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Carlos Guillermo Smith gets engaged at Orlando Pride

State Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, an Orlando Democrat, accepted an onstage engagement proposal from longtime partner Jerick Mediavilla at Orlando Come Out With Pride.

Smith, Florida’s first gay Latino member of the Florida Legislature, was on stage for the annual Pride Rally at Lake Eola Park on Saturday evening when Mediavilla surprised him by getting on one knee and popping the question.

The proposal took place in the Walt Disney Amphitheater, a landmark painted in the colors of the Rainbow Flag.

Anna Eskamani, a Democratic candidate for in District 47, posted pictures of the engagement on social media.

Ida Eskamani, Anna’s sister and Guillermo Smith’s chief of staff, revealed online afterward that the proposal had secretly been in the works since last June, with Pride organizers helping arrange the question.

Guillermo Smith previously worked as the legislative director for Equality Florida, the state’s most prominent LGBT advocacy group. He worked with the organization at various points during the fight for marriage equality.

The state of Florida began recognizing same-sex marriage on January 2015, a few months before the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that states nationwide must recognize the unions.

Guillermo Smith this year was an early and constant supporter of Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum, who won the party nomination in August.

He has championed gun control, public education and LGBT rights in the Legislature since his arrival in 2016. He’s also been a defender and advocate for survivors of the Pulse attack and of families who lost loved ones in the mass shooting.

The freshman lawmaker chairs the Legislative Progressive Caucus in the Florida House of Representatives.

Mediavilla works as a bilingual curriculum and instruction and a dual language specialist at AGMUS Ventures. He previously worked for seven years at Universidad del Sagrado Corazón in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Today is also Mediavilla’s birthday.

The political world offered its congratulations to Guillermo Smith as well.

Anna Eskamani accuses Republicans of putting fake words in her mouth

Democratic House candidate Anna Eskamani is accusing Republicans and her opponent of putting fake words in her mouth in campaign advertising, and Republican Stockton Reeves said Thursday he would look into it and if that is the case he does not want it used in his name.

On Thursday Eskamani accused the Republican Party of Florida and Reeves of falsely claiming, in recent campaign mailers and a television commercial, that she had said, “Hey hey, ho ho, capitalism has to go.” She sent the party a letter demanding it stop.

Eskamani and Reeves are running in Florida House District 47 to represent much of north and central Orange County. It’s an open seat.

“I never made that statement,” Eskamani stated in the letter she sent Thursday to the Republican Party of Florida. “These deliberately deceptive and untruthful advertisements amount to intentional misconduct and gross negligence on your part in communicating to the voters of House District 47.”

Her letter blames the party for mailers and Reeves for a TV ad. In the mailers, the quote is one of several set in quotation marks next to her picture. In the TV ad, the quote is one of several that play out in text across her picture as audio plays, although the audio clearly sounds as if those words are coming from someone else’s voice. Her campaign said Reeves has spent at least $60,000 on a cable buy supporting the commercial.

Eskamani demanded the party cease the use of “fake quotes attributed to me.”

The Republican Party of Florida did not respond to Florida Politics Thursday, but Reeves replied by email: “I will forward this on to others for their review. Even if she didn’t say that, there is so much more she did say.

“But if it is in fact not true, then I don’t want anything put out in my name that isn’t factual,” he concluded.

The spat is the latest round regarding several mailers the Republican Party of Florida has sent out in HD 47 charging Eskamani with, among other things, using various swear words in her rallies. Eskamani dismissed the swear words charge as evidence of her tough character as a fighter for progressive values.

In the Republican primary campaign, Reeves’ opponent accused Mikaela Nix also expressed outrage over mailers, and what they said about her.

In a news release Thursday, Eskamani accused Reeves and the Republican Party of Florida of “lies” regarding the capitalism quotation.

“When you can’t win on the issues, all you can do is lie,” she stated in the release.

Val Demings blasts Darryl Sheppard as ‘totally unfit’ in Orange County Sheriff campaign

Democratic U.S. Rep. Val Demings on Thursday blasted Orange County Sheriff candidate Darryl Sheppard for including her picture in campaign materials, saying she has told him to stop using it and wouldn’t back him for dog catcher, “for fear the canines would lodge complaints.”

