Fresh off a Cuban visit last week, U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor is calling on Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to return consular officials and diplomatic personnel to the U.S. Embassy in Havana as soon as possible.
Tillerson withdrew 60 percent of diplomats from the embassy in Havana last fall after unexplained attacks harmed at least 22 American government workers and family members. Investigators explored the possibility of a “sonic attack” injuring diplomats through sound waves; they discovered no device nor a culprit.
“While I appreciate your overriding concern with the health and safety of our diplomats following the unexplained health incidents, it is time to increase staffing and re-establish an American presence to serve our interests and our citizens,” the Tampa Democrat wrote in the letter to Tillerson sent Wednesday.
The State Department is scheduled to decide the status of the embassy by next week.
Shortly after Tillerson ordered the removal of U.S. diplomats from Cuba, the State Department then opted to suspend all visa processing in Havana, moving that function to Bogota, Columbia.
Castor, representing a district that is home to one of the largest Cuban-American populations in the country, said it’s “unreasonable and unaffordable” for Cubans who want to travel to Tampa or Miami to go to another country to do so.
The U.S. had provided 1,100 visas a month to Cuban immigrants last year before the diplomatic imbroglio; that number has since trickled down to just 350 per month.
In 2013, Castor became the first member of Congress from Florida to call for removing the Cuban economic embargo, a decision that can only happen via a congressional vote. She has consistently championed the liberalization of the relationship between the U.S. and Cuba since the early part of this decade.
But the diplomatic breakthrough started by President Barack Obama in late 2014 came to a screeching halt when Donald Trump was elected in 2016. Among the policy changes his administration rolled back from the Obama White House was travel.
Last summer, Trump announced that Americans would no longer be able to plan their own private trips to Cuba, and those who did had to go through authorized educational tours, subject to strict new rules and audits to ensure that they are not going just as tourists.
Castor calls that plan “overreaching.”
“This is counterproductive and complicates America’s ability to support everyday Cubans and promote the exchange of ideas,” The Tampa Democrat complains.
Castor visited Cuba earlier this month with fellow Democratic Reps. James McGovern from Massachusetts and Susan Davis from California, as well as Senators Patrick Leahy of Vermont, Gary Peters from Michigan and Ron Wyden from Oregon.
The entire delegation, except for Castor, chose to meet with Cuban President Raul Castro during the visit. Castro will step down in April.
State Rep. Kim Daniels, a Jacksonville Democrat, got national publicity on Monday for the kind of prayer that no other Democrat in the state would deliver.
Namely, as Patheos observed, Daniels delivered with “rants against witches” and a prayer for President Donald Trump.
“God, I lift up President Donald Trump before you,” Daniels intoned during a daybreak sermon off the shoulder of an interstate. “I plead the blood over him. I plead the blood over his family.”
“Over Capitol Hill, over the White House … wherever that first family is travelling in Jesus’ name,” Daniels observed, “over the office of the President of the United States will not be disrespected.”
Daniels inveighed against “witches and warlocks … trying to bring confusion to this great man,” calling for them to — appropriately enough — be “fired.”
“God, when it comes to the place where witches are bold enough to come out and declare that they will have authority over who’s the President of the United States, I think it’s time for the saints of God to take a radical position, and we send every curse back to the vortexes of Hell where they came from, in the name of Jesus,” Daniels contended.
“We thank you God for Donald Trump. We thank you for his family. We thank you for his possessions,” the Representative continued.
Daniels has made a habit of praying for Presidents.
Her prayer for President Barack Obama, documented in Charisma, was less salutary and more skeptical than the tribute to Trump.
“Lord, expose the work of every witch, sorcerer, spiritualist or person from the dark side operating through his cabinet members or through anyone else closely associated with him. We block the power of the influence of the Yorùbá religion and all other groups of black people who worship their ancestors, in Jesus’ name. We put barriers around the United States that will bind and block the witchcraft coming from Kenya to influence our president in Jesus’ name. Let the power of every dedication of his past be broken, in Jesus’ name,” Daniels urged.
“We break every soul tie and vow that has been established between him and Harvard, secret societies and the Illuminati,” Daniels added.
Daniels, per another blog, once said that she wouldn’t vote for Obama for a billion dollars; however, that archive apparently was scrubbed.
Florida political observers, of course, recall Daniels for her commentary on current events.
Her most celebrated declaration in recent months: an October contention that “prophets foretold” Hurricane Irma.
We asked Daniels about these comments, and her responses were worthy of quotation in full. To sum, she stands by the claim.
“I wouldn’t post it on Facebook if I didn’t believe it,” Daniels said, feet away from where a massive relief fund was being rolled out for the storm she said prophets knew would happen.
