Alan Grayson Archives - Florida Politics

Lolita Grayson starts GoFundMe page, saying legal battles with ex Alan Grayson leave her broke

Lolita Carson Grayson, former wife of former U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, has opened a GoFundMe account, in part seeking help to pay legal expenses of ongoing litigation battles emanating from their 2015 annulment that she says has left her penniless and on the verge of being evicted.

“I really am in bad shape right now. I went to GoFundMe because I’m totally broke and I’m being evicted,” Lolita Grayson said Thursday.

Her GoFundMe.com page says the legal battles through and beyond their divorce proceedings and annulment have exhausted her finances, and yet she still has legal expenses involved in their fights over the disposition of assets. Those assets include the Dr. Phillips house they had shared in marriage, and where she continues to live. He has filed to have her evicted.

She is seeking to raise $20,000.

Alan Grayson, who left Congress this year after not seeking re-election in Florida’s 9th Congressional District, said Thursday that she had agreed to leave the house at the time of their annulment settlement. He said the two sides worked out a detailed, 30-page agreement called for him to sell it. Grayson said he has waited. And in the meantime, he charged, she has caused extensive damage to the house. “She has been squatting in the house for three and a half years [dating to when they first split.] It has cost me over a quarter-million dollars. According to the terms of the annulment, she has no property rights in the house.”

She challenges the latter point. Alan Grayson said she agreed to give up the house in a settlement agreement but then did not sign it. Whether it is enforceable, he said, will be up to the courts.

She said she does not recall agreeing to move out and give up the house.

The Graysons’ marriage ended after a bitter divorce proceeding led to charges, from him, that she still was married to someone else when they wed in 1990, and had committed bigamy. Lolita Grayson eventually acknowledged a former marriage did not end until two years after her wedding to Alan Grayson. In the spring of 2015, 9th Judicial Circuit Court Judge Bob LeBlanc dissolved the marriage.

Lolita said she continues to fight for marriage property and is seeking help through GoFundMe because, “I am fighting for what is right, for what is the right thing to do.”

Last year Alan Grayson remarried, to the former Dena Minning.

HD 47 hopeful Anna Eskamani opens political committee

Democrat Anna Eskamani opened a political committee this month which will allow her to raise funds for her campaign in Orlando-based House District 47.

Eskamani sent in the paperwork to open “People Power for Florida” in June and the Florida Division of Elections acknowledged the committee and added it to its database on July 13. The first campaign finance report for the committee, covering all of July, is due Aug. 10.

News of Eskamani opening a political committee was first reported by Matt Dixon of POLITICO Florida.

The Orlando Democrat is currently the only candidate running for HD 47, as current Republican Rep. Mike Miller announced in late June that he will leave the seat to run against Democratic U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy in Florida’s 7th Congressional District.

Eskamani filed for the seat a few days after Miller’s June 29 announcement, and is so far the only major party candidate running for the seat, which covers part of Orange County, including Winter Park and Belle Isle.

Though her campaign has not yet released its first campaign finance report, it should see a nice boost in August. The Planned Parenthood director of external affairs announced a fundraiser Thursday with many top Florida Democrats on the guest list, including Alan Grayson, Alex Sink, Bob Poe and Steve Schale.

HD 47 has a Democratic lean, with 45,213 registered Democrats, 43,323 registered Republicans and 30,189 voters not registered with either major party. Democrat Beth Tuura ran against Miller last cycle, but fell to 52-47 on Election Day.

Anna Eskamani announces star-studded fundraiser for HD 47 candidacy

Democrat Anna Eskamani‘s House District 47 campaign announced Thursday it will be holding an August fundraiser with co-chairs including Alan Grayson, Alex Sink, Bob Poe, and Steve Schale.

The August 15 fundraiser will be held at The Abbey, a popular downtown Orlando watering hole, especially for Democrats.

Eskamani, a Planned Parenthood director of external affairs and progressive Democratic organizer from Orlando, is first-in seeking to replace Republican state Rep. Mike Miller of Winter Park, who announced last month he’ll run for Congress rather than seek election.

The district serves north and central Orange County, including Winter Park and downtown Orlando.

The Democrat who ran against Miller last year, television producer Beth Tuura, is among the event chairs. Former Congressman Grayson, Former Florida Chief Financial Officer Sink, Democratic fundraiser Poe, Democratic operative Schale, former Orange County Comptroller Martha Haynie, lobbyist Kelly Cohen,  and fundraisers Jim Kitchens, Ted Maines, and Jeffrey Miller are among those listed as co-chairs.

“Some say that fundraising during the summer is tough, but with a community like ours, anything is possible,” Eskamani said in a news release.

Alan Grayson raising beaucoup bucks for a race he may not run

Alan Grayson said on Tuesday that he is not running for any office in 2018, at least not yet. But there are plenty of people who want him to, as he has racked up several hundred thousand dollars in campaign contributions for a CD 11 bid, a seat currently occupied by Republican Daniel Webster. 

The former U.S. Representative has been actively campaigning for Jon Ossoff, the Democrat running in Georgia’s 6th Congressional District through Act Blue, which bills itself as “the online clearinghouse of Democratic action.”

