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Steve Schale: Thoughts on the Sarasota special election

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.

Belleair mayoral candidate responds to Gary Katica’s remarks

Spencer Connerat

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.”

Gary Katica

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.”

Thousands gather in St. Petersburg for Women’s March

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 as co-captain of the Central Gulf Coast Women’s March.

Thousands of women protested Sunday in St. Pete and across the country, most still angry over Donald Trump’s election more than a year ago.

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 University Center 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.'”

(Photo credits: Kim DeFalco).

Florida Democrats blast Rick Scott op-ed supporting Dreamers

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-ed published 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. 

 

Philip Levine launches Spanish commercial on DACA

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Philip Levine has launched another television commercial – his fourth overall and second this week – with a Spanish-language ad decrying the administration of President Donald Trump‘s policies toward so-called DREAMers, the young, undocumented immigrants who essentially grew up in the United States.

The 30-second spot “Injusticia” shows images of DREAMers and their families while a narrator attacks Trump for rescinding the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program initiated by former President Barack Obama, and for his rhetoric threatening to send them back to their native countries even though their parents brought them to the United States when they were small children.

It’s the second-consecutive commercial in which Levine, a state candidate, targets Trump on what is essentially a federal issue. Earlier this week he launched an English-language commercial, running statewide, going after Trump for his policy position to open up oil-drilling off the Florida coast, thought that commercial also mentions Florida’s Republican Gov. Rick Scott.

“President Trump is turning his back on these young people who, filled with dreams, became doctors, lawyers and teachers. And who today are ready to work for America,” the narrator states. “Philip Levine will work to end this injustice!”

Levine then uses his own Spanish, declaring, “We are talking about kids, and what it means to be an American.”

Levine is the only gubernatorial candidate to place commercials on television so far. He faces Chris King, Gwen Graham, and Andrew Gillum in the Democratic primary contest, while Ron DeSantis and Adam Putnam are the leading Republicans.

Levine’s independent political committee All About Florida is putting up $100,000 to run the ad for 10 days on Spanish-language television channels across Florida.

“We want DREAMers to know that they are not alone, and that there are many who are fighting for them and believe in doing the right thing,” Christian Ulvert, senior advisor, stated in a news release from All About Florida.

Philip Levine: Check to Marco Rubio ‘tiny’ compared with long, deep Democratic support

There’s that Sept. 30, 2009, check to the U.S. Senate campaign of former Florida House Speaker Marco Rubio:

It’s the $2,400 contribution to a Republican who then was seen as the darling of Florida’s Tea Party movement, an upstart whose explosive popularity on the right chased Charlie Crist from the Grand Old Party and made Democratic candidate Kendrick Meek a third-place finisher in 2010.

It’s the bank draft from Miami Beach businessman Philip Levine, who then was the future mayor of that city and who now is one of the leading Democratic candidates for governor in the 2018 election.

Privately, some Democrats have been whispering wonder about whether Levine’s erstwhile support of Rubio in 2009 reflected at all on his commitment to the Florida Democratic Party.

“Nope. Not at all. Zero,” Levine insisted in Orlando Tuesday when asked about whether that contribution meant he harbored an interest in Rubio or for what he stands.

“I have written millions of dollars to the Democratic Party, and that was just one small, tiny donation,” Levine said. “Friends of mine called me up and asked me for it, and I said ‘yes.’

“But he’s been a disappointment, and I’m not a supporter or a believer in any way, shape or imagination,” Levine continued. “Thank God my Democratic donations outnumber it about 5,000 to one.”

Levine is in a crowded race seeking the Florida Democratic primary nomination to run for governor, with former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham of Tallahassee, Winter Park businessman Chris King, and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum; and terms such as “real Democrat,” “true Democrat,” and “lifelong Democrat” already have been tossed about in that contest, as if someone in the race is not. The leading Republicans are Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam of Bartow and U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis of Ponte Vedra Beach.