Jimmy Carter had a nuclear sub named after him. Lyndon Johnson has the space center in Houston named in his honor. And, of course, there is the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral. Even Richard Nixon had a couple of schools named after him – before he resigned in disgrace.
They overlook that a huge part of his legacy is the work he and his wife, Michelle, did to promote childhood literacy in this country. He started the open e-books program for special education and Title I teachers, giving access to $250 million worth of books.
So, this is just me, but I think naming a library after a president who was a relentless champion of learning and raising literacy rates, particularly in the neediest areas, is a fine thing to do.
St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman is getting knocked around by some about this.Critics are calling it a thank-you to Obama after he campaigned for Kriseman’s successful re-election campaign. They’re asking what Obama has ever done for this area.
Well, you could ask the same about a lot of those other dedications across the country to former presidents. Obama was a frequent visitor to the Tampa Bay area and carried Florida in both of his campaigns, so it’s not like he was a stranger to the people here.
In a nation as divided as this one now, finding middle ground on these issues is impossible. It will be the same way a few years when some locales decide to name things after Donald Trump. (Note to self: resist the urge to say something snarky … must resist … must resist … keep it positive).
But Barack Obama was the president for eight years, and his popularity rating was 59 percent when he left office. He must have done a few things right.
St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman announced Monday morning his administration is renaming the city’s main library after former President Barack Obama.
Not everyone was pleased.
Kriseman made the announcement on Presidents Day in front of the library at 3745 9th Avenue North. The renaming is to coincide with the library’s planned $6 million in renovations, using funds from the Penny for Pinellas sales tax recently re-upped for another decade by Pinellas County voters.
While naming public buildings after past presidents is hardly unusual, the move sparked controversy on the internet, with Tampa Bay Times political editor Adam Smith weighing in on hisFacebook page, saying Obama has nothing to do with St. Pete.
“Mayor embracing his hyper-partisan image,” Smith wrote. “What if next mayor changed the name to Donald J. Trump Library?”
Predictably, the decision set off an exchange of responses (both pro and con) on the Times website as well, with some comments hinting of racism.
Detractors complained the library should be named for a local figure; supporters noted that Martin Luther King Jr. was not a local figure either. King, of course, has a major street named after him in St. Pete.
“It’s not like anyone is going to forget about Barack Obama (whether your opinion is positive or negative),” wrote Cliff Perkins. “So why waste resources to name a local library after him? He has no connection to St Petersburg. If it needs a name, pick someone local who has contributed to literacy or scholarship in the region.”
Pinellas County Democratic Executive Committee Chair Susan McGrath thought the decision to name the library after the nation’s 44th president makes perfect sense. One of Tampa’s main streets is named after former President John Kennedy, she noted, and McGrath often flies a few times a year into Reagan-National Airport in Washington D.C., which is named after former President Ronald Reagan.
While partisanship divides the country (as well as some quarters of St. Pete, apparently), the controversy honestly surprises McGrath.
“It’s not an issue before that we expect the legacies of presidents to be carried forth and reflected in the naming of buildings,” she said, adding the election of the first black president in the U.S. was historic and significant.
The Kriseman administration began discussing with community leaders as far back as last spring about renaming of the main library, and the enhancement of the library’s programming to include an emphasis on presidential history, civics, and the contributions of both Obama and Michelle Obama.
Obama endorsed Kriseman in his bid for re-election last August, just days before the primary. In the race against former Mayor Rick Baker,Kriseman took home the most votes in the Aug. 29 primary, going on to win re-election over Baker by two points in November.
For Presidents Day, activists in downtown St. Petersburg rallied to criticize congressional Republicans who they say have been silent or actively working to end special counsel Robert Mueller‘s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
Mueller laid out charges Friday against 13 Russian nationals and three Russian entities in a sweeping indictment describing in detail a years-long effort by Russians to interfere with the U.S. political system.
The indictments confirmed the conclusions of the country’s intelligence community but flew in the face of President Donald Trump‘s questioning of the probe.
In the eyes of some Republicans (like Marco Rubio), the indictments confirmed that Russia did attempt to disrupt the election — and are likely to do so again. Others, like Panhandle Representative Matt Gaetz, have been pushing to fire Mueller. In November, Gaetz introduced a nonbinding resolution calling for the House to endorse Mueller’s dismissal.
“These Republicans see their only role as protecting the president, and not the country,” said Andrea Hildebran Smith with the group FACT (Floridians against Corruption and Treason).
“We call them the ‘Cover-up Caucus’ … We expect members of Congress to use every tool at their disposal to protect this country.”
The liberal activists also are unhappy with Trump for announcing that he will not impose additional sanctions on Russia for its meddling in the 2016 U.S. election as well as its aggression in east Ukraine. Congresspassed a law last year calling on the president to do so.