An online ad for Ossoff includes the disclaimer, “Your contribution will be divided evenly between Jon Ossoff and Alan Grayson.” There is a link that says, “click here to allocate amounts differently.”

In an interview Tuesday afternoon, Grayson said repeatedly when he originally told FloridaPolitics last December — that because he continued to receive campaign contributions larger than $5,000 after he lost in the U.S. Senate Primary race last August to Patrick Murphy, he had to legally file to run for office in 2018.

He opted to file to run in Florida’s 11th Congressional District, centered in Lake County, a seat currently held by Republican Daniel Webster, who defeated Grayson in Florida’s 8th Congressional District in 2010.

District 11 is a deep-red, conservative seat, and includes the Villages retirement community, a GOP stronghold. The seat was previously held by Rich Nugent before he announced his retirement last year. Ginny Brown-Waite held the seat before that.

“We passed the $5,000 mark quickly, and I had to file, so we went ahead and filed,” he said. “I haven’t made any decisions about what my plans are to run in Congress, but we filed for a specific district, and what prompted that was simply the legal obligation to do so.”

As a federally registered political action committee, Act Blue serves as a conduit for online contributions to Democratic candidates and committees.

According to the website Open Secrets, a website run by the Center for Responsive Politics. Grayson had raised $437,291 at the end of March, the first quarter of 2017.

Grayson says that every time he ran in Congress, he never decided whether he would run again until the same year as the election, so his decision to hold off on any announcement until 2018 is par for the course. He says his decision to run for the U.S. Senate was a much bigger race, which is why he did announce his candidacy for that seat a year in advance.

“It’s encouraging that I have that kind of support,” he said.

Fundraising machines churning for several Florida Congress members in hot seats

Most of Florida’s members of Congress in hot seats for 2018 elections are off to hot starts in raising money for their re-election campaigns.

Democratic U.S. Reps. Charlie Crist and Stephanie Murphy and Republicans Carlos Curbelo and Brian Mast already have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars each just this year, with Crist, of St. Petersburg, leading all Florida congressional candidates with $720,000 raised, and $146,000 spent on his campaign during its opening months.

All four of them have districts that are within five percentage points of being dead-purple in Republican-Democratic voter registration split, with Curbelo actually in a Democratic-leaning district, according to the latest Palmer Report, which tracks congressional district voter mixes.

With what he had left over from his last campaign, Crist ended the first quarter sitting on $672,000.

Curbelo, of Kendall, nearly kept pace with Crist’s fundraising and tops Crist in net money this year, bringing in $613,000 in the first three months of 2017, and spending just $51,000 of that, according to the latest reports from the Federal Election Commission. He had $605,000 in the bank, including leftovers from his previous run.

Mast of Palm City raised $428,000 in the first three months, and spent $113,000. Murphy of Winter Park raised $286,000 and spent $41,000 through the end of the first quarter. Mast finished the first quarter $819,000 in cash; and Murphy, $256,000.

In other close districts, Republican U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Miami also is in a Democratic-leaning district, but she announced last month that she is retiring, and her district is swarming with declared and potential candidates. Still, she raised a healthy sum in the first quarter, bringing in $341,000, while spending $92,000 of that. She closed out the first quarter with $315,000 in the bank.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Darren Soto of Orlando holds just a five-point Democratic advantage in his district, but his fundraising was weak in the first quarter. He collected just $41,000 in donations and spent about half of that. Soto had only $50,000 in the bank after the first quarter of 2017.

Likewise, Democratic U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch of Boca Raton has a six-point Democratic advantage, and raised just $51,000, while spending more than twice that much. Yet Deutch had $260,000 in cash, thanks to strong reserves from his previous campaigns.

Republican U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart of Miami has a four-point Republican advantage, and raised $126,000 and spent $83,000. He had $534,000 in cash.

Republican U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross of Lakeland holds just a six-point Republican voter advantage. He raised $146,000 and spent $56,000. He had $115,000 in the bank.

Among potential challengers, there is Democratic former U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson of Windermere. The two-time congressman filed to run in a third district in 2018, that of Republican U.S. Rep. Dan Webster. Grayson reported raising $132,000, yet he spent $152,000, much of it to repay loans he had made to his campaign. At the end of the quarter, Grayson’s campaign had no money left.

It remains unclear if and where Grayson intends to ultimately run, because when he first filed he said he was leaving all options open, including not running. He first represented Florida’s 10th Congressional District, before losing it to Webster in 2010. He re-emerged to win Florida’s 9th Congressional district in 2012, but did not seek re-election last year because of an ill-fated attempt to run for Florida’s U.S. Senate seat. CD 10 is now held by Democratic U.S. Rep. Val Demings, who may be unbeatable, and CD 9 is held by Soto. In Webster’s 11th Congressional District, Webster has a 15-point advantage in voter registration.

Webster, of Clermont, raised $105,000 and spent $56,000, and finished the quarter with $75,000 cash in hand.

