Alan Grayson Archives - Florida Politics

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.

Under Donald Trump, Florida’s premium cigar industry could escape job-killing FDA regulations

On the verge of being snuffed out by Obama administration regulators, Florida’s traditional and culturally distinct premium cigar industry has a chance at new life.

Late last week, U.S. Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., the incoming chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, met with President-elect Donald Trump and submitted a list of 232 items that could be repealed immediately after Trump’s Jan. 20 inauguration.

“We must undo Obama’s harmful regulatory regime that has hurt hardworking Americans across the nation,” the group said in language akin to Trump’s campaign rhetoric.

One item in the report entitled “First 100 Days: Rules, Regulations and Executive Orders to Examine, Revoke and Issue” recommends stripping the U.S. Food and Drug Administration of its authority to regulate tobacco products.

The move could save at least 2,600 Florida jobs currently at risk and spare many businesses, according to Mark Pursell, CEO of the International Premium Cigar and Pipe Retailers Association.

Progressive-liberal firebrand U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Fla., who’s no fan of Republicans, urged the executive branch agency to back off premium cigars when it first began targeting the industry through a proposed administrative rule in 2014, but to no avail.

In a letter to FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg, Grayson said that “the premium cigar industry is responsible for employing an estimated 20,000 Americans, and realizes almost $2 billion in annual revenue.”

The incoming Trump administration could extinguish the economic hardship on Day One, according to Meadows.

Under Obama, the FDA launched an aggressive crackdown on tobacco and began treating cigars the same as cigarettes.

According to the agency, the restrictions are necessary to reduce “death and disease” from tobacco products, and the “dramatic rise in youth and young adult use of tobacco products such as e-cigarettes, waterpipe tobacco, and continued youth and young adult use of cigars (mainly cigarillos).”

Others see it differently.

“Premium cigar retailers already institute a wide range of controls to prevent youth access to these cigars, and all the taxation, labeling and testing requirements that FDA has instituted will accomplish is limit the diversity of products on the market, curtail innovation and raise prices,” Pursell said.

The FDA’s restrictions also ban free tobacco samples, institute new manufacturing equipment standards and abolish the delivery of cigars to American military service members overseas.

Last week’s Freedom Caucus report said: “the threat of FDA restrictions has loomed over the cigar business ever since the FDA took control over cigarettes.”

In 2009, a Democratic-controlled Congress amended the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act to include the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, giving the FDA sweeping authority to regulate tobacco. President Obama signed it into law in June 2009.

What started as a harsh focus on cigarettes expanded into a harsh crackdown on all forms of tobacco — something even Grayson, a staunch liberal, considered mission creep.

“Premium cigars should not be subject to FDA regulation,” he said five years after supporting the FDA oversight legislation.

“I urge the FDA to exempt premium cigars from the proposed regulation, consistent with Congress’s intent when passing the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, for which I voted personally,” Grayson said.

Premarket review

“The worst fear of cigar manufacturers and smokers alike has been that the FDA will impose the same onerous premarket review requirements on cigars that it currently places on cigarettes,” the Freedom Caucus report said.

That fear became a reality in August, when the FDA implemented a finalized rule two-years in the making requiring new tobacco products, as well as those made since February 2007, to undergo an expensive premarket review process, or as the administration defines it, “rigorous scientific review.”

Altering the size, shape, packaging and blend of any cigar product also triggers government approval.

“This process requires that manufacturers prove their products meet certain requirements before they can go to market by submitting hundreds if not thousands of hours of paperwork per product,” said Azarias Cordoba, owner of Córdoba and Morales Cigars, near Orlando.

“Since the FDA defines new cigars to include new blends, which can change seasonally for smaller manufacturers, the compliance costs could overwhelm many small-cigar businesses,” he said in an op-ed co-written by Chris Hudson of Americans for Prosperity.

According to Cigar Aficionado, an industry publication, the FDA confirmed in May that new product applications could “cost hundreds of thousands of dollars” per application. As a result, manufacturers effectively would be paying the government to regulate them out of business.

