Wayne Liebnitzky – Florida Politics

Darren Soto’s guns town hall draws criticism from Wayne Liebnitzky

A town hall to talk about guns that Democratic U.S. Rep. Darren Soto set for Saturday in St. Cloud is drawing criticism from his Republican election opponent Wayne Liebnitzky because the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School girls’ softball team is also in town.

Liebnitzky called the town hall “a political stunt.”

Soto earlier this week announced he would hold a constituents’ town hall meeting on national gun safety at the St. Cloud Community Center at 1 p.m. Saturday. Responding to Liebnitzky’s criticism on Friday, Soto’s campaign said it was entirely coincidental that a team from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, the Parkland school that was the site of the horrific Feb. 14 massacre that took 17 lives, is playing in a tournament, against St. Cloud High School, not far away this weekend.

Soto, of Celebration, defeated Liebnitzky, of St. Cloud, in the 2016 election for Florida’s 9th Congressional District. The pair may be heading for a rematch this fall. Liebnitzky has a Republican primary rival, Sean Buchan of Winter Haven, while Soto remains unchallenged for the Democratic primary.

“We are deeply saddened when any horrific event occurs, but creating a political stunt to hijack law abiding citizen’s rights will not be viewed favorably,” Liebnitzky said.

He argued that Soto’s focus guns was wrong, and that school safety needs to be addressed through hardening the schools and convincing people to say something if they see something. “Allowing only criminals to possess guns does not and will not make any sense to me,” Liebnitzky said.

Soto’s notice for the meeting states that he has spoken with survivors from the Parkland shooting and young people at the March for Our Lives event in Lake Wales, and now “wants to hear from community members across Central Flordia about the sensible legislative action and access to mental health treatment needed to prevent further gun violence. Besides Soto, the town hall will feature Kristi King, legislative chair of the Central Florida Chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America; and Patricia Brigham, steering committee chair of the Florida Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence.

In a response issued by his re-election campaign, Soto insisted the town hall, scheduled by his congressional office, is part of a nationwide effort this week, and has nothing to do with the fact that a Douglas High team was in town.

“There are town halls happening on gun safety nationwide this week. Congress must act, as I continue to hear from constituents around the 9th District. I am committed to listening to all of them and to taking action,” Soto said. “While this town hall was scheduled independently of any sports event, we certainly welcome the student-athletes of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and their supporters to the 9th District.”

Darren Soto gets backing of Congressional Progressive Caucus PAC

Orlando Democratic U.S. Rep. Darren Soto just received the backing of the Congressional Progressive Caucus Political Action Committee, an endorsement he might need as a buffer against a possible primary challenge by a congressman who once was a big voice for that caucus.

“Darren Soto is a fighter for economic justice. He works tirelessly for working Americans, and he always has. He marches for civil rights and civil liberties — for Dreamers, for Muslims, for LGBTQ Americans,” Congressional Progressive Caucus PAC Co-Chair Mark Pocan said in a news release issued by Soto’s re-election campaign. “The struggle for women’s equality has no better friend than Darren. Soto supports healthcare for all, a strong social safety net, and robust protections for workers who want to organize and fight for better wages and working conditions.”

Right now the endorsement appears more as a possible weapon for Soto’s only opponent in Florida’s 9th Congressional District, Republican candidate Wayne Liebnitzky of St. Cloud. Liebnitzky, whom Soto beat in 2016, is campaigning on a firm conservative platform and seeking to characterize Soto as too liberal for the district.

“He has only done what party leader [Nancy] Pelosi directed him to do, instead of taking care of the area,” Liebnitzky said. He added, “I guess I won’t lose any sleep tonight awaiting their endorsement.”

Yet off in the wings is the previous incumbent in the district, former U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, who had been one of the most strident progressive Democrats in Congress during his three terms. Grayson reportedly has been talking to Democratic consultants, trying to assemble a team to possibly challenge Soto in a CD 9 primary. In the 2016 primary, Soto took a more moderate overall tack to defeat two Democratic opponents with purely progressive platforms and close ties to Grayson: his wife Dena Grayson, and former aide, Susannah Randolph.