“He is TOTALLY unfit for the position he seeks, without even mentioning his criminal record,” Demings, a former Orlando Police Chief declared in a Facebook post Thursday morning. “Perhaps he should learn how to OBEY the law become (sic) he TRIES to enforce the law.

Sheppard’s campaign Facebook page includes campaign pictures of him posing with Demings, with Democratic Lieutenant Governor nominee Chris King, and with Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson. There also is an upload of what appears to be a campaign leaflet or mailer showing those pictures.

Nelson has endorsed Orlando Police Chief John Mina in the race.

Sheppard was not available Thursday to discuss Demings’ complaint, though a call to his campaign phone led Joe Kilgore to answer and defend the use of the pictures. Kilgore said the materials do not state anything about endorsements and the politicians in the pictures are public figures so that their images are available for public use.

Sheppard presents a unique situation for Orange County Democrats. Sheppard has no background in law enforcement, except for an arrest record of his own. Yet he got on the Nov. 6 ballot as the Democrats’ nominee for Orange County Sheriff because no one else ran for the nomination. Orange County Democratic Chair Wes Hodge has said the party is not backing him.

The race also features retired Florida Highway Patrol Chief JoseJoeLopez. Both Mina and Lopez are former Republicans who switched their voter registration to the Democratic Party in 2017 but did so too late to qualify for the 2018 ballot as Democrats. So they’re both running as independents.

There are no Republicans in the race.

Demings is married to the current Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings.

She responded to Sheppard’s posts of her picture by declaring on her personal Facebook account, “Orange County Sheriff Candidate Darryl Sheppard has decided to use my image in his campaign literature. My campaign reached out to him for the second time and respectfully asked him not to use my image to infer my support for his campaign. Since he refused, I feel compelled to make the following statement:”

And then she used the dog catcher line.

And then she added, “For the record, I am not supporting a candidate in this race.”

Sheppard, as the Democrats’ official nominee, may have an advantage among uninformed voters, as Democrats dominate voter registration in Orange County.

He also has posted unspecified poll results on his campaign’s Facebook page claiming he is leading the race. But then his Facebook page also includes a clearly fake post of a tweet from President Donald Trump in support of Lopez and Mina.

The other two campaigns largely have been trying to ignore him, and Mina’s campaign indicated it intended to continue to do so.

Lopez let loose Thursday.

“Finally Sheppard is being exposed as who he really is. The voters of Orange County are smart. Before you can hold anybody accountable you gotta start with yourself: hold yourself accountable first,” Lopez said.

Orlando Realtors back incumbents for Congress, Florida House, Republicans for Cabinet

The Orlando Regional Realtor Association announced its list of endorsements Thursday, siding with Republicans for the Florida Cabinet positions and incumbents of either party for most other elected offices up in the Nov. 6 election in Orange and Seminole counties.

The Realtor Association did not make an endorsement in Florida’s U.S. Senate race, in which Democratic incumbent U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson and Republican Gov. Rick Scott are facing off.

In congressional races, the association is backing Democratic U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy in Florida’s 7th Congressional District, Republican U.S. Rep. Bill Posey in Florida’s 8th Congressional District, and Democratic U.S. Rep. Darren Soto in Florida’s 9th Congressional District.

For the cabinet, the association is backing Republicans Ron DeSantis for Governor, Matt Caldwell for Agriculture Commissioner, Ashley Moody for Attorney General, and incumbent Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis.

The association, which represents more than 14,000 real estate professionals throughout Central Florida, said it considered “candidates based on his or her past voting record and/or sensitivity to real estate issues,” and that the endorsed candidates are now eligible to receive contributions from the Realtors political action committee.

Among other endorsements:

In Florida House races, the Realtors are backing Republican David Smith in House District 50; Republican state Rep. Scott Plakon in House District 29; Republican state Rep. Bob Cortes in House District 30; Republican state Rep. Jennifer Sullivan in House District 31; Republican state Rep. Bobby Olszewski in House District 44; Democratic state Rep. Bruce Antone in House District 46; Democratic state Rep. Amy Mercado in House District 48; Democratic House Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith in House District 49; and Republican state Rep. Rene Plasencia in House District 50.