“That’s part of their game,” Eric Newman, president of J.C. Newman’s Cigar Co., a 121-year-old family business, said of the outgoing administration’s enormous new fees.

“Cigars are to Tampa what wine is to Napa Valley and what automobiles are to Michigan,” Newman said when U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., visited his Tampa factory three weeks before the Nov. 8 presidential election.

Newman’s Cigar City Co. is facing $2.5 million in new compliance costs that would have to be, in part, offset by laying off up to half the factory’s workers, he said.

“Anyone that has common sense knows that a premium cigar is simply not consumed the same way a cigarette is,” said Rubio. “It’s not a public health threat.”

Speaking in both English and Spanish, Rubio said he hoped a bipartisan bill, sponsored by U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., to exempt premium cigars would pass Congress before the end of the year. It won’t, just as several other attempts previously failed.

The Obama administration added insult to injury for Florida’s cigar producers and workers in October, when it announced in that Cuban cigars are now allowed in the United States as a result of the administration’s outreach efforts to the communist island government. But the new tobacco requirements won’t apply to Cuban tobacco products.

Cordoba, a Cuban-American, said his family business was once taken when Fidel Castro’s regime shut down factories across Cuba.

“I admit that the FDA’s actions are far less extreme than that of Fidel Castro. But the sting of government control over the economies and lives of people comes at a high price: the possible loss of a thriving business,” he said.

Via FloridaWatchdog.org.

Alan Grayson: Florida Democrats need someone with a message

Imagine a populist Democrat who not only bucks the party but has to battle against it, funded only by small donations and passionate followers lured to a message about what’s in it for THEM.

Bernie Sanders? Alan Grayson? The party’s only hope in Florida if it wants to elect someone statewide, other than Bill Nelson? Or just another dreamer who mistakes popularity for electability, and goes down in flames in a party primary? Or Donald Trump, had he been a Democrat this time?

Grayson is wrapping up his third and, for now, final term as a Democratic congressman from Orlando, a never apologetic liberal lion with perhaps as much name recognition in California and New York as he does in Florida.

While looking ahead to his announced plans to run a legal or Florida constitutional amendment campaign to restore civil rights for felons, Grayson also  reflected on his own accomplishments, his collapsed campaign for the U.S. Senate, and his opinions for what it would take for the Florida Democratic Party, the Democratic National Committee,and other Democratic establishments to win.

Grayson got crushed in the Aug. 30 primary, losing to U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy by more than 40 points,. That was just a few weeks after many polls had the race fairly tight and an occasional survey even found Grayson ahead.

A lot contributed to Grayson’s pummeling, including renewed, ugly reports about his personal life, and his stubborn refusal to ever acknowledge that either his personal or business controversies were anybody’s damned business, or that he ought to address them. But so, too, did a late advertising blitz by Murphy and by various Democratic groups in support of Murphy or nasty opposition of Grayson, which the small-donors-only Grayson campaign couldn’t dream of matching.

Yet the lesson Grayson seemed to take from it was the one he’d expressed all along, that the Democratic Party wanted to back a safe, moderate, mainstream and, if possible, self-funded, candidate; and that such a candidate would surely lose big in Florida’s general election, like almost all the similar safe, moderate, mainstream, self-funded candidates the party had backed for a couple of decades. And Murphy did.

And so once again Grayson is calling, really wishing, for a new approach.

“Unless there is substantial structural change, the Blue Dogs will continue to make the argument that a populist Democrat, or for that matter a progressive Democrat, which is not exactly the same thing, has no chance of winning – because that’s the way they continue to dominate the statewide machinery,” Grayson said. “Even though they’ve been proved wrong in every single race except for Alex Sink’s race for CFO, every single race for a quarter century.”

