Alan Grayson – Florida Politics

Darren Soto endorsed by 10 other members of Fla. congressional district

Democratic U.S. Rep. Darren Soto has received endorsements from all ten of the other Democratic members of Congress from Florida, his re-election campaign announced Friday.

The announced endorsements would come as no surprise and seemingly fill no particularly-urgent campaign purpose, since Soto’s only opponent thus far in Florida’s 9th Congressional District is a Republican, St. Cloud businessman Wayne Liebnitzky. However, the announcement may send a discouraging signal toward any potential Democratic primary challengers, notably former U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, who’s been mulling a comeback run, possibly against Soto for his old CD 9 seat.

Six of those who endorsed Soto in Friday’s announcement, U.S. Reps. Kathy Castor, Alcee Hastings, Lois Frankel, Ted Deutch, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, and Frederica Wilson, all served with Grayson in the 114th Congress, and before. U.S. Reps. Al Lawson, Stephanie Murphy, Val Demings, and Charlie Crist all were first elected with Soto in 2016 to the 115th Congress.

Said Frankel, from West Palm Beach, “Darren Soto is one of the finest new leaders of his generation. He is all that women hope for in a male ally. He supports equal rights for women across the board. He fights for a woman’s right to choose 100 percent of the time. He demands health care for women and families. And he practices what he preaches – he hires women equally, promotes women equally, and pays women equally. And he has the stats to prove it.”

“Darren is not afraid to stand for what’s right. Before Parkland, his community was torn apart by gun violence. And he stood up, he took on the NRA. He will not forget the victims of gun violence when the media moves on. Soto will work day and night until our children our protected from guns,” Frankel added. “Darren succeeds the old fashioned way — through hard work. Darren is a new-generation leader who isn’t afraid to roll up his sleeves and do the work you need to do to succeed. He’s pragmatic, he’s in public service to get stuff done for Florida. He served in the trenches in Tallahassee like I did. He’s seen every dirty trick the Republicans pull, and he has fought them all — without the name-calling and childishness that often consumes Washington.”

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.

David Jolly, Patrick Murphy ready to take their act on the road

While he’s not sure if he will attempt to resume his political career by running against Charlie Crist in Florida’s 13th Congressional District, former Republican congressman David Jolly says he will be part of another campaign in the future – a GOP effort to block Donald Trump from being renominated in 2020 as the party’s presidential nominee. Read more

Alan Grayson taking on Donald Trump

A bored and angry Alan Grayson can be a can be dangerous for someone, and he’s aiming now at President Donald Trump.

The former Democratic, hard-boiled congressman from Orlando, who continues to keep a campaign warm for a possible return-to-Congress effort, has started a leadership political action committee called Lock Him Up Now  to pursue and keep track of evidence of alleged crimes and misdemeanors of the 45th president of the United States, and to raise money for an anti-Trump effort.

With a webpage subtitle of “The Resistance, Help End the Trump Presidency,” the organization’s goal is to compile and even create legal cases for impeachment or forced resignation.

“Our side needs somebody concentrating on what it will actually take to get rid of him,” Grayson said. “I think he’s already crossed the [impeachment] threshold.”

Grayson of course is known for his harsh, often bombastic, knee-breaking, sometimes outrageous, progressive-oriented political rhetoric.

Yet he also was one of the more successful whistle-blower lawyers in the country. Grayson said he intends to use that experience and knowhow to try to draw out any potential whistle-blowers on Trump, and get them to provide information, leaked or otherwise, that could be compiled into cases. His organization’s website is set up partly for that.

He said he has confidence that an independent, whistle-blower-oriented investigation could have opportunities beyond what either the official U.S. Congressional inquiries or FBI Director Robert Mueller can pursue.

Grayson served three [non-consecutive] terms in Congress. He represented Florida’s 10th Congressional District but was defeated for re-election by Republican U.S. Rep. Dan Webster. Then he served two terms representing Florida’s 9th Congressional District, but stepped out last year for an unsuccessful bid for the Democratic nomination to run for the U.S.

