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Bob Buckhorn crosses party lines to help Shawn Harrison’s bid for re-election

In 2016, Democrats targeted a handful of Florida House districts they believed they could flip from red to blue.

One of them was Hillsborough County’s House District 63, where the Florida Democratic Party put some money behind Lisa Montelione in her bid to oust Republican incumbent Shawn Harrison.

After a close race, Harrison ultimately prevailed, 51 to 49 percent.

Although off-year elections are traditionally harder for Democrats, there is hope that an energetic resistance to Donald Trump could make 2018 a year of opportunity.

But as Harrison already begins looking forward to getting re-elected next year, he’s getting assistance from one of the biggest Democrats in the region, Bob Buckhorn. The Tampa mayor is listed as a special guest at Harrison’s June 29 campaign kickoff fundraiser at the Tampa Theatre.

“I support people who support the City of Tampa and our legislative issues,” Buckhorn told FloridaPolitics.com in a text message. “Shawn has consistently been willing to advocate on behalf of issues that were important to the City, even if it meant going against their leadership of his own party. He never forgot what it was like to be a local elected official and has been a voice of reason in a political party that has made local government a target. It seems to me that we are all better served when our elected officials care more about their community that their political issues.”

Harrison has voted against the majority of his party in a few notable cases, such as when he supported a hybrid version of Medicaid expansion a few years ago. He also supported economic incentives for Enterprise Florida, a position Buckhorn backed and which earned him the public rebuke of Governor Rick Scott at an appearance at MOSI early this year.

As House Minority Leader, Tampa state Rep. Janet Cruz was charged with attempting to get as many Democrats elected to the House last fall. She’s also close with Buckhorn and had no issue with him backing Harrison.

“Nothing new,” Cruz told FloridaPolitics.com. “Buckhorn served for many years with Harrison on Council. I believe they became good friends then.”

With Americans saying that they’re tired of partisan bickering, some would say the Buckhorn-Harrison connection should be celebrated. However, that’s not the way some Tampa Democrats see it.

“Flabbergasted” was the term used by Hillsborough County Democratic Executive Committee Chair Ione Townsend after learning of the Mayor’s efforts.

“I’m disappointed because the mayor claims he’s a good Democrat,” said Hillsborough County Democratic Committeeman Russ Patterson, adding that he’s aware that Buckhorn and Harrison are friends. “Friendships are allowed to cross party,” he added.

“I’m not surprised,” said public relations executive Tom Hall, who teamed up with former Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink and others last year to form The Hillsborough Society, which raised over $40,000 to support local Democrats in Hillsborough County in 2016 and is actively recruiting candidates for 2018.

Hall cited Buckhorn’s support for Republican Pam Bondi against Democrat George Sheldon in the 2014 attorney general’s race, and his refusal to back Democrat Charlie Crist in the gubernatorial race that same year as moves that Democrats haven’t forgotten about.

“I think that those two were big mistakes, and the Democrats that I know and talk to have not forgiven him for that,” said Hall, adding that his group is looking for a good Democrat to challenge Harrison in 2018.

Buckhorn won’t be the only elected Democrat from Tampa at the Harrison fundraiser. City Councilman Frank Reddick is also listed on the fundraising announcement. Reddick endorsed Harrison over Montelione last year.

Montelione did not return a request for comment.

Pinellas Young Republicans to host annual convention in St. Pete this weekend

A host of top GOP leaders, including a couple of statewide candidates for 2018, will speak to a group of up and coming Party members this weekend at the annual Florida Federation of Young Republicans Convention.

Presented by the Pinellas County Young Republicans, the convention is June 9-10 at the St. Petersburg Yacht Club.

Among the weekend’s speakers are state Sens. Jack Latvala and Denise Grimsley, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, as well as presentations from Grow PAC and Innovate Florida. Putnam is now running for Florida Governor, Grimsley is looking to replace him as Agriculture Commissioner. Latvala, the Clearwater Republican who serves as Senate Appropriations chair, is also rumored to be considering a run for governor.

