Wayne Liebnitzky Archives - Florida Politics

Darren Soto coasts to easy re-election in CD 9

Democratic U.S. Rep. Darren Soto won himself a second term as the only Puerto Rican member of Congress from Florida, representing Florida’s most Puerto-Rican district.

Soto, of Celebration defeated Republican businessman Wayne Liebnitzky Tuesday in a rematch of the election that sent Soto to Congress in 2018.This time Soto won 58 percent to 42 percent, running up big vote totals in Orange and Osceola counties, while Liebnitzky won by a slight margin in Polk County.

Soto represents a district that sprawls across all of Osceola County and much of south Orange and east Polk counties, taking in a number of communities that have been rapidly growing, and particularly growing with Puerto Rican migrants in the two years since he first took office.

Liebnitzky largely campaigned on issues tied to support of President Donald Trump and his economic policies, particularly of tax cuts and free enterprise. However, Soto pushed a mixture of moderate Democratic positions on economic issues with calls for vigorous environmental protection policies and a strong stand on gun law reforms.

Darren Soto coasts into October with $122,000 in the bank

Fresh off a bruising Democratic primary victory in his re-election campaign, U.S. Rep. Darren Soto entered the homestretch of the general election campaign with just $122,000 left in his campaign coffers, less than most Florida House incumbents have for their state-district campaigns.

Soto’s campaign cash balance on Oct. 1 is the result of a high-spending primary fight to stop his predecessor former U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson‘s challenge for the Florida’s 9th Congressional District seat, and a lack-luster fundraising effort since the Aug. 8 pre-primary reports were posted with the Federal Election Commission.

His opponent, Republican St. Cloud businessman Wayne Liebnitzky, has never been very adept at campaign fundraising, yet Liebnitzky’s $44,000 campaign cash-on-hand balance was within striking distance of Soto’s at the end of the third quarter of 2018.

CD 9 covers Osceola County, much of south Orange County, and much of east Polk County.

Soto’s campaign raised $245,000 in August in September, with almost two-thirds of that coming from political action contributions to his campaign. It also spent $374,000 during the same seven-week period. Overall, the campaign had raised about $1.4 million and spent about $1.3 million.

Liebnitzky meanwhile raised about $27,000 for his campaign during the period ending Sept. 30 and spent about $11,000. Overall, he’s raised about $63,000 in his rematch of the 2016 election, and spent about $19,000.

Soto’s Democratic primary campaign was aided in large part by more than $1.2 million in outside advertising from groups wanting to see him stop Grayson. So far, they’ve provided little for his general election. So far, the only outside spending in the race has been from Boricua Vota, a dark-money political action committee that has spent $10,000 on Spanish-language radio advertising supporting Soto in October.

New CD 9 poll: Darren Soto holds eight-point lead over Wayne Liebnitzky

Democratic incumbent U.S. Rep. Darren Soto may be in a tighter race than many expect with Republican challenger Wayne Liebnitzky in Florida’s 9th Congressional District.

A new SurveyUSA poll of 535 likely voters in the district, commissioned by Orlando cable outlet Spectrum News 13gives Soto 48 percent and Liebnitzky 40 percent in their rematch. In 2016, Soto won by a much larger margin.

According to the polling memo, there were stark divisions by gender and race. Soto leads among women by 30 points and Liebnitzky among men by 19 points. Liebnitzky also has a narrow lead among white voters, but Soto leads by 21 points among Hispanics and by 29 points among African-Americans.

Soto also has a strong advantage among independents, Survey USA notes.

CD 9 covers Osceola, parts of east Polk and south Orange counties.

Conducted Oct. 2 through Sunday, the poll used a mix of robotic and live interviewer calls to 831 respondents, which was then narrowed down to likely voters. The margin of error is +/- 6.4 percent.

Liebnitzky, who has maintained that he has been within striking distance of the incumbent even though he has very little campaign money compared to Soto. With the poll, he said, the cat is out of the bag.

