Bill Nelson – Florida Politics

Bill Nelson splits with Marco Rubio, Rick Scott over NoKo summit withdrawal

The push to give President Donald Trump a Nobel Peace Prize for solving the seven-decade-long conflict between the Koreas is imperiled, after the President on Thursday called off the scheduled peace summit with North Korean ‘supreme leader’ Kim Jong Un.

“I was very much looking forward to being there with you. Sadly, based on the tremendous anger and open hostility displayed in your most recent statement, I feel it is inappropriate, at this time, to have this long-planned meeting,” Trump wrote. “Therefore, please let this letter serve to represent that the Singapore summit, for the good of both parties, but to the detriment of the world, will not take place.”

The President had trumpeted the summit, and a commemorative coin had already been crafted; however, the summit is off now, with the brief detente having collapsed.

Meanwhile, Sen. Bill Nelson was the first Florida elected official to offer a statement.

“The cancellation of this summit reveals the lack of preparation on the part of President Trump in dealing with a totalitarian dictator like Kim Jong Un. We’ve seen similar lack of preparation by the president in dealing with the leaders of China and Russia,” Nelson asserted.

Sen. Marco Rubio, conversely, “100 percent” supported the President’s decision.

“I 100 percent support the President’s decision. For two weeks now, North Korean tyrant Kim Jong Un has been trying to sabotage the summit and set the United States up to take the blame. He made a big show of freeing hostages and supposedly dismantling a nuclear site to make himself appear reasonable and conciliatory,” Rubio asserted.

“But in the end it is now apparent his goal was either to gain sanctions relief in exchange for nothing, or to collapse international sanctions by making the U.S. appear to be the unreasonable party. If other leaders in North Korea want a better future,” Rubio added, “they should get rid of Kim Jong Un as soon as possible.”

Nelson’s likely general election opponent, Gov. Rick Scott, likewise aligned with the President.

“Governor Scott believes the interests of the United States must always remain our first priority and he is sure the president and our military and diplomatic leaders made the right decision,” asserted Lauren Schenone on behalf of the Scott campaign.

Complaint alleges Bill Nelson campaigned on Senate business

One of U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson’s constituents is claiming the Florida Democrat violated federal laws by campaigning during a recent event billed as official business.

The complaint, filed Tuesday by Alan L. Swartz, a Pinellas accountant, takes umbrage with an April 6 townhall held at the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority, or PSTA, in St. Petersburg.

Swartz charges that the event was carried out in Nelson’s capacity as a U.S. Senator, but instead served only to aid Nelson’s re-election campaign. That, Swartz claims, is a violation of federal laws limiting the scope of taxpayer-backed Senate resources. He’s asked the Senate Committee on Ethics, chaired by Georgia Republican Johnny Isakson, to launch an investigation into Nelson’s alleged wrongdoings.

“There can be no more direct affront to the American system of campaign funding than to exploit taxpayer dollars to support a campaign; yet Senator Nelson appears to have directly engaged in this practice by using official resources to hold a political event in a government building,” Swartz writes in the complaint. 

Ryan Brown, Nelson’s Senate-side communications director, disagreed.

“This was an official event organized by official staff,” Brown told Florida Politics. He suggested that other members of the media have dismissed a similar complaint as “bogus” and that covering the story follows the mantra of being “all about the clickbait.”

At the crux of Swartz’ complaint is correspondence (subjected to public records requests) sent between PSTA and Nelson’s Senate office. 

Local media coverage, Swartz asserts, proves that the event was for campaign purposes — not official business. An article from the Tampa Bay Times about the event was titled, “Bill Nelson, in campaign mode, talks guns at St. Pete town hall.” It’s cited in a footnote in the complaint. 

Nelson is quoted in the Times’ story saying, “Whoever my opponent is, I always take them very seriously and I run like there’s no tomorrow.” Swartz relies on this, in part, to allege the townhall was a campaign event. It is not clear whether Nelson was prompted by a reporter to speak about campaign-specific details or whether he did so with volition. 