Grayson said the party needs to stop relying on identity coaltion-building politics – black, Hispanic, gay etc. – and focus clearly on basic issues people can believe will improve their lives, and which can be delivered. In the senate campaign, his was “seniors deserve a raise,” which referred to his plans to expand Social Security and Medicare. Trump and Gov. Rick Scott won populist campaigns on bringing back jobs.

“There are populist issues that would actually bring the whole state together and galvanize the groups that we did extremely poorly with in the national election, for instance high school dropouts, where the Democratic Party got wiped out,” Grayson said. “The polls showed Bernie did 40 points better than Clinton with high school dropouts. 40.”

A populist campaign, he argued, that focuses on those issues as Sanders did, while paying little attention to issues that have only regional support in Florida, could win.

“There are a number of issues that play just as well in the Panhandle as they would play in South Florida and the polls show it. For instance, increasing the minimum wage. There’s basically majority support all around the state except for Fort Myers,” Grayson said. “There are certain issues, actually, that you do see regional differences like for instance gun control, like abortion, and not the way you might think. Abortion is not that popular in South Florida.”

He also railed against what he called “the commentariate and the political industrial complex” for writing off attempts to appeal to certain segments of voters, like much of the working class, because they don’t vote. This year they voted, for Trump.

“I think if the Democratic party stopped ignoring them, they might vote,” he said.

With its Lego project, the Tampa Bay Times crushes my hopes and dreams

Last week, the digital geniuses at the Tampa Bay Times debuted a multimedia presentation that used animated Lego figures and constructions to tell a complicated story about a planned toll road on the Howard Frankland Bridge.

“How the plan to fix Tampa Bay’s most important bridge fell apart, told in Legos” from Eli Zhang, Caitlin Johnston, Anthony Cormier, and Martin Frobisher is an absolute must-click for its combination of shoe-leather reporting and “Everything Is Awesome” visualization.

It’s a great read.

It’s visually stunning.

It’s also — to me and only me — heartbreaking.

Please allow me to explain, without taking anything away from the great work of the Times reporters, while also knowing that many in the Times newsroom will take some pleasure in my agony.

Back in May, I wrote in a Facebook post: “it hit me what my next project will be. The next enterprise of Extensive Enterprises, so to speak. People won’t get it at first. They’ll think it’s silly. Then it will get the right people’s attention. And then everyone will say, ‘How much does it cost to do that for us?'”

My excitement originated from a video from Bloomberg: “The White House Correspondents’ Dinner in Legos.

The introduction was — “Curious how the White House Correspondents’ Dinner works? We explain … with Legos.”

It’s that simple.

As soon as I finished, I had a Eureka moment. Why not bring the Lego video concept to Florida politics? Isn’t that what I’ve done before — take a national idea and make it Sunshine State-sized?

My plan was straightforward. I would first produce a video about some storyline involving Florida politics. From there, I would partner with public relations firms who needed a new way to tell their side of a food fight happening in the Florida Legislature.

“Marion Hammer wants 18 year-olds to bring guns to college campuses … told in Legos.”

“The Workers Comp food fight … told in Legos.”

“Why you can’t get Uber in Miami … told in Legos.”

Whatever. You get the point.

A team of folks (much funnier than I) would help write the scripts. I’d build the Lego sets. Kevin Cate would shoot the videos.

It’s ratings gold, Jerry.

Except for one thing — Lego sets are not very easy to build. At least not the interesting ones.

And, like the Times, finding the right Lego Minifigures is next to impossible.

Kristen Hare of The Poynter Institute details the roadblock the Times team faced.

“We’ve found many Lego-people-packs online,” said (Adam) Playford, director of data and digital enterprise at the Times. “But they all have too many weirdos, like Lego Bananaman and Lego Grim Reaper. Regular Lego people are apparently no longer in vogue.”

Playford and Co. solved their Lego-people-problem by putting out an all-hands-on-deck request to the staff at the Times. I, of course, do not have that luxury.

So … and here’s where some of the agony begins to set in … I worked with a firm in London to create custom Lego Minifigures.