The group did not endorse in House District 47, where Democrat Anna Eskamani and Republican Stockton Reeves are tussling for an open seat.

The group also endorsed Orlando Police Chief John Mina for Orange County Sheriff; Christine Moore, Mayra Uribe, and Susan Makowski for the Orange County Commission; and Johanna Lopez and Melissa Byrd for the Orange County School Board.

In Seminole County, the group endorsed Jay Zembower and Amy Lockhart for the Seminole County Commission, and Alan Youngblood for the Seminole County School Board.

Sierra Club backing Sanjay Patel in CD 8 race

The Sierra Club of Florida has endorsed Democratic congressional candidate Sanjay Patel in his race against Republican U.S. Rep. Bill Posey in Florida’s 8th Congressional District.

The club, which calls itself the nation’s largest and most influential environmental organization, announced the endorsement Thursday, declaring Patel an “environmental champion.”

“We are pleased to announce today that the Sierra Club officially endorses Sanjay Patel for election,” David Harbeitner, Political Committee Chair for Sierra Club Florida, stated in the announcement from the club. “We are confident that he will work to protect Florida families’ health, air and water, and build a clean energy economy that works for Floridians.”

The release cited the administration of Presiden Donald Trump as posing “continued threats to our clean air and water and public lands,” and said, “it is more important than ever to elect environmental champions like Patel. He has been actively engaged in our community, participating in environmental cleanups and knocking on thousands of doors to help understand what is important to citizens in District 8. Not only is he aware of the problems in the Indian River Lagoon, he is prepared to take the actions needed to address the causes of this environmental disaster.”

The club also pledged to lend its volunteers to Patel’s campaign.

CD 8 covers Brevard County, far-east Orange County, and north Indian River County.

“We are deeply grateful to Patel for stepping forward and standing up for what he believes in. For too long our District has been represented in a way that supports short term business profits over the health of our environment and the citizens of this district. Patel not only believes in science, he is ready to strengthen our regulatory bodies and proactively address sea level rise and climate change which are already impacting our local communities, said Jake Zehnder, Political Committee Chair for the Turtle Coast Group of Sierra Club Florida.

New CD 9 poll: Darren Soto holds eight-point lead over Wayne Liebnitzky

Democratic incumbent U.S. Rep. Darren Soto may be in a tighter race than many expect with Republican challenger Wayne Liebnitzky in Florida’s 9th Congressional District.

A new SurveyUSA poll of 535 likely voters in the district, commissioned by Orlando cable outlet Spectrum News 13gives Soto 48 percent and Liebnitzky 40 percent in their rematch. In 2016, Soto won by a much larger margin.

According to the polling memo, there were stark divisions by gender and race. Soto leads among women by 30 points and Liebnitzky among men by 19 points. Liebnitzky also has a narrow lead among white voters, but Soto leads by 21 points among Hispanics and by 29 points among African-Americans.

Soto also has a strong advantage among independents, Survey USA notes.

CD 9 covers Osceola, parts of east Polk and south Orange counties.

Conducted Oct. 2 through Sunday, the poll used a mix of robotic and live interviewer calls to 831 respondents, which was then narrowed down to likely voters. The margin of error is +/- 6.4 percent.

Liebnitzky, who has maintained that he has been within striking distance of the incumbent even though he has very little campaign money compared to Soto. With the poll, he said, the cat is out of the bag.

“Darren went to Washington and is not working for the people in his district; the polls show that,” Liebnitzky said.

Soto indicated it makes little difference to him.

“We take every race seriously regardless of the polls,” Soto said in a statement from his campaign. “Our campaign is knocking on thousands of doors and making thousands of phone calls to get out the vote. And we will keep up the fight through Election Day!”

Soto won the 2016 election with 57.5 percent to Liebnitzky’s 42.5 percent.

John Morgan endorses Anna Eskamani as ‘a fighter’ in HD 47 race

Celebrity lawyer, medical marijuana champion and one-time Democratic rainmaker John Morgan has endorsed Democrat Anna Eskamani for her bid to be elected to the Florida Hous in Orange County’s House District 47.

