Peter Archives - Florida Politics

Is this the year Felix Garcia goes free?

A deaf man from Tampa who claims innocence for his role in a 1981 murder will be back up for parole Tuesday.

Felix Garcia, who turns 56 next month, is serving a life sentence in the death of Joseph Tramontana Jr.

His case will again go before the Florida Commission on Offender Review, which will consider whether to release him on parole.

Florida abolished parole in the 1980s, but inmates whose crimes were committed before Oct. 1, 1983 are still eligible.

Garcia has long claimed that his brother and sister framed him and they have since admitted to doing so, even while he remains behind bars.

That’s despite a seven-hour alibi that places him six miles away from the crime scene with his girlfriend, their 6-month-old daughter, his girlfriend’s mother, and—at least briefly—with a Domino’s Pizza delivery man.

But Garcia, sitting in a Tampa courtroom in 1983, says he could not understand the proceedings, in part because he was not provided a sign-language interpreter.

He had a 4th-grade reading and comprehension level. He experienced the entire trial as “incoherent noise,” his advocates say.

He answered “yes” to indicting questions because he thought his cooperation would speed up the trial, so he could go home sooner.

When Felix saw his sister Tina take the stand, he assumed she was doing so to come to his defense. On that, too, he was wrong.

The main piece of evidence against Felix: A pawnshop ticket that his brother Frank asked Felix to sign. It was for a ring that Frank had taken from the murder victim.

Knowing nothing about the ring’s origins but willing to oblige, Felix’s information was filed with the ring at the Tampa Gun and Pawn Shop.

That would forever change his life.

His brother Frank was convicted as well, though on lesser charges. Over time, Frank and Tina each came clean. In 1989 and again in 1996, Frank Garcia admitted under oath that Felix had nothing to do with the shooting or robbing of Tramontana. In 1996, Tina did the same.

Those attempts to absolve Felix were in vain.

Still behind him are Pat Bliss, a retired paralegal who has been working to secure Felix’s freedom for years; Reggie Garcia (no relation), a clemency expert who’s been representing Garcia for free; and Sachs Media Group, providing media relations pro bono.

Garcia last was up for parole in November 2014, when the commission turned him down but agreed to reconsider his case in another three years.

That time is now. And the time for justice for Felix Garcia, inmate #482246, is long overdue.

Takeaways from Tallahassee — Fences make happy code enforcers

The first sentence of a Reason blog post this week got House Speaker Richard Corcoran’s attention: “Mere hours after Hurricane Irma, Miami-Dade County was ticketing residents for building code violations on their wrecked properties.”

The House’s graphics team soon was on the case, producing an infographic based on the story, first reported by WSVN-TV.

Corcoran tweeted it with the message: “Revealed: Hours after Hurricane Irma hit, Miami-Dade County issued 857 known notices that could result in fines. Outrageous.”

Hours after Irma struck Miami-Dade County, code enforcement was on the march.

The Reason post had focused on resident Celso Perez, who “was helping his neighbors remove some fallen trees blocking their street when a county code enforcer rolled up and issued him a safety notice for having a downed fence.

“ … The official told Perez that the downed fence — which encloses a pool — was a safety hazard, and that if it wasn’t fixed by the time he returned, Perez would be hit with a fine. The official then hung the safety citation on the portion of Perez’s fence that remained standing, leaving him and his neighbors to finish clearing the debris from their street.”

The blog opined: “it’s quite possible that Perez and the other people might have more pressing things to do right after a hurricane than bring their homes back up to code. You know: clearing the streets, seeking medical attention, checking in on family members, trying to find food.”

The county, in a follow-up statement to Reason, defended its actions: “We were looking to advise residents of the following hazards on their properties that they may not have been aware of, but that pose a life safety threat: damaged structures that rendered them unsafe, unsecured pools with no barriers, electrical hazards (downed lines, damaged meters) and gas hazards (damaged meters).

“If any of these hazards were found, our inspectors gave out a safety notice, which is neither a notice of violation warning nor a citation. That means there is no fine attached. The safety notices given to property owners identify the hazard, steps that should be taken to correct the hazard, and who to contact for additional information.”

As Perez put it: “All the stores were closed. It’s not like I can go to Home Depot and find some temporary barrier.”

Coming up, the usual assortment of tidbits, leftovers and not-ready-for-prime-time moments by Jim RosicaPeter Schorsch, Scott Powers, Michael Moline and Andrew Wilson.

But first, the “Takeaway 5” — the Top 5 stories from the week that was:

Irma’s effect still felt — The hurricane that ripped through the state has still left more than 30,000 homes and businesses without power at last count. Thousands of Floridians need help with insurance claims; some are still in need of food and shelter. Gov. Rick Scott and other officials continue touring the state to view the damage. Scott said he’d like to see storm-battered Key West “open for business” within two weeks, but tourism officials say it could take longer. Some tourism hot spots have started to reopen in the Lower Keys, as electricity is back for more than 90 percent of Monroe County.

Citrus in dire straits — A long wait may be ahead for broad federal relief for Florida’s beleaguered citrus industry, “decimated” by Irma at the start of the growing season, according to Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam. The agriculture industry — the state’s second-largest industry after tourism — could be at the mercy of Congress to land broader federal assistance for ravaged crops. “Comparable disaster assistance programs, to what we’ve seen in the past, will now require an act of Congress,” Putnam, a former member of the U.S. House, said. “And as a recovering congressman, I can assure you that nothing moves as fast as we’d like in Washington.”

Florida becoming redder — Republicans are boasting they have taken voter-registration edges over Polk and Volusia County Democrats, continuing a trend of trimming a once-sizable advantage for Democrats statewide. With Polk and Volusia counting slightly more Republicans than Democrats in registration data recorded through Aug. 31, the Republican Party of Florida says it’s flipped 12 counties to a Republican advantage in two years. But it’s not just there. Democrats in August 2013 had more than 500,000 statewide registered voters over Republicans. With the latest count, the Democrats advantage was cut nearly in half to just 275,000.

Miami-Dade election nears — The special election for Miami-Dade County’s Senate District 40 is Tuesday. Republican Jose Felix Diaz, Democrat Annette Taddeo and no-party candidate Christian “He-Man” Schlaerth are vying for the seat. Diaz got a boost this week with an endorsement from his hometown newspaper, the liberal-leaning Miami Herald editorial board. But Taddeo came back Wednesday with an endorsement from former Vice President Joe Biden, who recorded a get-out-the-vote call for her. The winner will replace ex-Sen. Frank Artiles, who stepped down in April after a controversy over his use of racially-charged language with two black lawmakers.

Constitutional panel gets ready — The Constitution Revision Commission is gearing up for its first committee week, starting Monday in the Capitol. Among those meeting: Rules and Administration, Executive Committee, Bonding and Investments, Declaration of Rights, Finance and Taxation, and General Provisions. All meetings are open to the public and will be live-streamed by The Florida Channel. The commission is formed every 20 years to review and suggest changes to the state’s governing document. Any amendments put forward by the panel must be approved by at least 60 percent of voters statewide on the 2018 ballot to be added to the constitution.

Rick Scott visits Irma shelter with Homeland Security chief

Rick Scott and Elaine Duke meet with state and local officials in Monroe County.

Gov. Rick Scott visited a Monroe County hurricane shelter this week alongside U.S. Department of Homeland Security Acting Secretary Elaine Duke and American Red Cross CEO Gail McGovern.

After visiting with families at the shelter, Scott and Duke split off to meet with state and local officials about recovery efforts in the Keys. Monroe County, which includes the Florida Keys, was one of the areas hardest hit by Irma.

As of Friday, power had been restored to about 94 percent of accounts in the county, but there is still a long road to ahead before the Keys are back to normal.

Able Trust honors Jack Latvala

A group that helps disabled Floridians land jobs handed its “Senator of the Year” award to Clearwater Republican Jack Latvala this week, citing the Senate Appropriation Chair’s commitment to their cause.

The Able Trust gave Latvala the award during a ceremony in Orlando Friday morning.

Jack Latvala is recognized as “Senator of the Year” by the Able Trust.

“People with disabilities have been greatly served by Senator Latvala’s continued public service,” said Karen Moore, who chairs the Able Trust’s board of directors.

Moore added that Latvala, who is running for Florida governor in 2018, has shown his commitment to helping Floridians with all types of disabilities and has shown “steadfast support” for the Able Trust while in the Legislature.

Food assistance on the way

State and federal officials are starting a “Food for Florida Disaster Food Assistance Program” in the 48 counties most affected by Hurricane Irma, a news release said.

“We are working around the clock to provide relief to those affected by Hurricane Irma,” Department of Children and Families Secretary Mike Carroll said. “We encourage those in need of food assistance to preregister if possible through the website so we can quickly serve those in need.”

To qualify, applicants must be financially eligible, have lived or worked in one of the counties declared for FEMA Individual Assistance Sept. 5, and not be receiving food assistance through the regular Food Assistance Program.

Details on local Food for Florida sites will be posted on the Food for Florida website as they become available.

‘Sanctuary cities’ bill in Senate

Fernandina Beach Republican Sen. Aaron Bean filed a bill this week that would outlaw “sanctuary” designations and fine cities that don’t fall in line.

The “Rule of Law Adherence Act” (SB 308) would force local governments to follow federal immigration laws and require full compliance with detention requests from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

Cities that don’t toe the line could face fines of up to $5,000 for each day they keep “sanctuary” policies on the books.

Bean filed a similar measure in the 2017 Legislative Session that didn’t make it through committee. The House companion got through with a party-line vote but wasn’t taken up in the Senate.

