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Nick DiCeglie hosting March Madness fundraiser

State House candidate Nick DiCeglie is holding a fundraiser during the height of March Madness, and attendees are encouraged to wear some flair for their favorite team, be it an alma mater or a Cinderella.

The fundraiser is slated for 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at the Angry Pepper Taphouse in Seminole, 9366 Oakhurst Road.

Attendees are encouraged to wear the logo of their favorite tournament team, so those on the bubble may need to wait until after Selection Sunday to pick out their attire.

DiCeglie’s invite didn’t say what logo he’ll be wearing, the invite did list his March Madness team, which includes Carol Bumiller, Diane Blum, Janice Hill, Carol Williams, Ann Muller, Diane Nelson and Mary Erickson-Tweiten.

Those looking to attend can RSVP by emailing rick@politicalcapitalflorida.com.

While aren’t set for March Madness, voters have a little bit better of an idea of who’ll be facing off in the House District 66 race.

DiCeglie, a Republican, is running for the coastal Pinellas County seat currently held by termed out Republican Rep. Larry Ahern.

He faces St. Petersburg attorney Berny Jacques in the GOP primary for HD 66, while Democrat Alex Heeren and Reform Party candidate Paul Bachmann are so far uncontested in the primary.

The winner of the Republican Primary will be the undisputed No. 1 seed in the general election – HD 66 has is a safe Republican seat.

Through the end of January, Jacques held the fundraising lead with nearly $108,000 on hand between his campaign account and political committee, Protect Pinellas.

DiCeglie, who runs Clearwater-based trash removal and recycling company Solar Sanitation, had about $64,000 on hand in his campaign account through the same date.

The invitation is below.

DiCeglie Fundraiser 3.15.18

House passes USF consolidation plan

The three independent campuses affiliated with the University of South Florida network could soon be consolidated under one accreditation.

The House passed a bill Monday afternoon that, if signed into law, would require two smaller auxiliary campuses, USF St. Petersburg and USF Manatee/Sarasota, to become part of the main USF Tampa campus by July 1, 2020.

The idea was introduced into the Legislature in January by Estero Republican and Majority Leader Rep. Ray Rodrigues. The original bill, HB 423, was rewritten into an amendment and lumped into SB 4 before passing the House.

The consolidation plan comes ahead of the state’s decision to begin awarding preeminence dollars to USF. The money is doled out when state universities excel at performance-based metrics.

Some have worried that the new money will not be equally distributed to the two campuses outside of Tampa, should the consolidation plan become law.

In January, Pinellas Republicans Rep. Chris Sprowls and Sen. Jeff Brandes asked in a public letter whether the preeminence benefits would help the two consolidated campuses.

Rodrigues assured lawmakers on the floor that the preeminence money would be distributed fairly. But St. Petersburg Democratic Rep. Ben Diamond still has concerns.

Ahead of the vote, Diamond said the Legislature is walking back on a 2006 decision to separate the three locations following concerns that the two satellite campuses weren’t being funded properly.

“This is an issue that has a long and complicated history which we are reversing course on in the matter of a few weeks,” Diamond said. 

He said the plan is well-intentioned, but he’s worried that the bill was not adequately vetted by the public and those overseeing campus operations.

“We did not get to discuss this idea with students and faculty in legislative delegation meetings,” Diamond said. He said that even the USF St. Petersburg president was surprised when Rodrigues unveiled HB 423. 

Causing further speculation is that only one of the 13 university board members lives in Pinellas, Diamond said.

The amendment was adopted, and the House passed SB 4 with 84 yeas and 28 nays.

René Flowers adds endorsements for Pinellas School Board re-election

Pinellas County School Board Chair René Flowers picked up three endorsements Monday for her re-election campaign to the District 7 seat.

Flowers picked up nods from Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch, St. Petersburg City Council Chair Lisa Wheeler-Bowman and Mt. Zion Primitive Baptist Church Pastor Dr. G. Gregg Murray.

“Students from all over the county are in need of a strong advocate who can adamantly and assertively address concerns related to education and propose solid solutions,” Welch said. “Solutions such as pairing students with mentors, assuring that there is a nurse in every school, recruiting early for the best and brightest teachers, and reducing the suspension rates by embracing Restorative Justice/Restorative Practices into the school system.

