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WUSF’s Carol Gentry retiring from Health News Florida

Culminating a multi-decade career covering the complex topic of health care, Carol Gentry is retiring from WUSF Public Media’s Health News Florida.

Gentry single-handedly created Health News Florida in 2006 as an independent nonprofit health journalism publication, and in 2012, Gentry joined the WUSF family when she brought Health News Florida into the fold of WUSF Public Media.

Since the publication’s beginning, Gentry has asked the tough questions and informed consumers about the health care systems that impact people’s lives.

Her most recent story was an analysis of Florida doctors whose insurance companies have paid out multiple times on malpractice claims and exemplifies the kind of watchdog journalism she has conducted her entire career.

“It’s been a privilege to have Carol as part of the WUSF family,” said WUSF General Manager JoAnn Urofsky. “For years, she has been a trailblazer in the realm of non-profit health journalism. She not only helped shed light on the exceptionally complex topic of health care, she was able to untangle and explain how this important subject affected the lives of our audience. We will miss her wealth of knowledge and passion for investigative reporting, and we wish Carol only the best in her next chapter. Congratulations on a truly wonderful career.”

Gentry has four decades of experience covering health finance and policy. She has worked for a number of newspapers including The Wall Street Journal, the Tampa Bay Times, the Tampa Tribune and the Orlando Sentinel.

Dick Greco Jr. still considering a Tampa mayoral run in 2019

Retired judge Dick Greco Jr. says he is still considering running for Tampa mayor in 2019.

“I’ve been talking to some friends and family, and quite flattered, was very flattered that some people were asking me if I would be interested, so I’m just looking at all my options and that type of thing now,” Greco Jr. said Friday.

Greco is, of course, the son of Dick Greco, who served as mayor for parts of four different terms in four different decades. He came up 384 votes in 2011 of making the runoff to win a fifth term.

Greco Jr. first discussed his mayoral ambitions in an interview with the Tampa Bay Times’ Sue Carlton last month. He says he’s thought about running for “years and years,” but says he never felt it was the right time to leave the bench, where he served as a county and circuit court judge before stepping down in January,

He graduated from Auburn University and the South Texas College of Law. Greco was a prosecutor in Hillsborough for two years in the 1980s. He later worked in private practice and as an assistant county attorney. In 1990, Greco won election to the county court bench, where he stayed until returning to private practice in 2002. Greco served as a senior judge in 2008 before Gov. Charlie Crist appointed him to the county bench in 2009.

One thing that Greco Jr. would have to do if he were to actually get into the race is move back to Tampa. He purchased a retirement home in Homosassa several years ago, and after leaving the bench earlier this year, he sold his Tampa home. But he says he is definitely moving back to Tampa.

“I think Tampa is a dynamic town,” he says.

Former police chief Jane Castor, former state Representative Ed Narain, businessman David Straz and Council members Mike Suarez and Harry Cohen have all had their names floated as potential candidates when Bob Buckhorn’s second term expires.

“There’s some really great individuals who are thinking about doing it,” he says. “I think Tampa would do well with any of the names that I’ve heard.”

Greco Jr. does acknowledge that since he stepped down from the bench in January, life has been pretty good.

“I’ve really been enjoying retirement, and I’ve been able to travel some, and have my own schedule, and come and go like I wanted to,” he says, acknowledging that “it would be a great commitment.”

“But it’s a great thing to do should I decide to run and if I was to win it’d be a great way to serve,” he surmises.

Greco Jr. says he will make the first decision about a potential candidacy probably at the beginning of 2018.

Tampa Bay-area lawmakers, Lawrence McClure buddy up for joint fundraiser Sept. 20

Three Republican lawmakers and the leading GOP candidate in HD 58 will hold a joint fundraiser Sept. 20 in San Antonio, Fla.

Sen. Wilton Simpson, set to be Senate President for the 2020-22 term, will be joined by Tampa Bay-area Reps. Danny Burgess and Shawn Harrison, as well as HD 58 candidate Lawrence McClure for the event.

The reception will be held at the home of Marlene Sumner, the wife of deceased Pasco County lawyer Robert Sumner, and is joined on the host committee by her daughter Lorraine Nicolette and son-in-law John Nicolette.

For more information, or to RSVP for the fundraiser, send an email to anthony@simwins.com.

McClure is one of two Republicans running to replace Republican Rep. Dan Raulerson, who is leaving his seat Aug. 15 due to health problems.