“I am proud to endorse Anna Eskamani for Florida State House District 47,” Morgan stated in a news release issued by Eskamani’s campaign. “Anna is a fighter, always has been — always will be. Anna is for the people, and has earned the support and trust of voters from all political affiliations. I know she will be a strong advocate for issues that impact everyday Floridians, and will redefine what it means to be a public servant.”

Eskamani, an Orlando non-profit organization executive, faces Republican businessman Stockton Reeves of Winter Park in the HD 47 race to represent most of north and central Orange County. Republican incumbent state Rep. Mike Miller is running for Congress.

Morgan, founder of the Morgan & Morgan personal injury law firm and the principal backer behind Florida’s medical marijuana laws, had for a long time been a prominent Democratic fundraiser, though he has occasionally backed a Republican candidate. Last year, ending any speculation that he might run for governor, Morgan announced he was not. He also indicated he would be leaving the Democratic Party, in frustration with it and politics in general. However, as of August he still was a registered Democrat.

“John has been a maverick in Central Florida his whole life, fighting for consumer rights, leading the charge for medical cannabis, and most recently speaking to his personal frustrations with our broken political system. ” Eskamani stated in the news release. “His endorsement of our campaign is a reflection of my track record of fighting for everyday Floridians while also working alongside others to solve complex problems and find common ground. John knows I’m for the people, and I cannot wait to serve the people of House District 47.”

Anna Eskamani Canvass

Anna Eskamani: Stockton Reeves ‘everything wrong with politics’

Democratic HD 47 candidate Anna Eskamani has been on the receiving end of several campaign mailers that painting her as “everything wrong in politics” over language she’s used in public appearances.

On Monday, however, she parried that attack by throwing it right back at Republican rival Stockton Reeves.

“The majority of Stockton’s campaign is funded by himself, the Republican Party of Florida and special interests,” Eskamani said. “We should remember that my opponent’s largest contributor is the same political party who slashed funding for affordable housing, stripped away resources for environmental conservation, and never expanded Medicaid.

When it comes to Reeves’ campaign finances, he has indeed received the vast majority of his funds from himself, the Republican Party of Florida and the industries that Eskamani singled out, including fossil fuel companies, the sugar industry, tobacco companies, greyhound racetracks and businesses that pay employees minimum wage.

To date, Reeves’ has juiced his campaign account with about $95,000 in candidate loans with nearly $49,000 of his $131,500 in fundraising coming from RPOF. Most of his other donors are corporations and political committees. He had $75,000 left to spend on Sept. 28

“It’s no wonder Stockton is so focused on smearing me with superficial attacks versus actually talking about the issues that matter most to Central Floridians,” Eskamani continued. “He’s been bought out by special interests, and we don’t need another political insider like Stockton Reeves in Tallahassee.”

By comparison, Eskamani has raised nearly $373,000 in hard money as well as nearly $72,000 more for her affiliated political committee, People Power for Florida, including nearly 3,000 contributions from individuals chipping in $100 or less. As of Sept. 28, she had $82,000 banked between the two accounts.

The scorching statement comes just after Eskamani released a new campaign ad saying Florida Republicans “should be afraid” of her candidacy because she will “fight the special interests that profit from our broken system.”

The Monday release also cited a recent poll from NBC and the Wall Street Journal that showed Democrats and Republicans were equally concerned about “reducing the influence of special interests and corruption in Washington.”

Eskamani’s campaign said it thinks voter sentiment will be consistent in that view when it comes to Tallahassee.

HD 47 covers north-central Orange County and is currently held by Republican Rep. Mike Miller, who vacated the seat to challenge Democratic U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy in Florida’s 7th Congressional District.

The seat has a slim Democratic advantage in voter registrations and it was held by current Democratic Sen. Linda Stuart before Miller edged her out by four points in the 2014 cycle. He followed that up with a 6-point win over Democrat Beth Tuura in 2016, when the seat voted plus-11 for Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.

