life. I”m a vegetarian. This is my belief. I want to make sure you know my beliefs. For me, I don’t kill anybody, anything.”


HD 44 special election Republicans distinguish themselves on self-portrayals

The four Republicans fighting to win the Aug. 15 primary for the empty seat in Florida’s House District 44 began defining their differences in their second major debate, Wednesday night.

In a forum cosponsored by the Tiger Bay Club of Central Florida and Business Force, Bruno Portigliatti, Bobby Olszewski, John Newstreet, and Dr. Usha Jain expressed largely shared positions on big-picture issues ranging from state tax money for charter schools, economic development, support for businesses, and the need for more affordable housing.

And much like the first debate last month at the West Orange County Chamber of Commerce, at times they appeared to try to outdo one another when it came to questions of who has more business experience, who is more committed to the community, and who is most likely to push for education and health care improvements.

But differences emerged from their emphases and self-definitions.

Newstreet, the Coast Guard veteran who went on to work for three Florida Republican U.S. senators and then take leadership positions with the American Legion and now the Kissimmee/Osceola County Chamber of Commerce, defined himself as the candidate who dedicated his whole career to public service, and nows how to serve veterans and businesses.

Olszewski, the businessman and former Winter Garden city commissioner who’s spent his whole life in west Orange County serving in sports, entertainment, school, and civic organizations, portrayed himself as the hometown guy, the local businessman and family man who knows and loves the HD 44 community more than anyone.

Portigliatti, the lawyer, businessman and educator who also grew up there, portrayed himself as the fresh face with the most hands-on business experience, yet still with a long record of service, with Orlando city and other appointments. A top executive at a Christian university in Orlando, he also pushed himself as someone who could go to Tallahassee with both brains and heart.

Jain, the urgent and emergency care physician, is the one who’s mad as heck and not going to take it anymore, the target of too many lawsuits she said were frivolous that she battled and defeated. And now she wants to go to Tallahassee to do something about it.

“If John Morgan would get punished, we’d be fine,” she said, drawing the biggest laugh of the night, with her reference to the Orlando’s famous personal injury lawyer who is also one of the biggest political rainmakers in the state.

On other issues, Jain often found herself outmatched by the other candidates, as she declined to answer a couple of questions, saying that wasn’t her area, and on a couple of other occasions gave answers that seemed to be irrelevant to the actual questions. She also staked out some unique positions among the four, declaring that all judges should be appointed, not elected, and that it’s OK with her if hospitals get hit with some Medicaid cuts.

Newstreet, by contrast, came well prepared. The chamber executive who has racked up numerous endorsements from business groups and sitting state lawmakers, delved deep into issues such as workers compensation, assistance for Hispanic business development, the newly-passed House Bill 7069 education bill, and growth policies.

He sometimes lacked Olszewski’s natural ability to bring the issues home directly to southwest Orange County, often talking in broader, state terms, or referencing Pinellas County when talking about charter schools, but Newstreet managed that local angle as well as anyone when he declared “smart growth” as an issue he’d like to take to Tallahassee.

“What’s happening in southwest Orange County is a story of growth. You look at Horizon West, and you look at the addition of residential properties and tourist properties, it has contributed traffic, it has contributed growth. So my aim would be to bring the stakeholders together, as I’ve done in the past. To figure out exactly what’s best for the quality of life in southwest Orange County. We need the visitors. We need the tourist economy. It’s important to not just southwest Orange County, but to all of Orange County and all of Florida. So we need to figure out how to have that and how do we make sure it’s still a great place to live.”

Olszewski, who runs a dental lab business and who has won the endorsements of mayors and city commissioners from almost all the suburbs in southwest Orange County, was not to be outdone in expressing understanding of the district, including its economically distressed areas, and spoke specifically about its schools and hospitals

“I have worked in the sports and entertainment communities in this community, in District 44, throughout my entire career. I have a unique understanding of what our community is all about, what makes it tick. And I have the business experience, and the academic experience,” he said. “And I have had the honor of already having to make a vote under stressful circumstances, working across the aisle, working with all people, constituents, as well as other elected officials, to get things done for our community.”

In addition to getting elected to the Winter Garden Olszewski ran for the Orange County Commission last year in a district very similar in territory to HD 44.

“There is not one inch of this district I have not walked multiple times,” Olszewski said.