The Republican-leaning seat has a qualifying deadline of Aug. 16 and has yet to draw a credible Democratic candidate, giving the winner of the Oct. 10 GOP primary race between McClure and Yvonne Fry heavy odds to win in the special general election on Dec. 19.

Simpson, Harrison and Burgess are currently unopposed in their re-election campaigns.

The invitation is below:


Ross Spano endorses Yvonne Fry in House District 58 contest

Ross Spano, who represents the Greater Brandon area in the House of Representatives, is endorsing Plant City businesswoman Yvonne Fry in the House District 58 special election.

“Yvonne Fry is the most qualified and well-prepared candidate to serve the residents of District 58,” Spano said on Friday. “We share a focus on education and small business issues. While I have been working to address these issues in Tallahassee, she has been hard at work here at home.

“Her knowledge, experience and conservative ideals will guide her as we work together to make East Hillsborough County a better place to live, work and raise a family. I look forward to serving with Yvonne in Tallahassee.”

Fry is engaged in a GOP battle for the seat against Plant City businessman Lawrence McClure. 

“Rep. Spano is and has always been a rock solid conservative voice in Tallahassee,” Fry said in a statement. “I cannot wait to have an opportunity to work with him to strengthen our education system and remove the burden of excessive taxes and regulations from our small businesses. I am extraordinarily grateful for his support.”

Earlier in the week, Fry was endorsed by Hillsborough County School Board member Melissa Snively.

Fry and McClure will are the two Republicans to announce their candidacy for the seat being vacated by Dan Raulerson, whose last day in office will be Aug. 15. The Plant City Republican is stepping down for health reasons.

The only Democrat to file for the seat so far is Jose Vasquez Figueroa, a long-shot candidate who has been unsuccessful in previous runs for state and local office. Libertarian Party of Florida candidate Bryan Richard Zemina also has filed.

The primary is Oct. 10, and the general election will be Dec. 19. District 58 covers much of east Hillsborough County, including areas of Plant City, Dover, Mango, Thonotosassa and Temple Terrace.

Vern Buchanan says momentum is growing for his bill to ban horse slaughter

Congress is just into the second week of a five-week summer August break, but that doesn’t mean lawmakers are staying idle when it comes to working on gaining support for legislation they’re sponsoring.

Take Sarasota’s Vern Buchanan, whose office announced Thursday that his bill that would ban the killing of horses for human consumption picked up its 150th co-sponsor in New York Republican Dan Donovan.

“The slaughter of horses for human consumption is a barbaric practice that must end,” Buchanan said.“We need to build on this momentum and get this bill signed into law.”

Last week, the SAFE ACT (Safeguard American Food Exports) was introduced in the Senate this month by Senate Republicans Susan Collins from Maine and South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham, and by Democrats Bob Menendez from New Jersey and Sheldon Whitehouse from Rhode Island.

The SAFE Act has been endorsed by the Humane Society of the United States, the Animal Welfare Institute and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

Although the slaughter of horses for human consumption is currently not allowed in the United States, the prohibition is temporary and subject to annual congressional review. There is no federal law prohibiting the transport of horses across American borders for slaughter in Canada or Mexico.

More than 100,000 American horses are exported to Canadian and Mexican slaughterhouses each year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Those horses are butchered and then transported overseas for consumption in Japan, Italy and other countries. More than 90 percent of these horses were healthy and in good condition.

The last horse slaughter plant in the U.S. shut down in 2007, and Congress has worked to keep them off U.S. soil every year by denying funding for required slaughterhouse inspections in its annual appropriations budgets.

Buchanan has received the U.S. Humane Society’s Legislator of the Year award for his strong record against animal cruelty.

Ben Albritton earns endorsement from Bartow officials

Republican Rep. Ben Albritton’s 2018 Senate campaign touted endorsements from a pair of Bartow elected officials Thursday.

Bartow Mayor James Clements and City Commissioner Trish Pfeiffer said they are backing the HD 56 lawmaker for the SD 26 seat currently held by Republican Sen. Denise Grimsley, who is running for Ag. Commissioner.

“Ben Albritton has served in the Florida House with vision and integrity,” Clements said. “He’s been there for Bartow when we truly needed his support. I’m confident he’ll continue to deliver for us in the Florida Senate.”

Pfeiffer said it was important for voters to put their “faith in someone that has the moral and ethical heart that will represent us and not forget about our interests here at home.”

“I may not always agree with the eventual outcomes of the tough decisions that political leaders are charged with making, but a well informed, educated leader and a candidate that remembers where he came from and who he represents makes it an easy choice. That is why I am endorsing Ben Albritton for the Florida State Senate,” she said.