“We want protection for this special counsel to finish his investigation,” said Karen Berman with Fired Up Pinellas, who along with MoveOn.org organized Monday’s protest in front of the federal building on First Avenue North in downtown St. Pete.
“We want to see the latest Russian sanctions enforced, and we want to see the state and federal government take steps to protect our elections from any interference,” Berman added.
Over the summer, amid reports that Trump was considering firing Mueller, members of both parties were compelled to introduce legislation to prevent that from happening.
While four bills have been filed in Congress to protect Mueller’s investigation, none will likely go anywhere in the GOP-led House and Senate.
Two bills have been introduced in the Senate, both bipartisan. Sponsored by North Carolina Republican Sen. Thom Tillis and Democratic Sen. Chris Coons, the Special Counsel Integrity Act would only permit the firing of a special counsel in the event of “misconduct, dereliction of duty, incapacity or conflict of interest.”
The Act has been stuck in the Senate Judiciary Committee for the past couple of months.
There are similar bills in the House of Representatives, which have a little more support. One, introduced by Democratic Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, has 31 co-sponsors, all Democrats.
One Democrat who hopes to make it to Congress later this year is Chris Hunter, a former FBI agent now running in the District 12th Congressional District Democratic primary.
“Our democracy has been compromised, and it will happen again,” he predicted, “because some of our elected officials are running their same type of disinformation campaign against our own country that Russian intelligence services have run.”
Hunter served in the Department of Justice under the administrations of both Republican George W. Bush and Democrat Barack Obama.
Not once, Hunter said, did political officials in either of those administrations “purposely set out to destabilize our democratic institutions.”
“Not only has our current president fail to protect our country, the Republican Congress has been complicit in that failure,” he added.
The winner of the Democratic primary in CD 12 will face Republican incumbent Gus Bilirakis this November. Bilirakis has not publicly commented on the Mueller investigation, according to statements published on his congressional website over the past year.
As a former FBI agent, Florida Politics asked Hunter what he thought of Gov. Rick Scott‘s comment last week that FBI Director Christopher Wray should resign in the wake of revelations that the bureau ignored a tip last month about Nikolas Cruz, who killed 17 people after he opened fire on a Parkland school on Valentine’s Day.
“I think it’s disgraceful to politicize the massacre in Parkland,” Hunter said.
No matter what candidates said or did, or whether they ran embracing themselves with the president, or running as their own style of Democrat, it just didn’t matter. Voters were looking to send a message, and people who had Democrat on their name tag were the only vessel that existed.
My model for Sarasota going into Election Day said that if Republicans turned out between 2,000 and 2,500 more voters than Democrats during the day, Margaret Good would hold on, but it would be tight.
In terms of turnout, that’s what happened.
If you look at what happened with turnout, in 2010 or 2014, the Republican Party wins easily, in a normal election (do we have any of those) — with this electorate, the Republican Party probably would have won, or the Good would have won a real close one.
But as the margin demonstrated, this wasn’t a normal election.
Yes, Margaret was a good candidate, and yes, candidates and the campaigns they run matter. Yes, it helped that there was a national focus on the race, Vice President Joe Biden endorsing, grassroots money from everywhere — nor did it hurt that Corey Lewandowski came to town to reinforce that message.
All of these things mattered.
In 2010, a lot of fantastic candidates lost, and lost for reasons outside their own control. The lost because voters wanted to send a message, and since the president wasn’t on the ballot, they used the only proxy they could.
Not all special elections are created equal, and not all outcomes matter the same. This one probably matters more than most.
Here’s a few of my reasons why.
First, let’s go back to a little reminder about Florida. Most of Florida mirrors someplace else in America. Why did Donald Trump go to Pensacola to do rallies for Roy Moore? Well, that part of Florida is very similar to the deep south.
Go to a Jets/Dolphins game in Miami, and you might think you are at a Jets home game, or a Steelers/Jaguars game in Duuuval, and in addition to seeing Blake Bortles lead the almost-AFC Champions, you will get a good sense of where a lot of Duval comes from.
Sarasota, like much of Florida from Tampa south to Naples, has a Midwestern feel, a result of migration that came down from the parts of America accessed from I-75.
So, the voters here, in large part, have more in common with voters from suburban communities in the Midwest. In other words, these are the kinds of voters who voted for George W. Bush, voted for Barack Obama — at least in 08, and in many cases, also in 12, then voted for Trump. There are red states and blue states.
There are also Trump Republicans and Old Guard Republicans. These are Old Guard.
This district is very white and has an older average age than most. For evidence, among the voters who voted early, 94 percent were white, and 90 percent were over the age of 50 — two numbers that based on the overwhelming Republican Party advantage on Election Day will likely only rise.