Among other incumbents who have voter-mix safety or relative safety in their districts, Republican U.S. Rep. Vernon Buchanan of Longboat Key raised $395,000, Democratic U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Weston raised $287,000, Democratic U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel of West Palm Beach raised $206,000, Republican U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakus of Palm Harbor raised $148,000, Republican U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz of Fort Walton Beach raised $121,000, and U.S. Rep. Neal Dunn of Panama City raised $114,000.

No other incumbent topped $75,000.

Virtually none of the other challengers reported raising even $5,000 in the first quarter.

Then there is Cliff Stearns, the Republican 12-term former congressman who left after losing a primary to U.S. Rep. Ted Yoho in 2012, after redistricting. Stearns has not filed to run for anything since, but his old campaign remains in operation and reported raising $57,000 in investment earnings in the first three months of 2017. That was more income than 10 Florida incumbent members of Congress were able to raise in the quarter. On March 31, Stearns’ campaign committee had $1.5 million in the bank.

 

Outraged by health care vote, Pam Keith considers facing Brian Mast in CD 18 next year

Pam Keith has formed an exploratory committee to consider facing Brian Mast in Florida’s 18th Congressional District next year.

Keith, who received over 15 percent of the vote in last summer’s Democratic primary for U.S. Senate, made the announcement at the Palm Beach County Democratic Executive Committee meeting Thursday night, just hours after Mast voted with the majority of his fellow Republicans for the American Health Care Act.

“The response has been phenomenal,” Keith said Friday to FloridaPolitics.com. “People love that I am a veteran and feel that this helps to neutralize a lot of what Brian emphasized in his campaign.”

Taking 15.4 percent of the Democratic vote for Senate last year, Keith nearly eclipsed Alan Grayson — a well-known and better-funded candidate — who received only 17.7 percent.

Mast’s predecessor, former Congressman Patrick Murphy, won the Democratic nomination in August before losing to Marco Rubio in the general election.

Keith wanted to wait longer before making the announcement, but said Mast’s vote in support of the AHCA “really pushed me to get out there and test the waters.”

A former Judge Advocate General of the U.S. Navy, Keith made her first run for public office with a 2016 Senate bid.

After Mast voted Thursday for the AHCA, the Palm City Republican immediately came under fire from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

“Make no mistake about it: Mast must face the music, look his constituents in the eye, and answer for the mess they created,” said DCCC Chairman Ben Ray Lujan, a congressman from New Mexico. “There is no question that this bill will cause incredible pain for hardworking Americans, particularly those fighting to make ends meet, and this vote will haunt Mast through Election Day.”

Speaking on the House floor, Mast said Thursday that he has a pre-existing condition — he lost his legs in a bomb attack while serving the U.S. Army in Afghanistan — adding he was the “staunchest advocate for people out there that have pre-existing conditions.”

Keith believes her politics line up “very well” in the swing district, where “people know how much I am willing to work hard on the ground for each vote.”

John Rutherford opposed controversial House ethics changes

For those watching to see how Rep. John Rutherford will function in Congress, the Jacksonville freshman congressman may have passed his first test.

Rutherford opposed Monday’s move by House Republicans to eviscerate the independent Office of Congressional Ethics.

That move has already been reversed, vindicating Rutherford’s position.

Rutherford committed to working across the aisle during a primary campaign full of pitched partisan rhetoric, and maintained that position through the November election.

And that commitment to bipartisan solutions animated his opposition to the offensive against OCE, as Rutherford believed that any reform should be a bipartisan effort of the House Ethics Committee.

Rutherford wasn’t the only Florida Republican opposed to the move; as Mitch Perry reported, Rep. Dennis Ross likewise opposed the move … one that was questioned by President-elect Donald Trump on Twitter Tuesday morning.

Florida Democrats urged Republicans to stand and be counted regarding their position on this matter.

“Floridians deserve to know which of their Republican members of Congress voted to gut the Office of Congressional Ethics last night,” said spokesman Max Steele. “If they would like to offer any justification whatsoever for why they feel there should be no ethics oversight for members of Congress, we’re all ears. After turning a blind eye to Trump’s historic corruption and conflicts of interest, it’s no wonder Republicans want a piece of the action.”

While some Florida Republicans did vote to “gut” the office, Rutherford was not one of them.

As Matt Dixon noted on Twitter, OCE oversight factored into Florida politics very recently, with high-profile inquiries from the office into the affairs of Democrats Alan Grayson and Corrine Brown.

For now, at least, the OCE appears safe from “reform.”

Infamous dates: The moments that shaped Florida politics in 2016

Everyone expected Florida to play an important role in politics this year.

And why wouldn’t they? Presidential hopefuls hailed from here; the state’s electoral votes were coveted; and its Senate race could have determined control of the U.S. Senate.

But just like many predictions in 2016, some of the prophecies for Florida’s outsized role on the national stage fell flat. Many believed a Sunshine state politico would be a presidential nominee (not quite right) or that the election would hinge on its 29 electoral votes (close but no cigar). And that much anticipated battle for the U.S. Senate? It fizzled out before the first vote was even cast.

Here are the dates that really mattered in Florida politics this year. And some of them might just surprise you.