“For these reasons and many more, it is my honor to endorse Rene Flowers for the Pinellas County School Board District 7 seat — doing so assures our community that they will have a voice at the table.”

Wheeler-Bowman added she has found Flowers to be “a strong advocate for the community she represents, especially for the students of Pinellas County Schools.”

“As a grandparent of a student attending Melrose Elementary School, I can attest first hand to the forward movement of the district. The partnerships with the City of St. Petersburg for after school programs in the Campbell Park Community, increase in family support services, and the decrease in juvenile arrests are examples of the success of her tenure,” she said.

Murray said Flowers was “a tireless champion in her District 7, the city of St. Petersburg, and throughout Pinellas County.”

“Rene very deservedly presently serves our county as Chairwoman of the School Board. Some may not know this fact, but Rene has volunteered for over the past 13 years to speak to youth in the school system about health education and making positive choices. She has positively impacted our youth far beyond the expectations of a School Board member,” Murray said.

Flowers is running for her second full term on the school board.

She was first elected in 2012 to serve out the remainder of deceased School Board Member Lew Williams’ term.

She won that election with 77 percent of the vote over Glenton Gilzean, and in 2014 she took 96 percent of the vote against a write-in opponent.

School board elections are nonpartisan and will be on the Aug. 28 primary election ballot.

Pinellas commissioners want a ban on assault weapons

With local governments in Florida prohibited from regulating firearms, the Pinellas County Commission is making it clear where it stands on several specific gun-control issues that have emerged since the massacre at Parkland nearly three weeks ago.

The board discussed a series of proposals at its February 27 meeting, and in a letter sent to Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson on Friday, laid out its support for these measures:

— Raising the age to 21 for the purchase of any firearm;

— Requiring a universal background check, including for transactions that occur at gun shows;

— Banning assault-style weapons, including semi-automatic rifles that have the ability to accept a high-capacity magazine, and are equipped with a pistol grip, including on all AR and AK-like models;

— Prohibiting possession of firearms from individuals who are a threat to themselves or others as deemed necessary by a judge;

— State and federal funding to provide for a minimum of one School Resource Officer at every school, without budget reductions to other critical school programs or resources;

— State and federal funding to invest in school hardening, without budget reductions to other critical school programs or resources;

Florida lawmakers enacted a statute in 1987 that gave the state the exclusive right to regulate guns and ammunition. After some local governments went ahead and passed their own gun ordinances, the Legislature passed a law in 2011 that threatened local government leaders with fines of up to $5,000 and removal from office if they dared to adopt or enforce any local gun ordinances.

Hillsborough County Commissioner Les Miller says he will propose a ban on assault weapons in Hillsborough County at this week’s Board of County Commissioners meeting, in defiance of state law.

Skip Campbell, the mayor of Coral Springs, announced last week that he will push for a constitutional amendment that would ban assault weapons.

On Saturday, the Florida state Senate rejected nearly four dozen amendments proposed by Democrats — from banning assault weapons, creating a registry for guns, allowing local governments to pass stronger gun laws and requiring background checks for gun purchases outside of the state, to prohibiting the sale and transfer of large-capacity magazines.

Illinois U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos to keynote Pinellas Democrats event March 24

Illinois Democratic Rep. Cheri Bustos will appear in Clearwater later this month to keynote the annual Pinellas County Democrats’ Prelude to Victory Dinner.

Bustos was one of just 12 Democrats to win her seat in the same district that President Donald Trump won in 2016, though nobody did it better, as she took Illinois’ 17th Congressional District by more than 20 points.

Several Democratic political observers consider her the “future of the party,” and her success in winning in Trumpland earned her a recent profile by POLITICO’s Michael Kruse.

The Pinellas Democratic Executive Committee says that Bustos was recommended to speak at the event by Pinellas Congressman Charlie Crist, who says she’s “great.”

“She’s an amazing leader. She has a great message. Very common-sense oriented. I think she’ll do a great job,” Crist said Monday morning.