At the time, critics slammed the measures for unfairly targeting minorities and claimed that forced compliance without funding for enforcement was an unfair burden on local governments.

Florida may get state bovine

Forget state birds, flowers or butterflies: state Rep. MaryLynn Magar says Florida needs a state cattle breed.

The Tequesta Republican filed a bill for the 2018 Legislative Session this week, HB 155, that would name the Florida Cracker the state’s “heritage cattle breed.”

Could MaryLynn Magar make the Florida Cracker the state’s official bovine?

The Florida Cracker, also known as the Florida Scrub or simply the Cracker cow, has a long history in the Sunshine State. The small, horned and hardy cattle breed was brought to Florida by Spanish conquistadors in the 16th century, making them one of the oldest breeds in the U.S., and the trend toward larger and larger cattle for beef production has made the Florida Cracker one of the rarest breeds as well.

If approved, the Florida Cracker’s designation would put it in the same company as several other official state flora and fauna — the American alligator, the Florida panther, the manatee and the dolphin, to name a few.

Citizens says: Avoid AOB ‘scams’

State-backed Citizens Property Insurance Corp. is hoping to deter policyholders from opting for a quick fix post-Irma by urging them to avoid assignment of benefits “scams.”

Assignment of benefits, or AOB, is a practice where policyholders can sign away their insurance policy to a third party that will make needed repairs and attempts to collect the cost from the insurer later — often by taking them to court.

Citizens said “unscrupulous contractors and repair companies thrive in the frenzied days following any storm” and warned policyholders to be on the lookout for contractors operating without a license or any “deals that sound too good to be true.”

The insurer of last resort said customers should call them first after any home damage, with CEO Barry Gilway adding that Citizens’ “claims representatives are ready to help. All you have to do is call.”

Get your tetanus booster before Irma cleanup

The Florida Department of Health said Floridians should take some extra precautions before jumping feet first into their post-Hurricane Irma cleanup.

Chief among the department’s advice: Ask your doctor if it’s time for a tetanus booster.

Booster shots for tetanus, the bacteria that causes lockjaw, typically last 10 years. Tetanus can be found in soil, dust, manure and, as FDOH warned, could be prevalent in floodwaters brought on by Irma.

Before Irma cleanup, a tetanus booster may be a good idea.

Due to the risk, FDOH recommends all cleanup be done with waterproof gloves and rubber boots. If an accident happens, clean any wounds with soap and disinfected or bottled water before seeking medical attention.

DOH said Floridians with up-to-date vaccinations still need to take care when working out in the heat. The department said workers should drink plenty of water even if not thirsty, wear lightweight clothes and sunscreen, and make sure to take breaks inside the A/C.

FWC cancels Okeechobee meeting

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission nixed a two-day meeting scheduled for next week in Okeechobee, citing Hurricane Irma.

“FWC’s top priority is to provide significant resources to the statewide efforts to help our citizens and visitors recover from the devastating impacts of Hurricane Irma,” the commission said on its website. “In order to assure all resources are focused on recovery efforts, the FWC Commission meeting that was scheduled for Sept. 27 and 28 has been canceled.”

With the September meeting scratched off the calendar, the only remaining commission meeting this year is set for Dec. 6 and Dec. 7 in Gainesville.

FWC relaxes fees post-Irma

Gov. Scott told the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to ease up on regulations and waive fees for the South Florida commercial fishing industry as it tries to bounce back from Hurricane Irma.

“Hurricane Irma affected nearly our entire state, and we are aggressively working to make sure the every family and industry has the ability to recover quickly. This week, I’ve traveled across the state to tour damage and hear directly from families and communities on what we can do to help. Florida’s commercial fishing industry plays a large role in our economy, and I am proud the FWC can waive fees and reduce regulations so they can get back to work,” Scott said.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission will ease up on regulations and waive fees post-Irma for the South Florida commercial fishing industry.

Among the temporary rule changes is an extension of the renewal period for some commercial fishing permits set to expire Sept. 30 and delaying the deadline until Dec. 1 for commercial lobster harvesters in Collier, Dade and Monroe to tag their traps.

Fees for replacement trap tags have also been waived.

FWC chairman Brian Yablonski said the commission was “glad to reduce these regulations and waive fees,” and agreed with Scott that the move will help Florida fishermen and women to get back on the water.

Florida Chamber forum next week

The Florida Chamber Foundation’s Future of Florida Forum is coming to Orlando next week to discuss issues facing the state and ask “Is Florida Ready?”

Key speakers heading to the JW Marriott Grande Lakes for the Wednesday and Thursday event include gubernatorial candidate and Ag Commissioner Adam Putnam, Florida CFO Jimmy Patronis, Enterprise Florida head Pete Antonacci, Visit Florida chief Ken Lawson, DEO Director Cissy Proctor and Education Commissioner Pam Stuart.

Topics include the state’s cradle to career continuum, Hurricane Irma recovery, an update on the Florida 2030 Initiative, a special Florida Women’s Hall of Fame presentation, and the Constitution Revision Commission.

Registration and agenda info is available on the Chamber’s website. Those who can’t make it or can’t stick around for the whole thing can check out the Chamber’s livestream.

Leon County pushes back budget hearings

With the Jewish holy day of Rosh Hashana earlier this week and Hurricane Irma’s effects still lingering, Leon County said rescheduled a pair of public hearings on millage rates.

The tentative millage rate hearing scheduled for Sept. 20 was moved to Sept. 26 at 6 p.m., while the hearing on final millage rates originally scheduled for Sept. 26 was also moved back a week to Oct. 3 at 6 p.m.

The county said it took the Florida Department of Revenue’s advice in rescheduling the hearings, both of which will be held in the County Commission chambers on the fifth floor of the Leon County Courthouse, 301 S. Monroe St.

There will be time for public comment at both hearings. Those looking for more info can reach out to county community relations contact Mathieu Cavell via (850) 606-5300 or

Leon County: Bring us your trash

It’s been nearly two weeks since Hurricane Irma barreled through Florida, but there’s still plenty of debris to be carted off throughout the state. Luckily, Leon County Emergency Management said residents will still be able to slough off that extra yard trash free-of-charge through Sept. 24.

The Solid Waste Management Facility, 7550 Apalachee Parkway, will be open Saturday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., while the rural waste service centers in Woodville, Fort Branden and Miccosukee will be open Saturday and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Those who can’t cart away their own debris can wait for curbside collection, which is set to start up this week and will keep going until all the waste is collected. The county put out a guide to help residents do their part in keeping the curbside collection process moving smoothly.

Tallahassee going solar

After months of preparation, City of Tallahassee crews and Origis Energy will be installing the first of 230,000 solar panels on a new “solar farm,” according to a news release.

“Once in service, these solar panels will produce 37 million kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity each year — enough to power 3,400 homes and businesses in the Capital City,” it said.

The city’s solar farm will be on the southside, off Springhill Road. It’s expected to be completed this winter. When finished, the 20-megawatt solar farm, near the Tallahassee International Airport, will be one of the biggest in the Sunshine State.

A second 40-megawatt solar farm is planned.

Bring a newbie hunting or fishing

Saturday is National Hunting and Fishing Day and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission want Florida outdoorsmen to “create new conservationists” by bringing a pal or two on their weekend excursions.

“Not only do hunting and fishing allow you to connect with nature on a profound level, those who take part in these activities also contribute to conservation,” FWC Director Nick Wiley said. “Every time someone buys a firearm, ammunition, archery equipment or fishing tackle, they are contributing to science-based fish and wildlife management through the Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration program.”

Buddy up! Saturday is National Hunting and Fishing Day.

Such purchases fund the program, as do fees from hunting and fishing licenses, which Wiley said “is critical for conserving fish and wildlife” in the Sunshine State.

FWC encouraged any sportsmen or women who have an extra seat on their boat or a little extra space in their hunting stand to pledge to bring someone along.

Those who do will be eligible to win prizes including a VIP package for the Richard Childress Racing weekend or an “Ultimate Outdoor Experience” at the Big Cedar Lodge in Missouri — just be sure any companions grab a license online before they reel in a whopper.

First responders fish for free

Gov. Scott said this week that Sunshine State law enforcement and first responders don’t have to worry about grabbing a fishing license before heading out for some R&R post-Hurricane Irma.

“Before and after Hurricane Irma, Florida’s brave law enforcement officers and first responders have been tirelessly working around the clock to meet the needs of our families and communities. Even as their own families were evacuating or working to begin the recovery process, they have been putting their own lives on the line to keep our state safe,” Scott said when he announced rule change.

One good thing about Hurricane Irma: First responders fish for free. 

FWC Chairman Brian Yablonski added he hopes “this small token of appreciation will give these dedicated men and women an opportunity to get a break” from the stress brought on by the storm.

Scott said the deal applies to both freshwater and saltwater fishing, and that it will last through the end of June 2018. The licenses cost $37 each for Florida residents, or $54 for an “Avid Angler” license, which bundles freshwater and saltwater permits.

The Associated Press and the News Service of Florida contributed to this edition.

Now for this week’s edition of Capitol Directions:

Jacksonville Bold for 9.23.17 — Recovery mode

After a two-week sabbatical, Jacksonville Bold returns this week — with much of the content dealing with a city battling back from well-documented storm impacts (massive flooding in areas, power outages, et al.)

And, like Bold, the city is coming back.

Before the Jaguars kicked off Sunday, power was substantially restored (though it seemed to have come at the expense of efficiency on offense). Debris is piled by curbs, waiting for pickup. Life is moving on — though some of those who suffered most grievously during the storm are still waiting for a helping hand from government.