Jan. 20Florida Senate says it won’t appeal redistricting decision — A years-long battle over the state’s political lines came to an end in January, when Senate leadership announced it planned to let the court-ordered maps go into effect. The Tampa Bay Times/Miami Herald reported the four-year legal battle cost Florida taxpayers more than $11 million. The new maps threw a wrench in the 2016 election cycle, with all 40 of Florida’s state Senate seats on the ballots. While many believed the new maps could boost Democrats chances in 2016, that didn’t quite pan out.

Feb. 20 — Jeb Bush ends 2016 presidential bid —  All signs pointed to Jeb Bush being the front-runner for the GOP nomination. The son and brother of two presidents, the former Florida governor racked up a massive war chest and plenty of big-name endorsements. But Bush couldn’t make headway in a crowded field of Republican hopefuls and was often on the receiving end of then-candidate Donald Trump’s attacks. After a sixth place finish in Iowa and a fourth place finish in New Hampshire, Bush hung his hopes on South Carolina. He spent days on end campaigning in the Palmetto state, but it was just too late. He came in third, and ended his campaign that night.

March 15Donald Trump triumphs in Florida primary — Was it the turning point for Donald Trump’s presidential campaign? Maybe. The New York Republican was already on a winning streak by the time the March 15 primary rolled around, but the Sunshine State contest was the biggest one to date. And Trump was up Sen. Marco Rubio, who was believed to be a hometown favorite. Turns out, Florida voters weren’t keen on sending Rubio to the White House. Trump trounced Rubio, winning every county except for Miami-Dade County. Rubio ended his presidential campaign that night, saying America was in “the middle of a real political storm, a real tsunami. And we should have seen this coming.”

April 21Gwen Graham hints at 2018 plans — When the dust settled on new congressional districts, one thing was clear: Florida’s 2nd Congressional District was solidly Republican. What wasn’t entirely clear was whether Rep. Gwen Graham would run for re-election or follow in her father’s footsteps and run for governor in 2018. She put the rumors to rest in April, announcing she was dropping her re-election bid and was “seriously considering running for governor in 2018.” In the months since, Graham has continued to fuel speculation about her plans for 2018, most recently telling reporters every part of her “wants to run for governor,” but that her husband’s battle with cancer will play a significant role in her decision.

April 28Workers’ compensation decision rocks business community — A Florida Supreme Court decision striking down the state law limiting attorney’s fees in workers’ compensation cases might have been a victory for injured workers, but it also set the wheels in motion for what would become significant workers’ compensation rate hikes. The 5-2 ruling in Castellanos v. Next Door Company was just one of the decisions striking down workers’ compensation laws this year. Those rulings prompted the National Council on Compensation to ask state regulators to approve a nearly 20 percent rate hike. That rate, which was eventually lowed to 14.5 percent, went into effect Dec. 1. The state’s business community has said the rate hikes could have a dramatic impact on business, and are pushing lawmakers to tackle workers’ compensation reform in 2017.

June 1249 killed in an attack on Pulse nightclub — In the wee hours of the morning on June 12, a gunman entered the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, killing 49 people and injuring more than 50. It was the deadliest mass shooting in recent history, and sent shockwaves through the state and country. Gov. Rick Scott spent several weeks in Orlando, visiting with the victims and their families, attending funeral services, and meeting with members of the community. In the weeks and months that followed, the community came together to support the victims and their families. Spearheaded by Mayor Buddy Dyer, the city set up the OneOrlando Fund to assist victims of the attack. As of Dec. 2, the fund distributed $27.4 million for 299 claims, or 98 percent of all eligible claims filed.

June 17David Jolly drops out of U.S. Senate race, announces re-election bid — When Rep. David Jolly announced he was forgoing a re-election bid to run for the U.S. Senate, all signs indicated former Gov. Charlie Crist would sail to an easy victory. But after more and more politicos pushed encouraged Sen. Rubio to run for re-election, Jolly ended his U.S. Senate bid and announced a re-election bid, challenging Crist in an effort to keep his seat in a newly drawn district that favored Democrats. He had the support of many local Republicans, but Jolly’s push to end the practice of lawmakers dialing for dollars soured many congressional Republicans. When Election Day rolled around, Crist defeated Jolly, 52 percent to 48 percent.

June 22 — Marco Rubio reverses course, decides to run for re-election — After a devastating loss in his home state’s presidential primary, Sen. Rubio swore he wouldn’t run for re-election. The Miami Republican said multiple times that was going to serve out the remainder of his term and then go back to being a private citizen. And, as he mentioned on more than one occasion, a close friend — Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera – was already running for his seat. But in the days after the Pulse shooting, Lopez-Cantera encouraged his friend to run for re-election. Rubio ultimately announced his re-election bid just days before the qualifying deadline, effectively clearing the Republican field. He walloped Carlos Beruff in the Republican primary, and led in nearly every poll between him and Democrat Patrick Murphy. Rubio sailed to victory, winning a second term with 52 percent of the vote.