“Darren went to Washington and is not working for the people in his district; the polls show that,” Liebnitzky said.

Soto indicated it makes little difference to him.

“We take every race seriously regardless of the polls,” Soto said in a statement from his campaign. “Our campaign is knocking on thousands of doors and making thousands of phone calls to get out the vote. And we will keep up the fight through Election Day!”

Soto won the 2016 election with 57.5 percent to Liebnitzky’s 42.5 percent.

Little outside interest yet in Central Florida congressional races

Outside money is barely trickling into Central Florida’s congressional races, and national parties aren’t showing any inclination to help state Rep. Mike Miller’s bid to unseat Democratic U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy — or to help her keep it.

Four other contests are also seeing no signs of national party interest.

The Florida 7th Congressional District race was one of the most hotly contested in the country for the national parties and their political action committee surrogates in the last election. They poured nearly $8 million into the 2016 contest when Murphy stunned 12-term Republican U.S. Rep. John Mica in the district Republicans once considered safe for them.

This year Miller vowed to take it back, but so far, at least through Oct. 1 in Federal Election Commission reports on independent expenditures from outside groups, he’s going it pretty much alone. And now the district has a slight Democratic lean in voter registration, so it’s no longer easy for Republicans.

If independent expenditure investments from outside groups, particularly the parties’ congressional committee political action committees, indicate which seats the national parties fear they might lose or think they might steal in the Nov. 6 election, then none in Central Florida are qualifying.

A group supporting Miller called Central Florida Solutions last week bought $20,000 worth of digital advertising. Meanwhile, the bipartisan moderate politics group No Labels Action has spent $113,000 on digital and mail advertising for Murphy. Democratic groups don’t yet see any reason to spend in CD 7, and national Republican groups haven’t done so either. No national party money has shown up in the race.

Through this time in 2016, national Democratic groups already had poured their first $1 million into the CD 7 race. By the time it was over, Democratic groups such as the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee had spent more than $6 million to aid Murphy, and Republican groups such as the National Republican Congressional Committee had spent nearly $2 million to help Mica.

Yet that contest is at least drawing a little outside money from groups that believe they could have some impact.

In Florida’s 8th Congressional District, where Republican U.S. Rep. Bill Posey faces a Democrat, Sanjay Patel; in Florida’s 9th Congressional District, where Democratic U.S. Rep. Darren Soto is facing Republican Wayne Liebnitzky; and in Florida’s 11th Congressional District, where Republican U.S. Rep. Dan Webster faces Democrat Dana Cottrell, no outside groups have spent a dime through Oct. 1.

The most interest might yet come in Florida’s 6th Congressional District, where Democrat Nancy Soderberg and Republican Michael Waltz are battling for the open seat that Republican Ron DeSantis left to run for Governor. It’s a district Republicans have dominated and where they still have a four-point lead in voter registration. But Soderberg is putting up a strong effort to flip it. Some outside money has begun to trickle in to help Waltz.

As with Murphy’s benefactor, Waltz’s supporter is a bipartisan group, the With Honor Fund, which backs veterans of either party seeking office. In late September that group spent $143,000 on digital advertising to support Waltz, the retired U.S. Army Green Beret lieutenant colonel who served several tours in Afghanistan. Earlier, With Honor Fund spent more than $700,000 to help Waltz win the highly contested primary against two other Republicans.

Outside groups spent $1.2 million to help Darren Soto defeat Alan Grayson

Eight outside political committees and groups provided almost $1.2 million support to U.S. Rep. Darren Soto‘s defeat of his predecessor former U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson in the Aug. 28 Democratic primary for Florida’s 9th Congressional District.

Apparently highlighting the outside help for Soto was the George Sorosbacked Latino Victory Fund, which claimed on primary day that it had pumped more than $500,000 into media buys to support Soto on Spanish-language media.

FEC records of independent expenditures through Election Day do not show that much spending by Latino Victory Fund, but almost, and there may be spending yet to report.