Portigliatti, a Brazilian-American, missed the first debate. In this one, he came prepared, often citing numbers and other references. He stressed his hands-on career in business, with a law firm, with a real estate company, with a company developing and running luxury senior living centers, and with Florida Christian University, founded by his father.

Yet it was his discussions of people issues that gave him some distinction, as he spoke of his work with homeless people and affordable housing, and his work with an Orlando city board assisting minority- and women-owned businesses.

“We need someone with character who not only has the intellectual intelligence but the emotional intelligence to not only get to Tallahassee, but to be effective in Tallahassee, to get along with people, to pass legislation,” Portigliatti said.

Jain, an immigrant from India, described herself as a life-long learner, board-certified in three medical specialities, who loved the opportunities America gave her. She said education and hard work paid off.

“And I have experienced some injustice and I have defended many frivolous legal claims myself. It’s all business. If I can do this, I can do politics. I promise you I can do politics with hard work,” she said.

The Republican winner in August will have to take on Democrat Paul Chandler. The general election is Oct. 10.

Bodycam video shows Orlando cops pulling over Aramis Ayala; she asks why

Footage of a June 19 traffic stop involving State Attorney Aramis Ayala and two Orlando police officers surfaced online this week.

In the Orlando Police Department body cam video, Ayala promptly hands over her license and becomes increasingly annoyed as the officers fumble through an explanation of why they pulled her over.

The officers first told Ayala, who informed them she was a state attorney, that they had run her license plate number and that no information had come back.

“Thank you, your tag didn’t come back, never seen that before, but we’re good now,” one officer said. “We ran the tag, I’ve never seen it before with a Florida tag, it didn’t come back to anything, so that’s the reason for the stop.”

When Ayala asked why her tag had been run in the first place, the officer said they run plates all the time in order to determine if cars are stolen. The officers also said that Ayala’s window tint contributed to the stop.

“The windows are really dark, I don’t have a tint measure but that’s another reason for the stop,” the officer said of Ayala’s white Ford.

Ayala then asked the officers for their information, which she received on a page from one of the officer’s notepad before driving off.

The full video of the traffic stop is available on YouTube.


Report: Stephanie Murphy raises $410K in Q2

First-term U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy reportedly raised more than $400,000 in the second quarter of 2017.

Murphy’s campaign will report raising more than $410,000 in second quarter of the year, according to POLITICO’s Morning Score. Second quarter fundraising numbers were not available on the Federal Election Commission website late Wednesday morning. Congressional candidates have until July 15 to submit their second quarter, which ended June 30, reports.

Federal campaign finance records show Murphy raised $286,052 in the first three months of the year toward her re-election campaign. She ended the first quarter, according to federal campaign reports, with $256,688 cash on hand.

The Winter Park Democrat defeated Republican Rep. John Mica, who spent 24 years in Congress, in Florida’s 7th Congressional District in November. She won with nearly 52 percent of the vote, and received the backing of national Democrats, who pounded Mica with negative advertisements.

The National Republican Congressional Committee has listed the district as one of 36 districts its hoping to flip in 2018. And earlier this year, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee deemed the district vulnerable, allowing Murphy to benefit from its incumbent protection program.

Republicans are already eyeing the seat. State Rep. Mike Miller announced he was running for the seat; and state Sen. David Simmons has also said he is weighing his options.

John Tobia’s Puerto Rico anti-statehood resolution dies in Brevard, then he gets grilled

Brevard County Commissioner John Tobia‘s local resolution urging Congress to deny statehood to Puerto Rico died for lack of a second Tuesday evening, and then he endured a half-hour of criticism and belittling from residents angry about his proposal.

Tobia, a former state representative from Brevard, withstood 10 public speakers – some Puerto Ricans living in Brevard or Orange County, some non-Puerto Ricans – accusing him of being “a little politician,” of overstepping his authority as a county commissioner, of seeking to further his career at the cost of Puerto Ricans, and of introducing a resolution “with an air of racism about it.”

“This resolution is inflammatory, misleading and disrespectful to the people of Puerto Rico,” said Dr. Jorge Perez de Armas, a retired U.S. Army major and hematologist born in Puerto Rico and living in Brevard County.

One speaker spoke in favor of the resolution.

Tobia sat respectfully and did not seek to reply to the speakers, and Board Chairman Curt Smith did not ask him to.