The weekend will feature a welcome reception Friday at the nearby Vinoy Renaissance Hotel, followed that evening by a brewery tour; business meetings and presentations will be Saturday, followed by a dinner event open to the public with Putnam as keynote speaker.

Tickets for the conference are $150, and a spot at the Putnam dinner reception is $100, available at pcyrs.com/annual.

A portion of the convention will include elections for new members of the FFYR Executive Board.

Announced candidates are Robbie Foster for chair, Megan Roach for vice chair, Kelley Treon for secretary, Nicholas Primrose for treasurer, Anibal David Cabrera for assistant treasurer, Matthew Oberly for assistant secretary, Paul Skinner for national committeeman, and Elizabeth Granite for national committeewoman, as well as Jessica Fernandez for executive director and Erik Arroyo for general counsel.

Latvala and Putnam are both Presenting Sponsors of the event, as well as Joe and Jo Ann White of the White Family Foundation, according to the invite.

Lincoln Sponsors include Reps. Chris Sprowls and James Grant, state Sens. Jeff Brandes and Bill Galvano as well as Innovate Florida, Young Floridians for Opportunity PAC, and former Ambassador Mel Sembler and his wife Betty.

Reagan Sponsors are state Sens. Grimsley and Greg Steube, House Speaker Richard Corcoran, state Rep. Danny Burgess, former Sen. Paul Neal, Mr. and Mrs. Michael Mikurak, LJ Govoni, Pinellas County Tax Collector Charles Thomas as well as the Marone Law Group, Grow PAC, Spoor Bunch Franz CPA Reusable Transport Packaging, the Republican Party of Hillsborough County, the Republican Party of Florida, the Manatee County Young Republicans, and the Orange County Young Republicans.

The St. Petersburg Yacht Club is at 11 Central Avenue in downtown St. Pete.

Gus Bilirakis hears plea from conservative groups to block hearing aid regulation

At the center of a battle over excessive government regulation is an unlikely source — hearing aids.

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and a handful of Republicans are crafting a Senate bill to create an over-the-counter category of hearing aids known as personal sound amplification products (PSAPs).

The hearing aid industry has come out strongly against the “Over-The-Counter Hearing Aid Act,” but further opposition has emerged from another unexpected coalition — Tea Party-aligned organizations such as Frontiers of Freedom, Conservative Leadership PAC, 60 Plus Association, Tea Party Nation and the Center for Freedom and Prosperity.

A letter Friday to U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, signed by more than a dozen conservative groups, denounces this attempt at new government regulation, stating PSAPs simply amplify sound and are not medical hearing aids and should not be regulated as such.

Among the reasons the group chose Bilirakis to garner support for their cause — he has a personal stake. As one of the estimated 30 million Americans with some degree of hearing loss, the Tarpon Springs Republican relies on a hearing aid.

In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration regulates the sale of all hearing aids. A doctor must prescribe the device, and custom hearing aids can cost thousands of dollars.

Supporters of the Act believe it will help make hearing aids more affordable by allowing over-the-counter sales. They say the bill will lower prices, spur innovation, and help people with mild-to-moderate hearing loss get devices to improve quality of life.

Not so, says the coalition; designating PSAPs as “over-the-counter” is misleading and unnecessary regulation. They argue PSAPs are unlike medical hearing aids in that they are designed specifically for people who have a medically measurable hearing loss. Medical hearing aids require a doctor to decide the degree of hearing loss and what is the most proper way to correct the problem.

“All hearing loss isn’t the same,” the letter says. “Doctors play an appropriate role in helping the patient find and tailor the right solution. These medical hearing aids are not used for snooping or songbird listening. They are specifically tailored to the patient.

“Warren wants to subject PSAPs to FDA regulation and explicitly lock states out of any role in the process, and then designate these PSAPs as available ‘over-the-counter’ as if that were some big, new innovation — conveniently failing to mention that they are already available to anyone at thousands of stores.