Special interest checks making a difference in Central Florida’s House races

As the 2018 election heads into its stretch, the advantage of incumbency has never been clearer when it comes to raising campaign money, as incumbents in most Florida House races in Central Florida are getting flooded with dozens or scores of maximum-$1,000 campaign checks from special interests.

In most cases among the 14 Florida House contests stretching from Lake to Brevard counties, and from Osceola to southwest Voluisia counties, incumbents find that their maximum-donation checks from corporations and political committees provide more than half their campaign funds, and in some cases 60 or 70 percent of their funds.

That’s particularly true for Republicans, who have a broader field of business groups and lobbys ready to support their re-elections with four-digit contributions, while Democrats get most of their special interest checks from unions and progressive groups, and there are fewer of those, and a lot fewer able to cut $1,000 checks to numerous candidates.

In some Central Florida races, the challengers have clearly out-hustled the incumbents and attracted more donations by count, yet still trail substantially in the money chase because their opponents are collecting piles of $1,000 contributions while they’re trying to match those with bigger piles of $100 donations.

A review of the sizes of checks and where they come from, based on the latest Florida campaign finance reports, through Sept. 28, offers an illustration of how readily available big money from such interests is for Florida House members, at least in Central Florida. It also shows how much difference those big checks can make.

For example, in Florida’s House District 42 in Osceola County, Democratic challenger Barbara Cady of Kissimmee has collected 450 donations, all of them from individuals, while Republican state Rep. Mike La Rosa of Saint Cloud has drawn just 308 donations for his re-election campaign. Yet La Rosa has attracted 148 $1,000 checks from companies and committees [and that count doesn’t include other big checks from individuals, including lobbyists]. So La Rosa has managed to raise $208,310, to Cady’s $52,099.

For La Rosa, 71 percent of his campaign money this election has come from $1,000 checks from companies and committees. For Cady the perentage is zero.

The same is seen across Central Florida.

In House District 31 in northeast Lake and northwest Orange counties, Republican state Rep. Jennifer Sullivan of Mount Dora has raised 61 percent of her campaign’s $108,095, reported through Sept. 28, off her 64 $1,000 checks from companies and committees. Her opponent, Democrat Debra Kaplan of Eustis, has gotten three such checks; they’ve accounted for 14 percent of her $22,277.

Yet Kaplan has attracted more donations: 278, compared with Sullivan’s 184.

The only major example supporting that pattern among Democratic incumbents seeking election this year in Central Florida is in House District 48 in south and east Orange County. There, state Rep. Amy Mercado of Orlando has attracted 37 $1,000 checks from committees or corporations, and they’ve accounted for 54 percent of her campaign’s $68,171. But then, she almost needn’t bother. Her opponent, Republican George Chandler of Orlando, isn’t really raising campaign money. A late entry, in early August to replace a candidate who dropped, Chandler has only cashed two outside campaign checks, totaling just $800.

Four seats in Central Florida are open this year. With no incumbents, the Republican candidates are drawing the most big checks from special interests in three of those, and the fourth is about even, though none of those candidates see those checks dominating their fundraising, as do most incumbents.

In House District 28, Republican David Smith of Winter Springs has picked up 34 maximum donations from special interests, but they acount for just 19 percent of the $176,429 he’s managed to raise. In House District 32 in Lake County, Republican Anthony Sabatini of Howie in the Hills has picked up 17 such checks, but they’re covering only about a third of his campaign’s $51,692 fund so far. In House District 51 in north Brevard County, Tyler Sirois of Merritt Island has grabbed 44 $1,000 checks from companies and committees, yet they’ve provided only 35 percent of his campaign’s $126,559.

The exception is in Florida House District 47, where the contest between Democrat Anna Eskamani and Republican Stockton Reeves is breaking nearly all the molds. Eskamani has received 38 maximum-amount checks from special interests, yet they account for only 11 percent of the $372,979 her campaign has raised through Sept. 28.  She also has her own political committee, People Power for Florida, which has raised another $33,000 in big checks from committees. Reeves, meanwhile, just received $49,000 from the Republican Party of Florida, and has put $95,000 into his campaign. Not including those sums, which make up most of his chest, the 34 $1,000 checks his campaign has received represents about 41 percent of its outside money.