Before the speakers, he introduced the resolution, read it, and moved for its adoption. No one seconded. Smith declared it dead. A large number of people at the meeting applauded.

Tobia told FloridaPolitics.com on Monday that he was concerned that Puerto Rico’s total public debts including the pension system totaled $123 billion and he did not want the United States to have to take on that debt.

Several speakers, notably Puerto Rico activist Peter Vivaldi and Anthony Suarez, president of the Puerto Rico Bar Association of Central Florida, both of Orlando, argued that debt already is the United States’ debt, held largely by United States companies, and whether or not Puerto Rico becomes a state would not transfer any of it to the federal debt or change it.

But most of the discussion had to do with speakers’ indignation that Tobias would try to address Puerto Rico in a county commission resolution. Catherine Haynes of Melbourne sought to ridicule the move by reading a list of other non-county issues he should consider, including benefits of adopting a vegan lifestyle, increasing the length of baseball games, and “What happened to Paris Hilton? Why is she no longer in the spotlight?”

Several of the speakers are Republicans like Tobia; Vivaldi accused Tobia of using rhetoric in the resolution that is similar to that used by anti-statehood U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez of Illinois, whom Vivaldi called socialist, adding, “using the same sentences a socialist would use is very offensive.”

Several speakers, including Perez de Armas, Suarez, retired Army Col. Dennis Freytas of Orlando, former U.S. Marshal Randy Foster of Satellite Beach, and Samuel C. Lopez of Melbourne talked of Puerto Rico’s proud history in the U.S. Military, with more per capita serving than from any state.


Mike La Rosa, Neil Combee and John Cortes defend attacks on VISIT FLORIDA

Kissimmee may be part of the heart of Florida’s tourism district, but three local lawmakers told the Kissimmee/Osceola Chamber of Commerce Tuesday why they did not openly support VISIT FLORIDA during the political wars of this year’s Legislative Session.

Republican state Reps. Mike La Rosa and Neil Combee and Democratic state Rep. John Cortes described surviving a 2017 Legislative Session and Special Session that Combee declared had “a lot of Republican-on-Republican violence” and Cortes said was no fun for Democrats. But La Rosa pointed out that in the end, after the Special Session, Floridians got what they needed.

In the end the Florida Legislature gave VISIT FLORIDA what it and Gov. Rick Scott wanted, $76 million, but both Republicans and the Democrat representing parts of Osceola County in the Florida House said that was not before they and the House leadership extracted accountability and transparency assurances and reforms.

This, before the group that represents Walt Disney World and countless tourism and lodging business interests that dominate Kissimmee’s economy, and which lobbied them hard to support VISIT FLORIDA. But the hometown lawmakers bucked the call for months, and offered no apologizes Tuesday.

Combee recounted the account of VISIT FLORIDA paying Pat Roberts $2.8 million to produce a cable-TV fishing show “that nobody watches,” a story broken this spring by the Naples Daily News.

“When people look at that they say, ‘Is this the best way for us to be spending our money?’ I think there’s a lot of folks who think we deserve more accountability out of VISIT FLORIDA, out of Enterprise Florida. So I don’t apologize for the speaker,” Combee added, referring to House Speaker Richard Corcoran‘s crusade to take down VISIT FLORIDA.

That crusade ended with full funding during the Special Session, but the message had been sent, Combee said.

“VISIT FLORIDA. I have to say, this is not an attack on Florida tourism,” La Rosa said. “It’s important to our economy. It will continue to be important. What happened this past year was an attack on the way taxpayers’ dollars were being spent, how transparent or less transparent it ultimately was.”

Cortes was less pleased with the final outcomes, from VISIT FLORIDA to the education bill, House Bill 7069, from the expanded Homestead Exemption and home rule changes hitting local governments to the $85 million provided Gov. Rick Scott for an economic incentive fund.

“VISIT FLORIDA, Enterprise Florida, the governor’s slush fund, that totals $177 million of your tax dollars. VISIT FLORIDA, I got crucified for this one because I’m against it, and I was against Enterprise Florida. But I come back to VISIT FLORIDA because a lot of folks came to see me because they said it would help businesses out. If this is going to help businesses out, I’d like to see more transparency, which they put in,” Cortes said.

Cortes was to have been joined by fellow Democratic state Sen. Victor Torres, but he had to cancel Monday.

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