Charlotte Glaze gives Donna Lamb a teary hug Monday as she floats out some of her belongings in floodwaters from the Ortega River in Jacksonville. Photo via AP.

The question going forward, into next Tuesday’s budget vote and beyond: How will the city shoulder a second straight year of significant storm-related costs?

The capital improvement program was already big-spending and ambitious ($131M). Other adds were equally bold: a proposal for 100 new cops, and a proposal to spend $8M for capital improvements at the private HBCU, Edward Waters College.

As John Lennon said: “Life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans.”

But that quote was never intended to apply to municipal budgets; however, Jacksonville City Council members will be compelled to balance what happened this month with long-range planning made before Irma was even conceived.

Paul RyanFlorida delegation talk Irma

House Speaker Paul Ryan and Appropriations Chair Rodney Freylinghausen aren’t usually in Bold, but they are this week — as they visited Jacksonville as part of a three-stop tour with the Florida Delegation to discuss Irma relief.

The national figures didn’t talk to the local press (small market blues?), but Florida U.S. Reps, such as Ron DeSantis, had a consistent message: Northeast Florida cities will get what’s coming to them from FEMA.

Florida Delegation: Help is on the way from D.C.

“One of the things we’ve been impressing on the federal government is these communities are having to spend a lot of resources on things like debris removal. They need to have that money reimbursed in a timely fashion,” DeSantis said.

“You still have a lot of localities that are waiting to be reimbursed for Matthew,” DeSantis added. “That’s a bureaucratic process that’s got to be improved. We’ve been talking to and engaging FEMA about that.”

Rep. John Rutherford also noted that funds are in fact available … good news for budget hawks in City Hall.

Al Lawson fights for Jax FEMA funds

Last week saw politicians coming through Jacksonville for photo ops and to survey the damage. Perhaps the most unheralded visit was that of Rep. Lawson, who dropped into City Hall last week and talked to the Mayor about getting Jacksonville money … from Hurricane Matthew.

Al Lawson visits storm-damaged Ribault area in Jacksonville last week.

“I talked to the Mayor,” Lawson said, “and what I told him is that I know there’s some $26 million that the city hasn’t gotten from FEMA for the last hurricane, Matthew. That’s one of the things that we’re working on to try to make sure they get those funds, because of the devastation in this area.”

“Our goal is to get the resources down here quickly as possible,” Lawson said.

Regarding backlogs with FEMA payouts, which can take years, Lawson noted that “this hurricane affected the whole state, and one of the things we need to do on the federal level is get that money released earlier.”

Lawson has worked, since beating Corrine Brown in the 2016 Democratic Primary in Florida’s 5th Congressional District, to build up local bona fides and ward off a potential local challenge. As of the end of June, the first-term Democrat had nearly $150,000 cash on hand for his next campaign.

Lawson promised us that Speaker Ryan would come to visit … and he was as good as his word, as you read above.

Rutledge Pearson Post Office?

Pushing for federal funds is one way Lawson is localizing his approach; pushing to name a local post office after one of the most influential civil rights leaders in regional history is another.

Sunshine State News reports that Lawson seeks to rename the Kings Road post office after Rutledge Pearson; this play is backed by most of the Florida Congressional Delegation, with Rep. Ted Yoho the sole Northeast Florida exception.

Fifty years after his suspicious death, Rutledge Pearson is still remembered.

“Rutledge Pearson, a Jacksonville native, was an American history teacher, civil rights leader and distinguished baseball player,” Lawson said last week. “His legacy in Jacksonville, especially in the fight for civil rights, is long-lasting and this is a fitting way to honor his contributions to our community.”

Pearson was a former head of the state NAACP and instrumental in Jacksonville’s struggle toward integration. He died 50 years ago in a car accident in Tennessee.

Hold my mule

The reviews are coming in for Shirley Caesar’s fundraising gig for Corrine Brown — and the Florida Star, closely aligned with Brown throughout her career, gave Caesar high marks this month.

“Selling out 2,000 seats at Abyssinia Missionary Baptist Church. Before Shirley Caesar anointed the attendees with her presence. Guest had the pleasure of enjoying the small business Pop-up shop and praising with live entertainment from Phillip Mercer, Abyssinia Choir, Robert Hayes (Classical Mime), and Najee Ward,” the Star reports.

Corrine Brown’s post-prison future may be in concert promotion.

Nothing like the classical mime to warm up the crowd.

Brown faces sentencing in mid-November. One hopes the anointing doesn’t have a shelf life.

Rick Scott: FEMA could offer ‘advance payments’

More good news and clarity on the reimbursement front.

Florida Gov. Scott is also on board — and may be able to help expedite requests.

“I talked to the Administrator of FEMA about this last week,” Scott said. “They can do advance payments.”

Scott noted caveats, such as “still having to go through the process,” and that — if the reimbursement is not approved — cities have to pay the feds back.

“What I’ve told everybody is get it to our office. I’ll get it to FEMA,” Scott added, “and what they’ve told me was they’d work with cities or counties to [make] advance payments.”

Gov. Rick Scott, CFO Jimmy Patronis and Rep. Ted Yoho were in Orange Park Tuesday.

Jacksonville, at last count, has somewhere around $150M between operating and emergency reserve accounts — a good chunk of change in a $1.27B general fund budget, but one with caveats — including statutory minimum levels that must be maintained.

Jacksonville is still awaiting reimbursements from the federal government — 75 percent of an approximate $50 million in storm-related damage. Application technicalities, such as Jacksonville’s local commitments to small and emerging businesses and locational criteria for vendors, apparently are not something the federal government honors.

Duval delegation talks Irma aftermath

“Unprecedented devastation” brought by Hurricane Irma occasioned a special press availability of the Duval Delegation late last week.

Most everyone on hand will go to bat for the district; however, details — beyond a Rep. Jay Fant bill to enhance criminal penalties for looting during states of emergency — were scant.

Jacksonville media members were delighted by a late Thursday afternoon press avail.

Rep. Cord Byrd, who represents Duval and Nassau, has spoken with Sen. Marco Rubio, Rep. John Rutherford and Speaker Richard Corcoran about pushing the ball forward.

And Rep. Jason Fischer noted that “we as a state should do everything we can to fill the gaps left by” federal and local governments.

We asked Rep. Fant about the Speaker’s dispensation toward Jacksonville pushing for resources, given the tensions regarding Fant’s positions on Visit Florida and Enterprise Florida, incentive programs the Speaker and allied vigorously worked to scuttle.

“Legislators may disagree on legislation,” Fant said, but all are “still teammates,” especially in light of the “catastrophic” Irma.

Notable: the Florida Times-Union had two reporters on hand, but ultimately saw little of reportable value in the event.

Did prophets see Irma coming?

We’re not sure if the Duval Delegation agrees with Rep. Kim Daniels about whether prophets saw Irma coming as a manifestation of God’s will. We didn’t have the heart to ask them.

“Nothing happens except God reveal it to prophets first,” Daniels observed as the death-dealing superstorm enveloped the peninsula.

The “carnally-minded” won’t understand where Rep. Kim Daniels is coming from.

We asked Daniels about these comments. To sum, she stands by the claim.

“I wouldn’t post it on Facebook if I didn’t believe it,” Daniels said, feet away from where a massive relief fund was being rolled out for the storm she said prophets knew would happen.

Her musings are “for spiritually-minded people,” Daniels said, “and you can’t explain spiritual things to carnally-minded people … And I’m sure you won’t understand it.”

We asked Daniels why God would want Irma to hit Florida.

Her response: “You pray and ask God that.”

Fundraising roundup

It was easy to lose track of Northeast Florida political fundraising during Irma’s Hell Week; however, we have you covered.

In fundraising for local 2019 races, Jacksonville City Council candidate Matt Carlucci again outclassed the field; of course, he will be taking a break the next couple of months, dealing with Irma claims in his capacity as a State Farm agent.

Matt Carlucci will have plenty of insurance claims to deal with this fall.

Though not a declared candidate yet for re-election, Sheriff Mike Williams’ committee is now over $100K cash-on-hand … with the bail bonds industry offering an assist.

In other committee news, Currys committee hauled in nearly a quarter-million dollars in August … and in the process, he paid back Jags’ owner Shad Khan for travel to three cities’ sports districts for eco dev ideas for the Shipyards.

And on the state level, committees for Sen. Rob Bradley and Rep. Paul Renner likewise had strong hauls. Attorney General candidate Fant struggled, while the man who hopes to replace him in HD 15 — lawyer Wyman Duggan — had a respectable first month of fundraising.

Irma may cost Jax more than Matthew did

Jacksonville’s Chief Administrative Officer, Sam Mousa, was the first local official to give even a rough estimate of local budget impacts from Irma.

They won’t be pretty.

“We’re just beginning the recovery,” Mousa said, noting that damage could be “equal or a bit more than Hurricane Matthew.”

Sam Mousa spent part of his birthday talking Irma expenses this week.

Matthew cost the city $50M in general fund costs, and the city is still out $27M of unreimbursed FEMA costs; Mayor Curry said earlier this summer that the city could handle a Matthew-sized hit to the general fund, though it is uncertain what choices a “bit more” costs would require.

Worth noting: the city estimated, in the wake of Matthew, costs could be up to $100M; that estimate turned out — luckily for the city, given FEMA’s slow reimbursement — to be high.

“We’re still trying to get our arms around infrastructure damage,” Mousa said.

Curry still committed to kids’ program reforms

Of late, Jacksonville’s City Council committees have deferred Curry’s “Kids Hope Alliance” proposal.