Republican Governor Rick Scott officially challenged Nelson three days later.

One of Nelson’s staffers named in the complaint is Sharah Anderson, who took a spot as Nelson’s political director in March — before the Senator’s town hall in Pinellas. Email records obtained by Swartz show Anderson setting up the event using a government email address and “Regional Director” as her title, a position she’s held for 14 years. Anderson splits time between the campaign and Nelson’s office — which is ethical under Senate guidelines. Nelson’s office told Florida Politics that Anderson’s correspondence with PSTA was made through her role with Nelson’s office.

But Swartz contends the April 6 event was for campaign purposes, and so “use of an official email address indicates that Senator Nelson directed official resources to be used to arrange and promote this event,” reads the complaint.

Swartz writes that “at the bare minimum” Nelson created “the appearance of impropriety,” and should therefore be admonished for reflecting “dishonorably upon the U.S. Senate.”

The complaint against Nelson is well-timed as the incumbent fights against Scott for his seat in 2018. It also follows a different complaint filed last week alleging Nelson leveraged his power to get a lower valuation on a property he owns, so he could pay less yearly in property taxes. Nelson himself dismissed that charge as a perennial political attack.

Scott’s campaign communications director, when asked, denied any affiliation shared between Scott’s campaign and Swartz. But the two have crossed paths before; the Governor appointed Swartz to the Pinellas County Housing Authority in 2015 for a four-year term.

And later on Tuesday, the Florida Democratic Party made a charge against Scott that he, too, is using his public office to advance his campaign.

In an email to media, the Democrats highlighted that Scott’s former official press secretary Lauren Schenone, who’s since switched over to the campaign side, attended a state-backed Scott appearance Tuesday. A representative from Scott’s campaign has refuted the charge from the Democrats, clarifying with Florida Politics that Scheone attended the event as a member of the public and her presence was not supported by taxpayer dollars.

Bill Nelson blasts government of Florida for not expanding Medicaid

Florida’s Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson on Tuesday blasted “the government of my state, the state of Florida,” for not expanding Medicaid, during a speech on the Senate floor.

Nelson did not name names beyond that, but his reference to the government could be directed at his opponent in this year’s U.S. Senate election, Gov. Rick Scott, who once, briefly, supported the federal offer to expand Medicaid in Florida under the Affordable Care Act, then backed down, and then turned against it.

In 2015 Florida rejected the offer that would have provided billions of dollars to Florida on a matching and sliding scale, to cover an estimated 800,000 residents who make too much money to qualify for existing Medicaid programs and not enough to afford insurance.

“There’s almost $5 billion a year that is sitting on the shelf,” Nelson said, “that is Florida taxpayer money that is going elsewhere.

“In my state of Florida, that is 800,000 people, almost a million people, poor people, disabled folks that would be getting health care,” Nelson continued. “What do they do? They end up going to the emergency room.”

Nelson’s blast came in a friendly exchange with U.S. Sen. Doug Jones, the Alabama Democrat elected last fall in a special election, who began by criticizing his own state’s refusal to accept the Medicaid expansion.

Nationally, 18 states including Florida and Alabama turned down the federal expansion program authorized through the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

Kerri Wyland, spokeswoman for Scott’s U.S. Senate campaign, responded, “If Bill Nelson is truly concerned about healthcare services for Floridians, he should propose real solutions instead of campaigning from the Senate floor.”

Bill Nelson’s Brevard County property valuation challenged

A Brevard County taxpayer is challenging U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson‘s appraisal of land he owns there, alleging it has been undervalued for years, costing the county “hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not millions” in under-taxation.

It’s not a new issue, and Nelson, in a brief conversation on Friday, dismissed the complaint as something that comes up from political opponents in every election, while he insisted the property’s appraisal is appropriate as the land’s use is for grazing cattle.

