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Kathy Castor fears how NIH budget cuts will affect USF, Moffitt Cancer Center

President Donald Trump’s proposed federal budget cuts funding calls for a sharp increase in defense spending while making significant cuts to a variety of domestic programs.

When asked Monday what might be the worst part of the plan in her eyes, Congresswoman Kathy Castor said it might just be the proposed $5.8 billion reductions in funding to the National Institutes of Health (18 percent of its total budget). Most of the NIH’s budget goes to funding research in health care in universities across the country.

“It’s hard to pick out the worst part,” the Tampa Democrat replied when asked what concerns her most about the preliminary budget, which is expected to be revised when after the Congress gets involved.

“For this community, I would hate to see us take a step backward at Moffitt Cancer Center and USF on medical research, because they’re finding the treatments and cures for the future,” she said.

A trickle-down effect of reduced NIH funding, Castor added, would mean the exodus of “a lot of brilliant young people” who work at those institutions.

The proposed Trump budget would also cut the Environmental Protection Agency by 31 percent.

“Add in the devastating cuts to the EPA at the time where we’re trying to protect the health of Tampa Bay after St. Petersburg had some very serious issues with service overflow,” she said.

“This is a community that relies on clean water and clean beaches as the backbone of our economy,” Castor said, “and you begin to eliminate the commitment of the government to keep our air and water clean, that will only hurt jobs and the economy around here.”

During the transition period, Democrats in Florida and around the nation said that they could work with the new president on an infrastructure spending bill.

“If there ever were an opportunity for us to potentially find common ground with the new president, it would be over infrastructure,” Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn said a few days before Trump was inaugurated in January. “Because for us, infrastructure is the lifeblood of what we do. We can’t grow this country’s economy, I can’t grow this city’s economy without adequate roads, bridges water and sewage systems.”

However, the Trump budget proposal unveiled last week includes a plan to eliminate a $500-million-a-year program that helps rural communities build and improve water, sewer, trash and street drainage systems. It also cuts a $500-million-a-year program that was created in the federal stimulus package of 2009 to finance a broad range of projects, from replacing bridges to building car lanes. And it would also cut funding for new rail or bus lines.

“I’m very disappointed,” Castor said about the lack of infrastructure spending in the proposed plan. “We have huge needs here in the Tampa Bay area.”

“Here’s a president who talks one thing — ‘oh, we’re going to have a huge rebuilding plan in America,’ and then the first budget comes out, and there’s nothing there. So his rhetoric is not matching what he promised,” she said.

White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney admitted last week that the preliminary budget might appear to contradict Trump’s statements as a candidate and as president

Mulvaney said the White House is targeting “inefficient programs” and will shift funds into “more efficient infrastructure programs later on.”


Pirate invasion to mark Hillsborough Day at Capitol

Members of the Hillsborough County Legislative Delegation will celebrate Hillsborough Day at the State Capitol in Tallahassee March 22.

The daylong event will bring many of the county’s most beloved attractions and traditions to the capitol for Florida lawmakers to enjoy, while showcasing all that the community has to offer.

Visitors to the State Capitol will include local city and county officials, prominent area business people and representatives from the Hillsborough County Public Schools. Several nonprofit organizations, Visit Tampa Bay, as well as leaders from popular tourist destinations are also expected.

During the morning hours, attendees will have the opportunity to sit in on committee meetings, visit with their local representatives, and if the Legislature is in session, watch the proceedings from the gallery of the House or Senate.

A special lunchtime meet and greet is scheduled for the Capitol Courtyard complex with exhibits from the Straz Center for the Performing Arts, Busch Gardens, Florida Aquarium, the Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI) and Lowry Park Zoo. Members of the nonprofit Big Cat Rescue and the Early Learning Coalition will also be in Tallahassee to discuss their missions.  Tampa native and “The Voice” contestant, Shalyah Fearing, will perform as guests enjoy 1,500 authentic Cuban sandwiches, delivered straight from Tampa.

The highlight of the afternoon is expected to be a Gasparilla-style Pirate Invasion at the State Capitol. Pirate-costumed members of Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla will arrive in on a parade float search of even greater bounty.

“Hillsborough County has such great resources and a lot to offer visitors statewide,” said organizer Louis Betz of Louis Betz and Associates. “This day allows us to share with the rest of Florida all the wonderful places, organizations and people that make our community so unique. It also gives local leaders and community members the chance to meet their state representatives. When lawmakers to see people from back home, it often puts a face to an issue.”