In Congress Soto has striven particularly to be a strong environmental champion. Pocan also praised him for other issues.

“Soto knows we must defend our planet today — or our children will have no tomorrow. He’s not afraid to fight the corporate interests that created the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the Wall Street financial crisis, and the opioid epidemic,” Pocan stated. “Darren knows that hard working Americans are hurt the most when greed runs wild, and he fights for those families with everything he’s got. Darren’s a rising leader with a bright future. The Progressive Caucus stands with Darren because he embodies progressive values — he stands for the people, not for the privileged.”

Darren Soto raises $116 for CD 9 re-election bid

Democratic U.S. Rep. Darren Soto raised $116,652 in the fourth quarter of 2017, helping his re-election campaign in Florida’s 9th Congressional District finish the year with $289,378 in the bank.

The relatively modest totals – compared with other Florida congressional incumbents – are nonetheless overwhelming compared with the only other candidate reporting in the race, Republican Wayne Liebnitzky, who says he is not yet focusing on fundraising, and who has raised only about $650, and finished the year with only about $500 in the bank.

CD 9 covers south Orange County, Osceola County, and northeastern Polk County.

If Soto, of Orlando, has need for significantly more money, it might be due to the often-rumored possibility of a primary challenge by the district’s previous representative, former U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson of Windermere. Grayson officially filed to run in Florida’s 11th Congressional District last year, but has repeatedly said that filing is only a place-keeper, to keep his options open while he decides whether and where he might pursue another quest for Congress. His fourth-quarter and annual reports have not yet been posted by the Federal Election Commission. He finished the third quarter with about $500,000 in the bank.

Soto’s end-of-the-year statement reports show he raised a total of $400,000 in 2017, and spent $178,000 of that, including about $50,000 in the fourth quarter.

Wayne Liebnitzky qualifies by petition for CD 9 race

Republican Wayne Liebnitzky qualified by petition for this year’s ballot in Florida’s 9th Congressional District Monday.

Liebnitzky of St. Cloud is seeking a rematch with Democratic incumbent U.S. Rep. Darren Soto of Orlando. Soto beat him 57-43 in 2016.

On Monday the Florida Secretary of State’s Office posted that it had received 120 valid petition signatures for Liebnitzky from Orange County voters, 525 from Polk County, and 4,441 from Osceola County. That gave him 5,086, 18 more than he needed to qualify.

He said Monday he believes he is the first federal candidate to qualify by petition in Florida for this year’s election.

“I have to admit, I feel so relived,” said Liebnitzky, a small business owner who’s been manning a petition booth at events throughout the district for months.

He said he probably submitted more than 7,000 signatures to the three counties supervisors of elections, adding, “I knew I had them in, but sometimes it takes a week or two to get them counted…. I just hate to procrastinate.”

The next step, Liebnitzky said, was to turn all of the face time he had with voters while gathering the signatures into campaign donations and grassroots supporters. He said he has not begun fundraising yet. Through December his campaign reported it had just over $500 cash.

Another Republican, Sean Alan Buchan, a banker for Winter Haven, briefly entered the fray last spring, but last summer he apparently withdrew, reimbursing all his campaign donors, and Buchan has not filed any reports since June 30. He could not be reached Monday.

Soto, a former state senator serving his first term in Congress, reported fairly modest campaign contributions through October, and had about $220,000 in cash on hand. [His December reports still have not been posted by the Federal Election Commission.] No one else has entered the race, but former U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson of Orlando, who had held the seat for two terms prior to Soto, has been positioning himself for a possible new run.

Darren Soto under fire for having urged Puerto Ricans to declare they intend to stay

U.S. Rep. Darren Soto of Orlando has come under fire for statements he made last Friday at a Puerto Rico town hall meeting in Kissimmee, when he urged evacuees to declare they intend to stay in Florida.

