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North Brevard Republicans favor Rene Plasencia in HD 50

Republican state Rep. Rene Plasencia has had an achilles heal of support in the Brevard County portion of his district – but that appears to be changing.

Plasencia, who lost Brevard County to challenger George Collins in the 2016 Republican primary yet won overall in Florida’s House District 50, came out on top in a straw poll this weekend over Collins, held by the North Brevard Republican Club.

Plasencia drew 66 votes to Collins 57, with Democratic candidate Pam Dirschka grabbing three of the Republican votes, in a straw poll overseen by the Brevard County Supervisor of Elections Office.

Plasencia is a former high school teacher from Orlando seeking his third term in the house, though only his second term representing the district that covers east Orange County and north Brevard County. Collins, also of Orange County, just entered the 2018 contest to challenge Plasencia a week ago.

Last year Collins’ demonstrated his strength in the Brevard portion of the district – which has more Republican voters than the Orange side – when he won a Brevard County Republican Executive Committee straw poll convincingly over Plasencia a few weeks before the primary.

Among other decisions, the North Brevard Republicans favored Denise Grimsley decisively in the contest for Florida agriculture commissioner. She drew 63 votes to Baxter Troutman‘s 27, Matt Caldwell‘s 26, and Mike McCalister‘s 12.

Carlos Guillermo Smith

Carlos Guillermo Smith draws challenger in HD 49

Orlando Democratic Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith is no longer unopposed in his House District 49 re-election bid.

Ben Griffin, a Republican who works as a learning assistant at Valencia College, opened a campaign account Thursday to challenge the freshman lawmaker in the Orange County based seat according to Florida Division of Elections records.

In a Friday press release Griffin outlined his campaign platform, which includes “limited government, stronger education, and Christian values.”

“Our area needs a strong and steady leader that reflects our values in Tallahassee,” Griffin said. “As a lifelong resident of this district, I’m very familiar with both our challenges and our opportunities, and I will work hard every day to represent the best interests of the hardworking taxpayers who call District 49 home.”

“I strongly believe that government that grows too large becomes a threat to our freedom. I will work diligently to make sure our focus remains on the Constitution and the principles of low taxes and limited regulation that keep our economy strong and growing. It’s also imperative that every Florida student has the opportunity to get the very best education possible.”

He has two weeks to make the ballot, either by collecting 1,065 petition signatures or, more likely, paying the $1,782 qualifying fee.

Smith has raised nearly $58,000 for his re-election effort and had more than $37,000 banked. That total includes $10,525 raised by the Progressive Legislative Caucus chair last month, including seven $1,000 checks and a slew of small-dollar donations.

HD 49 covers part of northern Orange County including the main campus of the University of Central Florida — the alma mater of both Smith and Griffin — as well as the communities of Union Park and Rio Pinar.

On paper, the seat is a Democratic stronghold. As of the last book closing report, Democrats made up 41 percent of the electorate compared to a 26 percent share for Republicans.

It voted along those lines in 2016, when Smith was elected in a 70-30 landslide over unaffiliated opponent Shea Silverman. Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton also carried the seat with 60 percent of the vote.

The 2014 cycle, however, saw Republican Rep. Rene Plasencia knock out former Democratic Rep. Joe Saunders in a low turnout cycle that went down as a Republican wave. Plasencia has since shifted over to House District 50.

Pete Clarke submits commission resignation — three-man race for mayor is on

Orange County Commissioner Pete Clarke put to rest the constant rumors that he might back out of the Orange County mayor’s race Friday when he submitted his letter of resignation from the commission to qualify for the ballot.

“I kept telling people that I’m carrying through and they chose to not believe me. When I say something I’m telling the truth. If I was thinking about it I’d say I’m thinking about it,” Clarke said Friday after submitting his Orange County Commission resignation letter, effective in early December.

The letter went to the Orange County Supervisor of Elections to clear the way for his mayoral run under resign-to-run laws.

Clarke, midway through his second four-year term on the commission, is one of three major candidates heading toward the August 28 Orange County mayoral election, along with Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings, who submitted his resignation as sheriff letter Thursday, and Winter Park entrepreneur Rob Panepinto.

Clarke has complained previously that rumors he believes were started by another candidate had affected his fundraising and organizing, as he had to convince people he was not going to get out so that Demings and Panepinto could battle one-on-one. And he said the rumors have persisted.