The FEC records also show Latino Victory Fund also was not alone in spending to either support Soto or oppose Grayson, and perhaps not even the most generous toward Soto’s candidacy. FEC records show Latino Victory Fund spending $415,000 through the primary, while Progress Tomorrow Inc. spent $544,000.

There are no FEC records reporting any outside groups making any independent expenditures that supported Grayson or opposed Soto.

Grayson had set up what was to be his big political comeback this year after he unsuccessfully sought the Democratic primary nomination to run for the U.S. Senate in 2016, and lost his congressional seat to Soto by default. But that comeback required him to take out Soto, and Grayson crashed badly, in an election landslide.

The total for outside spending to support Soto or oppose Grayson was $1.18 million, potentially more than Soto might have spent through his own primary campaign fund, though the final numbers are not yet in for his official campaign’s account. Through August 8 his campaign had spent about $886,000. In that Aug. 8 report, the most recent available, Soto had just $251,000 left in the bank.

Grayson had spent $540,000 through Aug. 8.

Soto now faces Republican Wayne Liebnitzky, who has far less money available, only about $29,000 on Aug. 8, heading toward the Nov. 6 election.

For the Aug. 28 Democratic congressional primary outside spending, the FEC reports show:

Latino Victory Fund, described by the Center for Responsive Politics’ website OpenSecrets.org as a hybrid of a political action committee and a super political action committee, largely but not entirely funded by Soros, spent $415,184 on various kinds of advertising, from pushed text messaging to television.

Progress Tomorrow spent $272,000 on digital and mail advertising supporting Soto and another $272,000 on digital and mail advertising attacking Grayson.

The super PAC has a curious combination of resources, according to records made available through OpenSecrets.org. All of Progress Tomorrow’s money has been donated by two other PACs. The first is Forward Not Back, whose principal benefactors are New York businessmen Peter May and Nelson Peltz, who each have been big supporters of Democratic candidates, and New York businessman Louis Bacon, who has supported both Democrats and Republicans, including Rudy Giuliani. The other PAC is United Together, principally funded by News Corp. Chairman and Republican rainmaker Rupert Murdoch, and by Chicago White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf, a big backer of Democrats.

United for Progress, a super PAC entirely funded by Soros, spent $123,000 on radio advertising to support Soto.

Alianza for Progress, a dark-money 501(c) committee that does not have to disclose its donors, reported $41,555 worth of door-to-door canvassing to support Soto.

Organize Now, the progressive 501(c) grassroots group put together by former organizers for Barack Obama, reported $35,062 worth of printing and canvassing efforts to support Soto.

Boricua Vota Inc., an Orlando-based group, reported spending $22,590 on billboards, radio advertising, and event expenses to support Soto.

The Humane Society Legislative Fund provided $1,386 worth of support through a list rental and a text message platform for Soto,

The Center for Popular Democracy Action, a dark-money 501(c), offered $1,411 worth of canvassing labor and transportation to support Soto.

Wayne Liebnitzky endorsed by former Puerto Rico senator

Republican congressional candidate Wayne Liebnitzky has received the endorsement of former Puerto Rico Sen. Miriam Ramirez in his quest to be elected in Florida’s 9th Congressional District, which has a large population of Puerto Rican residents, his campaign announced.

Ramirez, a medical doctor, had a long career in public health and politics in Puerto Rico including a term in the Puerto Rico Senate from 2000-’04, before moving to Florida. Most recently, until 2013, she served as Federal, Health and Legislative Affairs Advisor to then-San Juan Mayo Jorge Santini, Mayor of San Juan. She continues as an active advocate for Puerto Rico statehood from Florida.

In the Nov. 6 election, Liebnitzky, of St. Cloud, is facing Democratic incumbent U.S. Rep. Darren Soto, who in 2016 became the first Florida congressman of Puerto Rican heritage. Soto defeated Liebnitzky in that 2016 election.

