Tampa Bay Archives - Page 7 of 53 - Florida Politics

Personnel note: Charlie Crist names senior Patrick Murphy aide new Legislative Director

Congressman-elect Charlie Crist announced Monday the appointment of veteran policy adviser Christopher Fisher to Legislative Director in his Capitol Hill office.

“I am excited to have Chris join the team,” the former governor said in a statement. “With his years of experience serving Florida in Washington, working on the issues the people care about, Chris will hit the ground running.”

“Governor Crist’s distinguished career of public service, including as the people’s governor of my home state, truly sets him apart,” Fisher said. “He always puts the people first, and I could not be more honored for the chance to work alongside the governor to serve the people of Pinellas County.”

A graduate of the University of Miami, Fisher has a deep legislative background working on behalf of Floridians, previously serving as Deputy Chief of Staff for Policy for Congressman Patrick Murphy, Legislative Assistant for Congressman Ted Deutch, and Health Policy Fellow for Congressman Robert Wexler.

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Jeff Brandes to file flood mitigation bill

State Sen. Jeff Brandes says he will file legislation for the 2017 Legislative Session to fund flood mitigation in affected communities.

The idea is to lower the cost of flood insurance by decreasing flood severity in areas covered by the National Flood Insurance Program’s (NFIP) Community Rating System.

The legislation will create a matching grant program, in part through the state’s Land Acquisition Trust Fund, for “local projects (that) reduce flood risks and acquire conservation land for the purpose of mitigating flood risk,” Brandes’ office said in a statement.

Brandes, a St. Petersburg Republican, backed a bill last year (SB 1094) that became law that “require(s) local governments to include development and redevelopment principles, strategies, and engineering solutions that reduce flood risks and losses within coastal areas.”

The matching grants, to be administered by the Division of Emergency Management, would not exceed $50 million a year for “technical and financial assistance to local governments implementing flood risk reduction policies and projects.”

His bill also would authorize the Florida Communities Trust to “undertake, coordinate, or fund flood mitigation projects and to acquire and dispose of real and personal property or specified interest when necessary or appropriate to reduce flood hazards.”

Pinellas County residents and others living along Florida’s coasts have long sought affordable flood insurance.

In 2014, Brandes told the Tampa Tribune some homeowners faced insurance premiums so costly, “it would be the equivalent of paying off their home every 5-7 years, even though they haven’t had a flood in 40 years.”

 

Poll of Tampa City Council special election: Luis Viera, Jim Davison tied at 39%

A new poll taken of the Tampa City Council District 7 race shows a dead heat between Jim Davison and Luis Viera.

The  St. Pete Polls survey puts Viera at 39.7 percent and Davison at 39.3 percent, with 21 percent undecided.

The new survey shows for the first time that Viera has a chance of winning the race. He finished eight points behind Davison in the November 8 election. A previous survey conducted by St. Pete Polls twelve days ago had Davison up by seven points, 42 percent to 35 percent.

The one major piece of news since that time has been the controversy regarding Davison’s comments made at two debates last week. Davison said that he would not dismiss the idea of threatening to advocate for New Tampa to secede from the rest of Tampa as a piece of leverage to use in trying to get more services for the district.

Viera has criticized Davison for his comments, which also led Mayor Bob Buckhorn to weigh in with an endorsement of Viera, after previously staying neutral in the race.

Viera, like Buckhorn, is a Democrat. Davison is a Republican. The two candidates are vying to succeed Lisa Montelione, who resigned from the seat after serving for the past five-and-a-half years to run for a state legislative seat.

While Montelione is a Democrat, Republicans controlled the seat for the previous 12 years.

The poll was conducted by an automated phone call polling system on December 2 and December 3. The poll has a plus/minus margin of 4.8 percent.

By-law change adds controversy to Monday night’s Hillsborough DEC election

Viewed from a certain angle, the Democratic Party resembles a smoking pile of rubble in the wake of last month’s general election. Not only will Donald Trump become president in less than two months, but the Senate and House (and soon the Supreme Court) are in Republican control.