He, Demings, Panepinto and three minor candidates are all running to succeed outgoing Mayor Teresa Jacobs. If no one gets more than 50 percent of the votes on August 28, the top two move on to a runoff election in November.

Like Demings’ resignation letter, Clarke’s sets up a domino effect, creating an election this year for his seat. Seven candidates have filed to run for his Orange County Commission District 3 seat, which was set for a 2020 election, and now will be rescheduled for a 2018 election.

Clarke said he’s confident he has very strong support in parts of the county and is working on other parts.

“What I tell voters is we all talk about the same thing. We’re all going to address homelessness, and affordable housing prices, transportation, what the others call ‘smart growth’ and what I call ‘un-smart growth,'” Clarke said after filing. “But what resonates when I talk to people is this will all work out through the processes and our systems to make improvements. But underneath the whole thing are people that sometimes are forgotten, that I’ve spent a lot of years working with, the homeless, people with mental health issues, domestic violence issues. There is a cause for all these issues that keep people from succeeding.”

Clarke still is an acknowledged underdog and has watched as Demings has raised nearly $1 million through the end of April and Panepinto about $600,000; Clarke’s campaign raised about $262,000, much of it his own money.

“I’ve run on a shoestring before,” Clarke said, “and it’s amazing how that resonates with voters.”

Bob Cortes

Bob Cortes campaign has ‘eye on November’

Republican Rep. Bob Cortes faces two opponents in his House District 30 re-election bid, but he isn’t taking the challenge sitting down.

The second-term lawmaker’s campaign is touting their recent success in gathering petitions to make the 2018 ballot but said their work “is just beginning.”

“We have begun the next phase by focusing our Eye On November, when we will need your help to get Bob re-elected,” the campaign said in an email. “I would like to ask you to save the date SATURDAY JUNE 23, from 1-4PM, when we will be hosting a #TeamCortes Mega Walk.”

Cortes’ Altamonte Springs home will serve as the launch point for the event where after a briefing, supporters will fan out across the district to help the GOP lawmaker take the temperature of his Orange and Seminole County constituency.

The campaign encouraged prospective attendees to enlist as many of their friends as they’d like to help pitch in on the canvassing effort.

“The Democrats will be targeting this race as a priority district, and we cannot let that happen. We need your help, and look forward to seeing you soon,” the email said.

The campaign is certainly correct that Democrats have eyes Cortes’ set, as they have ever since he knocked former Democratic Rep. Karen Castor Dentel out of office with a surprising 3-point victory in 2014.

This go around Cortes faces Democrats Joy Goff-Marcil and Daniel Anderson in his re-election bid.

Two weeks out from the qualifying deadline only Goff-Marcil has gathered enough petitions to qualify for the ballot, however Anderson has enough cash in his campaign account to cover the qualifying fee should he fall short of collecting the required signatures.

As of April 30, Cortes had a massive lead in the money race with $105,325 raised and more than $85,000 banked. Goff-Marcil has raised $18,638 and has $14,256 at the ready.

Anderson, the first-in Democrat, was the only candidate to have filed his May finance report as of Friday. He’s raised $18,925, including $15,000 in loans, and has $12825 on hand.

HD 30 straddles the border of Seminole and Orange counties and includes the communities of Altamonte Springs, Casselberry, Eatonville, Fern Park, Forest City, Goldenrod, Lockhart and Maitland. About two-thirds of HD 30 voters live on the Seminole side.

Registered Democrats slightly outnumber Republicans within the district, and it voted plus-8 in favor of Hillary Clinton two years ago. Cortes ran far ahead of the top-of-ticket Republican, securing a second term with a 7-point victory over Democrat Ryan Neal Yadav.

The event flyer is below. It is also listed on Facebook.

Bob Cortes June 23 'Mega Walk' Flyer

Jerry Demings says polls show he could win in August

Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings said Thursday that his campaign’s internal polling suggests he could win the Orange County mayor’s office in the August preliminary election, a prospect that would indicate an impressive base in a contest with three major candidates.

Demings made the statement as he was preparing to file his notice of resignation from the office of Orange County sheriff, a move he must make to qualify for the August 28 ballot in the mayoral election. His notice indicates he would leave the sheriff’s post December 4, the day the next mayor of Orange County is to be sworn in. That effectively ends his 37-year career in law enforcement whether he wins or loses the mayoral race.

That action also formally opens a new election this year to be held for a new sheriff.