June 29 — Gov. Rick Scott declares state of emergency after algae clogs waterways — The Army Corps of Engineers began releasing Lake Okeechobee discharges down the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers after record rainfalls earlier in the year. While those discharges sparked outrage in both communities, the appearance of algae blooms on the state’s east coast prompted action from the governor. Scott declared a state of emergency in Martin, St. Lucie, Lee and Palm Beach counties in June, and called on the federal government to quickly approve permits for dispersed water management projects. The declaration helped push the issue of water quality to the forefront of many campaigns.

July 8Corrine Brown indicted — It was a no good, very bad year for former Rep. Corrine Brown. Florida’s 5th Congressional District, which she represented since 1993, was redrawn as part of the state’s ongoing redistricting case. She and several other political operatives were served with subpoenas at a BBQ joint in Jacksonville. And in July, Brown and her chief of staff were indicted on federal corruption and fraud charges. The charges stem from her involvement in an allegedly fraudulent charity scheme. Brown was defiant, saying “just because someone accuses you, doesn’t mean they have the facts.” To add insult to injury, Brown was lost her primary in the newly drawn district.

July 29 — Zika comes to Florida — The first reported cases Zika virus in the Sunshine State began popping up in February, when state health officials confirmed there were nine travel-related cases of the mosquito-borne virus. Gov. Scott declared a public health emergency in four Florida counties, a number which would grow as the months wore on. As concerns about the illness spread, officials called on the federal government to assist Florida in combatting the disease and minimize the chances of homegrown cases. But in July, health officials announced the first cases of locally acquired Zika had been reported. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention quickly issued a travel warning for the Wynwood neighborhood, where the first cases were found. The state eventually identified several Miami-Dade communities, including a portion of Miami Beach, where local people had contracted the illness. The state cleared the final Miami-Dade Zika zone in early December. According to the Department of Health, there were more than 250 cases of locally acquired infections reported this year.

Aug. 30The Grayson era comes to an end — Rep. Alan Grayson was known throughout Florida — and beyond — as a bombastic, no holds bar congressman. And he lived up to that reputation when he ran for U.S. Senate. Grayson made headlines after his ex-wife claimed domestic abuse over two decades, a claim he refuted (but not before getting physical with a reporter). Grayson gave up seat in Florida’s 9th Congressional District to run for office, but convinced his second wife to run. That pitted Dena Grayson against Susannah Randolph, a former aide to the congressman, both of whom tried to carry the banner for the liberal wing of the Democratic Party. And there was no party at the Grayson house when primary night rolled around. Rep. Murphy crushed Rep. Grayson in the U.S. Senate primary; while former state Sen. Darren Soto defeated both Dena Grayson and Randolph (Dena Grayson came in third). The hits kept coming for the Grayson political dynasty. In November, Star Grayson, the former congressman’s daughter, finished a distant third in a three-person race for the Orange County Soil & Water Conservation District Board of Supervisors.

Sept. 2Hurricane Hermine ends Florida’s hurricane-free streak — The Category 1 hurricane was the first storm to make landfall in Florida since Hurricane Wilma in 2005. And boy, did it leave an impression. The storm smacked the Panhandle, knocking out power to thousands upon thousands of customers. While power was restored in some communities relatively quickly, Tallahassee struggled to get up and running. That led to a tussle between Democratic Mayor Andrew Gillum and Gov. Scott. In a testy press release, the governor said the city was declining help from other utility companies and expressed frustration over how long it was taking to get the power back on. Gillum shot back, saying Scott was just trying to undermine a cooperative process. But politicos across the state noted the way Gillum, a rising star in the Democratic Party, handled the situation might come back to haunt him in future political runs.

Sept. 26 Water contamination concerns prompt rule changes — Days of rain leading up to, and following, Hurricane Hermine overwhelmed St. Petersburg’s sewer system. City officials opted to release millions of gallons of partially treated sewage into Tampa Bay, marking the first time in about a year the city did that. Combine that with news that a Mosaic Fertilizer sinkhole released 215 million gallons of toxic, radioactive water into the water supplies, and it’s no wonder concerns about Florida’s water supply ran rampant this fall. After many people raised questions about when the spills were reported, Gov. Scott ordered the Department of Environmental Protection to establish new reporting requirements. Those requirements are meant to guarantee local governments and the DEP are notified within 24 hours of a pollution incident. The state in October reached a deal with Mosaic over the sinkhole, which held the company accountable for fixing the sinkhole and rehabilitating the impacts of the spill.

Oct. 7 — Deadly storm threatens Florida’s east coast — One month after Hurricane Hermine made landfall near Tallahassee, Floridians were faced with another hurricane barreling toward their shores. What started as destructive tropical cyclone morphed into Hurricane Matthew, the first Category 5 Atlantic hurricane since Hurricane Felix in 2007. Gov. Scott and other officials throughout the state encouraged Floridians to evacuate and warned of days without power. The storm sideswiped the entirety of the East Coast, causing damage up and down the coast. The storm tore apart A1A in Flagler Beach, forcing it closed and requiring significant restoration.