Albritton said he was “grateful for the support” from the local officials and added that he is looking forward to “working with them and other local leaders across District 26 to make sure issues of importance in their communities receive the attention they need and deserve in Tallahassee.”

Albritton would have faced term limits in the Florida House in the 2018 cycle, which makes Grimsley’s planned early exit from the Senate quite fortuitous for the Wauchula citrus grower. So far, he is the only candidate to declare for 2018.

SD 26 includes the area currently represented by Albritton in the House – DeSoto, Hardee and part of Polk – as well as the whole of Glades, Highlands and Okeechobee counties and a small section northwestern Lee County.

There are about 27,000 more registered Republicans than Democrats in the district and much like the pre-redistricting SD 21 seat it replaced, Republicans dominate the district at the polls.

HD 58 candidate Lawrence McClure says he’s raised $90K in a week

HD 58 candidate Lawrence McClure says he’s already raised $90,000 for his campaign to take over for Republican Rep. Dan Raulerson, who is stepping down from his seat next week due to health problems.

McClure, a Plant City Republican, filed for the seat on the first of the month and said he already has enough petition signatures to qualify for the special election ballot. He also said his campaign was “very proud” of their fundraising effort one week into the race.

“In our first week we’ve raised over $90,000, which will help us spread our positive, conservative message to every corner of District 58,” he said in a campaign email. “With just over 60 days left before the Primary we are working hard to meet with each and every Republican voter and share with them our conservative principles.”

The Hillsborough County native works with local companies on environmental mitigation, oil spill cleanup and petroleum tank removal. He has been a member of the Hillsborough County Farm Bureau for the past two years and is currently serving as the bureau’s Building Committee chairman.

McClure will face Yvonne Fry in the Republican primary for the seat, which covers northwestern Hillsborough County from the borders of Pasco and Polk counties includes Temple Terrace, Thonotosassa and Plant City.

The special primary election will be held Oct. 10, with the special general election to follow on Dec. 19.

Fry, who filed at the tail end of July, has also announced she will qualify via petitions signatures, though she hasn’t touted any August fundraising numbers. Her first report, which covered the last four days of July, showed $7,250 in contributions, nearly all of which she had on hand at the end of the month.

Also running are Democrat Jose Vazquez and Libertarian Bryan Zemina, neither of whom have reported any campaign contributions. The qualifying deadline for the race is Aug. 16 at noon.

HD 58 has about 3,000 more registered Democrats than Republicans, though is has been firmly in Republican control since districts were redrawn in 2012. Vazquez is the only Democrat to make the general election ballot since then, and he lost handily to Raulerson in both 2012 and 2016.

Wengay Newton warns Tampa City Council about the threat to CRA’s

Brandon-area state Sen. Tom Lee and Lithia Rep. Jake Raburn rankled members of the Tampa City Council earlier this year after they learned of the legislative proposal that would ultimately prevent cities and counties from creating Community Redevelopment Agencies (CRA’s).

While the bill did not make it to Gov. Rick Scott‘s desk, it might next year, St. Petersburg House Democrat Wengay Newton warned Thursday.

“I know that after serving eight years on the City Council in St. Petersburg the value of CRAs,” Newton told the Tampa City Council, which acts as its CRA. “I’m a champion for them, but when they have bad actors … then that becomes chapter and verse for the whole state, and they’ll pass laws to kill them and get rid of them.”

CRA’s hold on to a set percentage of the property taxes paid by residents of a community and then invests that money back into the area.

As motivation for his legislation, Lee cited the mishandling of CRA funds in South Florida, which led to a bill that would have eliminated all of the state’s CRAs by 2037, as well as create additional oversight and reporting requirements for all CRAs statewide.

The City Council was already well aware of the bills earlier this year, which prompted Chair Yolie Capin to contact both Lee and Raburn to ask them to “reconsider.”

Newton told Tampa lawmakers he supported one part of the bill that would allow counties to clawback funds once the blight in the CRA was alleviated. “What that means is that once there’s no more blight, you can’t just be throwing money around because you got it and it’s there,” he said, adding that the council should be “mindful” of their own spending.

“The bill didn’t go anywhere, but I guarantee it’ll be back next session,” he warned.

Councilman Mike Suarez said he appreciated the sentiments from his fellow Democrat, but if Scott knows of malfeasance being performed by CRA boards, he said the governor has the power to remove those members. “If they’re not doing the right thing, have ’em remove those people.”