“Mayor Levine has raised millions of dollars for fellow Democrats, up and down the ballot,” spokesman Christian Ulvert stated. “Most importantly, his record of getting progressive policies done is crystal clear — and it’s exactly the leadership he will take to the Governor’s mansion.”

Levine tells his story often about how he left college to work as a Royal Caribbean cruise ship deckhand, later following his instinct to become an entrepreneur serving cruise ships, to starting up and then selling companies, to becoming very rich.

By the late-1990s he became an active political campaign contributor, and by early this century he was a prominent one, making him an extraordinarily unusual candidate for governor. Other wealthy candidates have run statewide in Florida before, notably Republican incumbent Gov. Rick Scott and Democrat Jeff Greene of West Palm Beach, who ran for the U.S. Senate in 2010; yet neither previously had been as financially generous to others’ political causes as Levine had.

Though they do not quite show the multiple millions he asserted, U.S. Federal Election Commission and the Florida Division of Elections records do show that Philip Levine — from addresses in Miami, Miami Beach and Tallahassee — has contributed more than $1 million to others over the past couple of decades. He also has donated nearly $3 million to his own campaign’s funds in the past year.

Levine donated at least $189,900 to various state campaigns and political committees in Florida, and another $893,385 to various federal campaigns and political committees in Florida and across the country.

Campaign finance activity reviewed by Florida Politics does not include any political contributions Levine may have made in local elections in Florida [he was a two-term mayor of Miami Beach,] nor any he may have made in local or state elections in other states. Those would have been recorded outside the FEC and the Florida Division of Elections.

Levine, in fact, has a clear record of donating to Democrats for many years. His donations for Democrats compared with those for Republicans do not entirely create a 5,000-1 ratio, but it is higher than a 200-1 ratio, at least in dollars.

Since 2000, he has donated $161,800 to the Florida Democratic Party [including $61,800 in 2016] and at least another $12,500 to specific Democratic candidates and committees. Another $16,600 of his state political contributions went to committees that at least on paper may be considered nonpartisan. No state-level Levine money went to Republicans, the Republican Party of Florida, or Republican committees.

On the federal side, since 1999, Levine made at least 270 donations totaling $876,791 to Democrats, Democratic parties, and committees associated with Democrats. He has made six contributions totaling about $12,000 to committees that have some claim to being nonpartisan, or have unclear partisan standing.

He’s made just four donations, adding up to $4,650, to Republicans, including the Rubio check.

Levine was a big backer of Hillary Clinton, donating $300,000 to her Hillary Victory Fund committee in 2016. He also was a significant backer of Barack Obama, donating $30,000 to his Obama Victory Fund committee in 2008.

In contrast with the $2,400 he gave to U.S. Senate Republican candidate Rubio, over the past two decades Levine contributed $31,000 to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, $25,000 to the Florida Senate Victory 2004 committee, and $15,000 to Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson‘s campaigns.

Levine also has made direct donations to campaigns of Florida Democrats Dan Gelber, Bill McBride, Janet Reno, Alex Sink, Joe Garcia, Raul Martinez, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Crist [when he ran for Congress as a Democrat,] Peter Deutsch, Betty Castor, Alex Penelas, Andrew Korge, Jose Javier Rodriguez, Katherine Fernandez Rundle, Elaine Bloom, Ken Gottlieb, David Richardson, Richard Steinberg, and Wilbert Holloway.

Besides Rubio, other non-Democrats who received support from Levine include Miami Republican Lincoln Díaz-Balart, who got $250 for his 1998 Congressional re-election campaign; Montana Republican Conrad Burns, who got $1,000 for his 1998 U.S. Senate re-election campaign; and New Jersey Republican Dick Zimmer, who got $1,000 for his 2008 U.S. Senate campaign. Levine also donated to the nonpartisan campaigns of Florida’s 11th Judicial Circuit judges Maxine Cohen Lando and Milton Hirsch.

Vern Buchanan opposes Trump administration allowing elephant ‘trophies’

Vern Buchanan is displeased with the Trump administration’s decision to lift the ban on importing elephant trophies from Africa, saying the world’s largest land mammal is a threatened species facing extinction.