Yet Demings’ comments about the mayor’s race are the first indication that his campaign is confident about a big lead in a race that also includes Winter Park entrepreneur Rob Panepinto and Orange County Commissioner Pete Clarke, plus three minor candidates. Someone would have to come out of the six-way split with more than 50 percent of the vote, or the top two finishers on August 28 would go on to a runoff in November.

Demings’ fundraising and endorsement lists would indicate he’s a formidable front-runner. Through the end of April his funds had raised nearly $1 million; while Panepinto had raised about $600,000; and Clarke, about $300,000.

Yet there have been no publicly-released polls on the race.

“I had to do my own polling to get some verification. That polling shows that we can win this race, and we can win this race in August,” Demings said at a press availability as he turned in his sheriff letter of resignation at the Orange County Supervisor of Elections Office. “I say that to you very humbly today. We still have to prove and earn the vote of the electorate here in Orange County, and I’m going to do that.”

Though the mayoral race is non-partisan, Demings, a Democrat, can expect backing from the Orange County Democratic Party while, in the August 28 election, the Orange County Republican Party would have to campaign against Demings while hoping Republicans Clarke and Panepinto could keep him from winning outright that day. Demings could be the first Democrat to hold the county’s top executive post since 1998. Outgoing Mayor Teresa Jacobs is term-limited, and running for the Orange County School Board chair’s position.

Clarke cautioned Demings against any overconfidence.

“The last person who thought the polls were going to give a victory is unemployed at the moment, and she’s doing a book tour,” Clarke said. “We’ve had access to polls that tell a little bit different story. You know, he’s got good name recognition, but we’re closing the gap.”

In a written response, Panepinto stated, “I am proud of the momentum we are building and look forward to a spirited race with Sheriff Demmings. The hardworking people of Orange County deserve a real debate about the issues and I hope the sheriff is willing to give them one.”

At his resignation event, Demings also touted his 10-year career as sheriff as essentially a mission accomplished.

“We’ve accomplished all those things that I told the public we were going to do. Overall crime in Orange County is down, 30 percent over the period of time I have been sheriff. I have said we’d be fiscally conservative. We’ve saved millions of dollars for the taxpayers and returned it to them. We said that we would reduce the number of complaints on our deputy sheriffs. We’ve done that. I said that we would reduce the level of use of force in this community. We have done that now. I said that the Orange County Sheriff’s Office would put more deputy sheriffs out on patrol. We’ve done that,” he said. “And so all of the things I have promised in 2008 when I ran for sheriff, we have done.

“And so I’m saying to the public, as we’re moving forward, as I’m running for mayor, all of those things I’ve said we would accomplish as mayor, we will do. Trust me on that,” he concluded.

Recognizing the end of his career in law enforcement, Demings speculated that he might seek some sort of reserve officer status, if it’s legally allowed.

“It’s bittersweet,” Demings said. “After being in law enforcement for 37 years I’ve seen this city in the best of times and I’ve also seen it in the worst of times.”

Mike Miller picks up Carlton Henley’s endorsement in CD 7 race

Winter Park Republican Mike Miller is adding the endorsement of longtime Seminole County Commissioner Carlton Henley in the race for Florida’s 7th Congressional District.

Miller, who currently represents the Orlando-area House District 47, faces an August 28 GOP primary battle with Scott Sturgill and Vennia Francois. The winner expects to take on incumbent Democratic U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy in November.

“It is going to take a strong candidate to take this seat back, but I believe Mike is the best person to do just that,” Henley in a news release issued Thursday by Miller’s campaign. “It is important that the residents of Seminole County have someone who will represent our conservative values and protect our way of life,” he continued. “I am supporting Mike because he values education, as I do, and believes our local leaders are the best ones to make decisions for our schools. He will represent us well in Washington,” Henley concluded.

CD 7 covers Seminole County and north and central Orange County.

Henley, a retired schoolteacher and principal, has been on the Seminole County Commission since 1998. He is not running for re-election this year.

“There are not many who have served Seminole County longer than Commissioner Henley,” Miller stated in the release. “I have worked with him over the years on regional transportation issues and he always has his constituents’ needs front and center. I appreciate his confidence in me and am honored to have his support.”

Orange Co. GOP Chairman stepping down

Lew Oliver, the face, voice, and chair of the Orange County Republican Party for the entire 21st century, is resigning

The 58-year-old lawyer and businessman wants to focus more time on his practice and his title business, Oliver said in a resignation email sent late Tuesday to the Orange County Republican Executive Committee. He has chaired the Orange County Republican Party since 1999.