Since leaving office he’s kept a relatively low profile until now, but has kept open his congressional campaign fund. Because of that, last winter he filed to run against Webster again, this time in Florida’s 11th Congressional District. Yet he insisted then, and continues to insist now, that filing was just a paperwork matter to keep the option open and money flowing, and he hasn’t decided if he’ll run again, or where, or against whom.

Meantime, Lock Him Up Now is pursing both evidence and money, and seeking to become a rallying point for anti-Trump efforts

“We’ve struck a cord. A very large number of people think Trump needs to be impeached and forced out of office, or to resign,” he said.

Grayson’s critics, and there are numerous in both parties, may argue a collapsed U.S. Senate campaign and eight months out of office, Grayson’s fundraising opportunities might be limited. But he contends he’s raised $600,000 from 37,000 individual contributors for his still to-be-determined congressional run.

“I have a very broad base of support. People continue to contribute, notwithstanding my lack of success in the Senate race last year,” he said.

The Lock Him Up Now organization recently commissioned a national poll, which Grayson said he paid for himself. It asked 1,245 voters nationwide a series of questions about Trump, with what he said is a margin of error of 2.8 percent.

Yes, the questions were leading.

One asked: “Is Donald Trump a pathological liar?”

Grayson said 69 percent responded yes, 20 percent no, and 11 percent maybe.

“Is Donald Trump a jerk?”

Grayson said 77 percent responded yes, and 23 percent no.

And, he added, political party breakdowns didn’t change that, saying 88 percent of Democrats said they thought the president was a jerk, 80 percent of independents, and 61 percent of Republicans.

Paulson’s principles: Money, money, money!

It has been said that money is the lifeblood of politics. If so, many members of the Florida congressional delegation are very healthy, while others are on life support.

This is based on second quarter financial reports covering funds raised, funds spent and cash on hand. In contrast to the general assumption, money does not guarantee political success. Just ask Jeb Bush, who quickly raised over $100 million in his quest for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination. The money produced no primary wins and only three delegates.

Candidates who raise large sums of money do so either to scare off political opponents, to prepare for a serious challenger, or to stockpile funds to run for higher office. The biggest war chests among the Florida congressional delegation are held by incumbent Republicans who are considered safe.

Small campaign accounts do not necessarily signal a political problem. In many cases, a small campaign account is a sign that the incumbent faces no serious opposition. Democrat Alcee Hastings, representing District 20 in Miami, only has $92,074 in his campaign account. That signals that Hastings has never faced a serious challenge since winning a congressional seat in 1992.

Those with the largest campaign accounts include Republican Vern Buchanan in District 16 ($1,982,876), Republican Ron DeSantis in District 6 ($1,674,185), Republican Carlos Curbelo in District 26 ($1,078,588) and Democrat Charlie Crist in District 13 ($1,121,494).

Crist, serving his first term in Congress, is perhaps Florida’s best-known member of Congress and a prodigious fundraiser. Curbelo represents one of two Florida congressional districts held by a Republican that has a large Democratic advantage. Curbelo is more threatened than most members of Congress. Both Buchanan and DeSantis represent districts with a marginal Republican electorate. DeSantis’ district has a +4 Republican advantage and Buchanan’s district has a +6 Republican advantage.

Only one challenger taking on an incumbent has raised over $50,000. Louis Sola made a personal loan of $99,000 to his campaign account.

Two former members of the Florida congressional delegation filed campaign reports, signaling their hopes to keep their options open to another congressional run.

Former Republican Congressman Cliff Stearns raised $51,704 and has $1,579,227 in his campaign account, more than all but two of the current members of the delegation.

Democrat Alan Grayson, who represented District 9, filed paperwork in District 11. Grayson raised $68,532 and has $455,584 in the bank.

It is still very early with 19 months to go before the 2018 congressional elections. Some candidates have not announced and still have plenty of time to do so. What we do know, based on past history, is that two-thirds of the delegation face no serious threat. The other third who are in marginal districts or who have angered their constituents are going to raise as much money as they can to retain their seat.

There is one truism in Congress: Every member of Congress thinks they are indispensable.


Darryl Paulson is Emeritus Professor of Government at USF St. Petersburg specializing in Florida politics and elections.

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 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.

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