True to the city’s Latin roots, House Minority Leader Janet Cruz of Tampa will host a coffee and guava pastry reception for Hillsborough Day attendees beginning at 3 p.m. followed by a public reception at the Governor’s Club from 5 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.

After a 10 year absence, Hillsborough Day was revived in 2014 and has taken place annually. The local legislative delegation has been unified in their involvement and support of the event to highlight the rich heritage of Hillsborough County.

Hillsborough Day is open to the public and all are invited to attend.

Bob Buesing contemplates 2018 rematch versus Dana Young

Bob Buesing may be looking for a rematch.

One of the most bitter races in all of Florida politics last year took place in Hillsborough County’s Senate District 18, where Democrat Buesing faced Republican state Rep. Dana Young and independent Joe Redner.

Although Democrats believed Young was vulnerable to a serious opponent she ultimately defeated Buesing 48 to 41 percent. Redner finished a distant third with 9.5 percent.

With redistricting, half the state’s 40 Senate seats are up for re-election again next year, and Buesing said Friday he is considering another run against Young in 2018.

“It’s not about me, it’s about what’s best for the community,” said the 63-year-old Buesing, a longtime attorney with the law firm of Trenam Kemker who before last year had never run for public office. “I’ll make a very reasoned decision, and once I talk to a lot of people, try to do what’s best for the community and if nobody else on the team is going to do this, and somebody needs to do [it], then I’ll think about it.”

Buesing figures to improve his performance in 2018, especially if Redner is not part of the equation.

The adult entrepreneur and progressive activist ran a serious campaign, spending more than $330,000 of his own money and producing several television ads attacking Young. Although Buesing and Hillsborough Democrats insisted Redner’s support would come equally from both Democrats and Republicans, Buesing unquestionably would prefer he not be a factor in 2018.

“I met with Joe Redner and he looked me in the eye and said he’d be proud to endorse me,” Buesing said. “And said he’s not going to run.”

“If she is her opposition, I will back him,” Redner confirmed in a separate conversation. But Redner questions whether Buesing is the right Democrat to run against Young.

“I don’t think he’s the person for the job,” he said. “I don’t think he’s aggressive enough. But anybody but her. At least his heart is in the right goddamned place.”

Between her own campaign contributions and her political committee, Young raised more than $2 million, while Buesing took in more than $500,000 on his own. His PAC, Floridians for Early Education, raised another $133,000.

“It is interesting that she only got 48 percent of the vote after spending millions and millions of dollars on a false attack smear campaign,” Buesing charges. “With spending that kind of money, she only got 48 percent?

“Sounds to me like it’s an opportunity.”

One of the biggest issues in 2016 were attacks made by Buesing, Redner and third-party environmental groups accusing Young of a pro-fracking vote she made during the 2016 Legislative Session.

Throughout the campaign, Young defended her vote by saying it was actually against fracking. That House bill, which was opposed by environmental groups, sought a one-year moratorium on fracking while the state performed a yearlong study on the practice and its effects on drinking water in advance further regulation.

“I do not support fracking in Florida,” she had told the Tampa Bay Times in September 2016. “I will never support fracking in Florida.”

On the campaign trail, Young promised that, if elected, she would propose unambiguous legislation in the Legislature to ban the practice.

This year, she did just that. In January, Young introduced SB 442, which prohibits “advanced well stimulation treatments; clarifying that permits for drilling or operating a well do not authorize the performance of advanced well stimulation treatments,” among other things. The bill is currently in the Appropriations Subcommittee on the Environment and Natural Resources. A companion bill has been filed in the House by Orlando Republican Mike Miller and Tampa Democrat Janet Cruz (HB 451).

“She had six years to do that bill,” Buesing said. “I’m glad she did. It’s good for the community that she did, but what about the 99 other issues?

“I view this district as much more moderate and sensible that where she’s been on these issues, so now we get to see what her record looks like.”

When contacted later, Young stayed above the fray.

“I’m focused on doing the job the voters in my district elected me to do,” she told FloridaPolitics.com. “I am not focusing on the next election cycle. If I continue to do my job, the rest will sort itself out.”

Thousands show for Vern Buchanan town hall

Congressman Vern Buchanan was greeted with a huge turnout – and chants, boos and cheers – during a town hall meeting.

The Herald-Tribune reports that critics of President Donald Trump and the GOP agenda in Congress packed the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall and peppered Buchanan for more than an hour with sharp questions Saturday. Nearly 1,800 people attended the event.