For the script of the first video, I would tell the story of Marco Rubio and the race for Florida’s U.S. Senate seat.

I ordered Minifigures resembling Rubio, Donald Trump, Patrick Murphy, Alan Grayson, Carlos Beruff (in a trademark black shirt), Ron DeSantis (pictured here in a Navy outfit, of course), and David Jolly.

As for the sets; well, let’s just say what the Times built for its very nice story about a bridge is, um, child’s play.

I started by building the small city building sets:

Soon, I became more ambitious, building bigger sets:

I assembled cars, planes, and trucks (including a replica of one the U.S. Senator drives) so we could shoot the pivotal scene from outside the Pulse nightclub in Orlando where Lieutenant Governor Carlos Lopez-Cantera tells Rubio he should re-enter the race.

I even built The White House (which was very difficult because it’s from the “Architect” class of Lego sets, which is basically Lego’s way of saying “A lot of f*cking pieces are in this box.”

I’ve been building and collecting Lego sets for nearly seven months, thinking the entire time that no one else would bring an idea I first saw on Bloomberg to Florida politics.

And then my bitter rival, the Tampa Bay Times, unveils its pretty little story about a bridge.

When I read the first tweet about the story, I knew what it was about without clicking on the link. My heart sank to a depth deeper than those caissons that hold up the Howard Frankland.

Sure, as my wife and other friends have said, I could continue my Lego project — and I still might.

But that’s like making “Deep Impact” after you learn that “Armageddon” is in production.

“Deep Impact” is probably the better film, but everyone remembers “Armageddon.”

If I do a ” … as told by Legos” video now, critics will say, “but didn’t the Times do that first?”

And screaming “but Bloomberg did it before either of us” does nothing to solve the problem.

Now I am stuck with a whole lot of Legos — which is OK, since my daughter, Ella Joyce, loves building with them.

In fact, Legos are one of the things we’ve been able to do together.

Just yesterday, Ella became sick on our way to a Christmas event replicating a train ride to the North Pole (it’s awesome, and I recommend it to every parent.) We were forced to turn around, missing one of our favorite holiday traditions.

To make up for it, I finished building this — bringing the North Pole to Ella:

If this episode has taught me anything, it’s that, as an entrepreneur, when a light bulb goes off, move quickly. That’s what worked for Sunburn, Florida Politics, INFLUENCE Magazine and everything else I’ve done.

I moved too slowly on this project and, subsequently, I lost out.

That won’t happen again.

Speaking of which, I have an idea for a …

 

Mitch Perry Report for 12.19.16 – Florida electors feel the heat while the rest of the nation freezes

Florida’s 29 Republican presidential electors gather in Tallahassee today to vote for well, presumably for Donald Trump, who defeated Hillary Clinton by 1.2 percent in the Sunshine State on November 8.

While the world awaits to see if there’s any movement with the 290 nationwide Republican electors, our electors will be voting in perfect conditions, with the forecast set for 65 degrees today in the Capitol.

That’s a far cry from the weather conditions of electors from much of the country today, and should be noted.

More than three dozen record low temperatures were set in the Midwest and Plains this past weekend with actual air temperatures in the 20s and 30s below zero, while wind chills plunged into the minus 40s and even a few 50s at times in some cities. Subzero low temperatures were observed as far south as Oklahoma and the Texas Panhandle Sunday morning. Huron, South Dakota and Marshall, Minnesota each set a record yesterday at 31 degrees below zero.

I’ve got the air-conditioning running in my home this morning, which, let’s face it, sort of kills the whole Christmas/holiday feeling. But I’ll refrain from complaining when I see the images of multi-car pileups and outright deaths around the nation due to icy road conditions.

Back when this presidential season really kicked into high gear – this past February in New Hampshire, I dealt with an inclement weather situation that, well, not to be dramatic, could have killed me.