In fact, out of the 27,000+ voters who have already cast a ballot, just over 900 are under 35. In other words, this is not a district where change comes from younger ethnic voters surging, as it has in many other specials around the country. Change comes here two ways: Democrats voting, and swing voters sending a message.
Personally, I’ve always been a bit obsessed with this district. Besides being a great community to visit, when I first worked for the legislature, this district was represented by a Democrat, Shirley Brown, and in 2006, when I ran the Florida House Democratic Caucus, winning this seat back was one of my personal goals.
In 2008, we laid down a real marker here during the presidential campaign, putting a real operation on the ground, sending in both Obama and Biden, and almost winning the county for the first time since FDR.
Why? Because if we are doing the things we need to do well here, we are going to do well in a lot of other places.
One other factoid about the district: The last two times the Democrats won this seat in an open seat: 1992, and 2006, both pretty good years.
Last time Republicans won it from a Democratic incumbent: 2010, not exactly a great year for my team. You get the idea.
So, here are a couple of my takeaways.
Largely the story of special elections around the country, women were the story here in Sarasota. Before Election Day, women were driving turnout, and while we don’t have Election Day data yet, I assume this pattern continued. Democratic women make up 19 percent of registered voters, but make up 26 percent of voters so far in this special election.
In fact, while district-wide turnout for the early vote was 21 percent, turnout among Democratic women is 30 percent. And these weren’t just super voters: Good was turning out a lot more Democratic women who had little or no primary voting history.
I thought Good was up somewhere around 8 points going into Election Day (her pollster told me his model had her up 11, and yes Tom, I said that seemed a little “rosy”) — and that was based on her winning about 15 percent of Republicans and winning a sizable majority of NPA voters.
She ended up ahead after Early Vote by 12 points, which means she had to be winning NPA voters by a margin of close to 2:1. In addition, Republicans had roughly a 16-point advantage on Election Day in terms of voters, and for her to maintain a strong win, she needed to maintain similar margins.
If you go back to 2006 or 2010, one of the signs that the wave was coming was chunks of NPA voters began to really perform as partisans. You’d see it first in the self-ID question in polls, where polling was coming back more Democratic or more Republican than it should, and same in the early voting.
Not all NPA voters are created equal, but if older white NPAs — driven by women turning out — are performing more Democratic, that’s going to be a good sign for 2018.
I’ve argued for some time Trump fundamentally misread his own election (something Democrats have also been guilty of). Trump has been gambling he can be a 40 percent president and appeal to a small segment of hard-right voters and be sustained by them, but last night was just the next proof point that this is toxic for the Republican Party, at least among swing voters.
Nights like this require two things: the “Blue Wave” and the “Red Revolt.” I lived the opposite in 2010, where Republicans came out of the woodwork, and elements of the Democratic coalition either stayed home or sent a message with their vote.
Republicans outnumbered Democrats by 13,000 in this district, and by roughly 2,500 in terms of people who voted in the special election.
Two things — final partisan model will be a few points more Democratic than registration — and several more Democratic than 2016. In other words — Democrats showed up, and Republicans didn’t. But at the same point, in a seat where, again, 2,500 more Republicans voted, Good doesn’t win by winning a sizable number of Republicans.
Putting a finer point on it: On Election Day, Republican voters outnumbered Democrats by over 2,000. They only won the day by 110 votes. A bunch of Republicans chose to revolt today — both by not voting and by voting for Good.
In years like this, when swing voters are frustrated with the incumbent president, their only vehicle to express their frustration is through members of the incumbent party. And in HD 72, that revolt happened with center-right voters — which in some ways, is why this matters more than some other races.
Just as Democrats struggled in 2010 and 2014, when their base voters stayed home, as Obama proved in Florida in both 08 and 12 — and in a lot of states in the Midwest in both cycles, Republicans face real math problems if they can’t run up the score with voters like these.
So yes, this matters. It matters for confidence, but more than anything, it matters because this shows center-right moderates felt the need to send a message — and the only way they could send a message is to vote against the president’s party.
And trust me, having lived through 2010 and 2014, this is the biggest challenge Republicans will face in the coming months, figuring out how to navigate their own base, while still talking to voters who are dissatisfied with the direction of the presidency.
Energy around this race was ridiculous.
Good received almost 3,000 contributions in the last month, which is pretty much unheard of in a State House race. I had Democratic friends from literally every corner of the country asking how they could make phone calls or help out.
The folks on the ground did a great job of harnessing grassroots energy. I remember in 08, sometimes it is hard just to guide the mob of supporters in the same direction, and just like in the Miami race, the party folks from House Victory, the FDP, and the rest of the progressive groups are working together, not against each other.