Bustos is also involved in recruiting candidates as chairwoman of heartland engagement for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Despite her blowout election victory in 2016, Bustos’ congressional seat is still being targeted by Republicans. The National Republican Campaign Committee targeted her seat as one of the most vulnerable to going from blue to red in 2018 and ran ads against her last fall after the GOP passed its tax reform package.

Bustos speaks Saturday, March 24, from 6:30 – 9:30 p.m. at Kapok Special Events Center in Clearwater.

Charlie Crist sells downtown St. Petersburg condo

Charlie and Carole Crist have sold their condo in the Parkshore Plaza building in downtown St. Petersburg.

The couple, who are going through a divorce, sold the condo to Susan and Daniel McGeown for $1.35 million, about $300,000 more than they paid for the property when they bought it in mid-2015.

The Crist real estate transaction was first reported by the Tampa Bay Times.

When the Crists put the condo on the market back in June, the list price was $1.5 million.

Last year, the Crists sold their St. Pete Beach home for about $1 million. That sale also produced a tidy profit of about $100,000 over what they paid for the home.

Charlie Crist announced last year, shortly before he took his seat in Congress, that he was filing for divorce.

He and Carole have been married since 2008, and were together during Crist’s change from a Republican governor, to an independent U.S. Senate candidate, to his current role as a Democratic U.S. Representative.

“I think the world of Carole. She’s an amazing person. It just didn’t work out for us,” Crist said at the time.

Despite announcing their split in February 2017, there have not been new actions in their divorce case for several months; the pair are still married.

Email Insights: Dana Young a no-show on assault weapons vote

Tampa Republican Sen. Dana Young got slammed by her Democratic re-election opponent in a Saturday email for not voting on an amendment that would ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.

Tampa attorney Bob Buesing said the move was “not surprising” given Young’s “A” rating from the National Rifle Association, but still said the lack of a vote was “profoundly disappointing.”

“Last week, we witnessed an incredible outpouring of passionate testimony before the Senate Rules Committee by students, teachers, and others deeply affected by the tragedy at Stoneman Douglas High. Still, the Republicans killed the amendment,” Buesing wrote in the email.

“Today, a similar amendment came before the Senate floor in a special Saturday session, and Dana walked right out of the chamber as the vote was called.

“Dana has made it clear: she will protect the NRA’s priorities at all costs, including the safety of our school children, and she’s not afraid to walk out on her responsibility as a Senator in the process.”

Buesing is currently Young’s only opponent for re-election to Senate District 18, which covers part of Hillsborough County.

Buesing also ran in the 2016 election and lost to Young 48-41, while two NPA candidates – Joe Redner and Sheldon Upthegrove – received more than 10 percent of the vote.

Redner, a Tampa businessman, said he is not running for the seat in 2018 and would instead back Buesing’s candidacy.

Tom Lee ‘fed up’ with Joe Negron, top down leadership

An embittered Sen. Tom Lee on Friday said the Legislature’s rank and file is “getting crumbs” from leadership and “they’re fed up about it.”

Senate President Joe Negron later countered he’s “proud of the process,” saying “everyone is entitled to their opinion.”

Lee had disagreed with a provision in the House’s big education bill (HB 7055) and offered an amendment to soften union decertification language that critics have called union-busting. The amendment went down on a 19-19 tie.

After the floor session, Lee – a Thonotosassa Republican expected to run for Chief Financial Officer this year – vented with reporters, bemoaning the top-down leadership on both sides of the Capitol rotunda.

“I’ve never seen this place get so transactional, where people are getting locked down on votes, and we’re just getting going here,” said Lee, who was Senate President in 2004-06. “You’re going to have a gun bill that law enforcement’s against, the NRA’s against … members from rural districts are in a headlock because they’re being instructed to vote for it.

“I’ve just had enough … I’ve struggled to get things out of this institution … and it’s petty and I am fed up,” he said. “I didn’t come up here to get bullied; I didn’t come up here to ‘follow directions.’ I came to represent my constituents.”

“It was entertaining political theater,” Senate budget chairman Rob Bradley told POLITICO after Lee’s outburst. “It was totally devoid of facts and detached from reality, but it was entertaining.”