CD 9 covers Osceola County, south Orange County and east Polk County, all areas with large and growing populations of Puerto Ricans. The area was ground zero for the migration of people fleeing Puerto Rico last year after Hurricane Maria devestated the island almost a year ago.

Orange County Republicans call for Kathy Gibson to resign RPOF post

The Orange County Republican Executive Committee called Wednesday for Kathy Gibson to resign as the county’s state committeewoman to the Republican Party of Florida.

The Republican panel made that decision Wednesday afternoon shortly after Republican congressional candidates Wayne Liebnitzky and Mike Miller made similar demands, joining gubernatorial nominee Ron DeSantis in calling for Gibson to step aside.

The calls for her immediate resignation developed from outrage over a social media meme that appeared under Gibson’s Facebook account, falsely claiming that Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum was going to make Florida pay for its part in slavery. The meme, widely denounced as racist, appeared Monday night, and has since been deleted. Gov. Rick Scott also condemned any statements that would seek to “divide the people of Florida by race or ethnicity,” though he stopped short of calling for Gibson’s resignation.

She later claimed, in another Facebook post, that it was not hers and that her account had been hacked.

Republicans apparently are not buying that.

The controversy grew Wednesday in advance of the big Republican unity rally that Orange County is set to host Thursday.

It is to feature Scott, DeSantis, Liebnitzky, Miller, and almost all other top Republican statewide and Central Florida candidates and officials. It is supposed to be the Republicans’ big celebration and kickoff to a 2018 election campaign.
In addition, Vice President Mike Pence is coming to Orange County Thursday for a fundraiser, but apparently is not arriving in time to attend the rally.

“We need people with a moral compass,” Liebnitzky said after calling for Gibson to resign.

“Kathy Gibson’s insensitive comments on Facebook have no place in politics. She should resign immediately,” Miller, a state representative from Orange County, said in a news release.

Earlier, both DeSantis, the congressman from Ponte Vedra Beach, and Scott denounced the post. In a statement to POLITICO, DeSantis called the thinking behind the meme “disgusting” and called for her to resign.

Orange County Republican Chair Charles Hart said Wednesday afternoon the county party’s board called for her resignation.

Gibson could not be reached Wednesday for comment.

However, on her Facebook page, around midnight going into Wednesday Gibson wrote, “To All Family & Friends Please be Advised that my Facebook Page was Hacked today. All Passwords & Codes have been Changed. If you saw anything today that didn’t sound like me, please let me Thank You.”

The response comments on that post were mostly not sympathetic. “Nice try,” one person commented. “God shall not be mocked. He knows you posted untrue information and are now lying about it,” wrote another. “Grow up and own it,” said a third. Others used foul language to say the same things.

If Gibson resigns, she would be the second state official to the Republican Party of Florida from Orange County to resign this summer. Earlier, State Committeeman Paul Paulson resigned over scandalous reports involving a fraudulent charity he was running. He was replaced by Rich Crotty.

Gibson is an elected official, so she would have to submit a resignation to RPOF Chairman Blaise Ingoglia. However, the Orange County Executive Committee would have to select a replacement, as it did in Paulson’s situation.

Bill Posey gets behind Wayne Liebnitzky in CD 9 race

U.S. Rep. Bill Posey is endorsing fellow Republican Wayne Liebnitzky in his campaign to be elected to Florida’s 9th Congressional District, which includes a broad swath of voters Posey once represented.

Liebnitzky is taking on Democratic U.S. Rep. Darren Soto this fall.

Posey’s Florida’s 8th Congressional District covers Brevard County, Indian River County, and east Orange County, while CD 9 covers south Orange, Osceola and eastern Polk counties. Before redistricting, much of what is now in CD 9 was inside Posey’s district.

In a letter to Liebnitzky, Posey recounts that when he first ran he lost the vote in Osceola County, and he was told residents there were not satisfied with the representation they had received over time from their previous representative. “Over the next years, I worked very hard to properly represent them and earn their trust. In the next election, Osceola County voters gave me 4,849 more votes than my opponent!