Terrie Rizzo, the FDP Chair; State Rep. Kionne McGhee, the incoming Democratic Leader, and Reggie Cardoza, who runs House Victory, all deserve real credit in sticking the sword in the ground here and seeing it through. In addition, congratulations to one of my best friends, pollster and strategist Tom Eldon, who I think is now 5-1 lifetime in this seat.
And to the GOP team that lost, I’ve been there. In 2010, more often than not, all you could do was never enough.
Nine months out, the win matters for what it says about politics now, but it in some ways, it matters less about Florida than it does about those parts of the country where these Florida voters come from.
But more than anything, I do think we are in this for a while.
Voters keep voting for change, but as long as Washington keeps reading their calls for change as a mandate for one way, just as we’ve seen a lot of this for the last decade, I think we will see more nights like this for some time to come.
In eight days, there will be a special election in Sarasota. It is a race that probably shouldn’t look interesting, but alas, it is turning into one heck of a fight.
For those of you not from Florida, the corners of this state take on the characteristics of the part of the country where people migrate from.
Sarasota, like much of Florida from Tampa south to Naples, has a Midwestern feel, a result of migration that came down from the parts of America accessed from I-75.
So, the voters here, in large part, have more in common with voters from the northern suburbs of Chicago (the district used to be spring training home to the real Chicago baseball team, the White Sox) than they do with voters who live just 20 miles to the east, in the more rural parts of Sarasota County.
The seat became open when the incumbent, Republican Alex Miller, resigned due to a change in her business. The Republicans have nominated James Buchanan, the son of the area’s incumbent Congressman, Vern Buchanan. The Democratic candidate is Margaret Good, a local attorney.
House District 72 is a lean-Republican district. Mitt Romney won it by 4, and Donald Trump won it by 5. Overall, Republicans have a ten-point advantage in voter registration.
However, despite these numbers, this is a place where Democrats have won: from 2006-2010, this seat was held by a Democrat, Keith Fitzgerald. In 2014, Charlie Crist beat Rick Scott by about 1.5 percent, and in 2008, Barack Obama and John McCain played to a draw.
Nonetheless, conventional wisdom would say this seat should be a little more Republican in a special election, due to their super voter turnout advantage, but alas, this isn’t a conventional wisdom year.
With a week to go before the Election, Democrats are turning out their voters at a higher rate than Republicans, and the race appears to be headed to a very tight finish.
Just how close?
Well as of this morning, some 20,621 voters have cast a ballot either by returning an absentee ballot or by voting in person at an early voting site, with Republicans holding a 199-ballot advantage.
So far, just under 17 percent of District 72 voters have voted. Democratic voter turnout is at 22.5 percent, while 17.5 percent of the district’s GOP voters have cast a ballot.
So how does this district typically perform?
In the last three top of the ticket races: the 2012 presidential, the 2014 governor’s race, and the 2016 presidentials, there is a distinct pattern: Democrats have won the votes cast before Election Day, and Republicans have won Election Day.
In 2012 and 2016, Obama and Hillary Clinton went into Election Day with a 3.5 and 5-point lead respectively. In 2012, Romney won Election Day by 15 percent, and in 2016, Trump won by 26 percent.
But 2014 looked a bit different, and in it, the path for how Democrats win here: Crist went into Election Day with a 7-point lead, but this time, Republicans only won Election Day by 6, leading to the Crist win in the district.
But since 2016 was more recent, let’s take a closer look at that race.
Overall, Republicans had about an 11.5 percent advantage in the share of the electorate. The way this broke down: Republicans held a 5.5 percent advantage in the share of voters who voted before Election Day, and about a 23 percent advantage on Election Day. Just as in this race, Democrats had a higher turnout rate before Election Day than Republicans, but on Election Day, Democratic turnout cratered and GOP turnout spiked.
This translated to Clinton 5-point advantage among the 68 percent of the HD 72 voters who voted before Election Day, and Trump winning the remaining voters on Election Day by 26, for an overall Trump 5 percent win.
If you compare where Good is today compared to Clinton, in terms of turnout, the district is definitely more Democratic than it was going into Election Day in 2016.
By any fair assumption, given the district’s current turnout, and historical performance, she should be ahead by at least as much as Clinton was going into Election Day.
The unknown question, can she hold on — and just how much of a lead does she need to pull off the upset?
Eight days out, there are two big questions.
Republicans have more outstanding vote-by-mail ballots, so they see their numbers improve — though, over the last week, the delta between the two parties hasn’t changed much (remember Democrats in 2016 statewide left a lot more ballots on kitchen tables than did Republicans).
Right now, Democrats have returned 68 percent of their ballots, and Republicans have returned 65 percent, so I will be curious over the next week if the GOP can close that gap. What the final margin going into Election Day looks like will say a lot about the next point.
How much can Good lose Election Day by and still win?