Nov. 8Medical pot becomes legal — The second time was the charm for a medical marijuana ballot initiative. The constitutional amendment which allows people with debilitating medical conditions to use medical marijuana, easily passed with 71 percent of the vote. Supporters of the amendment, led by Orlando attorney John Morgan, were able to fend off opposition attacks. Florida was one of six states that legalized marijuana for either medicinal or recreational purposes on Election Day, marking one of the biggest electoral victories for marijuana reforms in years.

Nov. 10Richard Corcoran era brings new rules to Florida House — Calling for a new culture of transparency in the Florida House, House Speaker Richard Corcoran announced new rules aimed at getting tough with with the capital’s lobby corps. The rules prohibit representatives from flying on planes owned, leased or paid for by lobbyists; require lobbyists to filed individual disclosures for each bill, amendment and appropriation they’re working on; and increased the lobbying ban on former members from two to six years. Corcoran also created the Committee on Integrity and Ethics, an oversight committee.

Dec. 22Will Weatherford rules out 2018 gubernatorial bid — Considered a likely 2018 gubernatorial contender since he left office in 2014, former House Speaker Will Weatherford ended the year (and helped officially kick off the 2018 election cycle) by saying he would not run for governor in two years. “I have decided that my role in the 2018 gubernatorial election should be as a private citizen and not as a candidate,” he said in a statement. “My focus right now is on raising my family, living out my faith, and growing my family’s business.” Weatherford was the first candidate to formally say whether they were running. But even without Weatherford in the race, Floridians can expect a crowded field. Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam is expected to run, and Speaker Corcoran has been mentioned as a possible candidate. On the Democratic side, Rep. Graham has already expressed her interest, as has trial attorney Morgan. And Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine and Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer are all believed to be pondering a run.

Alan Grayson ‘Nuclear Sanity Act’ would force Donald Trump to seek approval before launching nukes

Outgoing Democratic U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson‘s new ‘Nuclear Sanity Act,’ HB 6535, would prevent incoming President Donald Trump from having uninhibited access to the nuclear launch codes by forcing him to seek approval from the Secretaries of Defense and State before launching nuclear war.

The only exception would be if the U.S. was under attack first and it’s impossible to reach either Secretary for 24 hours or more.

In a press release lavished with colorful language and possible scenarios of Trump’s future nuclear policy, Grayson says the reason for the bill is to put up a wall between Trump and nukes, in the wake of Trump’s “bizarre call” for U.S. nuclear expansion last week.

“What part of the phrase ‘mutual-assured destruction’ does Trump not get?” Grayson asked.

His bill states: “Except in a case of a physical attack on the territory of the United States by the military force of a foreign government, or in a case in which it is impossible for the President to establish communications with the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of State for a 24-hour period, the President shall obtain the approval of the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of State prior to the use of nuclear weapons by the United States.”

“In theory, if President Trump wakes up angry at Rosie O’Donnell one morning, Trump could nuke Ireland,” the Grayson press release states, then going on to quote Grayson himself on the gravity of the issue.

“We need to place someone or something between Donald Trump’s impulses and Armageddon,” he says. “When it comes to demonstrating Trump’s recklessness, we don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud. If any finger rests on the nuclear button, it shouldn’t be Trump’s extended middle one.”

The press release ends with a quote from Albert Einstein: “I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.”

2016 in Orlando politics: Pulse, outside money, hotel taxes, frogs

Story co-written by Orlando-Rising staff reporters Scott Powers and Lawrence Griffin.

In Orlando, 2016 will always be remembered as the year of the Pulse gay nightclub massacre, and Pulse redefined everything; but it’s not the only major event to have shaped politics in Orlando during the year.

Here are a few events that defined politics in Central Florida in 2016 and which promise to continue being game-changers in 2017:

1. The Pulse massacre – The hours of horror early on June 12 changed how Orlando sees itself and how the world sees Orlando. While nothing good can ever be attributed to the tragedy itself, the post-tragedy saw one region-wide group hug after another, often with Orlando’s LGBT and Hispanic communities being embraced by all. Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer rallied the business community to support the victims, while Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs brought people together. Orlando’s faith community united to support all the region’s people regardless of their personal identities. Orlando’s Republicans united to support gay rights. Time will tell if this is just a moment of mass grief or a genuine pronouncement of brotherhood and sisterhood. But for now everyone in Orlando politics has a shared vision of universal love.

2. Stephanie Murphy‘s shock of John Mica – Lost to many, in the realization that national Democrats spent more than $6 million to get her elected, is just how identically U.S. Rep.-elect Murphy reflects the look and views of the 21st-Century Florida’s 7th Congressional District: a young, well-educated, business-oriented, minority (Vietnamese-American) woman with fairly conservative fiscal and foreign-policy views, and liberal social values; or how much 12-term incumbent Mica was SO-20th Century. Before she’s cast her first vote Republicans already are targeting her. But they might wind up liking her.

3. Teresa Jacobs‘ battles with the tourism industry – Central Florida Hotel & Lodging Association president Rich Maladecki and Teresa Jacobs had a falling-out over the allocation of Tourist Development Tax funds in the spring. Maladecki wanted to fast-track a proposal to use the funds in a way Jacobs wasn’t happy with – it would have given less than she wanted to the Orange County Convention Center and put an undue burden on the county’s revenues. Maladecki declined to present anything to the Tourist Development Council on the plan, saying he wanted to pass it quick and not discuss it more as Jacobs wanted. However, a new deal was struck later that Jacobs could get on board with, putting $45 million towards the completion of the Dr. Phillips Performing Arts Center’s Phase II, finishing the acoustic Steinmetz Hall.