His resignation will take place at the next Orange County REC meeting, at which he said he will oversee the election of his successor.

“I have recently started to expand my business, and even started a new one, and I am simply unable to continue to devote the time to the job as your chairman that the position and you deserve during this election year,” Oliver stated. “Additionally, it is time for new blood and new energy and new ideas.”

He was not available Tuesday evening to comment further.

Oliver’s tenure has overseen mostly remarkable Republican election success in Orange County even as the county’s electorate evolved to be more and more Democratic. He stuck to Republican principals, but avoided divisive strategies or rhetoric. He also spoke his mind freely (sometimes at his own risk), but never seemed bothered by criticism.

“Lew has been a staple of the Republican Party of Orange County for two decades,” Republican Party Vice Chairman Chadwick Hardee said Tuesday evening. “He has done a lot of good things for the Republican Party and Orange County; his leadership will be deeply missed.”

The county party’s record of election dominance changed only in the past couple of years, as Democrats for the first time in decades made advances in both the county’s state Senate and State House of Representatives delegations, and this year the Democrats threaten to take control of the Orange County government as well.

Oliver has struggled off and on in recent years with insurgencies from party factions, first from the Tea Party movement, and then from supporters of now-President Donald Trump. But Oliver survived them with ease, always expressing optimism that the party establishment was sound and in control.

There has been no recent talk about any such battles behind the scenes that would lead Oliver to leave. In fact, he may have been quietly laying the groundwork for months, confiding in a handful of people that he wanted to focus more on his business.

Three weeks ago, at the party’s Lincoln Day dinner, Oliver was universally fêted (as if it were a going away party) though there were no announcements of any kind.

“I’m sad to see Lew Oliver go but Orange County will forever be indebted to him for his service over the years,” said state Rep. Bobby Olszewski. “He has always been very kind to me, but never hesitated to provide the tough love when it was needed.”

“Lew Oliver was a stalwart in changing times here in Central Florida. He stuck with his principals,” said state Rep. Mike Miller, who’s running for Congress this year. “He worked hard to develop the party, actually brought us into the majority while he was chairman. I applaud him for his stick-to-it-ness and his ability to work with changing demographics and changing times. He was able to bring Republicans out to vote, and he stuck to the conservative principals that make our state and country great.”

Oliver succeeded in leading the party because he stayed on message, he knew how to direct winning elections, and there were a number of elections the Republicans would not have won without him, said political consultant John Dowless.

There have been some downsides.

A drop in Republican voter registration as a percentage of the electorate has continued throughout the 21st century, with Orange County now having more than 100,000 more Democrats than Republicans. Oliver also has been faulted for not leading initiatives to aggressively update the party’s social media and online presences.

Still, even with his slowly-emerging decision to step down, Oliver’s tenure at the Orange County Republican Party has been so long — and so well established — there were no clear indications of a successor Tuesday night.

Hardee, running for an Orange County School Board seat, said he also will consider running for the chairman’s post. But he would be interested in it only transitionally, holding it long enough to groom a long-term new leader.

Besides Hardee, names mentioned late Tuesday evening included former Orange County Clerk of Courts Eddie Fernandez, State Committee Woman Kathy Gibson, and State Committeeman Paul Paulson.

“My feelings are mixed because OCREC has been an integral part of my life for nearly one-third of a century, and I will miss so very many of you who have made my life richer and more joyous and more meaningful,” Oliver said in his email. “I will also miss the sense of purpose and accomplishment this work has given me. If I did not think that you and I could make a genuine difference — even if only occasionally — I would not do it. I assure you that your work does indeed MATTER. I am grateful to all of you, and you should be proud of what you do.”

Darren Soto picks up nods from fire fighters, police unions

Democratic U.S. Rep. Darren Soto has received the endorsements of two first-responders unions, for firefighters and law-enforcement officers, his campaign announced Tuesday.

The Orlando Professional Fire Fighters International Association of Fire Fighters Local 1365 and the Central Florida Police Benevolent Association have each endorsed Congressman Darren Soto for re-election in Florida’s 9th Congressional District.

Soto faces a tough primary battle against his predecessor, former U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, who’s seeking to take back the seat he held from 2013-’16. They face off in the August 28 Democratic primary, with the winner going on to face Saint Cloud businessman Wayne Liebnitzky in the November election.

The district covers south Orange County, Osceola County, and east  Polk County.