But the bill isn’t dead, the mayor says. Rather, it’s being tweaked.

Council awaits the revised version of Lenny Curry’s latest reform proposal.

Curry called the Kids Hope Alliance bill “real reform,” saying “I will see it through to the end.”

“I’m not going weak on this,” he added.

Regarding discussion among some legislators that significant changes are needed to the bill to make it palatable, Curry stood his ground, saying the aftermath of Hurricane Irma led to a temporary pause in the reform push.

“I met with experts,” Curry said, “tweaking it. But the delay right now is storm-related.”

“Once we get through this hurricane stuff,” he added, “you’ll see the final bill and a discussion in city council in the near term.”

We asked if the entire seven-person board would be comprised of Mayoral appointees, as was the case in the originally filed legislation.

“I don’t want to speak to the final product until we get there,” Curry said, “but I think you’ll see that it accomplishes the intent that I said needs to be accomplished.”

Message discipline

Jacksonville got national coverage last week for massive flooding in downtown and beyond; while that had the benefit of getting Curry and various local journos into the national spotlight, that came at the potential expense of Jacksonville’s reputation for resilience.

In the Jax Daily Record, veteran journalist Karen Mathis asserts that “efficient recovery” involves getting the business community back on its feet — and that it needs to happen soon … and be messaged.

“Companies that want to expand and create jobs want to know that when disaster strikes, they will be able to quickly resume business and continue their payrolls, which is what their employees want, too,” Mathis writes.

“While Florida, Jacksonville and other cities are moving to reconnect people with access to their daily routines, media headlines might not relay that message nationally,” Mathis adds.

Curfew kerfuffle

The words “safe at home” had a new meaning in the wake of Hurricane Irma, as one Northwest Jacksonville apartment complex instituted a curfew.

Rep. Kim Daniels stopped by Washington Heights to see the curfew in practice.

Moncrief Road’s Washington Heights dropped a curfew over the weekend; the goal, “safety” in the wake of Hurricane Irma. Per Action News Jax, the curfew is somehow controversial with residents who had aversions to being locked in their houses past 8 p.m. every evening.

Washington Heights is one of a few Jacksonville complexes owned by Millennia Housing Management: the company took over the reins from troubled Global Ministries Foundation, which didn’t commit capital to physical improvements at complexes it owned around town (indeed, throughout the South).

Sewage slosh

In the wake of Hurricane Matthew, JEA faced opprobrium over sewage spills. Despite reinforcing its generator fleet, power failed at some locations in Hurricane Irma — and sludge seeped out onto Jacksonville streets.

Stews of sewage sludge coursed on Jacksonville streets after Irma.

First Coast News reports that “there were 57 known pollution incidents in Jacksonville during Hurricane Irma. More than 1.5 million gallons of sewage and wastewater was released out into the environment.”

FCN visited spills at a couple of locations, describing “a green, glistening stew of waste floating in the water of the creek and nearby roadside ditches” at one place near Fisher Creek on the Westside.

Jacksonville Councilman Bill Gulliford told us that sewage spills were one point of contention he had with the utility during this storm, in a wide-ranging interview that seemed to suggest JEA could use a different CEO.

When given a chance Monday to make critiques to JEA’s CEO at Council, Gulliford avoided this rhetoric; instead, he cast aspersions at an unnamed colleague, who allegedly gave a code for a Council-only conference call that wasn’t intended to be heard by media to a member of the press.

Meanwhile, Curry — when asked — sidestepped the question of whether JEA Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer Paul McElroy deserves a bonus this year.

“Now is not the time” for such a discussion, he said.

Curry urges JEA to improve customer communications and to develop a plan to that end.

What Aaron Bean is up to next week

On Tuesday, Sept. 26, state Sen. Bean of Fernandina Beach will participate in the Leadership Nassau Youth Opening Day Lunch and speak with participants about the importance of leadership and public service.  The event begins 11:30 a.m. at the FSCJ Nassau Center, 76346 William Burgess Boulevard in Yulee.

One Spark flickers out for this year

Hurricane Irma is to blame for One Spark being pushed back until next year, WJCT reports.

The festival will be held at EverBank Field in April.

“We have received dozens of requests from applicants who have been impacted for extensions and help,” said One Spark Ventures President Chris Carter.

“Right now, we want to be respectful and mindful of our community and the hardships they face by allowing people the time they need to focus on their homes and families first,” Carter added.

One Spark has been in a gradual process of being scaled back in recent years; the hope is that in 2018 and beyond, the event will break-even.

No charges for Vernell Bing Jr. killer

Jacksonville activists sought charges in the police-involved shooting of Vernell Bing, Jr. — However, a year and a half after Bing’s death, those charges won’t come to pass, First Coast News reports.

The lawyer representing Bing’s family notes that civil charges are likely, however.

“While I’m sure folks are going to be very disappointed, very frustrated, that there is another criminal case of a police shooting of a young black man on the streets of Jacksonville, I can tell you we intend — if they didn’t criminally — we intend to hold him accountable civilly,” the lawyer said.

Likely, State Attorney Melissa Nelson will get pushback from local activists, but not the kind that will hurt her appreciably in a re-election bid.

For her part, Nelson noted that “we have conducted a thorough review of this shooting incident and determined the shooting was justified under applicable Florida law. We have established new protocols for both how we review officer-involved shootings and how we report our findings to the public. These new rules include the creation of an officer-involved shooting review team comprising investigators and prosecutors, who collectively, have more than 350 years of experience; the release of a comprehensive report detailing our analyses; and the simultaneous release of all relevant public records. These steps are taken to ensure accuracy in our findings and transparency in our work. This is the type of commitment the public expects and the type this office will maintain for years to come.”

Nelson has developed a pattern of messaging around controversial cases with an exhaustive amount of detail; this is no exception.

Shad Khan makes Forbes list of ‘best business minds’

Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shad Khan was named one of The World’s 100 Greatest Living Business Minds by Forbes magazine. The magazine compiled the list for a special Centennial issue, which includes Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk.

“My business goals have been consistent with my personal goals, and that’s to be distinctive and not only be unafraid of doing difficult things but commit to doing those things well so they can inspire others and make a difference in the lives of everyone,” Khan is quoted in the piece.

Shad Khan, one of the 100 Best Living Business Minds.

In addition to owning the Jaguars, Khan is CEO of auto-parts supplier Flex-N-Gate Corp., owns London’s Fulham Football Club and the Four Seasons Hotel Toronto.

Khan bought the Jaguars in 2012 for $770 million, and according to Forbes, the club is now worth over $2 billion.

Jax Zoo Manatee Critical-Care Center welcomes first patients

Two manatees became the first patients at the new Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens $2 million Critical Care Center.

Dahlia Ghabor of the Jacksonville Business Journal reports: “Cassie and Buckeye weighed only 66 and 63 pounds when they were rescued. Now, Cassie is at 775 pounds and Buckeye at 625. The manatees will remain at the Jacksonville care center to continue their critical weight gain and monitoring until they are ready to be released in the winter.”

While the Center — one of four in the state — is not an actual zoo exhibit, visitors can view the recovery pool, which is adjacent to the Wild Florida exhibit.

The Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens $2 million Manatee Critical Care Center accepted its first two patients.

Craig Miller, the Zoo’s curator of mammals and chair of the Manatee Rescue Rehabilitation Partnership and leader of the zoo’s Marine Mammal Response Team, tells the TBJ that the facility will help reduce transport time for injured manatees back to warm water release sites.

“I get the sense from talking to guests that the community is pretty excited about this, because it’s something in their backyard,” Miller said. “We’re pretty excited about being able to help these wild animals. That’s what it’s all about for so many of us in this field.”

Armada suffer historic collapse in 3-3 draw vs New York 

For most of the match in Brooklyn Sunday night, the Jacksonville Armada FC seemed sure of taking home three points Sunday. But the New York Cosmos made a surprising comeback to force a 3-3 draw at MCU Park. It matched the Cosmos biggest comeback in the modern NASL history — New York came back from 3 goals down Aug. 8, 2015, to draw Fort Lauderdale 3-3 in South Florida.

A trio of moves led to the first goal in the 13th minute. Jack Blake launched a corner kick toward the front of the goal and Kalen Ryden headed it straight to Ciarán Kilduff, who gave the Armada FC a 1-0 lead.

Kilduff earned a brace in the 41st minute with his second goal of the night. Kilduff stole the ball from New York’s Danny Szetela and made a mazy run toward the goal, poking the ball past goalkeeper Kyle Zobeck for the second goal of the night.

New York was unable to capitalize on their limited opportunities and left the field trailing by two at halftime.

The second half began with back and forth action, but neither side found a goal until 20 minutes in. Zach Steinberger earned a penalty kick after going down inside the box, and Blake stepped up to the spot. He struck the ball past Zobeck for his eighth goal of the year ­— another new franchise record for the Armada FC.

The 3-0 lead for the Armada was short-lived, however.

The Cosmos’ Javi Márquez was first to chip away at Jacksonville’s lead. He cut the deficit by one for New York in the 79th minute after beating the Armada defense and slotting a shot home for a goal.

Ten minutes later, Ayoze tracked down a ball in the corner to keep it in play. Then he crossed it over to Eugene Starikov who headed it in just barely over goalkeeper Caleb Patterson-Sewell’s fingers. Entering second-half stoppage time, the Armada were handing on for dear life and eventually conceded.

In the final minute of the match, Juan Guerra took a shot just inside the 18-yard box to curl it into the back post and equalize the score.