If Election Day looks like Crist ‘14, she wins. If it looks like Trump ‘16, she loses.
Almost surely, it will land somewhere between the two.
Turnout can be hard to predict in these races. With more than a week to go, the turnout rate is already higher than the entire state Senate special election in Miami last fall.
In the recent St. Petersburg mayor’s race, 37 percent of the total vote came on Election Day. In the Miami State Senate race, it was around 27 percent. By the end of the week, this picture will be much more clear.
But one thing is for certain, this race is headed to the wire. Again, in a conventional special election, in a conventional year, this is a race we would not be talking about. But it isn’t, thus we are.
And at this point, a Democratic win here is far from improbable.
Last week, incumbent Belleair Mayor Gary Katica spoke with Florida Politics about his opponent in the upcoming election, 49-year-old Spencer Connerat.
The 84-year-old Katica, first elected in 2007 and ran unopposed in the last three elections, called out Connerat for his inexperience when it comes to town affairs as well as what he characterized as his anti-government views, stemming from a “manifesto” he said Connerat read in front of hundreds of residents during a commission meeting several years ago.
“The guy that I’m running against, oh, about five or six years ago was the only time he was ever at a public hearing, and there was about 300 people here about the Belleview Biltmore,” Katica said. “And during his comments, he got up and read his manifesto while people were hissing and booing.”
Katica said the speech “went over like a turd in a punch bowl,” a claim Connerat did not dispute when we caught up with him last week.
“I read the document in January 2014,” he said by phone. “The mayor presided, he gave me my time and even admonished the crowd to be quiet, as there were a couple of hissings. I really appreciated that.”
Connerat said the document was from a case he filed in a Pinellas County small-claims court in March 2010 against then-President Barack Obama seeking “to record a true and correct copy of such tacit admission of ineligibility of the Office of the President of the United States of America.”
Further research reveals Connerat had previously written letters to Obama, dating as far back as his initial presidential campaign in 2008, asking “Senator Obama to provide proof of your status … as required by our Constitution.”
Essentially, Connerat was a believer in the Obama “birther” conspiracy movement.
While he declined to comment directly about the contents of the case, saying “the document speaks for itself,” Connerat said the purpose of the lawsuit was to promote governmental and judicial accountability, not undermine it.
“Quite frankly, I’m surprised it’s such a big deal to the mayor,” he said, adding “it has nothing to do with being anti-government, it has to do with support of a legal process.
“If somebody’s in the government who’s not lawfully there, not duly qualified or elected, and somebody’s looking to expose that person or remove that person from office by using the judicial system, that’s working within the government. I think anyone can see that’s part of the lawful process. That’s supporting the government and the judiciary. So, (accusing me of) being anti-government is preposterous.”
Connerat, a compliance analyst at a financial advisory firm who ran for city commission in 2016, said he did not want to engage in a war of words through the press with his opponent.
“One of my goals is I’m running a positive campaign, so I want to speak positively,” he said. “Negativity is something I’m eschewing, to use a big word.”
Regarding Katica’s claim that Connerat never participated on civic boards or committees, Connerat said: “I’ve asked in the past to be considered for a board or committee, I even asked the mayor directly, as a way to get involved and I didn’t get a call back about that request.”
Asked if he was serious about contending, Connerat was adamant that he was in the race to try and win it.
“I think it’s important for people to have a choice,” he said, noting he went door-to-door and sent emails to registered voters and ultimately collected 40 signatures, 15 more than the city requires in order to qualify. “It’s tough to unseat an incumbent. Incumbents have a lot going for them. But it’s not a right, it’s not a title. No one’s entitled to the office ad infinitum. It’s something that, in my view, needs to be earned. It’s easy to say as an outsider, but incumbents should welcome competition because it makes that person sharpen his game.”
For his part, Katica said he welcomed competition, but only if his opponent was better qualified to be a leader of the city.
“I’ll take competition anytime,” he said. “But this is bizarre.”
Despite Katica having stated he doesn’t plan to debate his opponent before Election Day March 10, Connerat plans to request the two participate in a public forum.
“I’m going to write the mayor a letter inviting him to a debate at the venue of his choice, and we can invite the public,” he said.
“One of the outcomes of elections, typically, is debate and discussion if the issues,” Connerat added.
“Win or lose, it doesn’t necessarily matter, if there’s discourse and dialogue about how to improve the city or town or society at large. When you talk to the issues, things come to the fore, so yes, I’m happy to discuss them. I have a lot to learn from people who have been around for a long time, but I think it would be fun as well.”
Kay Akins is still “pissed off” about Donald Trump‘s election more than a year ago. “It gets worse every day.”
The Naperville, Illinois resident joined thousands of protesters Sunday in what felt like a seismic level of antipathy for the President of the United States, felt in both St. Petersburg and many parts of the country.