Soto’s comments had come during a question-and-answer period after he, Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello, and others including Florida Gov. Rick Scott had addressed more than 500 people gathered at the Kissimmee Civic Center about issues surrounding Puerto Rico, evacuees who have fled to Florida following Hurricane Maria, and federal, state, and local assistance and recovery efforts.

Responding to a question about federal assistance, Soto noted inequities and legal quirks in the federal Medicaid and Medicare programs. He noted that when evacuees go home to the island they lose coverage, and that he and others are working on legislation to try to make benefits more seamless as people move back and forth. But that’s not the case yet, he said.

“One thing for those who recently arrived need to know is, you’re going to be asked the question, ‘Do you intend to stay?’ I urge you to say ‘yes, for now,'” Soto told the town hall. “Because otherwise you’re going to get rejected, and then you’re going to find yourself without health care. So I urge you to watch for that pitch-fall question.”

A report on WFTV-News in Orlando and posts on Facebook other social media, raised the question of whether Soto was encouraging people to make false claims about their intentions to stay in Florida or not.

In a written statement provided by his office Wednesday morning, Soto denied he made any such overture.

“I do not encourage anyone who is planning to leave our state to falsely claim otherwise. Many recently arrived Puerto Ricans have a high probability of staying in Florida. The intent of my statement was to encourage them to err on the side of caution and declare their intent to stay if they are in doubt about their future plans,” Soto said. “If they eventually leave, their Medicaid or Medicare will automatically be terminated and they will have to reapply back in Puerto Rico. Healthcare could mean the difference between life and death for eligible seniors, disabled and children evacuees, many of whom have been without healthcare for months.”

One of Soto’s Republican opponents seeking to take him on in the 2018 election, Wayne Liebnitzky of St. Cloud, said he did not think Soto said anything that would raise legal problems, but he questioned the ethics of the statement.

“There is an ethics problem here,” Liebnitzky said. “Is it a big problem? Probably not. It is an ethical problem. He shouldn’t have done it.”

Darren Soto’s slow campaign fundraising still unchallenged

Democratic U.S. Rep. Darren Soto of Orlando raised just $83,000 during the last quarter for his re-election campaign in Florida’s 9th Congressional District, yet neither of his Republican challengers in Florida’s 9th Congressional District raised much of anything.

The new contributions through Sept. 30, minus $28,000 in campaign expenses, left Soto with $222,318 in the bank on Oct. 1, according to the latest campaign finance reports posted on the Federal Election Commission website.

To date, Soto had raised $282,727 for his campaign, most of that coming from political action committee donations. Those committee donations include $10,000 from the No Labels Problem Solvers PAC, created by a bipartisan group of Congress members.

Two Republican challengers, Wayne Liebnitzky and Sean Alan Buchan, both reported raising less than $1,000 during the quarter covering July, August and September. Buchan finished the quarter with no money, while Liebnitzky reported having $362 in the bank.

Darren Soto defends fundraiser as not affecting his efforts for Puerto Rico

While Puerto Rico got hammered by Hurricane Maria, U.S. Rep. Darren Soto defended his re-election campaign fundraiser he is holding Wednesday night in Kissimmee, home to Florida’s most concentrated Puerto Rican population.

Soto, a Democrat from Orlando, said he’s been in constant contact with Puerto Rico officials and readying federal financial support for the country’s recovery following both Hurricane Maria and Hurricane Irma, and that those efforts will not be affected by Wednesday night’s event.

His fundraiser, starting at $100 for individual donations and going up to $1,000 donations for hosts, is set for 6 p.m. at the Seasons Florida Resort in Kissimmee.

Soto has touted his Puerto Rican heritage and advocated for Puerto Rico and Puerto Ricans in Florida while in Congress. His district, which includes southern Orange County, eastern Polk County and all of Osceola County, has an estimated Puerto Rican population in the hundred thousands.

Hurricane Maria crossed onto the island Wednesday morning as a Category 4 storm and reports of  widespread damage and flooding are pouring from the island. The storm is expected to continue to ravage Puerto Rico well into the night.

Criticism of his decision to go forward with the fundraiser has been widespread on social media. Republican Wayne Liebnitzky, who faced Soto in the 2016 election and is campaigning for a rematch in 2018, called Soto’s decision “in poor taste.”