“Because I know you will work just as hard to represent my former constituents and friends in Osceola County,” Posey wrote, “I am pleased to give you my most enthusiastic endorsement.”

Bill Nelson, Adam Putnam top Orlando’s Political Salsa

Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson and Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam were the top choices at Orlando’s Political Salsa hobnob for races for Senate and Florida Governor.

With more than 400 votes, Nelson topped Republican Gov. Rick Scott 52 percent to 43 percent with Rocky De La Fuente taking the rest during the Hispanic-oriented but mostly mixed-ethnic event Thursday night.  Organizers released results over the weekend.

Putnam won a tight contest over Democratic Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum in the 16-person straw poll for Governor, with Putnam grabbing 25 percent of the votes and Gillum 23. Republican U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis finished third with 15 percent; Democratic former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, 13 percent; Democratic former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, 11 percent; Winter Park entrepreneur Chris King took five percent; and four points for Palm Beach businessman Jeff Greene.

In a separate poll taken at Political Salsa held at Acacia, a community center for Central Florida’s Puerto Rican community,  77 percent of the participants said they support Puerto Rico statehood. Only 15 percent chose the option of independence, and 8 percent said none of the above.

Unlike many hobnob straw polls, the Political Salsa straw poll evenly divided favorites between Republicans and Democrats, offering a possible Democratic lean with several upsets.

The primary sponsors of the event were the Suarez Group of Companies and the Puerto Rican Bar Association of Florida.

Republican former Judge Ashley Moody was the pick for Attorney General, with 39 percent, compared to 27 percent for Democratic state Sen. Sean Shaw, 22 percent for Democrat Ryan Torrens, and 12 percent for Republican state Rep. Frank White.

In the race for Florida’s Chief Financial Officer, Democratic former state Sen. Jeremy Ring topped Republican Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis 51 to 49 percent.

Democrat Nikki Fried was the top choice for Agriculture Commissioner, taking 30 percent, compared with 19 for Republican state Rep. Matt Caldwell, 18 for Democrat Roy David Walker, and 17 for state Sen. Denise Grimsley, among the leaders.

In congressional races, three Democratic incumbents came out on top and one Democratic challenger took a surprise victory.

Democrat Sanjay Patel outpolled Republican U.S. Rep. Bill Posey 53 to 47 percent in Florida’s 8th Congressional District, which is Brevard County-centered with a piece of eastern Orange County.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy barely topped Republican state Rep. Mike Miller in Florida’s 7th Congressional District, covering Seminole and north and central Orange counties. Murphy polled 35, Miller 33. The other three candidates, two Republicans and a Democrat, drew totals in the low teens.

In Florida’s 9th Congressional District, Democratic U.S. Rep. Darren Soto not only came out on top but his Democratic primary rival, former U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson finished a distant third. Soto got 51, Republican Wayne Liebnitzky 34, and Grayson 15 points in that district covering Osceola, south Orange and eastern Polk counties.

In Florida’s 10th Congressional District, which covers west Orange County, Democratic U.S. Rep. Val Demings has only an upstart Democratic challenger standing between her and re-election. And that was relatively close in this poll: Demings 61 percent, Wade Darius, 39 percent.

Several surprises came in Florida House races.

Democrat Lee Mangold topped Republican David Smith 53 to 47 percent in House District 28.

Republican state Rep. Scott Plakon came out on top in House District 29, taking 44 to 40 percent for Democrat Tracey Kagan; Democrat Darryl Block took 16 points.

Republican state Rep. Bob Cortes topped House District 30, taking 49 to 22 percent against Democrat Brendan Ramirez; 20 percent went to Clark Anderson and 9 points for Joy Goff-Marcil.

Democrat Debra Kaplan led Republican state Rep. Jennifer Sullivan, 58 to 42 percent in House District 31.

Democrat Ricky Shirah was the choice in House District 39, topping Republican Josie Tomkow 54-39 percent.