“We should not encourage the hunting and slaughter of these magnificent creatures,” the Sarasota Republican congressman said Friday. “We don’t get a second chance once a species becomes extinct.”

The administration is reversing an Obama-era ban on bringing to the U.S. the heads of elephants killed in two African countries.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) officials announced they have determined that hunting African elephants in Zimbabwe and Zambia “will enhance the survival of the species in the wild,” the standard that determines whether to allow imports of parts — known as trophies — of the animals.

Buchanan isn’t the only conservative Trump supporter disagreeing with the president.  Radio and TV personality Laura Ingraham tweeted Thursday that she didn’t understand the decision either.

Along with Oregon Democrat Earl Blumenauer, Buchanan co-chairs the Congressional Animal Protection Caucus, and the two men released a statement in opposition to the Trump Administration’s decision to reverse the ban on elephant “trophy” imports:

“African elephants are a threatened species and face extinction in our lifetime. As part of the international effort to reverse this trend, we strongly support the ban on imports of elephant “trophies” from Zambia and Zimbabwe. We are deeply disappointed by reports that there are plans to remove this ban, and as co-chairs of the Congressional Animal Protection Caucus, we are united in our effort to maintain the existing ban.”

Buchanan has a strong animal rights record in Congress, so strong that he was named Legislator of the Year by the Humane Society last year.

He’s previously urged the U.S. Department of Agriculture to restore a database of animal cruelty information that the department removed suddenly and without notice. He has also introduced the Safeguard American Food Exports (SAFE) Act, bipartisan legislation that permanently bans the transport of horses to slaughterhouses in Mexico to be sold around the world.

 

Old tensions about Cuba resurface at Tampa City Council meeting

A recent trip to Cuba by Tampa City Council Chair Yolie Capin and Councilman Harry Cohen was just the latest by members of the political establishment who have worked for nearly a decade to set up closer relations between the city and the Communist island.

Former Councilwoman Mary Mulhern first visited Cuba as part of a delegation of local business leaders in 2009, and she boarded the first direct flight from Tampa to Havana in 2011 after the Obama administration opened up travel to other U.S. airports beyond Miami, New York and Los Angeles.

Although not nearly as controversial as a decade ago, such trips are still not necessarily universally embraced in Tampa, which houses a huge Cuban-American population, including exiles of the Fidel Castro regime.

After former President Barack Obama made history in 2014 when he announced a full resumption of relations with Cuba, council members rallied to seek a Cuban embassy in Tampa.

Mayor Bob Buckhorn did not endorse the move, saying he always remained loyal to those exiles.

Those tensions came to light at a presentation Thursday when Councilman Mike Suarez, a Cuban-American who never fully embraced the outreach, asked Capin if any members of the delegation had reached out to Cuban dissidents, referring to how former Congressman Jim Davis had done so during a trip in 2006.

Capin said they had not, but appreciated the question.

“Our president just went to China and Vietnam,” Capin said. “He did not ask to see any dissidents.”

“I’m not challenging you at all,” Suarez replied.

Capin had made six trips to Cuba, and she said the issue of meeting dissidents had never come up a single time.

Tampa’s current U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, made her first trip to Cuba in 2013, meeting dissidents at that time. Upon her return, she became the first member of Florida’s congressional delegation to call for the end of the U.S. economic embargo to the island.

Officials Capin met in Cuba asked for “mutual respect for different ideologies,” and dispelled the perception that the country was in “chaos” following Hurricane Irma.

Chambers of Commerce for Tampa and St. Petersburg are considering attending the annual International Trade Fair there, she said.

“In my estimation, Tampa stands to gain thousands and thousands of jobs and transforms us into the global city that we want to be.”

While the local delegation visited the island nation, Donald Trump blamed Cuba for the mysterious attacks that sickened American diplomats there and prompted the abrupt withdrawal of United States embassy staff from Havana.