“I think it’s absolutely shocking, disgraceful,” Liebnitzky said. “That event needs to be cancelled. He needs to postpone it to a later date.”

Soto defended the event as not relevant to his efforts to help Puerto Rico.

“I have been in hourly contact with [Puerto Rico] Gov. [Ricardo] Rosselló‘s office, spoke at length with our House Appropriations Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen today in Jacksonville about Puerto Rico, FEMA funding, and am leading letters to ensure full financial support of Puerto Rico’s recovery over the next few days,” Soto said in a message to Orlando-Rising.com.

“Our efforts and readiness to advocate for an effective federal response will not be affected by an Osceola event with local Democratic activists,” he added.

Wayne Liebnitzky criticizes the $4,600 a month in rent Darren Soto pays for Kissimmee office

Republican congressional candidate Wayne Liebnitzky criticized the rent U.S. Rep. Darren Soto is paying for his Kissimmee office as “unusually extravagant expense of peoples’ money,” while the congressman defended the office Tuesday for its convenience and service to the district.

Soto is spending $4,638 a month for his primary district office, plus $866 a month for a CD 9 office in Orlando, according to Congressional Office Disbursement Reports filed with the U.S. House of Representatives. He also has been opening other satellite and part-time offices, notably in Polk County.

That’s 40 percent more than Soto’s predecessor, former U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson paid. Grayson had his main office in Orlando, for which he spent $3,300 a month in rent, and a district office in Kissimmee that cost $626 a month.

“My opinion of paying $55,000 a year for a congressional office in Kissimmee is an unusually extravagant expense of the peoples’ money,” said Liebnitzky, who lost the 2016 general election to Soto and filed for a rematch in the 2018 election.

“In the uncertain times of increased expenses the people of our community are experiencing, was this a wise decision to spend that kind of money on an office space? What decisions in the future are we expected to hear about that have not been thought through fiscally?” he added.

In his written statement, Soto responded, “We are deeply proud of our Kissimmee district office, which is centrally located to serve our constituents, symbolic of our rancher heritage, and provides a facility that is very conducive to community gatherings.”

Nonetheless, the rents Soto is paying now and Grayson paid last year are both relative middle points in the wide spectrum that Central Florida members of Congress pay or have paid for their offices to support local staffs, the members when they’re back home, and services to constituents.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy pays $7,142 a month for her Winter Park district office in Florida’s 7th Congressional District.

On the other extreme, Republican U.S. Rep. Daniel Webster has three local offices for Florida’s 11th Congressional District, and pays less than $800 a month in rent for each of them.

Then there is Republican U.S. Rep. Bill Posey. He doesn’t pay a dime for his office in Viera for Florida’s 8th Congressional District. That’s because Brevard County has long – predating Posey – provided its congressional representative with rent-free office space in the government center there, something approved by the Congressional Ethics Office.

Members of Congress receive set allocations, adjusted for costs of living in each district, for their offices, staff, travel, and operational expenses. Generally the members are free to budget the money however they see fit. If their spending goes over the allocations, the law requires them to make up the difference out of their own pockets. If they go under, the unspent remainder is returned to the U.S. Treasury, something Webster touts every year. A higher-than-average district office rent likely would have to be offset by lower expenses elsewhere in the member’s budget.

Liebnitzky, a St. Cloud small business owner, questioned whether Soto could have been more economical, especially considering what Grayson spent last year, and considering the rise of internet communications.

“My opinion is an office is a shrine. It serves very little purpose in the technology times of telecommunications and social media,” he added. “Communication with the people you are suppose to represent should be top priority. We must do it better than anyone else can and set the example for the country to experience. This will be part of the performance I shall deliver in 2019. And, yes, I will have offices, but much more reasonable so we can communicate with all of our constituents.”

Soto’s landlord is the city of Kissimmee. The office is a historic old building at 804 Bryan St., in the heart of the Kissimmee government complex. Its 3,613 square feet provides enough space for small town hall meetings.