Instead of giving up, however, there appears to be a grassroots revival in certain quarters of the party, such as in Hillsborough County.

At their first meeting after last month’s election debacle, several hundred people showed up at the Hillsborough County Democratic Executive Committee’s November meeting — a crowd so large that an auxiliary room needed to be opened to provide seating for them at the party’s regular meeting quarters in Ybor City.

But an intra-party squabble regarding their by-laws has the potential of turning off many of those newcomers to the process.

This coming Monday, the local party will hold its reorganization meeting, where DEC members will vote for local party officers, including chair, vice chair, treasurer and state committeeman and state committeewoman. However, a dispute about who is eligible to vote is causing some members to criticize Hillsborough County DEC Chair Ione Townsend, after she sought an interpretation regarding the by-laws regarding whether locally elected Democrats can vote in the election.

Townsend said that her review of the Hillsborough DEC by-laws were not clearly stated about whether Democrats who won nonpartisan elections are eligible to vote in these elections. That would include people like Mayor Bob Buckhorn, and the entire City Council, currently all Democrats, but who don’t run as Democrats because the Tampa municipal election is considered nonpartisan.

Because of that uncertainty, Townsend asked for a clarification from the the Florida Democratic Party Rules Committee. Townsend says that the two-co chairs of the Rules Committee and the Vice Chair of the Rules Committee sent her an opinion – sent directly to her by Rules Co-Chair Rick Boylan – “that the by-laws do not clearly define or even imply that nonpartisans are included in that definition.” (Boylan did not return our request for comment).

That’s raised the ire of some local Democrats who were involved in writing those actual by-laws in 2012, such as former Hillsborough County DEC Chair Chris Mitchell.

Mitchell chaired the Hillsborough County DEC from 2011 to 2013 before departing to run the House Victory office of the FDP. He says that along with recently-elected state Representative Sean Shaw, they wrote the by-law revisions in 2012 “to make elected officials more part of the party, more accountable, which was why we took some steps to include them in the leadership of the party.”

“Ione is obviously interpreting it the way she sees fit politically, but it was not the intent of the authors – which were us – and it was not the intent of the committee that amended the bylaws back then with a more than two-thirds vote,” says Mitchell. “We realized that the success or failure of the party would rely on making sure that those elected officials that Democrats had worked so hard to raise money for were part of the solution to move our party.”

Alma Gonzalez, who is running against Donna Fore for State Committeewoman, agrees with Mitchell and says “it’s difficult to to understand her interpretation of this by-law to exclude and in fact disenfranchise (local Democrats) in selecting party leadership.”

Townsend counters that the Florida Democratic Party, in its December of 2012 reorganization meeting, also found “that people who held nonpartisan office were not included in the definition.”

“There’s something awry here with people’s recollections of what went down and what the intent was,” responds Townsend. “We have to go with what is written, and my interpretation is that it does not specifically include office holders of nonpartisan races.”

Townsend says that in fact there haven’t been any of these nonpartisan office holders at any meetings over the past year, with the exception of Councilman Guido Maniscalco, who applied for membership and was elected and sworn in and signed a loyalty oath. She also says she understands there is a perception that she is trying to limit participation in next week’s election, but adds that others have said that she shouldn’t loosen the rules. “I am caught right square in the middle,” she says, adding that she’s had “angst over this for three weeks.”

Perhaps no one is more affected by Townsend’s interpretation than Alan Clendenin, who is running for State Committeeman against Russ Patterson. Clendenin is seriously considering running for the Chairman of the Florida Democratic Party next month, a race that he fell just short of winning four years ago. In order to run for state party chair, candidates must be local party chairs or a committeeman or committeewoman.

After being informed about Townsend’s decision to review the by-laws, he said in an email last week that, “I am quite perturbed about it. They have always been allowed to vote. How on earth can we not allow Mike Suarez, State President of the Democratic Municipal Officers, Harry Cohen,Yolie Capin or Bob Buckhorn? It is crazy what people will do to try to win a party power struggle.”