Cohen said that comment created certain a “chill” on the trip, which he deemed “unfortunate.”

“The international situation I think more than anything, more than anything else, was made clear to us that was going to affect our own region’s ability to engage with the future of Cuba,” Cohen added.

He did say that the Florida Aquarium will continue its partnership with the National Aquarium of Cuba, where it is nurturing and tracking coral reefs in Cuba to learn how to save reefs in Florida better.

Last week, the Trump administration rolled back some of the diplomatic thaw enacted by the Obama administration.

Travelers who visit Cuba under “people to people” guidelines must now book a tour only with an official U.S. group; a member of that team must go with them on the trip.

The administration also issued a list of more than 100 businesses, including 84 hotels, where American travelers cannot go.

Earlier in the council discussion, Luis Viera, another Cuban-American member of the board whose family members are exiles, said he supports Capin and Cohen’s visit as part of what he calls “principled engagement” with Cuba.

He challenged his colleagues to have a dialogue with Cuban-exiles about the relations with the country.

“I think that this would behoove us as council members on this if that’s something that is going to be continued as a policy is to engage members of that community,” he said, “because in the city of Tampa that community is a very large part of our city in terms of the social fabric, cultural fabric, etc.”

Capin said that was an excellent idea.

Two members of the audience questioned the council members visit.

“I have family in Cuba, I want to see a change in Cuba,” said Rafael Pizo, who complained that his family in Cuba still cannot buy aspirin, which had nothing to do with an economic embargo. “This is a tactic by the regime to keep the people down.”

Another unidentified Cuban exile, who spoke in Spanish (with an English translator), said the council was wasting its time trying to do business with the current regime.

“What business can we expect with this regime, they don’t even pay their allies and they pay no debts?” he asked. “To give them our money that we need in our communities for our roads, for our sick, for our social economic programs, we need our money here in our town, not in Cuba, they have nothing to offer us.”

Cory Booker records robocall for Rick Kriseman in St. Pete mayoral contest

He’s already been endorsed by Barack Obama and Joe Biden; now Cory Booker is putting his stature behind Rick Kriseman‘s re-election bid.

Friday afternoon, the New Jersey Democratic senator cut a robocall for the St. Petersburg mayor.

“Rick Kriseman is the clear choice for St. Pete mayor,” Booker said in a statement. “He is a progressive and a proven leader, and he wants to move St. Pete forward, not backwards. Mayor Kriseman led the way on important issues like banning the box, and his Second Chance program for kids and apprenticeship programs are having a real impact on reducing poverty. Under his leadership, St. Petersburg is a safer city with more opportunity for all.”

Booker is the third nationally known Democrat to endorse Kriseman in the past week, following in-person testimonials from former San Antonio Mayor and HUD Secretary Julian Castor and former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley. 

“I’m incredibly honored to have the support of Senator Booker,” Kriseman said, adding that registered voters should take advantage of the opportunities for early voting this weekend or return their vote-by-mail ballots if they haven’t already done so.

Kriseman himself voted Friday with his wife Kerry at the one early voting location, right across the street from City Hall on Fifth Street North.

The Booker endorsement is the latest example of how invested the national Democratic party is in seeing Kriseman re-elected, as he faces a serious challenge from former Mayor Rick Baker.

Although officially nonpartisan, the mayoral race has been anything but, with Kriseman touting his Democratic party credentials throughout the campaign and frequently associating Baker with Republican Party standard-bearer Donald Trump, who was easily defeated by Hillary Clinton in St. Pete during last year’s presidential election.

While Baker has repeatedly criticized Kriseman for nationalizing the election, Baker himself has received tens of thousands of dollars from Republican Party interests in his political action committee, including $25,000 from Rick Scott’s PAC.

Below is the full transcript of the robocall:

“This is U.S. Senator Cory Booker, and today I’m asking you to get out and vote for Rick Kriseman for mayor.

As a former mayor and the first African-American senator in New Jersey, the choice for me is clear: Rick Kriseman is a progressive and a proven leader, and he wants to move St. Pete forward, not backwards.