4. The retirement of Martha Haynie – Perhaps no one in Central Florida politics has a more sterling reputation for credibility and accountability than Orange County’s retiring longtime Comptroller Haynie. She’ll be succeeded by former Orlando City Commissioner Phil Diamond, who arrives with high marks for his own integrity, including her endorsement. But whether the more-laid-back Diamond can continue Haynie’s fearless way of speaking truth to power, often annoying the hell out of even fellow Republicans like Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs, will be crucial to keeping checks and balances working in local politics.

5. George Soros‘ election of a state attorney for Orlando – New York billionaire and Democratic-cause financier decided he wanted African-American district attorneys throughout America and he didn’t care who they are. He’d never met nor spoken to Aramis Ayala, yet poured $1 million into what had been her long-shot bid for Florida’s 9th Judicial Circuit state attorney’s race. Low and behold, she beat incumbent Jeff Ashton in the Democratic primary, essentially winning the job then. Ayala has her own strengths and charms but now she’s got to run a huge prosecutor’s office for Orange and Osceola counties based on her short experience as an assistant state attorney.

6. East of Econlochachee River development – The two large developments called the Lake Pickett projects, The Grow and Sustany, would have brought hundreds of new apartment buildings to an area east of the Econlockhatchee River that many wanted to keep an environmental safe haven. Opponents of the projects had a litany of complaints, saying the project would damage everything from the environment to the already-congested traffic. Then in November, Lake Pickett North (Sustany) was shot down altogether at a hearing for its comp plan and a zoning change. That was due to the changed vote of District 6 commissioner Victoria Siplin, who, after hearing the complaints of citizens, couldn’t in good conscience allow the project to go through.

7. Heroin and rising crime – In April, the Heroin Task Force’s work came to an end and they concluded with a set of recommendations Mayor Teresa Jacobs vowed to implement, including: continuing joint enforcement details among law enforcement, increasing bond amounts for heroin trafficking and growing availability of drugs such as Naloxone that could save a heroin addict’s life. Meanwhile, in both the Parramore neighborhood and Pine Hills, violent crime has been surging. City officials and residents have cited a lack of good education and a lack of good jobs as the symptoms for much of it. Sheriff Jerry Demings’ new plan Operation RISE will offer more visibility and opportunities for the community to come forward with what they know. That’s Demings’ big hope – that people will start coming forward. But the bodies are still piling up.

8. The Fall of the House of Grayson – They sought to become the most politically powerful family in Central Florida, maybe in all of Florida, but voters had different plans. Orlando’s liberal lion U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson stumbled through his own pratfalls in the U.S. Senate race to become an also-ran. His newlywed Dena Grayson’s largely stealth campaign supported by large networks of her her outside backers discovered none of them could vote in Florida’s 9th Congressional District. And his daughter young Star Grayson discovered that name recognition might not be a good thing, in her poor showing for the Orange County Water & Sewer District.

9. Darren Soto‘s win as the first Puerto Rican congressman from Florida – All along, from back when it was drawn as a Hispanic-access district in Florida’s most-Puerto Rican community in 2011, Florida’s 9th Congressional District was to be Soto’s for the taking. But that didn’t prevent him from having to earn it in a bruising primary, before easily vanquishing yet another white Republican, albeit a good one in Wayne Liebnitzky, in the general. Now the former state senator who spent his whole life in New Jersey or Orlando, yet uses a Puerto Rican coquí campaign mascot to symbolize his heritage, will have the responsibility to demonstrate it’s a good thing for Central Florida to have a Puerto Rican in Congress.

10. Emily Bonilla‘s upending of Ted Edwards – District 5 incumbent Ted Edwards started feeling the burn over the summer as opposition kept growing louder to what many said was his overly corporation-friendly style of governing. Though there were three contenders at first, all vying as the populist answers to Edwards, it was ultimately environmental activist and businesswoman Emily Bonilla who succeeded, not without help from an onslaught of George Soros-paid mailers that attacked Edwards hard. Bonilla’s message of balanced, smart growth that didn’t encroach upon the environment resonated with many voters disillusioned with Edwards, and she ultimately won the day.

11. Fight over legal statuses of the county officials – Orange is a Democratic-voter dominated county with a Republican-dominated leadership, except in the constitutional offices like sheriff, property appraiser and tax collector. In one of the less-heralded but critical political battles, Democrats Scott Randolph and Rick Singh won a court case keeping their offices partisan and likely Democrat, while Mayor Teresa Jacobs got voters to pass what could turn out to be only symbolic statements that they should be charter, not constitutional offices, and non-partisan. For now, the Democrats won. But Jacobs is still in charge.