The event mirrored town halls held by GOP lawmakers across the country, which have drawn large, boisterous crowds of people unhappy with the direction of the federal government.

Most of the questions focused on Trump and the GOP effort to replace the Affordable Care Act, but the audience also brought up issues ranging from gun control to climate change and means testing Social Security.

Julianne Holt expresses concerns about Rick Scott’s move on Aramis Ayala

After Rick Scott removed Orange-Osceola State Attorney Aramis Ayala from the case of accused cop killer Markeith Loyd after she announced she would not pursue the death penalty in his or any other case during her tenure.

Later, Dover House Republican Ross Spano called on Hillsborough County State Attorney Andrew Warren to condemn Ayala’s actions. 

Warren refused, saying that he would seek out the death penalty only in “rare cases that are so heinous, atrocious, and undeserving of mercy as to be considered the worst of the worst in our society.”

At the Tampa Tiger Bay Club Friday, Warren was asked again about his thoughts on the case. He responded with essentially the same thing — the issue was between the governor and Ayala.

Warren did acknowledge “prosecutors have the discretion to make charging decisions or the decision not to charge, the sentences that we seek, within each municipality, locality and jurisdiction. and the exercise of that discretion is critical to having a well-functioning criminal justice system.”

That prompted a more provocative reaction from Hillsborough County Public Defender Julianne Holt, a Democrat like Warren.

“As an elected constitutional officer, I am given broad discretion on how I  run my office,” she began. “If I abuse that discretion, if I do things that are illegal, unethical immoral, things of that sort that rise to a certain level, then the governor has the ability to remove me, suspend me. If I’m charged with a criminal offense, the governor can take action.

“But it is extremely scary to me to think that if one person is unhappy with the decision that Mr. Warren makes in our community, decides to hold a news conference and be critical of him, that the next thing he would get is a message saying you’re removed from that case, somebody else is going to come in to my community and take that case.

“The next time he’s in a similar position, is he going to exercise his discretion, or is he going to be doing because he’s fearful of what may come from Tallahassee?” she asked. “I want him to keep his discretion.”

Her response was met with loud cheers from the Tiger Bay audience.

Joe Gruters says he’s a long shot for CFO position, but appreciates the mention

Sarasota GOP Chair and state Rep. Joe Gruters said he is a “long-shot” to be Gov. Rick Scott‘s choice to succeed Jeff Atwater as Chief Financial Officer once Atwater leaves the office in May.

On Wednesday afternoon, Gruters appeared on Tampa Bay area radio station News Talk 820 WWBA with guest host David Jolly, who formerly represented Florida’s 13th Congressional District.Gruters had shown loyalty to Scott and President

Jolly said Gruters had shown loyalty to Scott and President Donald Trump when he backed both candidates when they were considered outliers within the GOP, and Scott would reward such loyalty by picking Gruters to succeed Atwater later this year, Jolly said.

“Well, Congressman, that’s so nice of you to say,” Gruters responded, as Jolly laughed.

“Even to be mentioned with some of these other names that are being popped up is an incredible honor,” Gruters continued. “I don’t know who it’s going to be. My guess is that I’m a long shot candidate, there’s other great candidates like (Jacksonville Mayor) Lenny Curry, Pat Neal, who’s a great friend of mine in Manatee County who would be a strong 2018 contender.

“But here’s the deal: you never know. Listen, I’m going to continue to fight for jobs and economic development no matter what the position I’m in, whether it’s state House or anything else.”

“Joe, you’re a winner in Florida politics,” replied Jolly, who was guest-hosting for Dan Maduri. “It wouldn’t surprise me if either now or in the future, we’re talking about Joe Gruters in a Cabinet position.”

Atwater announced he will leave the CFO position after the regular Legislative Session ends in May. Scott has given no indication about who he will select to replace him.

St. Pete man accused of murdering 7-week-old; abuse was to ‘toughen’ child

Jeremiah Dillard

The father of a 7-week-old girl told police he pinched her cheeks and squeezed her ribs to make her “tough.”

Instead, the St. Petersburg infant died in September after suffering a brain hemorrhage, fractured ribs, broken clavicle and split lip, according to police documents obtained by FloridaPolitics.com.

J’Lena Dillard was taken to John’s Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in the early hours of Sept. 24, where she was pronounced dead.

According to the medical examiner who conducted the autopsy, J’Lena died of “asphyxia with contributing conditions of blunt trauma and malnutrition,” said an arrest affidavit and warrant obtained by FloridaPolitics.com.