The complaint was filed last week by James Peter Fusscas of Malabar with the Brevard County Property Appraiser’s office. It charges that Nelson’s property has been far undervalued, with the office listing the land’s market value at $3,038,750, while assessing its value for tax purposes at only $210,630, when Nelson had once listed the property, and a smaller adjacent parcel, for sale for at nearly $10 million.

That was a reference to a listing from the Allen Morris Company, a real estate agent based in Maitland, which had sought $9.975 million for the 75.7 acres along the coastline and U.S. Highway 1 near Malabar. That listing covered two parcels owned by Nelson, the agricultural area and an adjacent parcel that is zoned for single-family houses but also vacant. The listing included the projection that the two parcels combined could bring $21.5 million if redeveloped for housing.

Fusscas inaccurately contended in his complaint that the property is for sale.

In an email, agent Henry Pineiro told Florida Politics: “This property is not currently for sale and has not been for sale for the last couple of years.”

Nelson’s campaign staff also confirmed that the property is not for sale.

Fusscas’s complaint also refers previous media reports on the land that noted that Nelson leases it at no cost, and also notes that his federal financial disclosures have reported no income from the property for at least the previous seven years.

Fusscas argues that Nelson’s property should not be getting a tax break, and adds, “even if Senator Nelson is somehow entitled to a green belt exemption, his tax burden has nevertheless been much lower than the exemption contemplates.”

Last year Nelson paid $3,687 in taxes on the larger property and $4,309 on the smaller parcel.

Republican Gov. Rick Scott is challenging Nelson’s re-election campaign.

In a brief conversation Friday, Nelson said he has not seen the complaint but said that Republicans try to make an issue of the agricultural appraisal on his property and the taxes in every election cycle, and said this is no different.

“It is agriculture, cow pasture for 60 years,” Nelson said. “This comes up every election.”

Rick Scott vows to back Florida needs over GOP priorities in Senate

As the race for Senate heats up, Gov. Rick Scott is taking incumbent Bill Nelson to task for being a “party line” voter in D.C.

The case, distilled: while Nelson may have been a moderate Democrat while in the U.S. House of Representatives, as a Senator he has been a reliable vote for the Democratic agenda.

Scott, who has made a political career out of branding himself as a truth-telling outsider, has taken actions that bely that presentation. Among them: a lapsed-for-the-moment yoking of himself to Pres. Donald Trump, and out-of-state fundraising junkets aided and abetted by, among others, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Scott, when asked Tuesday in Jacksonville about what some would deem a discrepancy, vigorously refuted the claim, saying that he in fact has been a staunch advocate for Florida priorities above all else during his seven plus years as Governor.

“Everybody can look at my track record over the last eight legislative sessions,” Scott said. “I’ve worked to make sure that this is a state where there is work, a state where you can get a job.”

“If you look at education funding, law enforcement funding, the environment, I’m going to work to represent our state while in Washington,” Scott said. “The same thing I’ve done here.”

“As you know,” Scott continued, “the federal government was looking at doing off-shore drilling, and I worked to make sure that didn’t happen off our coast because we care about our environment and we’re a tourism state and I wanted to make sure that didn’t happen, and we won.”

Scott’s remarks likely won’t mollify the concerns of his staunchest critics, including and especially Democrats. Even the win on offshore drilling has been riddled with pitfalls, ranging from seeming contradictions of the position of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke from Interior Department staff, and allegations that Zinke’s declaration that Florida was “off the table” contravened the Hatch Act,

Worth noting: his answer excised what many would see as his deepest deviation from Republican orthodoxy,  his role in crafting and signing the post-Parkland gun control measures, which include blocking gun sales to adults under the age of 21.

Senate Majority PAC launches Bill Nelson commercial

The pro-Democrats Senate Majority PAC is launching a new statewide commercial for U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson that largely counters the attack ads he’s been facing from his opponent Gov. Rick Scott and his New Republican PAC.