Democrat Barbara Cady topped Republican state Rep. Mike La Rosa 54 to 46 in House District 42.

Republican state Rep. Bobby Olszewski topped House District 44. He drew 38, to 33 for Democratic former state Sen. Geraldine Thompson and 29 for Melanie Gold.

Democrat Anna Eskamani edged out a Republican rival the House District 47 contest with 47 percent; 42 percent went for Republican Mikaela Nix and 11 percent for Republican Stockton Reeves.

Democrat Carlos Guillermo Smith got 56 percent to Republican Ben Griffin‘s 44 in House District 49.

Democrat Pam Dirschka led the House District 50 contest with 45 percent, while Republican state Rep. Rene Plasencia took 40 percent, and Republican George Collins, 15 points.

Republican Orange County Commissioner Pete Clarke led in the contest for Orange County Mayor. Clarke grabbed 41 percent, to 35 percent for Sheriff Jerry Demings and 24 percent for businessman Rob Panepinto.

Retired Florida Highway Patrol Chief Joe Lopez pulled off a shockingly easy upset in the contest for Orange County Sheriff, topping Orlando Police Chief John Mina 51 to 28, with Democrat Darryl Sheppard finishing third with 21.

In Orange County Commission races, Republican Christina Moore was the top choice in a four-person field for District 2, leading Republican Mark Byrd 35 to 28 percent; Democrat Eric Rollings was the pick in the five-person field for District 3, leading Pete Crotty 36 to 22 percent; Gina Perez-Calhoun and Maribel Gomez Cordero were the top choices in the five-person District 4 race.

For the Seminole County Commission, Katrina Shadix was the choice in District 2, and Amy Lockhart in District 4, with both polling more than 50 percent.

For the Osceola County Commission, Wanda Rentas got 44 percent in District 2, while incumbent Commissioner Viviana Janer took 25 and Janette Martinez 24. Adam Michelin led a tight race for District 4, taking 32 percent versus 26 percent for incumbent Commissioner Cheryl Grieb, Will Fonseca taking 24, and Will Gonzalez Jr., 18 points.

Alan Grayson, Darren Soto, Wayne Liebnitzky spread on ICE in ‘Political Salsa’ CD 9 debate

When asked Thursday night about what they want to do with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, the three candidates for Florida’s 9th Congressional District had a wide range of opinions.

Either keep it as is, reform it, or throw it out.

Speaking at one of four debates at the packed Political Salsa hobnob in Orlando, Republican Wayne Liebnitzky defended the embattled federal immigration enforcement agency, its work and officers as necessary and law enforcement doing the best they could with what they have.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Darren Soto talked about law changes necessary to rein in excesses while protecting important work ICE does. And Democratic former U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson blasted ICE as a federal agency that “has lost its way.”

“ICE deserves to abolished,” Grayson said. “ICE has become what amounts to an agency of viciousness. I never expected any time in my life to see a federal agency caging children, anywhere in the world. And therefore, ICE has lost its way. We should not have federal agents on the federal payroll, paid by the taxpayers, abusing and brutalizing people because they don’t happen to be Americans. That has to change.”

“I believe the solution is to reform ICE,” said Soto. “The reason that ICE is the way it is is that there aren’t laws that are preventing them from doing the things that they do. That’s why we need a Democratic majority in back in Congress, to make family separation illegal, to make zero-tolerance illegal.

“Keep in mind, they also regulate and protect people who are involved in human sex trafficking and other aspects that are important, that we do support. We do need a culture change there, from the top down,” Soto said. “We also need to make sure they are not going into churches, and they are not going after people who are low priorities.”

“No, I will not vote to abolish ICE,” Liebnitzky said. Later he defended ICE agents as law enforcement officers just following the laws, and getting a bad rap, saying, “They’re doing what they’re told to do, by Congress,” adding that President Donald Trump has asked Congress “over and over to do something, and yet they do nothing.”