Lee is an ally of House Speaker Richard Corcoran, but earlier on the floor had said the union-related provision was “punitive.”

Naples Republican Sen. Kathleen Passidomo, the sponsor of the Senate bill, told POLITICO she took “umbrage with being called ‘mean-spirited and ‘punitive.'”

“What’s broken about this process? Is it term limits? Is it political committees? I am just done with these people and the way they run this institution. It’s like a third world country,” Lee told reporters.

Negron, a Stuart Republican, also met with reporters later Friday, growing increasingly piqued when asked about Lee’s concerns.

“I’m spending my time” on considering good legislation “as opposed to getting all caught up in home and away football analogies,” he said. “Who’s winning, who’s losing, who has more bills. I’m interested in (the question): Are we making life better for Floridians?

“… There are two competing narratives, and they both can’t be true,” Negron said. “One is that I’m not tough enough on people, I’m not aggressive enough, and the other is I’m running everything from the top down. I’ll actually take that all as a compliment that I’m right in the middle.

“I’m proud of the way the Senate is running right now,” he added. “Bills are being considered; the budget is being put together in a timely way. It’s refreshing to hear criticism that I run things with too heavy a hand because I’ve had criticism the other way.”

The 2018 Legislative Session is scheduled to end next Friday.

After Parkland, Bernie Fensterwald determined to win state Senate race

After the Parkland mass shooting two weeks ago, Bernie Fensterwald is more determined than ever to win in Senate District 16.

As proof, the Dunedin Democrat is putting $25,000 of his own money into the campaign.

“I’m 100 percent committed to this race, and I’m willing to prove it,” Fensterwald announced Friday. “The tragedy in Parkland only strengthened my conviction towards winning this race … I’ve been blessed in my life, and I want to commit myself to public service, but I won’t win unless I talk to as many voters as possible.”

In 2016, Fensterwald ran in House District 65 in 2016 and lost to Republican Chris Sprowls. Some criticized him for only spending $35,000 in the race when his personal finances show he is worth $19.8 million.

But the northern Virginia native told Florida Politics in January that his money is tied up in real estate. “The mere fact that I have in my case $19 million doesn’t mean that there’s the liquidity to that kind of thing. Unfortunately, that’s the way it was taken.”

Unfortunately for Fensterwald, he seems to be running against Pinellas County Republicans who don’t have a problem fundraising.

Sprowls raised $472,000 in the HD 65 race two years ago, and the top Republican in the SD 16 race, former state Rep. Ed Hooper, has raised more than $297,000 nearly eight months before the general election.

Before announcing his self-contribution, Fensterwald raised only a little more than $13,000 for the race. But the financial discrepancy isn’t fazing him.

“I ran in 2016, and I found that the best way to get out to voters is door to door. Starting the first full week in March, I and my supporters will begin going door to door,” he said Friday. “And when I spoke to voters, the biggest thing they connected to politics was corruption.

“The money I’m putting into this campaign will help launch our efforts to speak to voters, and I’m confident that as more people hear our message of bringing integrity to Tallahassee, they’ll support our campaign.”

Now, a third candidate entered the race, with Republican Leo Karruli joining earlier this week.

Karruli, 50, owns Leo’s Italian Grill on U.S. 19 in Palm Harbor.

SD 16 encompasses Clearwater, Dunedin, Safety Harbor, Palm Harbor, New Port Richey and Oldsmar. It had no representation in this year’s Legislative Session after incumbent Jack Latvala resigned in December after allegations of sexual harassment.

Hillsborough students say they’ve only just begun to focus on gun control

Only 16 days ago, a mass shooting at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School took the lives of 14 high school students and three adults.

Nevertheless, some believe the gun control debate is “over.”

That’s what Cafe Con Tampa head Bill Carlson was told when announcing the weekly lecture series would focus on three Hillsborough County students inspired to speak out about the issue.

“The whole world is watching us right now,” 14-year-old Safiyyah Ameer said Friday at the Oxford Exchange in Tampa.

The Blake High School student explained why she and many of her classmates are so focused on doing something to prevent another Parkland from occurring.