The new 30-second spot, “Served,” portrays Nelson as someone who has served in the military and as an astronaut and who has worked across party lines and fought hard to protect programs such as Social Security and health care benefits. It essentially counters two spots that Scott and his PAC have out seeking to paint Nelson as a do-nothing and as highly-partisan.

Nelson’s campaign and his political action committee, Moving America Forward, have not yet launched any commercials, so the Senate Majority PAC TV commercial appears as Nelson’s first broadcast defense from the many attack ads that Scott and New Republican PAC have been running  against him for weeks.

Senate Majority PAC‘s initial buy is for $2.2 million, and the ad is running statewide, said SMP spokesman Chris Hayden.

“Bill Nelson’s life has been about service to others and to his country, and he continues that tradition of service everyday as he fights and advocates for Floridians,” Hayden stated in a news release. “Nelson is not afraid to go toe-to-toe with powerful interests. From protecting Medicare and Social Security from privatization to standing up to insurance companies by stopping them from denying coverage for pre-existing conditions, he never backs down from a fight. Bill Nelson delivers for Florida and there is no question he is the only candidate in this race that puts Florida first.”

As pictures and video appear of Nelson in his U.S. Army captain’s uniform and of the Space Shuttle Columbia, Capitol Hill, Nelson speaking at a town hall, and seniors, a narrator says, “He served his country as an Army captain. An astronaut on the shuttle Columbia. And as one of America’s most independent senators, Bill Nelson has delivered for Florida. When some tried to privatize Social Security and Medicare for millions of Floridians, he stopped them, stopped insurance companies from denying coverage for pre-existing conditions too. We need a Senator who serves all of us. Who puts Florida first. That’s Bill Nelson.”

Rick Scott’s campaign communications director Ryan Patmintra responded that the ad “focuses on things Nelson has opposed, but not a single thing he has accomplished.”

“After a half century in office, shouldn’t Floridians know who Bill Nelson is? It looks like Democrat party boss Chuck Schumer has had to come to the aid of his struggling foot soldier Bill Nelson. It’s ironic that a liberal SuperPAC is going out of its way to claim that Bill Nelson is independent,” Patmintra said in a written statement. “Nelson’s voting record is anything but moderate and nothing can hide his own record of voting in lockstep with his party bosses in D.C. Not surprisingly, the ad focuses on things Nelson has opposed, but not a single thing he has accomplished. Clearly, Nelson’s own base can’t even come up with real results worth sharing.”

Joe Henderson: Rick Scott following familiar campaign formula vs. Bill Nelson

The only way to avoid Rick Scott’s ad blitz thus far in his campaign for the U.S. Senate is to unplug your TV set and, well, who wants to do that?

That would mean you missed the Royal wedding and the Tampa Bay Lightning’s ongoing run toward the Stanley Cup, so I guess being subjected to Scott’s “approved” attack on his opponent and incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson is a price to pay we just have to pay.

The latest ad is a real gem.

Scott, the two-term governor, has been attacking Nelson, the three-term senator, as a “career politician.” Now, he is using what looks like the cast of Everyday Folks to paint Nelson as a rubber stamp who always votes the party line for the Democratic agenda — whatever it is.

One guy in the commercial even says Nelson is too influenced by Nancy Pelosi, and while I suppose their paths have crossed I doubt the House Minority Leader has much influence over Nelson’s votes in the Senate.

Ah, but that’s how the game is played.

Republicans believe Pelosi is such a hot-button item that merely hearing her name or seeing her face will send thousands of voters stampeding to the polls to back any GOP candidate.

Scott is not above playing the guilt-by-association game, either. A big part of his strategy as an unknown outsider in 2010 was to label Republican front-runner Bill McCollum as liberal for supporting — wait for it — “pro-abortion and pro-homosexual” Rudy Giuliani in the 2008 presidential primary.