“Sadly, Sen. Warren’s bill will do nothing to give consumers and patients greater access or lower prices. And it certainly won’t lead to more innovation. A new layer of regulation is not a stimulator of innovation — it squashes innovation. What it will do is empower federal bureaucrats and lead to poorer health care by eliminating the doctor-patient relationship in finding the right hearing aid and tailoring it to the patient’s needs. Without a doctor’s input, serious hearing problems can go undiagnosed and if untreated, options and hearing can be forever lost without hope of recovery.”

The letter concludes with a call for Bilirakis to oppose the Act “in the best interests of Americans who want inexpensive and effective personal sound amplification products for their hobbies and personal interests.”

Joe Henderson: Bob Buckhorn says Tampa will join other cities honoring Paris Climate Accord goals

The pushback from mayors all over the country began almost immediately after President Donald Trump announced the United States will no longer honor its commitment to the Paris Climate Accord.

Medium.com reported Friday morning that 83 mayors from around the country have said they will commit their cities to following the goals that agreement, despite the President’s decree.

They signed a letter promising: “ … we will adopt, honor, and uphold the commitments to the goals enshrined in the Paris Agreement. We will intensify efforts to meet each of our cities’ current climate goals, push for new action to meet the 1.5 degrees Celsius target, and work together to create a 21st-century clean energy economy.”

Five of the mayors represent Florida cities: Van W. Johnson of Apalachicola, Richard J. Kaplan of Lauderhill, Philip Levine of Miami Beach, Buddy Dyer of Orlando, and Rick Kriseman of St. Petersburg.

Although he wasn’t included on that list, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn told me via text message he, too, will commit to having his city join that effort.

“Although the Paris Accord is more global in nature, every city has the ability to create policy that is appropriate for their particular jurisdiction,” Buckhorn said.

“Some cities are further along than others in developing comprehensive plans and metrics and there is always room to improve. This action by the POTUS is certainly an incentive to further refine those plans.”

Trump’s decision to pull out of the agreement has been widely panned around the world and at home — even in Pittsburgh, which the president held up as a reason for taking the action. The place once known as the “Steel City” for its reliance on that industry has transformed itself into a diversified center for medicine, banking, and technology.

In an interview on CNN, Pittsburgh Mayor William Peduto said of Trump, “What you did was not only bad for the economy of this country but also weakened America in this world.”

The issue of climate change is especially sensitive to Florida cities. Continued rising sea levels threaten coastal cities, and scientists say the risk of more numerous and powerful hurricanes is increasing.

Because of that, Buckhorn said, “ … all of our efforts will be accelerated. We will continue to lead.

“We are increasing investments in renewable energy and energy efficiency.  From lowering our carbon footprint, investing in equipment that uses renewable energy and trying to attract and grow clean energy jobs, Mayors can and should lead the way.”

Kathy Castor: Investigations on Russia, Trump administration are ‘cloud’ over D.C.

While there are many things both Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill want to accomplish, Kathy Castor laments the business of Congress has slowed considerably by what she calls a “cloud” over the Trump administration’s possible collusion with Russia during last year’s election.

“What an atmosphere it is,” the Tampa Democratic congresswoman said in opening remarks at the Oxford Exchange Friday morning.

“I hope we can remove this cloud. The economy is better. People are generally hopeful, they want America to be a world leader, and this cloud has got to go away, because I think that everything that we have going for us, as long as that cloud remains over the White House in Washington. We’re not able to reach our full potential.”

For months, Castor had been among Congressional Democrats calling for an independent commission to investigate allegations about members of the Trump administration and the Russian government. She called the recent Justice Department appointment of former FBI Director Robert Mueller to investigate the situation a positive development.

“I think that broke the fever a little bit,” she said, adding that the constant news revelations about Trump and the Russians have “stalled a lot of the business going on in the Congress.”

“There have been some things going on,” she acknowledged, “but the pace of lawmaking is much slower than I’ve seen over the past ten years.”

The Tampa Representative touched on just a few of those items not being covered in the media that she worries about, such as the president’s signing of a Congressional resolution repealing rules that would have required internet service providers to get customer permission to collect, use and sell information about one’s online habits.

Castor says the role of Congress should now be to do a “broader dive” into recommendations on how to prevent the interference of foreign governments into our elections. In March, former FBI Director James Comey told a congressional panel the FBI was investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election and possible links between the Trump campaign and the Russian government and whether there was any coordination.