While there have been countless gun massacres the U.S. over the past two decades, little has been done legislatively to address the matter.

After a shocking mass shooting in December 2012 at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut killed 20 children, many felt something would finally happen; it did not.

In Parkland, however, from the day after the tragedy, several articulate teenagers from Stoneman Douglas have emerged as media stars through their pronounced comments on gun violence.

And politicians appear ready to respond, at least in Florida.

Measures introduced by Gov. Rick Scott and the House and Senate are being debated fiercely with just a week left in the 2018 Legislative Session.

“We have the power to make change, and we’re using that to our advantage and we’re going to go forward and make change,” said Ameer, who was behind last Friday’s Blake High School walkout and the subsequent rally/news conference at Curtis Hixon Park in downtown Tampa.

Alex Barrow, a 16-year-old from Hillsborough High School, told the Cafe Con Tampa audience he and his colleagues met with 40 different students from high schools in Hillsborough Tuesday to strategize about their next actions.

Plans include two upcoming protests: one on March 14, and another on March 24 to coincide with the national march on Washington led by students protesting against gun violence.

Barrow said about 40 different students from different high schools in Hillsborough met this past Tuesday to strategize about their next actions.

While the outrage remains high, several adults in the audience asked the students if they were in the effort for the long haul.

“Persistence will be critical to your success,” advised political consultant Gregory Wilson. “How strong do you believe your resolve will be?”

“It’s definitely going to be hard to keep up this resilience that we’ve acquired and keeping up our courage to stand up against what we are for and to stay strong through it all and through the judgments of the people who are going against what we are trying to do,” Ameer admitted.

“This time it will be different,” Barrow promised. “We realize now that the politicians in office will not initiate the change by themselves, and the responsibility has fallen upon us, the students to take action.”

“We’re students. We’re juggling our personal lives, AP classes, homework, and we’re also trying to keep our peers from being killed,” said 14-year-old Julize Diaz from Blake High School, the third member of the group. “So, of course, there’s going to be some bumps on the road.”

The three students, like many in the public education world, said they were vehemently opposed to arming schoolteachers, the most controversial piece of the bills moving through the Legislature. Governor Scott is opposed to that requirement, but it’s uncertain if he would veto a school safety package that includes that item.

The reality on the ground in Florida schools has changed in the wake of Parkland. Barrow said that teachers in all his classes now lock the door when instruction begins.

When asked if they learned much about civics in their classes, Ameer, daughter of St. Petersburg union activist Maria Jose Chapa, said history books only give the “sugar-coated version” of what happened in the U.S.

“I have to learn that on my own and definitely from my mother. She teaches me the real history of America,” Ameer said.

Unlike some venues, where discussions about gun control can get heated, the mostly liberal crowd at Cafe Con Tampa (which included Democratic legislative candidates Bob Buesing and Debra Bellanti and Hillsborough County Commission candidate Kimberly Overman) rarely disagreed with the sentiments from the speakers, starting with many in the audience giving them a standing ovation when the discussion began.

The one time the students were challenged came from a question from New Tampa Republican Jim Davison, an unsuccessful 2016 City Council candidate.

Alluding to measures in the Legislature that would raise the age of purchasing guns from 18 to 21 in Florida (a proposal vehemently opposed by the NRA and Republican gubernatorial candidate Adam Putnam),

Davison, a self-described baby boomer, said he came from the generation that fought for 18-year-olds to get the ability to vote, drink, smoke and other rights as an adult.

Why should someone who gets trained to be a killer in the military, comes back home at 20 and is denied the chance to buy a rifle, Davison asked.

Diaz replied that the soldier’s job was to kill people when fighting overseas, but when they return home, there was no need for a gun.

Ameer said many soldiers return home with Post Stress Traumatic Disorder, so it would be foolhardy to give them guns.

Barrow believed people should be able to own a handgun, but not assault rifles (Davison agreed).

Tampa mayoral candidate Topher Morrison asked the trio if they were now inspired to get involved in politics when they get older.

Ameer replied that her current activism is just the start of a political career.

Diaz wants to be a journalist; Barrow intends to enter the Naval Academy.

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