Jeremiah Dillard, 33, told St. Petersburg Police the injuries to her lip and an ear, which were lacerated, resulted from pinching and squeezing her cheeks and face. The injuries to her ribs and collar bone were because he was playing too hard with her, wanting to toughen her up, even though she was severely malnourished.

To explain that, he told detectives he was “slacking off” on feeding the child while her mother, Shefe Cotton, was at work.

After being read his Miranda Rights, the affidavit said, Dillard “admitted he was too tough with (J’Lena) and he was responsible for (her) death. The defendant also admitted he was the sole caregiver when the victim sustained the above injuries and (J’Lena) was in his custody when (she) died.”

A spokesman confirmed Dillard is expected to appear for an arraignment Monday on charges of first-degree murder in a Pinellas County courtroom.

Dillard also admitted he was smoking marijuana around the child the night he killed her, too.

“Pinellas-Pasco associate medical examiner Wayne Kurz ruled Jan. 26 that the baby’s death was a homicide caused by asphyxia and contributing factors were blunt trauma and malnutrition,” The Tampa Bay Times reported Wednesday. “His autopsy report noted multiple traumas to her head and scalp.”

It was roughly four and a half months later — Feb. 8, a day after investigators interviewed him again — that he volunteered he was at fault in his daughter’s death, but that it was unintentional. He was not arrested at that time, records show.

On Feb. 9, the medical examiner told police J’Lena’s body showed signs of aging, which indicated a history of abuse.

On Feb. 10, police asked Dillard to turn himself in. He was arrested in the early morning house of Feb. 11 after returning from Gainesville to see his grandmother, police documents show.

He had a previous arrest for child abuse in 2012, according to the arrest affidavit. The Tampa Bay Times reported ” Gainesville police records said Dillard beat his 14-year-old niece with a belt for talking back. The girl showed swelling and redness on her back, forearms and hands. She told police a toenail was torn off by the belt buckle.  Gainesville police said Dillard told them: ‘That’s how our daddy did it and so do we.'”

Jessica Sims, the spokesman for the Department of Children and Families (DCF), said J’Lena had never come in contact with the child welfare system and that any history relating to Dillard’s background was confidential pending an investigation. He and Cotton had another child together, which child welfare investigators took into custody, the Times reported.

DCF Secretary Mike Carroll issued a statement via email to FloridaPolitics.com Wednesday.

“This child’s death is disturbing, and we are heartbroken that this community lost such a young child,” he said in the statement. “The Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office is conducting a child death investigation as the agency that handles all child protective investigations in Pinellas County, and remain available to assist police in any way possible.”

Dana Young says Bob Buckhorn should support utility legislation

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn says a bill co-introduced by Tampa state Senator Dana Young would take away local control of public spaces, but Young says that the mayor has it wrong in his concerns about what the bill will actually do.

“Telecommunications companies are pushing SB 596 and HB 687, legislation that would allow them to place small refrigerator-sized equipment, and even towering poles, on public rights of way. If passed, local governments would have no control over where this communications equipment would be placed or how it would look,” Buckhorn writes in an op-ed published in the Tampa Bay Times. “This idea tramples on the authority of the very local officials you entrusted to make decisions about how your community, and all others in Florida, look and feel.”

The bill, named the “Advanced Wireless Infrastructure Deployment Act,” is being sponsored in the Senate by Palm Coast Republican Travis Hutson, chairman of the Senate Regulated Industries committee. It would prohibit the Department of Transportation and certain local governments from prohibiting, regulating or charging for placing small wireless facilities in rights of way. It also says that local governments can’t require applicants to perform services unrelated to the approval that’s being sought, like reserving fiber or pole space for the governmental agency. It also says that local governments can’t ask the applicant to “provide more information to obtain a permit than is required of electric service providers and other communications service providers that are not wireless providers.”

“When public officials consider where structures may be located, they evaluate many factors, including a community’s character, the safe installation of such facilities, and the cost to the taxpayers,” Buckhorn writes in his op-ed. “The proposed legislation directly negates this by allowing telecom companies to construct equipment with no concern about how they affect our neighborhoods, public safety, or local budgets.”

Buckhorn adds that the legislation also “diminishes communities. The legislation would interfere with a community’s ability to maintain its unique character, and would hand the telecom companies license to create permanent eyesores.”

But Young says that the legislation only addresses wireless equipment that would be installed in “existing right-of-ways where utility infrastructure exists today.”

“The bill does nothing to change a local government’s ability to preserve historic areas like our own Ybor City, nor does it affect the power of cities and counties to regulate siting of new infrastructure and equipment as they do now,” Young tells FloridaPolitics.