“Law enforcement officers in Central Florida have no better friend than Darren,” Central Florida PBA Political Director Ron Beardslee stated in a news release issued by Soto’s re-election campaign. “He understands what it takes to protect and serve the people, and he fights to get us what we need. Whether it’s getting us funding for our officers and staff, equipment to do the job, or keeping guns away from dangerous people, Soto has our back. And we’ll have his. The Central Florida PBA is proud to endorse Congressman Darren Soto for re-election.”

In the same release, Fire Fighters Local 1365 President Ronald Glass called Soto, “an experienced public servant with a clear vision for the needs of Firefighters and the citizens of Orlando alike.” In Tallahassee, Soto advocated for the families of fallen firefighters, passing legislation to provide a death benefit and health insurance to those families when their loved one died in a training exercise.

Darryl Block gets backing of Victor Torres in HD 29 Democratic primary

Democratic state Sen. Victor Torres has endorsed attorney Darryl Block in the House District 29 race in Seminole County.

Torres’s endorsement could carry some weight in the August 28 primary, as Block, of Lake Mary, faces two other Democrats, both also attorneys, Tracey Kagan and Patrick Brandt, both of Longwood. The trio are battling for the chance to take on Republican incumbent state Rep. Scott Plakon in November for the HD 29 seat, which represents central Seminole County.

Torres represents Florida Senate District 15, which covers south Orange County and Osceola County a few miles to the south.

“During the past few months, I’ve seen Darryl’s commitment to our community as well as to Florida’s families. He will fight for sensible gun-safety laws that protect our children, a clean and sustainable environment, and healthcare that Floridians can afford,” Torres said in a statement issued by Block’s campaign. “

“Darryl also will advocate for Puerto Ricans who are now calling Florida home in the wake of Hurricane Maria. He believes that our Puerto Rican brothers and sisters must have the tools they need for success, including affordable housing, medical services, and job opportunities. Darryl also believes that we must continue to assist Puerto Ricans remaining on the island by helping them repair their infrastructure while increasing medical services,” Torres continued. “I have been greatly impressed by Darryl and Melanie‘s family-focused, positive campaign. Darryl recently qualified for the Florida ballot by petition, proving that grassroots organizing gets results.”

Martin O’Malley joins Stephanie Murphy in pushing steady gun law reform

Those seeking changes in gun laws need patience and persistence, Democrats Stephanie Murphy and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, a possible 2020 presidential candidate, said Monday.

O’Malley, who dropped out early in the 2016 Democratic presidential primary race, joined the congresswoman from Winter Park in her re-election campaign event Monday, a roundtable meeting with members of two fervent gun-control groups, Moms Demand Action, which rose out of the 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, and March For Our Lives, which grew out of last February’s massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

Murphy spoke of the law change she essentially ushered through, lifting a ban on federal research into gun violence as a health concern, as a critical first step in addressing the more contentious and higher-profile debates over assault weapons, background checks, high-capacity magazines, and bump stocks.

But both Murphy and O’Malley spoke of is how the gun law changes groups sought by such as March For Our Lives and Moms Demand Action, and Murphy and O’Malley themselves, could come only when the research, public pressure, and elections have changed enough that, as O’Malley said, “it’s time to call the question.”

It took 22 years to get the so-called “Dickey Amendment” repealed, thereby allowing researchers who receive federal money to research gun safety, she pointed out. And it took the efforts of March For Our Lives and other groups responding to the Feb. 14 mass shooting at Stoneman Douglas, she said, which suddenly turned the tide in Congress from virtually no Republicans showing interest in her bill, to a number of them helping her. Eventually, Murphy got it amended into the federal budget bill.

O’Malley was in town campaigning for Murphy and for some state candidates, such as Democratic state representative candidates Lee Mangold in House District 28, and Anna Eskamani in House District 47. He and his leadership political action committee, Win Back Your State, is pushing for a nationwide Democratic focus on state races, and he urged those attending Murphy’s re-election event to consider putting the focus on state races.

“And then you’ll be in a much better position to ask a much more hopeful question: what can we get done now?” O’Malley said.

Murphy’s re-election is being challenged from the left by Democrat Chardo Richardson in the August 28 primary, while Republicans state Rep. Mike Miller, businessman Scott Sturgill and Vennia Francois. Mangold is taking on Republican David Smith for an open seat in HD 28; Eskamani expects to face either Republican Stockton Reeves VI or Mikaela Nix for what should be an open seat in HD 47.

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