“It’s location in the Osceola Government Complex fosters critical communication with local and state officials and is ideal to maintain office security,” Soto stated. “We also have important satellite and part time offices in Lake Nona, Winter Haven, Haines City and Lake Wales to more conveniently serve our constituents in Orange and Polk Counties.”

Among other members of Central Florida’s congressional delegation, Democratic U.S. Rep. Val Demings pays $5,319 a month for her office in west Orange County for Florida’s 10th Congressional District. Republican U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis pays $1,700 a month for his primary office in St. Johns, $300 a month for a satellite office in DeLand, and $100 a month for one in Port Orange, for Florida’s 6th Congressional District.

The three freshmen Democrats – Murphy, Demings and Soto – all are spending more than their predecessors.

Murphy’s predecessor, Republican former U.S. Rep. John Mica, had three district offices with a total rent of $5,077 a month for the trio.

Demings’ predecessor was Webster. However, due to redistricting, most of her district actually was represented by Democratic former U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown. She spent $3,114 a month for an office in Orlando, and $2,356 for one in Jacksonville. Her total was a little more than what Demings spends now, but with a district spanning parts of two major cities.

Wayne Liebnitzky blasts Darren Soto for ‘BananaRepublicans’ tweet

Republican congressional candidate Wayne Liebnitzky called out Democratic U.S. Rep. Darren Soto by charging that a tweet the congressman sent using the hashtag “BananaRepublicans” is divisive and beneath the office.

On Wednesday, Soto, of Florida’s 9th Congressional District, covering parts of Orange, Osceola and Polk counties, tweeted criticism of President Donald Trump‘s firing of FBI Director James Comey that declared “#Trump & #BananaRepublicans are destroying our democracy. Need #IndependentProseuctor to investigate #RussianHacking.”

In a Facebook post responding, and then in an interview, Liebnitzky, who lost to Soto last November and is seeking a rematch in 2018, said he should be ashamed of using a reference insulting Republicans in the district.

“Is calling the Republican Party the ‘#BananaRepublic’ professional and the way that an elected official should be carrying himself? Last time I check U.S. Rep Darren Soto, some of your constituents are Republicans,” he wrote. He ended his own post with the hashtag #politicsasusual.

In an interview, Liebnitzky said the country needs someone who fights against partisan rancor, not someone who fosters it.

“Once you represent people, you’ve got to say this partisan politics is horrible,” Liebnitzky said. “It has gotten worse.”

Soto responded Thursday by explaining his reference was to those Republicans in power who are standing behind or staying silent on the controversial firing of Comey.

“President Trump firing someone investigating his office was akin to a dictator from a third world country,” Soto said. “And so that term was used specifically to highlight the outrageous nature of firing the man who is investigating you.”

Sean Buchan of Winter Haven enters CD 9 Republican field

A second Republican candidate, political newcomer, banker and veteran Sean A. Buchan of Winter Haven, has entered the race for Florida’s 9th Congressional District.

Buchan, 31, a banker with Wells Fargo Bank in Winter Haven, filed to run late last week, joining last year’s GOP nominee Wayne Liebnitzky of St. Cloud in hoping to take down Democratic U.S. Rep. Darren Soto in the 2018 election.

“The time is right,” Buchan stated of his entry into politics.

Married with two children, Buchan spent eight years in the U.S. Marines and two in the Army, and served two tours in Iraq.

His top concern is the economy which he described as “doing better, but not well enough,” particularly in Polk and Osceola counties, which he said are in need of across-the-board jobs from technical trades to high-tech.

He also stressed national security as a critical concern, and expressed a strong desire for tax reform that simplifies the system for tax payers.

CD 9 includes most of south Orange County, all of Osceola and much of eastern Polk. Last year Soto, a former state senator, defeated Liebnitzky, to replace two-term Democratic U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson. Liebnitzky won in Polk but Soto handily carried the vote in the other two counties.

Buchan said he’s currently reaching out to county Republican executive committees and Young Republican clubs to begin pulling together support and organization.


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