Townsend insists she’s not trying to exclude anyone from participating in the election. “I want to run a fair and open election and one that will stand up against scrutiny of state statues, FDP by-laws and our own by-laws.” She’s invited all of those Democrats elected in nonpartisan races to attend Monday’s meeting, where she will pet them to vote on a provisional ballot, in case her ruling of the by-laws is overturned if appealed.

Townsend herself is on the ballot as chair, but is not being opposed.

Gonzalez says she’s disappointed about the in-party fighting, and worries it could be a turnoff to Hillsborough DEC newcomers.

“It’s unfortunate that we have this kind of distraction  going on at at time when there are many folks who are interested and who are coming and who are putting  forward their time and their effort and raising their  hand and saying we want to be a part of a solution,”she says.

Monday’s meeting will take place at the Letter Carriers Hall, 3003 W. Cypress Street at 6 p.m.

Pinellas Legislative Delegation to consider changes to construction licensing board

Responding to a request from Charlie Justice, the Pinellas Legislative Delegation will consider changing the way members of the Construction Licensing Board are chosen.

State Sen. Jack Latvala, the delegation chair, called on state Rep. Larry Ahern to come up with a plan by the delegation’s Jan. 31 meeting. State Sen. Jeff Brandes said he wanted Ahern to consider dissolving the board so it would come under control of the Pinellas County Commission.

The licensing board, created in 1973, regulates some construction and home improvement contractors practicing in Pinellas County. It also provides countywide certification and registration of contractors.

It has come under fire in recent weeks because of the way the board members are chosen. Certain organizations and others, named in the statute, suggest members and the chair — currently Justice — of the Pinellas County Commission is responsible for appointing them.

Justice explained the problems in a Nov. 16 letter to Latvala and the delegation:

“When the request to appoint various positions of the PCCLB came before me this fall, I noticed some discrepancies as to the number of appointees provided by the various appointing organizations … In addition, some of the appointing organizations no longer exist or have been adopted under the umbrella of another, similar organization.”

Justice concluded, “I would ask that the Pinellas Legislative Delegation review the laws that pertain to the Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board and consider amending them to reflect the makeup of the appointing organizations as well as the process by which the Pinellas County Board of County Commissioners chair would go about appointing/reappointing board members to the PCCLB.”

Donald Trump’s unknown policy on dealing with Cuba worries Tampa advocates

There is no region in the country that has been more involved in engaging with Cuba over the past five years than Tampa, but where that relationship goes in the future is now at the whims of President-elect Donald Trump.

“Until a month ago, I thought that the biggest obstacle to trade between Tampa and Cuba was Mayor (Bob) Buckhorn, and now we have a new player and that’s Donald Trump,” said Tucker/Hall head Bill Carlson at Friday’s “Cafe Con Tampa” meeting in South Tampa.

Carlson and La Gaceta editor/publisher Patrick Manteiga spoke on what the change of power in Washington and the death last week of Cuban leader Fidel Castro portends regarding the momentum of relations between Tampa and the Communist nation. Almost exactly two years ago, President Obama announced a diplomatic breakthrough with the Raul Castro-led government, and he’s followed by a series of executive actions to ease the sanctions which still exist.

The president ended the 180-day ban on ships docking at U.S. ports after sailing from Cuba, paved the way for doctors to work with Cuban researchers on medical investigations and allowed Americans to travel to Cuba in cultural exchange programs.

Manteiga said that Castro’s death doesn’t play into the equation at all. “To many people, this changes everything,” he said. “In reality, it doesn’t change anything at all.”

Carlson referred to the surge of activity between Tampa and a contingent from the Tampa Bay History Center is currently visiting the Communist island. Officials with the Ybor City Chamber of Commerce visited Cuba last year, and officials with the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce have made three separate trips.

Since 2011, hundreds of thousands of passengers have made the hour-long flight from Tampa to Cuba aboard charter flights. Commercial flights through Southwest Airlines from Tampa International have just begun, as have commercial flights from nine other airports thanks to President Obama.