12. Linda Stewart‘s grab of Andy Gardiner’s Senate seat – Senate President Andy Gardiner termed out in 2016 and his seat was up for grabs between the progressive, environment-friendly Democrat Linda Stewart and Republican Dean Asher. Stewart, who has served on a myriad of other governing boards, won the election and is now in the Senate, currently trying to pass a bill to force Gov. Rick Scott to fill up the Environmental Regulation Committee faster. With her election, all of Orange County’s senators are now Democrats. That’s good for the Democratic party, but in a GOP senate that Gardiner used to rule, what does it mean for Orange County’s clout?

13. The political resurrection of Val Demings – By the election of 2014, Val Demings’ name was mud in this town, at least among many Orange County Democrats, because she inexplicably abandoned her party’s only hope of winning the mayor’s race that year. But that wasn’t the real Demings. Her steamroll run to election in Florida’s 10th Congressional District showed who she really is: an ambitious, determined, streetwise fighter and fire-and-brimstone orator whose progressive views mix with her deeply-held values of a cop and a janitor’s daughter.

14. Groundbreaking on Creative Village – Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer’s vision for Orlando includes an ambitious plan for a work-live-play-learn community focusing on high-tech enterprises in a 68-acre corner of downtown, but for several year’s it’s been pretty much just plans. That changed when University of Central Florida President John Hitt and others finally managed to push through their cornerstone plan for a downtown UCF campus, with $20 million in state money, $20 million in UCF money $20 million in private money, and $67 million worth of contributions from Orlando. Now it’ll be up to Dyer and Creative Village developer Craig Ustler to make the proposed 150,000 square feet of retail and commercial, 225 hotel rooms and more than 1,500 residential units start happening.

15. Orange County’s tightening of citizen initiatives – The citizen-petition charter-change route has been hostile partisan territory for several years as Democrats out of power in county politics have used it when they couldn’t get Mayor Teresa Jacobs and the Board of Commissioners to pursue Democratic priorities, while Republicans charged their ideas were irresponsible. So Jacobs, her Charter Review Commission and the commissioners crafted their own charter amendment and got voters to overwhelmingly approve it, making that process much tougher, setting new rules on how and where petitions can be collected.

16. Shakeup at the Orange Democratic Executive Committee, but not at the GOP – Orange County Democratic chair Juan Lopez stepped down in November, the latest in a long line of short-term local DEC chairs. The election of new chair Wes Hodge was swift, and it was accompanied by a complete turnover of Orange Democratic executive committee office holders. But he still faces the problem of slim turnout at local meetings – something he hopes to turn around, especially as Democrats are by and large the biggest political party in the area. Local Republicans’ election went smoothly and without drama as long-running chairman Lew Oliver was re-elected for another four-year term over Trump-enthused challenger Randy Ross.

17. Betsy VanderLey‘s victory – Orange County District 1 Commissioner Scott Boyd termed out in 2016, and his seat was the lone one open for grabs on the county commission board. There were numerous contenders, among them local Muslim leader Nuren Haider, Dr. Usha Jain and Winter Garden politician Bobby Olszewski, but Betsy VanderLey – boasting recommendations from Teresa Jacobs and Boyd himself – came out on top in the end. VanderLey is a longtime resident of District 1. Her priorities on the board will be tackling school overcrowding and urban sprawl. And, as a non-politician (a theme in this year’s election if there ever was one), she says residents can trust her not to make decisions on her own behalf to climb ladders rather than representing the community.

18. Carlos Guillermo Smith‘s unavoidable LGBT voice in the Legislature – This was the year that had so much promise for LGBT rights advocates, with seven openly-gay candidates running for election to the Florida Legislature. But Smith was the only newcomer to win, joining Miami Beach’s incumbent state Rep. David Richardson. Smith, an Orlando Democrat, is likely to be a force though, even in a Democratic minority. A former lobbyist for Equality Florida, he’s as comfortable with a megaphone in his hand as he is in looking for ways to craft deals.

19. The rise of women – Sure, Hillary Clinton lost, but not in Orange County. And locally, freshmen U.S. Reps. Val Demings and Stephanie Murphy, state Sen. Linda Stewart, state Reps. Amy Mercado and Kamia Brown, and Orange County Commissioners Emily Bonilla and Betsy VanderLey all replaced men, and each except Demings defeated a man to do so. Only U.S. Rep. Darren Soto and state Reps. Bruce Antone and Mike Miller defeated women in significantly races, and Soto and Antone did so in primaries.

20. Marijuana’s approvals – Under a new City of Orlando rule, local law enforcement can now choose to write a warning citation rather than arrest for marijuana possession in the city. Some were concerned that this could still lead to marijuana arrests of minorities if police act in a discriminatory manner, and Chief John Mina‘s assurance that it wouldn’t happen is all they had to console themselves. But many were very pleased with the change. Buddy Dyer isn’t taking any chances with medical marijuana not running smoothly – he’s put a moratorium on marijuana dispensaries opening here, beyond the three they’ve already licensed, until they see what gets done in the coming legislative session in terms of zoning for them. The first medical marijuana production plant, Knox Medical, also opened late this year after Amendment 2’s passing, and will deliver medical cannabis to patients with untreatable epilepsy or neurological disorders.

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