A year ago, Akins participated in the massive Women’s March in Washington D.C. She never felt more solidarity with so many like-minded people in her life, she said.
This time around, Akins found herself in the Tampa Bay area; she drove by herself Sunday to the Women’s March in St. Petersburg’s Williams Park, joined by thousands of similarly like-minded people. Organizers called on them to make their voices heard by voting in this year’s midterm elections.
Unlike last year, when the marches were all held on the day after the president’s inauguration, protestors held rallies over both weekend days this year, with gatherings Sunday in Las Vegas, Miami, Seattle, Phoenix and many other cities around the country.
On Saturday, a reported 120,000 crowded streets in Manhattan for a women’s march, with massive rallies in Chicago, D.C., the San Francisco area and many other locations.
Among organizers, the theme was “Power to the Polls,” featuring a call to have more women participate in elections this November.
But among those in the crowd, the focus was squarely on Trump.
“He awakened the sleeping giant,” said Patti Michaud, who served asco-captain of the Central Gulf Coast Women’s March.
An activist in the 1960s, Michaud said that while things may have become better for women, following Trump’s election, they were now “fighting for the rights we fought for fifty years ago.”
As a result, record numbers of women are running for office this year. At least 79 female candidates are exploring runs for governor, according to the Rutgers UniversityCenter for American Women and Politics.
Emily’s List, which recruits and trains pro-choice Democratic women, announced last month that over 25,000 women had contacted the organization about running for office since the 2016 election. Additionally, over 8,000 people have signed up to help women run for office.
Among those locally who are pursuing a run for office for the first time is Tampa resident Kimberly Overman, a Democrat running for the Hillsborough County Commission\. Overman attended last year’s march in Washington, which she called “inspirational” and said it demonstrated the power of women working together to get something done.
“I think that’s one of the values of having women in the process,” she said, “whether it be on the corporate side and corporate boards, whether it be on the government side in terms of serving for office, whether it be in the lobbying world, where women actually can help people find a consensus and find some good solutions.”
Other female candidates in attendance included Democrat Jennifer Webb, who is taking a second shot at the House District 69 seat this year.
Trump’s election was a shock, one that took awhile to get over, said Palm Harbor resident Kim Nymeyer. Like others at the event Sunday, she called her participation in last year’s march a cathartic experience.
It’s different this time around, Nymeyer added. “People are asking: What is the action now?”
Joining Nymeyer was her friend Marlene Witherspoon, who made the trek from Fort Myers to St. Pete. The two sat with beach chairs directly in front of the stage at Williams Park.
Reflecting on the 2016 election, Witherspoon admitted she was restrained in her support for Hillary Clinton, the reason she didn’t campaign for her in the conservative hometown, as she had for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012.
“I wasn’t on board with her,” she recounts. “She was too polarizing for me to risk knocking on doors to people [who] I know are Republicans.”
While Trump’s candidacy brought out conservative voters disaffected from the political process for years, his subsequent election has energized progressives who had been indifferent in the past, such as Lakeland resident Michelle Ploughman.
Wearing an “Elizabeth Warren in 2020″ T-shirt, Ploughman said the opportunity to empower female voices is part of the movement in which she’s taking part. She cited the power of black women in particular for Democrat Doug Jones’ victory over Republican Roy Moore in the Alabama U.S. Senate special election last month.
“That’s what this is all about for me. It’s really just promoting the idea that we all have the chance to make change in whatever area we choose and the best choice at this point is to vote.”
There were dozens (if not hundreds) of signs held up by those in the crowd: “The future is female,” “Vote like a Girl,” “Stop tweeting and read a book,” to name a few.
Scheduled to appear was U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, but events with the government shutdown in Washington precluded his appearance.
As was the case last year, Mayor Rick Kriseman made an appearance, as did Democratic gubernatorial candidate Philip Levine.
“Are you all ready to get expelled from Trump University?” Levine asked to a roar of approval.
Levine then awkwardly posited that it was time to enroll in a new university: “The university of doing the right thing.”
That’s a mantra heard in his often-aired television commercials touting his candidacy. In a creative bit of outreach, Levine also paid to co-sponsor the event.
In a four-and-a-half minute speech, Levine touted campaign pledges: raising the minimum wage, investing in public education and keeping a strong environment. And he excitedly told the crowd that November’s election in Florida was the most important “in the world.”
“Because so goes this governorship this year, so goes the presidency in 2020,” he said. “Women of Florida, you must vote. We must change our state. We will change our country. We will change the world. It begins right here in St Petersburg. It begins right here in Florida.”
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chris King spoke later in the afternoon as well.