Several members of the City Council have also made trips to the island, and both that board and the Chamber of Commerce have backed the idea of having a Cuban consulate located in Tampa, something that Buckhorn has not become involved. The mayor has always sided with the Cuban exile community in Tampa that to this day supports the more than fifty decade-long sanctions, believing that any recognition of the Cuban government is unacceptable until they stop detaining dissidents and allow for a more open society.

Carlson accused the mayor of hypocrisy, noting his recent business trip to China, which in a congressional report listed 2015 as its worst year on record for human rights violations.

Critics of the outreach to Cuba have dismissed the discussions about improving commercial relations, saying that Cuba is a relatively poor country with little to offer the U.S. Carlson says in fact that the nation of 11.5 million have a desperate need for all types of services and products, and it is one of the great business opportunities for U.S. companies anywhere, but especially in Florida with its proximity. “There is an unprecedented investment in infrastructure,” he said.

“The governor and the Republicans don’t want the port to reach out to Cuba, and the Port keeps using the excuse that perhaps there might be funding that might get cut off,” said Manteiga, adding, “They’re not going to cut off the funding for the Port. Our legislative delegation wouldn’t let it.”

Perhaps the single biggest local advocate for improved relations between Tampa and Cuba, Al Fox, is in Cuba this week, but both men noted his current legal situation. Fox faces civil penalties from an agency of the U.S. Treasury Department called the Office of Foreign Assets Control. The agency accuses Fox of arranging two trips to Cuba in 2010 and 2011 without obtaining proper licenses.

“Al is going to fight in federal court to prove that these laws are unconstitutional. If he wins it will benefit all of us and the Cuban people,” said Carlson.

“It’s amazing that they’re still punishing people who want to make a change in U.S. policy,” Manteiga said.

Carlson has frequented Cuba five times in the past two years, and says he sees more and more stores opening up each he visits. “Entrepreneurship is just flourishing there, and my fear is that it will roll everything back.”

Joe Henderson: Donald Trump ‘saves’ Indiana jobs; Eric Newman asks ‘why not us?’

Eric Newman read news reports of the fight by incoming president Donald Trump to keep the Carrier air conditioning company from moving jobs to Mexico and thought, hey, why not us?

Newman owns the J.C. Newman Cigar Company in Tampa and has been fighting the Food and Drug Administration over regulations that Newman says could put his 121-year-old operation out of business.

So when this lifelong Democrat saw what Trump was doing to save jobs in Indiana, he described himself as “cautiously optimistic.”

“If President Trump is true to his word that overregulation is killing small businesses, we are the poster child for that,” Newman said. “It’s still way too early to tell if he can help us, but I feel better about it now.”

At its peak, Tampa was home to about 150 cigar-making companies, but Newman’s is the last such operation in the city. Other companies folded under increased regulatory pressure by the FDA and health concerns about tobacco use.

But, Newman has always argued that cigars are different from cigarettes and shouldn’t be held in the same category as a cancer risk.

“You go outside an office building, and you’ll see people huddled around smoking cigarettes,” he said. “You don’t see them smoking cigars. It’s not the same thing.”

You can’t blame Newman for feeling his government is out to get him, though. In addition to stringent new FDA rules that restrict the development of new product lines, Newman pointed to an executive order by President Obama that benefited Cuban cigar-makers.

The order allows travelers to bring all the Cuban cigars they want into the United States for personal consumption. Those cigars aren’t subject to the same regulations faced by Newman’s company.

“I have no problem competing with Cuban cigars on an equal footing,” Newman said. “But this exemption by President Obama gives such an advantage to the Cuban worker while screwing the American worker.

“We’re not looking for a handout. But one federal agency says cigars are bad for you, while another federal agency – in this case, the president – says it’s OK to bring in all the Cuban cigars you want. This whole thing with Cuba is just wacky.”

There have been attempts in Congress to address this issue, but despite bipartisan support from U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor and senators Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson, they haven’t gotten anywhere.

However, as Newman pointed out, “There will be a new sheriff in town.”