No member of Congress has been more active in promoting relations between Cuba and the U.S. than Castor, who represents one of the largest Cuban-American communities in the U.S. She admitted that recent reports of the Trump administration being ready to roll back some of the major pieces of the Obama administration’s opening with Cuba and reinstating limits on travel and commerce, citing human rights abuses by the Castro government as justification for a more punitive approach.

“I’ve been an optimist on these until the last few days,” she confessed, charging Trump with being on a path “just to flex his muscles, notwithstanding logic and facts.”

“I think we are somewhat in risk of President Trump in his pledge to change Cuban policy and that would be a real shame for the families in this community and families across the country,” she added.

Castor’s appearance at the weekly “Cafe Con Tampa” meeting was, in essence, a regular town-hall meeting. It was the type of event she has eschewed in recent years, opting for events where she invites the public to meetings, meeting up on a one-on-one basis.

Traditional town hall meetings haven’t been scheduled very often after an explosive encounter with Tea Party activists during the discussions about the Affordable Care Act back in 2009.

All of the questions were of a friendly nature, including a softball from an official with the Hillsborough County School Board who asked her opinion of HB 7069, a charter-school-friendly $419 million school bill in the Florida Legislature that she had already vocally opposed. Public education officials and organizations vehemently opposed the legislation.

“What the Florida Legislature has been doing to our public schools is criminal, and we have got to stand up and fight for it,” she said, adding that it wasn’t too late to have people contact Gov. Rick Scott to veto the bill.

Former Hillsborough Judge Ashley Moody launches bid for Attorney General

Ashley Moody, who served a Hillsborough judge for more than a decade until resigning abruptly in late April, has filed as a Republican candidate for Attorney General.

Moody was elected to the 13th Judicial Circuit in 2006 at the age of 31, becoming the youngest judge in Florida.

Moody is a 1996 graduate of the University of Florida and received her J.D. degree from the UF College of Law in 2000.

She is the daughter of longtime federal judge James Moody Jr.

Another important note, Moody has already lined up GOP heavyweight Nancy Watkins to serve as her campaign treasurer.

Florida’s current Attorney General is Pam Bondi, who many speculated would join the Donald Trump administration. She is term-limited from running again.

Moody is the second Republican to enter the race. Jacksonville state Representative Jay Fant filed last month. On the Democratic side, Hillsborough County Attorney Ryan C. Torrens announced his candidacy last week.


Bill Gunter taking another stab at HD 37 seat

Bill Gunter, a pastor of the Redeemer Community Church in New Port Richey, will make a second run for the Florida Legislature, seeking the House District 37 seat being vacated next year by term-limited Richard Corcoran.

“Our great President Donald J. Trump has inspired me with his leadership and direction over the past year,” Gunter said in a statement. I will fight for the issues important to my fellow citizens if elected to serve in Tallahassee.”

Gunter won a GOP primary election in 2013 in the special election to replace Mike Fasano in House District 36 but ultimately lost to Democrat Amanda Murphy in the general election.

Gunter is the second Republican to announce their candidacy to succeed the current House Speaker in 2018. Earlier in the day, Elle Rudisill, an assistant state attorney for the 6th Judicial Circuit in Pinellas/Pasco counties, announced that she, too, would be running in the GOP primary to succeed Corcoran.

He is staking out his claim as the true conservative in the race, saying that his plan includes protecting second amendment rights, a strong immigration policy, lowering taxes and “decreasing excess government.”

Gunter grew up in Bradenton and played football under coach Steve Spurrier at the University of Florida in the early 1990’s.


Pinellas-Pasco prosecutor Elle Rudisill announces HD 37 run

Elle Rudisill, an assistant state attorney for the 6th Judicial Circuit in Pinellas/Pasco county since the fall of 2014, announced Thursday that she will seek the House District 37 seat in Pasco County to be vacated by term-limited Richard Corcoran in 2018.