In other districts:

– In House District 27 covering southwest Volusia County, Republican state Rep. David Santiago of Deltona has received 70 pecent of his campaign’s $211,545 through 148 $1,000 checks from companies or corporations. Democratic opponent Carol Lawrence of Deltona has raised only $4,372 overall, none through big checks.

– In HD 28, Smith’s Democratic opponent Lee Mangold of Casselberry has recevied eight $1,000 checks from committees or companies, and they’ve brought in 23 percent of the $35,198 he raised.

– In House District 29 covering central Seminole County, Republican state Rep. Scott Plakon of Altamonte Springs has recevied 70 maximum-amoung special interest checks, and they amount to about 51 percent of the $138,065 he has raised toward re-election. His Democrat opponent Tracy Kagan of Longwood has received four such checks; they have provided 8 percent of her $49,637.

– In House District 30 in south-central Seminole and north-central Orange, Republican state Rep. Bob Cortes has received 118 maximum checks from committees or companies, and they amount to about 60 percent of the $197,400 he has raised, not including another $49,000 his campaign received from the Republican Party of Florida. His Democratic opponent Joy Goff-Marcil has received seven special interest checks, providing 18 percent of her campaign’s $37,952.

– In HD 32, Sabatini’s Democratic opponent Cynthia Brown has raised $22,745, and that includes three $1,000 checks from special interests, about 13 percent of her total so far.

– In House District 44 in southwest Orange, Republican state Rep. Bobby Olszewski of Winter Garden has recevied 107 $1,000 checks. They amount to 61 percent of the $176,525 his campaign has reported collecting so far. His Democratic opponent, former state Sen. Geraldine Thompson of Orlando, has picked up 15 such checks, bringing in 33 percent of the $46,334 she has raised so far.

– In House District 49 in northeast Orange County, Democratic state Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith of Orlando has raised $122,322, not including $4,000 from the Florida Democratic Party. He’s picked up 24 $1,000 checks from special interests, about 20 percent of his fund. His opponent Republican Ben Griffin has gotten almost all of his money from a $50,000 donation from the Republican Party of Florida. Of the $12,270 he’s raised on his own, 73 percent has come in the nine $1,000 checks from companies and committees.

– In House District 50 covering east Orange and northwest Brevard counties, Republican state Rep. Rene Plasencia of Orlando has received 60 percent of his campaign’s $210,706 through the 127 $1,000 checks sent his way by companies and committees. His Democratic opponent Pam Dirschka has recevied just three such checks; they’ve provided 23 percent of her $12,737 so far.

– In HD 51, Sirois’s Democratic opponent Mike Blake has recevied two $1,000 checks from committees. They provided 16 percent of his campaign’s $12,520 so far.

– In House District 52 in central and south Brevard County, Republican state Rep. Thad Altman of Indialantic has picked up 46 $1,000 checks from companies and committees, and they’ve provided 64 percent of his campaign’s $71,820 so far. Democratic challenger Seeta Begui of Melbourne has picked up just one such check, and it represents 11 percent of her $9,281 campaign fund.

Stephanie Murphy ad touts assistance for veterans in CD 7 race

A new television commercial launched Monday by the re-election campaign of Democratic U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy features a woman praising the congresswoman for helping her mother get the veterans’ survivors’ health care benefits he earned and she needed.

The 30-second spot, “Sarah,” is launching on Orlando television seeking to position Murphy as someone who fights for veterans.

She faces Republican state Rep. Mike Miller in the Nov. 6 election for Florida’s 7th Congressional District, representing Seminole County and much of north and central Orange County.

In the ad, Sarah Barton talks about the service of her father, U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Gerald Birman, how the family struggled to obtain survivors’ benefits after he died, and how Murphy got it cleared up through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

“We were a proud military family. We needed to care for my mother and these benefits were tied up in red tape and bureaucracy. My father earned these benefits for his family,” Barton states in the ad. “We were in dire straits. Stephanie Murphy took on the bureaucracy and did what was right for me and my family.

“She really cares for veterans and her families. This is her passion,” Barton concludes.

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