Although leaving New York with a disappointing draw, the Jacksonville Armada remains one point above the Cosmos in the Fall Season and in fourth place in the combined standings, a position for a postseason slot in the Championship.

The Armada will now return home for two matches at Hodges Stadium. First, the team will face the Spring Champions, the Miami FC, Sunday, Sept. 24. Kickoff is scheduled for 4 p.m. and the club will also honor First Responders at the match. Then, the rescheduled match with Indy Eleven will take place Wednesday, Sept. 27, at 8 p.m. The Armada have not played a home match this month due to Hurricane Irma’s impact on First Coast.

Sunburn for 9.22.17 – NRSC does Bill Nelson wrong; Debris politics; Tim Tebow lends a hand; Ashley Moody’s big get; Last wknd in SD 40 spec. elex.

Sunburn – The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics.

By Peter Schorsch, Phil Ammann, Mitch Perry and Jim Rosica.

We like Katie Martin, the National Republican Senatorial Committees communications director, and usually enjoy her sharp-tongued releases. But her Thursday missive to the press, trying to link Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson to the deaths of nine South Florida nursing home residents amid Hurricane Irma, strained credulity, to say the least.

Sen. Bill Nelson speaks with Kimberley Clayton and her son, Austin Rice, on Sept. 21, 2017, in front of the Percy Peak Gymnasium in Fort Pierce, one of the remaining shelters open for those displaced by Hurricane Irma. Photo credit: Patrick Dove.

— “Bill Nelson doesn’t want you to know that he has ties to Jack Michel, the owner of Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills nursing home,” she wrote. “The connection between the two goes way back with Michel giving Nelson a campaign donation in 2012.”

— We’re sure if you scour the contribution records of Nelson, or any Florida pol, you’ll find all kinds of post hoc nefarious connections, or just head scratchers. In politics, today’s friend can be tomorrow’s enemy (or headache), and vice versa.

— That’s not to say Nelson is above reproach. As the Tallahassee Democrat’s Bill Cotterell points out: “Just as the Republicans tried for years to make Benghazi an albatross around Hillary Clinton’s neck, Nelson will remind voters that Scott fired the (state’s long term care) ombudsman and made ‘regulation’ a dirty word.”

— To wit, “Nelson said this week that ‘all the phone calls that had been made that were not answered, both to the government as well as to the power company’, would surely ‘come out in the criminal investigation’ of the nursing home deaths,” referring to accusations that Scott didn’t return the nursing home’s calls for help.

— And let’s not forget President Donald Trump, who said, “I hope this man right here, Rick Scott, runs for the Senate” in 2018, during a visit to Florida after the storm. Way to stay focused on the tragedy. Mr. President. As Cotterell put it, “Would a Florida politician exploit a ghastly tragedy to look good, or to make an opponent look bad? … Has a bear got hair?”


— @Fineout: @PoliticsTBTimes asked 4 potential GOP candidates for governor their position on Graham-Cassidy. None of them answered.

@SenBillNelson: Spoke with Gov. of Puerto Rico yesterday. Offered to help however we can, as our thoughts and prayers are with the people of Puerto Rico.

@MarcoRubio#PuertoRico estamos contigo. Vamos a hacer todo lo posible para que reciban la ayuda que necesitan pronto #HuracanMaria

— @SunSentinel: 10th person dies in Hollywood nursing home tragedy

— @BryanAvilaFL: Enjoyed visiting residents @MiamiSpringsFL Senior Center, where I informed them of the available post-Hurricane Irma assistance programs.

— @Fineout: 11 days after #HurricaneIrma hit nearly 25k homes and businesses remain w/o power. 19k are in Lee & Collier counties in southwest Florida

— @SteveBousquet: Are debris removal firms engaged in price gouging? Attorney General Pam Bondi wants to know

— @RichardCorcoran: Revealed: Hours after Hurricane Irma hit, Miami-Dade County issued 857 known notices that could result in fines. Outrageous.

— @LegIQ: .@MiamiHerald endorses @josefelixdiaz in upcoming special election

@10NewsWTSP: Tomorrow (today) is the first day of fall in #Florida. Do you know what that means? NOTHING. Absolutely nothing. It’s still 90° outside.

Read more

Last Call for 9.21.17 — A prime-time read of what’s going down in Florida politics

Last Call — A prime-time read of what’s going down in Florida politics.

First Shot

Now we come to the payoff.

Campaign-finance reports are due Friday for the Sept. 26 special elections in Miami-Dade County’s Senate District 40 and House District 116.

Republican Jose Felix Diaz, Democrat Annette Taddeo and no-party candidate Christian “He-Man” Schlaerth are vying for the Senate seat. Republican Daniel Perez and Democrat Gabriela Mayaudon are running for the House district.

Most eyes are on the Senate race, however, to replace disgraced ex-Sen. Frank Artiles.

He stepped down rather than face a hearing that could have resulted in his expulsion. Artiles, a Cuban-American Republican from Miami-Dade County, made national news after he accosted two black lawmakers, reportedly calling one a “b****h” and a “girl” in a dispute over legislation at a private club in Tallahassee, and using a slang variation of the ‘N-word.’

As of Thursday, Diaz had won the numbers game, showing a total of $1.05 million raised, with Taddeo at just over $190,000. Schlaerth posted a little more than $500 in contributions and $3,200 in loans.

Diaz also got a boost this week with an endorsement from his hometown newspaper, the liberal-leaning Miami Herald editorial board.

A conservative Republican, (Diaz) is not always beholden to ideology,” the paper said. “He has shown several times over that he can legislate as a moderate, working across the aisle and seeking compromise to craft laws that have real-time, street-level effectiveness.”

Evening Reads

Fed says Harvey and Irma will have no lasting economic impact” via Jeff Cox of CNBC

Claims for U.S. jobless aid fall as hurricane impact recedes” via Paul Wiseman of The Associated Press

Health Secretary Tom Price’s trip to Florida raises new questions about spending” via Alex Leary of the Tampa Bay Times

Was it a crime? 10 patients at nursing home died after Irma” via the Associated Press

Local lineman dies working to restore power after Hurricane Irma” via WFTS

Sources: Family court judge tops list to fill U.S. attorney post in Miami” via Marc Caputo of POLITICO Florida

Judge refuses to toss out ex-lawmaker’s conviction” via Jim Saunders of the News Service of Florida

Why Irma drained the water from Tampa Bay” via Craig Pittman of the Tampa Bay Times

Irma may speed the end of orange juice, America’s biggest source of ‘fruit” via Caitlin Dewey of The Washington Post

Quote of the Day

“I’m just doing my job … Always need a Plan B in this business.” — Agriculture Commissioner and candidate for Governor Adam Putnam, while serving breakfast to a group of Jacksonville elementary students on Thursday.

Bill Day’s Latest

Breakthrough Insights

Wake Up Early

Steve Seibert, interim executive director at The Florida Humanities Council, speaks at Café con Tampa. Admission is $12 (cash only), with breakfast buffet included. That’s at 8 a.m., upstairs at Oxford Exchange, 420 W. Kennedy Blvd., Tampa.

Sen. Dorothy Hukill, a Port Orange Republican, will speak at the Space Coast Symposium, hosted by the Greater Palm Bay Chamber of Commerce. That begins at 8 a.m., with the Hukill panel discussion at 11 a.m., Space Coast Convention Center, 301 Tucker Lane, Cocoa.

Associated Industries of Florida will hold the “Florida Water Forum,” with Sens. Rob Bradley and Debbie Mayfield, and Reps. Matt Caldwell and Rep. Jake Raburn, at 8:30 a.m., Loews Royal Pacific Resort, 6300 Hollywood Way, Orlando.

U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist will attend a ribbon-cutting ceremony for a new veterans’ mental health center. It’s at 10 a.m., Bay Pines VA Healthcare System, C.W. Bill Young Veterans Affairs Medical Center, 10000 Bay Pines Blvd., Building 111, St. Petersburg.

The Florida State University Board of Trustees is scheduled to meet. The board holds committee meetings starting at 8:30 a.m., with a full board meeting at 12:30 p.m. That’s at FSU’s Turnbull Conference Center, 555 West Pensacola St., Tallahassee.

Florida Sugarcane Farmers ready to ‘grow again’ post-Irma

Florida farmers may have just experienced the biggest crop loss event in state history, but Florida Sugar Farmers is determined to bounce back.

Our rural farming communities will recover, replant and we will grow again after #HurricaneIrma,” the group said on Facebook Thursday.

Florida Sugar Farmers included a video with the post that intercut descriptions clips of USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue, Ag Commissioner Adam Putnam and other public officials describing the record damage Irma brought to Florida’s agriculture industry.

“The devastation of this storm was probably greater and more catastrophic across this state than anything we’ve ever seen, and that’s what we want to come here to rectify,” Purdue said in the video. “We’ve flown over from Orlando down to see all the groves and the vegetables and the shade houses destroyed and roofs off dairy barns and things like that.”

Putnam, who is running for Florida governor, said the storm was a “widespread disaster that’s more than just what you’ll feel at the produce section of your grocery store.

Flanked by Putnam and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, the video also included a clip of Perdue saying his department will “expedite as much as possible” whatever help they can pull together while appealing to Congress for more Irma relief.

“These people are used to getting up after they’ve been knocked down,” Perdue said. “They’ll do it again, but we need to help ‘em and that’s what USDA is going to do.”

In the same post as the video, Florida Sugar Farmers praised Perdue, Putnam and Rubio, as well as U.S. Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart and Tom Rooney, state Sen. Denise Grimsley for being elected leaders who support Florida farmers.