In the audience, St. Petersburg resident Joan Thurmond was wearing a T-shirt touting the candidacy of Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, yet another one of Levine’s opponents in the Democratic race (Gillum and Gwen Graham, the other major Democratic candidate for governor, spoke in Miami on Sunday).
“I think he’s a racist,” Thurmond said of Trump. “A bigot. And I really think that he does not know what running the most powerful country in the world is all about. ”
Thurmond added that she didn’t appreciate his recent comment reportedly disparaging African nations.
“Being African-American, I know what it’s like to be discriminated against.”
Although overwhelmingly female in number, the crowd was diverse regarding race and especially in age, where toddlers to seniors were well represented.
Whether 2018 will be “The Year of the Women” at the ballot box won’t be known until after the November 6 midterms. But to women like Akins, their outlook on politics has been forever changed, no matter what happens this fall.
“My husband always says, ‘you can’t do anything,'” she recounted. “I said, ‘I can be there and give my voice.'”
With Congress potentially just hours away from a government shutdown in part because of a dispute over whether to include a plan to deal with those affected by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, a group of Florida Democrats slammed Gov. Rick Scott Friday for what they called his hypocrisy regarding DACA recipients, also known as Dreamers.
In an op-edpublished this week in USA Today, Scott called on Congress to secure the immigration status of those young undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. through their parent’s choice. Scott also said policy decisions should be coupled with enhancements for border security.
“Personally, I just don’t see how doing the right thing for these kids, and doing the right thing for our country by securing our borders, are partisan issues,” Scott wrote. “These are just plain common-sense actions for Congress to take.”
Approximately 780,000 Dreamers were given protection from deportation under DACA in 2014, but President Donald Trump announced last year he was dismantling it this March. Democrats want to address the issue this week within a continuing resolution, while Republicans say there is no urgency to do so just yet, and it should not be a barrier to keeping the government up and running.
“In Florida, we pride ourselves on being the gateway to the world,” Scott added. “Many Dreamers live in our state because they are in search of what we all care about: a good job, a good education and the ability to live in a safe community. It’s time for Washington to secure our borders and to do the right thing for these kids by removing the uncertainty hanging over their future goals and dreams. It’s really not too much for us to ask Congress to get these things done.”
With Scott likely to take on Democrat Bill Nelson in a U.S. Senate race this year, Florida Democrats seized upon Scott’s take on the issue, saying his more sympathetic stance towards Dreamers is an election year conversion, noting his support for a controversial immigration law in Arizona when he first ran in 2010.
That law, SB 1070, required police to determine the immigration status of someone arrested or detained when there is “reasonable suspicion” they are in the U.S. illegally. Arizona ended that policy in 2016.
“Rick Scott can write all of the op-eds he wants, but Dreamers will remember who was on their side over the past 16 years of fighting for the DREAM Act,” said House Minority Leader Janet Cruz in a conference call. “They’ll remember who campaigned on a platform of deporting them and who marched with them. They’ll remember who the real allies of Florida immigrants have been.”
Boca Raton Democratic U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch called SB 1070 one of the “most racist, anti-Latino pieces of legislation in recent history.”
“He even paid for TV ads applauding it, and tried very, very hard to bring it to Florida,” Deutch added. “We talk about candidates borrowing from the Trump-playbook of scapegoating immigrants, but it’s possible if you look at the history that our President borrowed from Scott’s playbook.”
Deutsch also referred to Scott’s attempts to purge the voter rolls in 2012, citing a Miami Herald story that found 58 percent of those who would be purged from the rolls where Hispanic. “This Governor cannot hide from his record,” he said. “DREAMers don’t need lip service, they need Republicans who will join with Democrats and step up to pass a clean DREAM Act.”
“When the DREAM Act came before Congress in 2010, Rick Scott made it very clear that he was against it, saying that he ‘does not believe in amnesty,”‘ said Broward County Democratic state Sen. Gary Farmer. “Three years later later Rick Scott opposed Dreamers once again, as he vetoed bipartisan legislation that allowed DACA recipients to receive temporary driver’s licenses. In 2014 Rick Scott refused to oppose a lawsuit led by Donald Trump’s favorite State Attorney General Pam Bondi, which opposed DACA and DAPA, seeking to block as many as 5 million undocumented youth and their parents, including thousands here in Florida, from receiving permits which would protect them from unjust deportation.”
Last fall, Scott said that President Barack Obama was wrong to address the Dreamers issue by Executive Order, and said it should have been done in consultation with Congress.
“I do not favor punishing children for the actions of their parents,” he said in a statement, adding that “these kids must be allowed to pursue the American Dream, and Congress must act on this immediately.”
“Governor Scott has been clear in his support for DREAMers, including supporting and signing a bill in 2014 that provided in-state tuition for DREAMers in Florida,” spokesperson Kerri Wyland said late Friday.