On the Friday before the first primary in the nation, New Hampshire was rocked by a blizzard that, frankly, freaked me out. Considering I’ve only lived in San Francisco and Tampa, I haven’t dealt with a lot of snow conditions. Sheltered yes, but the fact is, I almost died driving down a turnpike from Manchester to Nashua, when I hit my brakes and went skidding over the road.

Yes, it’s annoying not to really get into the Christmas spirit when you have to turn your air conditioner on, but considering what it’s like in 80 percent of the rest of the country, those of us waking up today in Florida are damned fortunate folks.

As far as Florida’s electors? Yes, their feeling some intense pressure to reconsider voting for Trump. But none of them say they’re going to flip, so while there will be a lot of press coverage on this today, is it really that big of an event?

In other news..

The Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission is closer to extinction after a vote by the local state delegation.

South Florida Democrat Tim Canova says he may run again against Debbie Wasserman Schultz in 2018.

Hillsborough Clerk of the Circuit Courts Pat Frank got in the local delegation’s face on Friday calling for more funding for her office.

And Alan Grayson is not completely done in Washington. On Friday he announced two bills trying to hold Donald Trump accountable.

Alan Grayson files bill to force Donald Trump to pick up the tab for security costs at his properties

Although Alan Grayson will no longer be a sitting member of Congress in a few weeks, he’s given his congressional colleagues a road map to try to keep Donald Trump accountable with the filing of two new bills.

The Orlando firebrand announced Friday that he had filed legislation that would require the IRS to release Trump’s presidential tax returns, and ensure that taxpayers will not have to pay for added security costs to protect the President’s business properties.

During the recently concluded campaign, Trump became the first presidential candidate from a major party since 1976 not to have released his tax returns. When asked why not, he claimed to be under an IRS audit that precluded a release.

The IRS countered that individual could share their tax information at any time, even under an audit. Political pundits predicted that Trump would ultimately have to succumb to the political pressure to release his returns, but he never did, and didn’t appear to be harmed by not doing so.

That includes surviving a New York Times report that suggested that he might not have paid any federal income taxes for up to 18 years, after declaring a $916 million loss on his 1995 income tax returns.

Grayson’s second Trump accountability bill, H.R. 6506, mandates that the “President shall be financially responsible for any additional security measures imposed on property in which the President holds an ownership interest, and for other purposes.”

Grayson says that bill would be the first legislation of its kind to require a sitting president to reimburse the taxpayers for the cost of the security detail for his business property and investments.

“It’s bad enough that Donald Trump refuses to honor a long Presidential tradition of transparency by keeping his tax returns secret.  But it’s even more grotesque that, as my friend Congressman (Jose) Serrano has pointed out, New York City taxpayers already are paying $500,000 a day in security costs for Trump properties there alone,” Grayson said in a statement.

“It’s just a matter of time before President-elect Trump forces the taxpayers to pick up the tab for the added security costs at his personal and business properties around the world. That’s an insult, coming from a businessman who brags that he’s ‘smart’ not to pay taxes,” Grayson said. “My bills would solve both these problems.”

The President-elect currently owns over 30 properties in the U.S., and Grayson cites Forbes magazine with listing more than two dozen other projects under development. Grayson says that with so many personal and business properties around the world, the presidential security detail could be a costly measure.

“American taxpayers shouldn’t have to bear the burden of paying the security costs of profitable Presidential investments, especially when that President is someone who allegedly owns billion dollars in property and private investments around the world and refuses to tell us if he even pays any taxes on them,” says Grayson. “Trump is poised to cut taxes on billionaires and multinational corporations and cut middle-class earned benefits like Social Security and Medicare, while claiming that his own tax rates are ‘none of your business.’ Well, it’s my business to make sure Trump isn’t using the highest office in the United States to fund his own personal get-rich-quick scheme.”

“Trump is poised to cut taxes on billionaires and multinational corporations and cut middle-class earned benefits like Social Security and Medicare, while claiming that his own tax rates are ‘none of your business.’ Well, it’s my business to make sure Trump isn’t using the highest office in the United States to fund his own personal get-rich-quick scheme.”