Watch the video on Florida Sugar Farmers Facebook page.

Puerto Rico is tragic, but don’t forget about U.S. Virgin Islands

Puerto Ricans got their first view of the ruin brought on by Hurricane Maria, which swept across the island Wednesday, leaving a trail of destroyed homes, floodwaters, and 100 percent of the territory without power.

But they were not the only ones.

“Definitely Puerto Rico — when we can get outside — we will find our island destroyed,” said Abner Gomez, director of the State Agency for Emergency Management and Disaster Management (AEMEAD). “The information we received is not encouraging. It’s a system that has destroyed everything it has had in its wake.”

While officials warn it could take months to restore power to Puerto Rico and assess the full extent of Marie’s destruction — as with Irma before — it should also serve as a reminder that the Caribbean island was not the only unincorporated U.S. territory hard-hit by recent hurricanes.

“The United States Virgin Islands no longer has the air of paradise,” The New York Times reported last week on the aftermath of Hurricane Irma. “The Red Hook harbor in St. Thomas was desolate on a recent visit except for a few stragglers trying to evacuate. Newly homeless residents in Tutu Valley idled in 90-degree heat outside their ravaged homes.”

St. Thomas and St. John were two small islands particularly hard-hit as Category 5 Irma passed over the Virgin Islands, taking with it homes, buildings, boats and many vestiges of civilization. Four people died in damage described as “apocalyptic.”

And that was before Maria.

“I had three islands — St. John, St. Thomas and Water Island — devastated by Hurricane Irma, and St. Croix was our base for restoration and recovery,” U.S. Virgin Islands Gov. Kenneth Mapp told WBUR Thursday. “And then here came Maria, and Maria decided, well, she wanted a piece of the Virgin Islands as well, and so a good section of St. Croix on the western end really got hammered hard.”

Mapp also predicted it would take months to restore power to the entire island.

On Wednesday, communications are remaining down and the U.S. Virgin Islands Department of Tourism is investigating widespread wreckage and flooding left behind in St. Croix, St. Thomas and St. John — the hardest hit by Maria. Officials are also recommending tourists — the region’s economic driver — to postpone trips as they work to recover from back-to-back storms.

Puerto Rico may be now in the spotlight of disaster, but there was more than enough devastation to go around.

Nokia Phone in hand (Photo Credit: AP)

Nokia becoming major player in communications under Rajeev Suri

It’s been a little while since Nokia has been at the bleeding edge of the tech world, but Rajeev Suri has done quite a bit to put the communications company back on the path since he took over as CEO in 2014.

In an interview with Axios, the executive talked about his 10-year plan to put the company’s quibbles with competitors to bed and restore the Finnish brand’s name – and product lineup – to a place of prominence.

One of Suri’s major accomplishments this year was settling a years-long patent dispute with Apple, one of the companies that took the torch from Nokia in the cell phone market a decade ago.

That settlement ended up not only with Nokia receiving some up-front cash and ongoing payments, but was ended amicably enough that the two businesses are sitting at the same table when comes to forging new tech in digital health market.

What was once a legal headache is “now a collaboration,” Suri said. “We meet regularly and want to expand that.” The 49-year-old CEO can even be seen sporting an iPhone, which Suri pointed out is “just evidence of how well the relationship with Apple is going.”

Phones of course are what brought the Nokia name into homes worldwide, and for good reason. In their heyday, the devices – often compared to bricks aesthetically, but also for their unmatched durability – were considered some of the most reliable and high-quality pieces of kit consumers could get their hands on.

While the company isn’t diving head first back into the handset market, the brand name has been licensed out as part of a multi-year deal with fellow Finland-based company HMD Global.

That deal also brings in some cash for the company as it focuses on its modern goals of expanding its networking business and building new solutions in the virtual reality and health care markets.

And those goals are being reached.

In the past few years, Nokia has acquired and integrated the carrier networking businesses of Motorola, Siemens and Alcatel-Lucent and has been steadily climbing the ranks to become one of the top comms equipment providers for companies and government agencies everyone relies on – even Florida’s law enforcement communications network is built with Nokia products and technology.

Their network is also one of the strongest out there. According worldwide rankings from the Dell’Oro Group, Nokia ranks No. 2 in 4G/LTE, No. 1 in packet microwave radio systems, No. 2 in IP Edge Routing, No. 1 in copper broadband access and No. 2 in fiber access.

Even though consumers don’t see those iconic block letters above their phone’s earpiece nowadays, with Suri at the helm the communications world is starting to depend on Nokia as much as consumers depended on those lovable bricks a decade ago.

Hurricane demonstrated need to end newspapers’ monopoly on public notices

Since the inception of local newspapers centuries ago, classified advertisements have been one of the industry’s primary financial engines.

Then came the internet, and a website called Craigslist.

After that, the “better mousetrap” of online classified advertising has taken a significant toll on newspapers. According to a 2013 study, two business school professors concluded Craigslist bit a huge chunk of newspaper revenue between 2000 and 2007 — to the tune of $5 billion.

And as papers across the country struggle to stay afloat, the Florida Press Association is once again clinging to the last remaining remnant of a bygone era – public legal notices.

For years, Florida law requires that community issues — zoning changes, tax-delinquent properties, and other legal announcements – must be advertised in print. Under state law, such notices should run in a newspaper that is published at least once a week and is considered the county’s publication of record.

Local governments must issue public notices, giving citizens a heads up for meetings on a host of topics: budget amendments, judicial sales, zoning changes and more. This system has given Florida newspapers a monopoly, despite sagging circulation numbers as readers flock to online news outlets – many operated by papers themselves.

And on Jan. 24 – the third week of the 2018 Legislative Session – the FPA will make “their presence felt in Tallahassee,” advocating the status quo and signaling resurgence of a legislative battle over legal notices.

During the event – dubbed “Public Notice Day” – supporters will “educate” (read: lobby) legislators on the value of public notices and the role of the news media in the local community news.

But for the newspaper industry, that argument may be getting more difficult, particularly after last week, when Hurricane Irma ravaged Florida’s west coast and proved the indispensability of online news.

In times of emergency, internet-based resources – with its ability to inform large groups of people at once – outpace print media, which moves at a comparatively snail’s pace.

For example, while St. Petersburg was spared a direct hit, Mayor Rick Kriseman sent out “street teams” to keep residents informed in the “absence of power for TV news or internet.”

As Charlie Frago of the Tampa Bay Times tweeted: “@Kriseman says with TV news unavailable to many, there is no way to keep informed. He’ll send “street teams” to inform #StPete. @TB_Times”

The indictment of print media was not lost on fellow Times’ reporter Craig Pittman, who responded: “Gee, if only there were some other news source that didn’t require electricity. Maybe printed on paper …”

Of course, what Pittman fails to take into account is a distinct lack of newspaper distribution during a Category 3 storm. No one is delivering papers when residents are evacuating to shelters, but they are glued to their smartphones for the latest news online.

In 2012, state lawmakers rejected a Republican-backed proposal to move legal notices of foreclosures from print to the internet, thereby breaking a decades-long monopoly.

As one of the “no” votes to move legal notices online, Rep. Shawn Harrison said he was trying to preserve the “the last bastion of protection” for Hillsborough County seniors who rely on smaller papers for their information.

“I just don’t think we’re there yet,” Harrison told the Times’ Katie Sanders.

Try telling that to Craigslist.

For print media, publishing legal notices is one of the last remaining cash cows, something the GOP-led Legislature knows well. But lawmakers are not ready (or willing) to deregulate the newspaper industry and modernize the legal/public notices system.

As reported earlier this year, bills from Rep. Richard Stark (HB 897) and Sen. Linda Stewart (SB 1444) sought to allow cities and counties to end certain newspaper print and newspaper website notices (budget amendments, construction contracts, and so on), and permit them to post such notices on city or county websites. Both bills died in committee.

But simply moving public notices from published newspapers to government-sponsored sites is not the answer.

The right move is to break the monopoly have on legal notices, expanding the ability to post legal notices to any recognized news outlet, either print or online-only.

If the Florida Press Association recognizes a news organization – which has reached a certain threshold for editorial best practices – it should be able to post public notices. That is the kind of deregulation Republican lawmakers should get behind.


The Delegation for 9.21.17 — Insights from the Beltway to the Sunshine State

Repeal and replace: It’s back!

While most of the Florida delegation is busy helping constituents deal with the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, a common issue is arising from the ashes. Whether one wishes to call it Son of Trumpcare, Repeal and Replace 2.0, or Obamacare-lite, one thing is sure:

It’s back and appears to be gaining momentum.

The legislation, officially known as Graham-Cassidy, calls for sending huge sums to states via block grants instead of a federal government-driven entity. It is named after South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham and Louisiana Republican Bill Cassidy.

What has changed to give this a chance to pass? One of the sponsors might have something to do with it.

South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham and Louisiana Republican Bill Cassidy try one more time to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

Graham and Arizona Republican John McCain are kindred spirits. McCain, one of three GOP Senators who combined to kill the earlier effort, can expect an impassioned pitch from his close friend, Graham.

McCain previously said the opinion of Republican Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey would be important to him. On Monday, Ducey offered his support of the bill.

Despite that, McCain said he needs “a lot more information.”

The other two “no” votes, Alaska Republican Lisa Murkowski and Maine Republican Susan Collins, have not committed.

A new thorn has developed in the name of Kentucky Republican Rand Paul. After voting in favor of the last bill, Paul described the current offering as “Obamacare-lite” and will not support it.

Republicans could hope that moderate Democrats Joe Manchin of West Virginia or Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota are persuadable, but the pressure — or coercion — from Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and other colleagues would be enormous.