The Trump administration likely will mean an overhaul at the FDA and that gives Newman hope that the added fees and testing requirements that he says drives up his cost dramatically will be reduced or eliminated.

“It is supposed to be a government of the people, by the people and for the people,” he said. “It’s not supposed to be screw the people.”

Hillsborough legislative delegation to meet December 16

With Tallahassee a four-hour drive away, the annual meeting of the Hillsborough County Legislative Delegation to be held in two weeks in Tampa could very possibly be the only time local residents can address their state representative(s).

That meeting will take place on Friday, December 16 at the Tampa Bay History Center, 801 Old Water Street, from 9 a.m. to 3.p.m.

The Delegation consists of 13 members of the Florida Senate and Florida House of Representatives that represent all or parts of Hillsborough County. Senators Dana Young, Bill Galvano, Darryl Rouson will join Brandon area state Senator Tom Lee , who serves this year as the current Chair of the Delegation.

House members include Jake Raburn, Dan Raulerson, Sean Shaw, Ross Spano, Jackie Toledo, Janet Cruz, Shawn Harrison, Jamie Grant and Wengay Newton.

The annual meeting is an opportunity for the general public to interact with and voice any concerns or opinions to their elected officials prior to the start of the 2017 Legislative Session. It’s also when lawmakers will propose so-called “local bills”

Public testimony will be limited to three minutes per speaker. The deadline to submit a request to speak is 5 p.m. on Friday, December 9, which you can access from this page. Additional speaker request forms will be available at the meeting.

On House floor, Gus Bilirakis honors Tuskegee Airman from Pinellas

Congressman Gus Bilirakis took to the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives Thursday to honor the life and service of Tuskegee Airman Willie Rogers from Pinellas County.

Rogers, the oldest remaining Tuskegee Airman from the original 100th Fighter Squadron, died in November.

Bilirakis, a Tarpon Springs Republican, represents Florida’s 12th Congressional District, which includes parts of northern Pinellas County.

Bilirakis’s full remarks:

“Mr. Speaker, I rise today to honor the life and service of an American hero from St. Petersburg, Florida: Tuskegee Airman Willie Rogers. Willie was the oldest remaining Tuskegee Airman from the original legendary 100th Fighter Squadron, the first African-American military aviators in the history of the U.S. Armed Forces.

“He was a part of history, and I’m deeply saddened to hear he died recently at the incredible age of 101.

“Willie truly represented the Greatest Generation: humble, hardworking, and dedicated to his country and his family. He fought the Axis powers, and protected our freedom and way of life, despite the disgraceful way the Tuskegee Airmen were treated.

“We would not be the nation we are today without those who served. I would like to sincerely thank Willie for his honorable service and his unwavering love of country.”

Personnel note: Charlie Crist appoints Austin Durrer Chief of Staff

Newly elected Congressman Charlie Crist announced Thursday that experienced Capitol Hill veteran Austin Durrer will head his new congressional office.

Durrer has served in senior roles in both the legislative and executive branches over the past 15 years. He was a longtime aide and Chief of Staff to Congressman Jim Moran, a senior Member of the Appropriations Committee, and currently serves as Chief of Staff of the U.S. Commerce Department’s Economics and Statistics Administration (ESA), overseeing the Department’s data technology mission.

“Austin brings a wealth of experience, knowledge and a strong, steady hand to this important position. He’s an impact player who will build our team in Washington with a laser-like focus on serving the people of Pinellas County,” said Crist, the former Governor who now represents Florida’s 13th Congressional District in the 115th Congress.

“It’s an honor and a privilege to work for Gov. Crist on behalf of Pinellas County,” said Austin Durrer. “He’s no ordinary freshman, and someone who has dedicated his life to looking out for the little guy. I look forward to helping advance his agenda of bringing common sense solutions to Washington, to bridge the political divide, serving as the voice for the people of Pinellas County on Capitol Hill.”

Durrer has an MBA from Johns Hopkins University and received his undergraduate degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in Political Science and Economics

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