“If they’re not doing the right thing, have ’em remove those people,” Suarez said.

Capin added that Tampa CRAs have done nothing illicit, and would gladly testify to that in Tallahassee next year if needed.

“I want to offer us up as an example of perfection in CRA,” Capin said. “They can scold Miami-Dade all they want, but you’re looking at a commission that’s been very vigilant.”

John Dicks won’t run in HD 58 special election

Another state House election is likely to go without a credible candidate from the Democratic Party.

Former Plant City Mayor John Dicks said he won’t enter the race to replace Republican Rep. Dan Raulerson, who is resigning his seat effective Aug. 15, and so far no big names have shown excitement at the opportunity to run in the Hillsborough County seat.

“I consider public service to be both a calling and commitment and have been honored with the encouragement and support from so many. However, we have, right now, too many things going on in our lives (business, personal and family) to disrupt them for an unexpected and quick campaign,” Dicks said in an email to the Tampa Bay Times.

The special election currently has two Republican candidates, Yvonne Fry and Lawrence McClure, both of whom say they will qualify for the ballot via petition signatures.

The lone Democrat in the race, Jose Vasquez, is a perennial candidate who was trampled by Raulerson last year, and even attempted – unsuccessfully – to challenge the election in circuit court claiming Raulerson’s candidacy was invalid because his notary had used “correction fluid” on his filing paperwork.

Vasquez is the only Democrat to appear on the general election ballot since the district was drawn in 2012, and even he isn’t that committed to HD 58, which despite a GOP-lean has a few thousand more registered Democrats than Republicans.

After signing up to run, he said that he’s planning to move to term-limited Rep. Janet Cruz’s district for a 2018 campaign whether or not he wins the HD 58 special election.

The qualifying period for the race ends Aug. 16 at noon.

Kathy Castor weighs in (sort of) on abortion litmus test

California Gov. Jerry Brown believes the deciding factor for Democratic candidates should be intelligence, suggesting that as a litmus test, abortion would not be helpful nationwide.

“The litmus test should be intelligence, caring about, as Harry Truman or Roosevelt used to call it, the common man,” Brown NBC’s Chuck Todd on Meet The Press over the weekend. “We’re not going to get everybody on board. And I’m sorry but running in San Francisco is not like running in Tulare County or Modoc, California, much less Mobile, Alabama.”

Brown’s comments come at a time when Democrats nationally are debating the idea that support for abortion rights should be a requirement for candidates looking for Party backing.

As a strong supporter of abortion rights, Tampa Congresswoman Kathy Castor is somewhat ambiguous on this growing debate.

“I love the Democratic Party!” she exclaimed Tuesday after a visit to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers training facility. “But women’s health issues and the ability to control our own bodies is one of a whole host of issues, and I don’t think in America and in any political party you can say there’s a litmus test for anything, but people certainly have the right to say that this is important to me and judge those candidates based on their position.”

Discussion of a litmus test began after Ben Ray Lujan, chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), recently told The Hill that the Party will not withhold funding from candidates who do not support abortion rights, as Democrats attempt to win back the House in next year’s midterms.

Lujan’s comments have ignited a firestorm from abortion rights supporters.

“Women’s health & rights are nonnegotiable — incl. access to safe, legal abortion,” Planned Parenthood head Cecile Richards tweeted last week. “We’ll hold any politician who says otherwise accountable.”

Former DNC Chair Howard Dean expressed similar outrage, tweeting: “I’m afraid I’ll be with holding support for the DCCC if this is true.”

“The Democratic Party is supposed to be the party of equality, freedom and justice. You cannot deny those guarantees to women and call yourself a Democrat as far as I’m concerned,” wrote Susan Smith, chair of the Florida Democratic Progressive Caucus. “If the DCCC and DSCC and DNC don’t make that clear, then don’t expect us to support your anti-choice candidates or your organizations.”

According to a recent survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, three-quarters of Democrats (75 percent) support abortion rights. Overall, 57 percent of Americans support a woman’s right to choose an abortion, which is “as high as it has been in two decades of polling,” Pew reports.

Democrats need to win 24 seats in the 2018 congressional midterm to retake the U.S. House. Some areas where they may be able to win over GOP seats are in socially conservative Southern states. When asked if she could find herself supporting a pro-life Democrat in a congressional contest next year, Castor couldn’t answer that without other factors to consider.

“It would really depend on that candidate and their background and their position on a whole host of issues,” she said.

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