Painting McCollum as liberal was (and is) laughable, except it worked.

Scott then put “let’s get to work” on an endless loop that we’re still repeating eight years later, and I guess he figures if a little distortion worked before, why mess with success?

Besides, Nelson is absorbing a ton of body blows from these ads while sitting on about $10.5 million in his campaign chest. It’s reasonable to ask when he will start throwing punches back before Rick Scott defines himself as an agent of change and Nelson as the face of partisan politics.

While Scott has already spent $8 million on TV ads, including Spanish-language ads, Nelson has essentially been a ghost on TV and puzzling to the Democratic base.

For instance, he voted to confirm Gina Haspel as director of the CIA, choosing not to hold the fact she oversaw “enhanced interrogation” (torture) for a time.

He tweeted his support for relocating the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, calling it the “appropriate place.”   

That doesn’t sound like a Democratic rubber stamp to me.

As long as Nelson lets Scott keep pounding away though, it doesn’t really matter what is true and what is misleading. Yeah, I know — the lead-up to major elections is all about being misleading.

Voters can usually sort through the nonsense, and it is still about 5 ½ months until the election. Neither candidate faces a serious primary challenge.

If I were Democrats though, I’d be worried that Scott is managing to plant enough seeds with voters that it could be hard for Nelson to change minds.

If they doubt that, just ask Bill McCollum.

Bill Nelson heading to Clearwater for anti-drilling event

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson will speak alongside Pinellas County Commissioner Pat Gerard, Clearwater Mayor George Cretekos and Sierra Club Florida Director Frank Jackalone at an event to oppose offshore drilling in Saturday morning.

The event, “Hands Across the Sand in Clearwater,” will begin at 11:30 am outside of the Palms Pavillion in Clearwater Beach. It is one of 119 anti-drilling demonstrations across 18 states that will be held concurrently tomorrow.

If the event gets rained out, Nelson and Co. will speak inside the Palms Pavillion, located at 10 Bay Esplanade.

After the speeches, attendees will line the Clearwater Beach shore and face the Gulf of Mexico. Eventgoers are being are encouraged to wear blue “to support the ocean,”

Event organizers said “Hands Across the Sand participants will be pushing local elected officials to formally oppose the draft plan to expand offshore drilling if they have not done so already, and to take a stronger stand against the expansion of offshore drilling along the coast. With the entire world rapidly switching to electric vehicles that use no oil, we’ll soon need less oil, not more.

Also slated to attend are Pinellas County Commissioner Janet Long, Pinellas County Schoolboard Chairwoman Renee Flowers as well as representatives from Sea Shepherd, Environment Florida, the Suncoast Surfrider Foundation, Center for Biological Diversity, and the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.

The Clearwater event is one of several scheduled in across the state. A full listing of Florida events can be found on the Hands Across the Sand website.

Bill Nelson, Philip Levine rip federal response to Puerto Rico

Speaking at the 9th Annual Puerto Rico Summit in Orlando Friday, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Philip Levine and Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson ripped the federal response to Puerto Rico’s devastation by hurricanes last fall.

Nelson called for statehood for Puerto Rico.

Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló also ripped Washington, but his ire was focused on Congress for including a new excise tax on Puerto Rican businesses in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 passed in December.

All three drew at least partial standing ovations, though the crowd was mixed, with Democrats, Republicans and others, including a scattering of elected officials from Central Florida, South Florida and Puerto Rico.

Earlier in the day, Florida Gov. Rick Scott also spoke to the gathering of more than 300 about all that his administration has done to assist Puerto Rico and Puerto Ricans who fled the devastation to Florida. He too, received an ovation. And Rossello thanked Scott, along with Nelson, Levine, and U.S. Rep. Darren Soto of Orlando, who did not attend, for their help for the struggling island territory since Hurricanes Irma and Maria laid waste and left problems that persist today.