“Today, I embark on an incredible journey of running as a Conservative Republican candidate for the Florida House of Representatives,” Rudisill said in a statement. “My first year in college, I decided I wanted to make a difference in the world around me and have been striving to make that difference every day that I can. Back then, I jumped head first into volunteering for grassroots and national campaigns, and I still volunteer to this day.

“For the past few years, I have had the privilege of serving as a Prosecutor right here in Pasco. Now is my chance to make even more of a positive impact for my hometown of Land O’ Lakes and Central Pasco County. Growing small businesses, educating all of our youth, and protecting Pasco will be my aim in Tallahassee.”

A 2009 University of South Florida graduate, Rudisill continued to get her J.D. from the Stetson University College of Law in 2013. Before going to the 6th Judicial Circuit, Rudisill worked as a legislative analyst for the Florida House of Representatives.

Activist group targets Republican Dennis Ross for ‘Putin us off’

Although Polk County Republican Rep. Dennis Ross easily won Florida’s 15th Congressional District each of the four times he’s been on the ballot since 2010, Democrats seem particularly energized in challenging him when he runs for re-election next year.

As previously reported by FloridaPolitics.com, no fewer than five Democrats have already filed to run in a primary next year, with the winner getting the opportunity to take on Ross in November of 2018.

A billboard in Brandon from Indivisible East Hillsborough County shows Democrats are particularly energized against Dennis Ross in 2018.

Indivisible East Hillsborough County is an activist group formed after last year’s presidential election. Frustrated by what they say is Ross’ inattention to that part of the district (which also includes Polk and Lake counties), the group placed a billboard in Brandon on State Road 60 across from the Westfield Mall, criticizing him for his lack of attention with the statement, “Congressman Ross, stop PUTIN us off!'”

“Republican Dennis A. Ross, has refused to hold a public town hall since the first congressional recess, especially following his crucial vote in favor of the AHCA, which critics argue could cause millions to lose their health coverage,” read a statement sent out by the group. “In addition, many feel that Ross, known for his support of President Trump, has not adequately addressed his constituents concerns over the growing scandal involving Trump and Russia.”

The group says that it has extended invitations to all candidates who plan to run for the CD 15 seat in 2018, regardless of party affiliation, including Ross, on to a forum this Monday, June 5 at 6:30 p.m. at the Lakeland Public Library.

However, they don’t want the candidates to speak at the event. Instead, they say the goal is for “constituents to voice their concerns and talk to the candidates about the issues that matter most to them and to the future of their district.”

A second billboard is now up in Lakeland, located a block from his office at South Florida Avenue and Schoolhouse Road.

A spokesperson for Ross declined to comment.

A second anti-Dennis Ross billboard appeared in Lakeland this week located a block from his office at South Florida Avenue and Schoolhouse Road.

St. Pete gets Army Corps of Engineers OK to build new Pier

St. Petersburg has finally received the official OK to rebuild the Pier.

This city received a permit Wednesday from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the last step to clearing the way for construction on the new Pier.

“The ‘New St. Pete Pier’ will be a dynamic extension of our iconic waterfront park system, and is sure to be enjoyed by residents and visitors from throughout the world for generations to come,” St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman said in a statement. “My thanks to my team, our government partners, and our community for getting us to this point.”

The 26-acre Pier District includes the pier, which will span 1,265 feet into Tampa Bay. The district also includes the pier approach from Spa Beach to city’s downtown boundary and along the waterfront from Pioneer Park and Beach Drive up to the Vinoy Renaissance Resort & Golf Club.

“With this permit in hand, the next stage of important work begins on our new St. Petersburg Pier,” said City Council Chair Darden Rice. “This is one of many critical steps to ensure the pier will be built in a sound way compatible with lessened impacts on the bay. Like so many others, I am excited to see construction begin on our pier.”

Council Member Karl Nurse added: “St. Pete has gone through an incredibly long process to build our fourth-generation pier. I believe our community will be happy with the new pier and uplands.”

As one of the world’s largest public engineering, design and construction agencies, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is behind many of the nation’s biggest public works projects such as dams, canals and flood protection.

A target date for completion of St. Pete Pier project is the end of 2018.

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