Democrats could lose a sure no-vote if the trial of Robert Menendez of New Jersey is still ongoing or he is found guilty of corruption. Menendez is staying in New Jersey for at least as long as the trial goes on. Cynics might suggest Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell could schedule a vote with that thought in mind.

Providing Hurricane Maria stays on a track that would seem to take it away from Florida, Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson would both be expected to all be in Washington should a vote be called. If none of the four hesitant Republicans are flipped, there won’t be a vote.

House Speaker Paul Ryan called Graham-Cassidy “our best, last chance.” He indicated the House would likely pass the measure — without amendments — if it clears the Senate.

AARP is telling senators that the bill “would increase health care costs for older Americans” and “jeopardize the ability of older Americans and people with disabilities to stay in their own homes.” Rubio said he needed to see the bill “but returning power to the states is something I’ve long believed in.”

Things are about to heat up. Again.

Rubio establishes Irma recovery centers around the state

The week, Florida’s junior senator dispatched his staff around the state, hosting Hurricane Irma Recovery Assistance Centers. They will be on hand to help affected residents sign up for assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Among the many private and public organizations taking part is Florida Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis. The CFO will host an “insurance village” at each center where property insurance companies will be on hand to help policyholders file claims or ask questions.

Marco Rubio, Bill Nelson hand out food to Glades residents affected by Hurricane Irma.

“My office stands ready to assist the people of Florida as they recover and rebuild after the devastation of Hurricane Irma,” Rubio said in a release announcing the centers. “The people of Florida are resilient, and I know that together we will get through these tough times. My office and I are here to help you.”

Centers opening this week are located in St. Augustine, Jacksonville, Naples, Fort Myers and Immokalee.

Participants range from the Red Cross, United Way, Catholic Charities of Florida, the Small Business Administration, several Florida state agencies, and numerous nonprofits, public entities and private corporations.


What role will Irma or climate change have in a Scott vs. Nelson matchup?

Via Ledyard King of USA TODAY: Irma has left Florida, but its destructive wake could blow political winds into next year’s Senate election when GOP Gov. Rick Scott is expected to challenge Democratic incumbent Bill Nelson.

From his disciplined requests that coastal residents evacuate before Irma landed to his tours around the state examining damage-scarred communities, Scott has generally won plaudits as a capable, empathetic commander in chief.

“The job he’s done is incredible,” President Donald Trump said of his close political ally during a stop last week in Fort Myers to tour hurricane damage. “I hope this man right here, Rick Scott, runs for the Senate.”

“The job he’s done is incredible,” Donald Trump said during a stop last week in Fort Myers. “I hope this man right here, Rick Scott, runs for the Senate.”

For Nelson, the size and intensity of the storm have afforded him an opportunity to spotlight the threat of climate change, a topic he’s increasingly emphasized as parts of the state face frequent flooding.

“The whole state has experienced this hurricane, and it’s going to be a reminder (about) the effects of the earth heating up,” Nelson said during an interview with USA TODAY. “It’s so obvious.”

Pundits say it’s too early to determine just how Irma will play out next November. And both Nelson and Scott have resisted invitations from reporters to connect Irma to next year’s campaign.

Steve Schale, a Democratic strategist in Tallahassee, said such speculation about Irma’s influence on next year’s election is overblown. He also thinks climate change, while a compelling issue, will be overshadowed by Floridians’ attitudes toward Trump.

“Off-year election cycles have been much more of a matter of referendums on what’s happening in Washington and the presidency than local issues,” he said. “The desire of Americans for more of the same or change after two years of Trump probably will define that race a hell of a lot more than debates over climate change or how Scott did over Irma.”

Paulson’s Principles: Disaster relief or just plain disaster

Disaster relief packages in Congress are items members generally love to approve. They can bring billions of dollars to their constituents and claim credit for its passage.

But, what if the disaster is not in your district or state. Do you support disaster relief because at some future point your district may need help, and you want other members to be there for you?  Or, do you vote for disaster relief based on what is in or, not in the disaster relief package?

The Florida congressional delegation faced this issue when voting for disaster relief for Texas after Hurricane Harvey and Florida after Hurricane Irma.

Two members of the Florida congressional delegation, Republican Representatives Matt Gaetz and Ted Yoho, voted against disaster relief for Texas and Florida. They argued that the bill was a bad political deal struck by President Trump and Democratic leaders Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi.

The deal not only provided disaster relief from the hurricanes but also extended the debt ceiling for three months and included a short-term budget fix to keep the government running until the end of the year.

Gaetz and Yoho were among the 90 House members who rejected disaster relief. Both said they would have supported a clean bill just for disaster relief, but they could not back the additional provisions that were thrown into the bill. “Only Congress,” said Gaetz, “ can find a way to turn a natural disaster into a trillion in new spending authority.

In fact, both Gaetz and Yoho voted for the original $8 billion stand-alone bill for disaster relief, but could not support the bill when funding was doubled and provisions extending the federal debt ceiling and budget provisions were added.

Neither Gaetz nor Yoho represent districts that were severely impacted by Irma. Eleven other members of the Florida delegation did not vote on the bill as they were in their districts preparing for Irma.

Miami’s Republican Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the only member of the Florida delegation in office when Hurricane Andrew struck in 1994, sent a “Dear Colleague” letter to other members asking them to back the disaster aid package for Floridians.

In many ways, such assistance is more critical to Florida than other states, because Florida has over 1300 miles of coastline, more than any other state in the continental United States. Florida has 2.5 million homes in hazard zones, and only 42 percent are covered by flood insurance. In fact, over the past five years, the number of flood insurance policies in Florida has dropped by 15 percent.

Strangely, in 2012, 14 members of the Florida congressional delegation voted against disaster relief for New York and New Jersey when Hurricane Sandy struck, including nine members who still hold office. For some reason, most members of the Florida congressional delegation look at Hurricane Irma differently than they looked at Hurricane Sandy.

I wonder what the difference could be?

Nelson, Rubio get their priorities into defense spending bill

The Senate passed its version of the National Defense Authorization Act on Monday with a large bipartisan majority. Both Florida Senators were able to insert amendments into the $692 billion bill which reflected their priorities.

Nelson is championing the cause of climate change. He helped insert language which calls for the Department of Defense to assess the readiness and capabilities of the armed forces following climate-related events.

Calling the role of climate change “an issue for national security,” Nelson quoted Secretary of Defense James Mattis, who said “Climate change is impacting stability in areas of the world where our troops are operating today.”

The three-term Democrat spoke from the Senate floor while the debate on the bill was ongoing. He also praised the work of Federal Emergency Management Agency, the military, and those who played a role in helping victims from Hurricane Irma.

Rubio touted the insertion of three amendments to the bill. The first requires the Department of Defense to assess damage to military bases from natural disasters and to request funding to restore the installations.

“Our military bases and assets in Florida are a key part of protecting America, so this measure is critical not only for our state but also our nation,” Rubio said in a release.

The second-term Republican also called for assessments in training capabilities involving cyber warfare and another designed to help those leaving the military earn college credits for pertinent experience.

The bill passed 89-8 with Nelson voting in favor. Rubio, who was still in Florida, did not vote.

With the changes made to the House version already passed, both chambers will appoint members to a conference committee to develop the final bill for passage.

 HHS Secretary visits Keys amid concerns for public health

With fear that a public health crisis is possible in the wake of Hurricane Irma’s devastation of the Florida Keys, U.S. Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Tom Price visited the area with Gov. Scott earlier this week. On Saturday, an Everglades City man died with the cause of death suspected to be living in a home with contaminated water.

Price and Scott met with local and state officials in Monroe County to discuss the continuing response and recovery efforts in the Florida Keys. The Keys are receiving assistance from numerous branches of the state and federal government including National Guard, the Department of Environmental Protection, Federal Emergency Management Agency, and Price’s HHS.

Gov. Rick Scott listens as U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price speaks during a visit to the Florida Keys.

Price, along with state and county officials, are dealing with issues of water infested with bacteria and mold that develops in houses made worse with 90-degree temperatures. Another Everglades City man nearly died after he cut his leg and waded through the water. The leg had to be amputated.

“To me, this is the scariest part of it,” said Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart of the 25th District, who toured the area with Scott on Saturday. “Any cut right now has to be treated as a serious health issue.”

NRCC to run ads targeting Murphy, District 27 Dems

National Republicans are launching internet ads attacking the Winter Park Democrat and the Democrats running in Florida’s 27th Congressional District over votes against a defense and anti-terrorism spending bill.

The National Republican Campaign Committee (NRCC) is launching four 30-second spots — two against Murphy and two generically against Democrats — that make it look and sound as if their no votes just made America far more vulnerable to terrorist and enemy attacks. They can be seen here and here.

Both ads, representing a six-figure buy funded by the NRCC’s “Young Guns” program, refer to House Resolution 3219, the defense spending act, dubbed “Make America Secure Appropriations Act of Fiscal Year 2018.” The House of Representatives approved the bill in July with an almost entirely partisan vote, so split because Republicans had included money for the U.S.-Mexico border wall sought by President Trump.

“House Democrats’ refusal to hold hostile actors accountable is simply irresponsible,” said NRCC Chairman Steve Stivers, a Congressman from Southern Ohio. “Our NRCC ads will ensure voters in their districts know that their representative voted to leave our country vulnerable.”

In February, the NRCC targeted 36 Democrats for defeat in next year’s midterm elections. Murphy and St. Petersburg Democrat Charlie Crist was on that list.