“This bill originated because once providers began to upgrade to 5G infrastructure some local governments put in place a moratorium to actually block innovation. If the mayors of our cities and towns want to stay on the edge of innovation and for their constituents to have access to the highest speed wireless services they will support this bill,” Young says in a statement. “This bill will bring our state into the next generation of wireless technology with many applications. To do this we must be flexible so Tampa can stay on the cutting edge of technology.”

The bill is being sponsored in the Florida House by Lake Wales Republican Mike LaRosa, where it was heard in the House Energy & Utilities Subcommittee on Wednesday.

The bill has the backing of telecommunications giant AT&T, among other pro business groups. Associated Industries of Florida called it “good public policy” in a statement offered Wednesday, saying that it “will spur increased investments in the state, attracting innovative and technologically advanced companies to Florida.”

Joe Ayoub wins solid victory to return as Safety Harbor mayor

Joe Ayoub will again serve as Safety Harbor mayor, after decisively defeating City Council member Janet Hooper by more than 30 points in Tuesday’s municipal elections. He will replace Mayor Andy Steingold, who had retired from local politics.

“We have a special city and I absolutely love serving our community,” Ayoub said. “it is humbling and an extreme honor to become your next Mayor. I am ready to roll my sleeves up and get to work to protect our small-town charm and give a voice to all of our residents.”

Unofficial results from the Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections show Ayoub received 3,001 votes, just under 66 percent of the 4,579 votes cast.

In a statement Tuesday evening, Ayoub vowed to continue a “thriving downtown, a waterfront park that is usable and attractive for all residents” as well as “laser focused on keeping taxes low and our spending is in check. I am looking forward to working with the Commission to improve Safety Harbor for all residents.”

Nick Janovsky, Ayoub’s campaign manager, added: “Safety Harbor voters have spoken with a resounding message and they want a fiscal hawk with a proven track record who has a vision for progress as their Mayor by electing Joe Ayoub with 66 percent.

“I’m proud of the issues based campaign Joe Ayoub ran and his hard work to give all residents a voice in city hall,” Janovsky continued. “Joe is a rising star and I can’t wait to see the results he brings Safety Harbor and Pinellas County in the future.”

From March 2007 to January 2013, Ayoub was a City Council member, before chosen as mayor, a job he held until March 2014, losing re-election to Steingold.

In his bid to return to City Hall, Ayoub received bipartisan support, earning endorsements from both former Florida chief financial officer Alex Sink, a Democrat and Neil Brickfield, a Republican.

As a Countryside High School graduate, Ayoub earned an accounting degree from the University of Florida and a master’s degree from the University of South Florida. The 26-year Safety Harbor resident serves as CFO at Data Blue.

Joe Gruters calls Republicans to ‘pack seats’ at Vern Buchanan’s Sarasota town-hall meeting Saturday

Sarasota-area Democrats have waited several weeks to engage GOP Congressman Vern Buchanan; they’ll finally get their chance at a town-hall meeting Saturday at 11 a.m. in the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall.

But will there be a counter presence of Republicans packing the seats?

Anticipation around the meeting is so strong that Buchanan’s staff announced last week they would move the event from the New College Sudakoff Center to Van Wezel, which has a capacity of over 1,730 seats.

If it’s anything like most other town halls held around the nation in 2017, it could be dominated by rowdy Democrats demanding to know why Buchanan is ready to jettison the Affordable Care Act for the American Health Care Act, which received mixed reviews from many congressional Republicans as well as a dismal score Monday from the Congressional Budget Office.

“This is an important first step toward restoring choice and affordability to health care for all Americans,” Buchanan said upon the unveiling of the bill. “This bill replaces a failing government-run program that forces people to buy insurance with a system based on choice, free markets and competition.”

Although Buchanan has famously said he has conducted more than 70 such town halls since being elected in 2006, this will be his first one this year. During the congressional weeklong break last month, Buchanan was in the Middle East, prompting some Democrats to say he was blowing them off.

That’s hardly the case, but it could be a different element than what is the traditional mood at a Buchanan town hall.

In an effort to have adequate support, Sarasota County Republican Executive Committee Chair Joe Gruters sent a notice to his fellow Republicans, calling on them to attend Saturday.

Although the event doesn’t start until 11 a.m., Gruters’ email message asks Republicans to come early.

“Doors open at 9 and we need Republicans packing the first rows,” the state House District 73 representative said to his GOP brethren. “We are expecting a full house!!”

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