Whether any lawmaker will pick up Grayson’s bill is uncertain, as he won’t be there to advance it. Grayson stepped down from his seat in Florida’s 9th Congressional District last year to run for the U.S. Senate. He lost in the Democratic Senate primary in August to Representative Patrick Murphy.

Earlier this week, Grayson filed to run in Florida’s 11th Congressional District, centered in Lake County, in 2018, but told FloridaPolitics.com reporter Scott Powers that he’s not certain yet if he will actually pursue another run at this time.

Alan Grayson files to run again but says it’s just paperwork, for now

Democrat U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson is downplaying prospects that his filing to run again for Congress means he’s going to run again for Congress — but he’s not ruling it out.

The Democrat from Orlando — who leaves office Jan. 3 because he did not seek re-election in Florida’s 9th Congressional District — has filed paperwork to run in 2018. And this time he filed to run in Florida’s 11th Congressional District, centered in Lake County.

Yet Grayson insisted Tuesday that the paperwork is simply a legal requirement because his campaign committee continued to raise money since the Nov. 8 election.

Federal law requires a candidate to actually be running for something if his campaign is raising money.

“The campaign raises money all the time. When the campaign raises a certain amount of money after an election, the campaign is legally required under the Federal Election Campaign Act to file a candidate’s statement of candidacy,” Grayson said in an interview with FloridaPolitics.com.

“The statement of candidacy form requires some kind of designation of an actual district, and the reason for that is the FEC keeps its records in terms of congressional districts,” he added. “Legally, I can run anywhere in Florida.”

Grayson said that is why he filed a statement of candidacy on Nov. 14.

Still, he said he’s leaving open the prospect of another congressional run, whether in CD 11 or elsewhere.

“That decision actually gets made not in November or December of 2016. That decision gets made in May of 2018,” Grayson said.

Rather than seek re-election this year, Grayson ran for the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate. He lost in the August 30 primary to U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, who then lost to Republican incumbent U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio in the general election.

Florida’s 9th Congressional District, Grayson’s current district, soon will be represented by another Democrat, Congressman-elect Darren Soto of Orlando. Soto defeated Grayson’s wife Dena Grayson in a primary election in August.

The other two Orlando districts, CD 10 and Florida’s 7th Congressional District, also are soon to be represented by freshmen Democrats, Congresswomen-elect Val Demings and Stephanie Murphy respectively. Another area district with potential appeal to Grayson, Florida’s 8th Congressional District, which reaches into far-east Orange County, is represented by Republican U.S. Rep. Bill Posey.

Dena Grayson is from that district and owned a home there before marrying Alan Grayson last spring.

A CD 11 run likely could appeal to Grayson, because it would be a rematch with U.S. Rep. Daniel Webster, the Republican from Clermont who defeated Grayson in a bitter 2010 election in yet another district, Florida’s 10th. Grayson, never one to mince words, has never liked Webster and might savor even the threat of a rematch.

As he said, Grayson could legally run anywhere in Florida. The U.S. Constitution does not specify that a member of Congress actually live in his district, and no federal or state law can change that.

Meanwhile, Grayson said he would turn his attention toward advocacy for the restoration of civil rights for people convicted of felonies in Florida. It’s an issue he has pursued in Congress and which he made a high priority in his failed U.S. Senate campaign.

Florida’s law says a convicted felon cannot vote, serve on a jury, or hold public office until civil rights have been restored, which critics of the law say is an overly difficult process. An estimated 1.6 million Floridians have lost such rights, with a disproportionate amount of them being black.

“I was really moved to see the plight of African Americans all around the state as I was campaigning,” Grayson said. “I think one of the underlying causes of that comes from lack of political power, which comes from the fact that 23 percent of African Americans aren’t allowed to vote, the highest percentage in the country. I think that’s wrong on many levels.”

He said he hopes to see a measure placed on the Florida ballot to address the law, and said there’s also the possibility he could help raise a legal challenge in the courts.

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