Nine of the 10 targets of the Young Guns ads are on the February list. While Murphy did vote against the measure, Crist was the only Florida Democrat to vote for the measure, leaving the group no avenue to target him with the ads. The generic ads for District 27 are the only ones where the group is trying to play defense for what will be an open seat, following the retirement of Miami Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.

Gaetz does not regret voting against hurricane aid package

Less than two weeks ago, the Republican from Fort Walton Beach was one of 90 GOP members voting against a $15 billion appropriation for Federal Emergency Management Agency to provide hurricane relief. The funding was lumped together with a three-month extension of the debt ceiling that now exceeds $20 trillion.

Gaetz, joined by Gainesville Republican Yoho in voting against the package, called the linkage “generational theft.” He said: “Only Congress can find a way to turn a natural disaster into a trillion new dollars in spending authority.”

“Generational theft” … Matt Gaetz has no regrets voting against an aid package for Hurricane Irma.

More than a week later, Gaetz still has no regrets for his vote. He pointed to his vote for $7.5 billion for Federal Emergency Management Agency in a stand-alone bill and would have voted for the full amount had it not been tied to the debt ceiling increase.

“The federal government obviously has a role in debt relief,” Gaetz was quoted by USA TODAY. “Congress relaxed its belt for over $1 trillion in spending authority. The debt ceiling is the only tool left for debt hawks to force entitlement reform. There’s no other tool.”

The first-term representative from District 1 also added he would vote for an additional relief package if it is not tied to raising the debt ceiling again. The federal government is currently funded until Dec. 8.

Gaetz announces $750,000 in grants for health clinics

The GOP Congressman from District 1 announced federal grants totaling $350,700 for health clinics in Escambia and Walton County in the Panhandle. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services awarded the supplemental funding to expand mental health services and substance abuse services focusing on treatment and prevention of opioid abuse.

Chandra Smiley, Executive Director of Escambia County Clinics Inc., said with the funding “our health center has the potential to positively affect the rate of drug-related deaths in our community.” Jamie Carmichael of the Florida Department of Health, Walton County added the assistance will “impact the onset or recurrence of mental health and substance abuse” and provide support for the underserved population of the county.

“I am beyond pleased to see public health practitioners in Northwest Florida taking full advantage of the resources available to boost mental health services and substance abuse treatment,” Gaetz said in a release announcing the grants. “Opioid abuse has ruined communities and families across many parts of the country.”

The Walton County facility will receive $350,000 and the Escambia County facility $350,700.

Congressmen join forces to host Federal Emergency Management Agency recovery assistance event

Three members of the delegation are coming together Thursday to help constituents affected by Hurricane Irma. Lakeland Republican Dennis Ross, Orlando Democrat Darren Soto and Okeechobee Republican Tom Rooney will provide answers to those needing assistance from Federal Emergency Management Agency to help them recover from their losses.

Federal Emergency Management Agency coordinators will be at the event to answer questions and provide direct assistance to those needing aid.

The event takes place at the Clear Springs Advanced Technology Center on the campus of Polk State College in Bartow. The event is scheduled for 3-5 p.m.

Soto named to Democrats’ jobs task force

The first-term Democrat from Orlando Soto has been named one of four co-chairs of a new jobs task force created by the Democratic Caucus in the House of Representatives.

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

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

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

Bilirakis to host roundtable on protecting seniors during disasters

The Republican from Palm Harbor will host a roundtable focusing on issues facing seniors and vulnerable Floridians during hurricanes. With the tragedy that occurred at the Hollywood, Florida nursing home, Bilirakis is looking for ideas to prevent Florida’s elderly population from being placed in dangerous situations.

“While common sense should dictate appropriate planning for our most vulnerable populations during emergencies, we have seen that this is not happening on a consistent basis throughout the state and here locally,” Bilirakis said. “The time for action is now in order to prevent future suffering and even death, which is why I am assembling leadership at all levels of government and among stakeholders in affected industries to facilitate much-needed changes.”

The invited included state elected officials, first responders, hospitals, elder advocates, directors of nursing homes, and others. The roundtable is set for Friday at 10 a.m. at the Pinellas County office of Bilirakis in Palm Harbor.

Crist tells National Weather Service employees he’s on their side

The first-term Democrat from St. Petersburg was already well aware of how unhappy National Weather Service (NWS) employees were about budget cuts proposed by the Trump administration.

But the St. Petersburg Democrat learned a whole lot more Monday about the concerns of career agency staffers over personnel reductions — specifically in Alaska. They say such cuts could damage the accuracy in forecasting storms and other major weather events.

“I’ve noticed that it’s under attack, but sadly a lot of things that make a lot of good sense are under attack in the recommendations from the administration,” Crist told members of the National Weather Service Employees Organization.

The group was holding its annual convention this week in St. Petersburg.

Charlie Crist learned a whole lot more this week about personnel reductions at the National Weather Service.

Crist has been an advocate for the NWS since he was sworn in. In June, he wrote to President Trump asking him to name a director of the National Oceanographic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), so that person can begin to fill vacancies in the weather service.

Within the letter, he praised the work of the meteorologists, but also pointed out that they are overworked and “morale is low.” The NOAA position remains unfilled.

Although Trump has proposed a budget cut of 5 percent to the NWS, officials with the agency say the reduction in hiring additional staffers goes back a decade, and they’re still not certain why.

Some NWS employees want Crist to push the chairman of the Subcommittee on Environment on the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee, Arizona Republican Andy Biggs, to hold a hearing based on the study released by the Government Accounting Office confirming the vacancy rate in NWS operational units has reached a point where NWS employees are “unable at times to perform key tasks.”

House approves Buchanan’s request for funds to fight red tide

The Sarasota Republican is one step closer to achieving one of his funding priorities this year. The House of Representatives approved Buchanan’s amendment to add $8 billion to financing for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in the fight against red tide.

Buchanan not only sought the funding for environmental reasons but also because red tide impacts tourism. He cited statistics that red tide leads to $80 million in economic damages to tourism.

“Southwest Florida is a beautiful, vibrant place to live and we need to address any threat to our pristine environment and way of life,” he said after the bill passed. “We need to understand more about the toxins in red tide so we can stop their damaging effects.”

The bill now moves to the Senate for consideration.

Mast touts $21 million to fight algal blooms

The Republican from the 18th District is working on obtaining $21 million in funding to address the ongoing problem of algal blooms. While the problem occurs in different parts of the state, the areas around Lake Okeechobee, along with nearby rivers and lakes are negatively impacted.

Mast was able to insert several amendments designed to fund efforts conducted through the Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Agriculture, the Food and Drug Administration and others.

“When the House passed my amendments in July to add more than $1 million in funding to combat harmful algal blooms, I promised that I’d keep fighting for more,” Mast said in a statement. “This money — more than $20 million — will go toward cost-effective solutions to this problem that has caused incalculable damage to our community.”

The amendments were part of the Make America Secure and Prosperous Appropriations Act. It now moves on to the Senate for debate and amendments.

One day before Trump, F. Rooney calls for significant reform at the U.N.

The Naples Republican got a one-day jump on Trump by offering his view on the future of the United Nations. Trump offered his views on Tuesday.

One day before Trump addressed the United Nations General Assembly, Rooney wrote an opinion piece that called for reform at the U.N. As Trump did in his speech on Tuesday, Rooney called out some of the inexplicable occurrences that take place.

“Venezuela, China and Cuba are among the worst human rights violators of the 47 (Human Rights Council) members,” Rooney wrote. “How can an organization supposedly devoted to human rights allow Venezuela membership while Nicolas Maduro is dismantling his nation’s democratic government and waging war on his people?”

Francis Rooney beat Donald Trump by a day in calling for reforms at the United Nations.

Rooney, like Trump, also questioned the U.N.’s effectiveness. He pointed to the growing bureaucracy while the U.S. continues to fund a significant share of U.N. operations.

“If the U.N. cannot quickly improve its legitimacy and effectiveness, the U.S. should reconsider the manner in which it funds and participates in the organization,” said Rooney, the former Ambassador to the Holy See.

Unlike Trump, Rooney did not weigh in on the issue of North Korea. The president now refers to North Korean strongman Kim Jong Un as “Rocket Man” and told the General Assembly the day could come when the U.S. would need to “totally destroy North Korea.”

He offered his hope that “Trump and U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley will continue to aggressively lead a transformation at the U.N.”

Personnel moves

U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue spent some quality time in August with Okeechobee Republican Tom Rooney. The Congressman from the 17th District toured areas of South Florida with Perdue to view ranchers’ efforts in land and water conservation.

At around that same time, Perdue announced a new press secretary for USDA. Meghan Rodgers, who had been serving as Rooney’s communications director, is already at work in her new role.

In addition to her time with Rooney, Rodgers also worked for Pennsylvania Republican Pat Meehan. She is a graduate of Villanova University.

A real-life battle in Washington

The political battles on Capitol Hill can sometimes best be described as “rough and tumble.” Especially these days.

Not far from the U.S. Capitol a real-life struggle pitted a 5-foot woman against two would-be muggers. When one of the two men involved tried to rob Roberta Rothstein, he got more than he bargained for.

Rothstein fought back, struggling long enough to attract the attention of neighbors, who came to her rescue. One of the men was quickly captured, while the other got away for the time being.

“Damn it, that’s going to change,” Rothstein said. “I’m not gonna make somebody coming up to me make me afraid; I’m not. That’s not gonna happen. My philosophy is if I don’t see a gun, I’m holding on to my stuff.”

This was the fifth mugging she has endured and was left with a black eye to prove it. But she kept her “stuff.”


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