Yet in their afternoon remarks, Levine and Nelson took off gloves, and most of the crowd loved it.

Levine personally brought one of the first planes into Puerto Rico with relief supplies shortly after the Sept. 20 Hurricane Maria disaster, arriving with the goods ahead of anything the Federal Emergency Management Agency offered. The group gave Levine an award for that, and also gave an award to Scott.

“The way the administration handled that relief effort was embarrassing to our nation and the world, what they did to Puerto Rico,” Levine said. “And I don’t care if that’s politically incorrect, I’m going to call it like it is.”

Levine said the same kind of White House response would have made the Normandy invasion or the Berlin Airdrop utter disasters.

“What our country could have done for Puerto Rico, it didn’t do. Instead of throwing paper towels, what they should have done is say I want the top 25 CEOs of the top companies in America, put them on a plane, and say we will show the world what America can do!” Levine said, bringing a rousing ovation.

Nelson was more measured in his criticism of the federal response, but also far more detailed, talking about his numerous trips to Puerto Rico, including two weeks ago, when he saw small cities that still lacked power to up to 30 percent of their residents, and where clean water still is unavailable to many.

He spoke of recent decisions by the administration of President Donald Trump to end FEMA assistance, and, as of Friday, to bring home the Army Corps of Engineers’ restoration efforts. He spoke of contracts being mismanaged, and “basic necessities” such as tarps and hot meals still not available to all.

“This is completely unacceptable. Can you imagine anybody on the mainland in Texas and in Florida almost nine months after the hurricane still without electricity?” Nelson said.

“I have always supported self-determination for all U.S. citizens. Now with all the poor treatment by this administration it seems to me that statehood is the answer,” Nelson said.

“We should never accept incompetence andgross negligence as the new normal,” Nelson said. “So we have to fight.”

Bill Nelson confronts Rick Scott, restive base as campaign ramps up

Friday afternoon brought Sen. Bill Nelson to Jacksonville for various events, including a fundraiser at Baptist Health, a nod to facing the staunchest challenge of his political career from Republican Gov. Rick Scott.

Scott for Florida” has spent $3.2 million on ads just this week, and $8 million since the Governor entered the race.

So Nelson is getting general election pressure, even as Democrats ranging from rainmakers like John Morgan to strategists like Steve Vancore and county chairs and activists fret that the Senators isn’t energizing the base.

Nelson, meanwhile, is gearing up for the toughest campaign of his life against Scott. We asked Nelson about the challenges he will face there, as well as the alleged issues energizing core supporters.

“First of all, he is independently wealthy. As we saw in past campaigns,” Nelson said, “he can write a check. His first campaign for Governor, he wrote $85 million of his own money.”

“Naturally,” Nelson added, “we are not going to have that kind of money. But that’s not the way that you win elections. People have a choice. Who’s in it to serve the people? And who’s in it for themselves?”

“We’re still six months out from this election. By the time that you get around to November,” Nelson said, “it’s going to be very clear the choice the people of Florida have.”

“I’ve always said that the best politics is just to do a good job. My job takes me to Washington every week,” Nelson said, “to vote and pass laws and to kill legislation and to try to bring us together in a bipartisan way.”

Indeed, Nelson is striking a moderate path — the latest evidence of that is his vote to confirm CIA Director Gina Haspel, which he justified in Jacksonville Friday.

“I have been on the Intelligence Committee. I have been through all the questions on the waterboarding,” Nelson said.

“I know that she did not affirmatively participate in that waterboarding,” Nelson said. “But what was more important to me was that she [will] not do it again.”

“It’s a form of torture. It’s against the law. And she has clearly said that she would not participate in that. She is obviously qualified, and I’ll tell you, we need the best and brightest that we can get as the head of the CIA,” Nelson said.

Nelson noted that he has the “good fortune of nobody running [against him] in the Democratic primary.”

“They gave me a vote of confidence to be the standard bearer for them in the November election,” Nelson said.

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