Their sparring over ICE was one of the few moments of genuine disagreement in debates between Orange County congressional, mayoral, and sheriff’s candidates. The discussions took place during an event where scores of candidates — including Republican U.S. Senate candidate Gov. Rick Scott and Democratic gubernatorial candidates Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum and former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine — worked the floors at Acacia, a gathering point for the area’s Puerto Rican community.

The debates did not bring any of the go-for-the-throat moments seen at earlier debates, particularly between Soto and Grayson, and between Orange County mayoral candidates Sheriff Jerry Demings, Commissioner Pete Clarke, and businessman Rob Panepinto.

Nor were there many moments of new revelation, 11 days before the Aug. 28 elections.

Panepinto had one of the few notable moments to shine when the mayoral candidates answered questions on specifics about what they would do to address Orange County’s affordable housing crisis.

Panepinto declared the county no longer can wait for (or count on) state help, then laid out details of his $20 million-a-year, seven-point plan for the county to promote affordable housing. Demings and Clarke mostly called on the state to do its job, giving generalized answers about looking for possible zoning and permit-processing reforms.

“We’ve been looking to Tallahassee for a long time to solve this problem,” Panepinto said. “Yes, they should fund the Sadowski [Affordable Housing Trust] Fund. Maybe they will. Maybe they won’t. I’ll continue to go up there and fight for it. But I think we owe it to our people to solve the problem here locally.”

Orlando Police Chief John Mina and retired Florida Highway Patrol Chief Joe Lopez, both running for Orange County Sheriff, mostly agreed on many items ranging from their opposition to the sheriff’s office ever actively enforcing federal immigration law, to their commitments to reduce violence against and by law enforcement officers. But they split squarely on their views of red-light cameras.

“I would be in favor of it, as long as the system is run properly and there are many, many checks and balances, and the person has the opportunity to go before a hearing officer and in front of traffic court to fight a red light traffic ticket, which we do in the city of Orlando,” Mina said.

“Very simple: no! I do not support them,” Lopez offered. “I don’t think it works. I think it creates problems,” he said citing studies indicating they increase rear-end traffic accidents.

“It’s a cash cow, that’s all it is,” he added.

Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Miller shared the debate dais with progressive Democratic challenger Chardo Richardson, as incumbent Democratic U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy and Republican candidates Scott Sturgill and Vennia Francois skipped the event, even though it was held in their district.

Miller and Richardson stood on far opposite sides of the political spectrum. Miller argued for capitalism, low taxes, and freeing up businesses; Richardson, mounting a left-wing (albeit long-shot) Aug. 28 Democratic primary challenge to Murphy, pressed his Democratic socialist platform, including universal Medicare and raising the minimum wage “to a living wage.”

The pair were far enough apart that they offered grace and respect to one another, Richardson expressing appreciation for Miller’s service in Tallahassee, and Miller for Richardson’s service in the U.S. Marines, a veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Scott made a late, brief appearance, mostly meeting with a few people in crowded hallways.

The Governor left shortly after being confronted in a corridor by Central Florida progressive political activist and former congressional candidate Susannah Randolph. He was ushered toward the stairwell while she tried to demand an answer on one of her questions.

On the other hand, Scott’s opponent, Democratic U.S. Sen. (and Orlando resident) Bill Nelson, was a no-show.

Levine and Gillum worked the floor of the main room, filled with hundreds of people and scores of candidates for county, state, and federal races packed the auditorium.

Political Salsa was sponsored primarily by the Suarez Group of Cos. and the Puerto Rico Bar Association of Florida, drawing a sizable Hispanic attendance.

The Soto-Grayson-Liebnitzky debate stayed civil, a dramatic departure from previous CD 9 debates where Soto and Grayson trashed each other’s records and called each other names, all but drawing actual blood. The closest to personal attacks came when Liebnitzky chided the two Democrats for talking so much about their records.

They were coming off sounding like their only concerns were themselves, not the district and its residents, he said.

Neither Soto nor Grayson took his bait.

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