Rick Kriseman led the way on banning the box and his Second Chance program for kids and apprenticeship programs are having a real impact on reducing poverty.

Under his leadership, St. Pete is a safer city with more opportunity for all.

Please return your absentee ballot or vote on Election Day … Nov. 7, for Rick Kriseman.

I’m Cory Booker, and I strongly endorse Rick Kriseman for mayor.”

Martin O’Malley hits the phones for Rick Kriseman in St. Pete

Rick Kriseman‘s campaign received another high-profile boost as Martin O’Malley made a trip to campaign headquarters early Monday evening.

A visit by the former Maryland Governor and 2016 Democratic presidential candidate was yet another indication of how serious the Democratic National Committee and Florida Democratic Party are in seeing Kriseman get re-elected as St. Petersburg mayor next week.

O’Malley has been making campaign appearances across the country for Democrats, and he says that a year after the county chose Donald Trump to lead the nation, Democrats have never looked better to Americans.

“People are in a much more thoughtful and reflective mood than a year ago, and so I think that people have come to appreciate that we actually have to make our government work, and I think that’s going to work toward the benefit of Mayor Kriseman in this race,” O’Malley said to reporters.

O’Malley’s appearance comes three days after another Democratic Party star, former San Antonio Mayor and HUD Secretary Julian Castro, made his own trek to campaign for Kriseman. And they both came after Barack Obama and Joe Biden offered rare endorsements to Kriseman in this local race.

“They’re supporting me for what I’ve been able to do in St. Petersburg and what I’ve been talking about for the future for St. Petersburg,” Kriseman said about the endorsements from the former president and vice president, specifically referring to helping launched Obama’s “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative in the city and his strong vocal support for the Affordable Care Act.

“I think that’s why you’re seeing those folks and the governor being here and speaking on my behalf because we share common beliefs and values in a direction that we want to see not only the city, the but the state and country go,” said the mayor.

O’Malley was the third wheel to the Hillary Clinton-Bernie Sanders battle for the Democratic presidential nomination last year before dropping out of the race after a disappointing finish in the Iowa caucus. He had been considered a leading progressive star after serving eight years as Maryland governor and the eight previous years (1999-2007) as mayor of Baltimore.

“When I served on city council I traveled to Baltimore to see some of the innovative things that this man was doing for his community and try to learn from them to bring those back here to St. Pete,” Kriseman told the room full of supporters taking a break from phone banking to listen to the mayor and O’Malley.

As mayor, O’Malley introduced data-driven government reporting and management programs such as CitiStat and StateStat. Kriseman said that he’s tried to take the things that he learned from O’Malley and implement some of them in St. Petersburg.

Mayoral opponent Rick Baker and the editorial page of the Tampa Bay Times criticized Kriseman for nationalizing the local, officially nonpartisan race, but O’Malley would have none of it.

“Mayor Kriseman believes climate change is real and he’s certainly not a supporter of Donald Trump,” he said. “Those are pretty good distinguishing features between him and his opponent here.”

Meanwhile, as the mayor was hobnobbing with a former presidential candidate, Baker quietly informed the press via a photo emailed to reporters he has been endorsed in next week’s election by all five living former mayors of St. Petersburg: Don Jones, Bob Ulrich, Dave Fischer and Bill Foster.

“I am excited and pleased that Rick Baker is offering his experience and service to again lead our city. St. Petersburg has been an important part of my life for over 60 years and Rick Baker’s years as mayor were exceptional,” said Jones, who served as mayor from 1967-1969.

“The mayors who have helped build the great city we enjoy today care deeply about our future.  Having their support means the world to me” said Baker.

Five living former mayors of St. Petersburg: Don Jones, Bob Ulrich, Dave Fischer and Bill Foster … and mayoral candidate Rick Baker.
Mayoral candidate Rick Kriseman and former presidential candidate Martin O’Malley (via: Kim DeFalco).

 

(O’Malley photo: Kim DeFalco).

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