Carlos Lopez-Cantera Archives - Florida Politics

Florida leaders react to the bombing at a concert in Manchester

The Islamic State group claimed responsibility Tuesday for the suicide bombing at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester that left 22 people dead and sparked a stampede of young concertgoers.

The attack was the deadliest in Britain since four suicide bombers killed 52 London commuters on subway trains and a bus in July 2005.

Here is a compilation of reaction from Florida’s elected officials and leaders about the tragedy:

— Sen. Marco Rubio on Twitter: “Our prayers are with the people of Manchester.”

— U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist on Twitter: “My thoughts and prayers are with Britain and the families impacted by this horrific act in Manchester.”

— U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo on Twitter: “Praying for the people of Manchester.”

— U.S. Rep. Val Demings on Twitter : “Standing with and praying for Manchester today.  Another cowardly attack against innocent people.”

— U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch on Twitter: “Tonight in #Manchester, enormous amounts of horror, grief, and pain. From America and beyond, we join you in sympathy, outrage and resolve.”

— U.S. Rep. Neal Dunn on Facebook: “Leah and I send our sincere condolences to the British people as they respond to another heinous act of terrorism. The events in Manchester remind us again that these vicious killers will consider any target, even a crowd of teenagers and children at a music concert. We stand with resolve alongside our British friends in the face of this threat.”

— U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings: “I offer my deepest sympathies to the families of the victims of yesterday’s terror attack in Manchester. As England’s law enforcement continues working to establish the full details of this horrific attack against innocent children and families, the American people stand side-by-side in grief, anger, and resolve. My thoughts and prayers continue to be with the city of Manchester and all of England as they come to terms with this terrible atrocity.”

— U.S. Rep. Al Lawson on Twitter: “Our thoughts and prayers are with #Manchester and the United Kingdom for all the victims of tonight’s attack. Such sad news.”

— U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz: “As I am writing yet another statement expressing horror and condolences after another inexplicable terror attack, I feel the angst and anger of a mother who has sent my children off to a concert just like last night’s in Manchester.

The terror attack that apparently targeted innocent young people was a truly despicable act committed by cowards. As Americans, we are heartbroken and horrified by this mass murder of young adults and even children, but make no mistake: our resolve to make our world a safer one for our children is only strengthened, and our commitment to working with our British ally in pursuit of that goal remains unshakeable.

Our thoughts are now with the victims, their families and all the people of Manchester. And while many facts are still unknown, Americans will not waver in seeking justice and standing up against the hate that motivates such heinous crimes. And we will never let these pretenders who hold themselves out as the only true defenders of Islam to be recognized as anything more than what they are: murderers.”

— Gov. Rick Scott on Twitter: “Praying for everyone in Manchester tonight. This is an absolute tragedy and our hearts are with those who were harmed and their loved ones. Also praying for the safety and security of Manchester of law enforcement and first responders during this unimaginably challenging time.”

On Tuesday morning, the governor tweeted: “(First Lady Ann Scott) and I continue to pray for the 22 innocent lives lost in the senseless act of hate and terror in Manchester last night. Florida stands with the British people.”

— Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera on Twitter: “Horrible and senseless. We mourn those lost and pray for swift justice.”

— Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam on Twitter: “Terrorists who take the lives of innocent people are nothing but cowards & they must be brought to justice. My prayers to Manchester.”

— Democrat Gwen Graham on Twitter: “As a mom, my heart breaks. Praying for the children and families, parents and grandparents in Manchester.”

— Democrat Andrew Gillum on Twitter: “Deeply saddened by #Manchester tonight. Prayers to the families affected & the UK.

— House Speaker Richard Corcoran on Twitter: “My deepest sympathies and prayers for strength go out to the victims, parents, & families of the terror attack in the U.K.”

— Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto on Twitter: “Prayers to our British friends this evening. What a horrible tragedy.”

— Sen. Debbie Mayfield on Twitter: “My heart goes out to those in Manchester, especially to the families and first responders. Our prayers are with you and the United States of America will always stand by you.”

— Rep. Chris Sprowls on Twitter: “Our hearts are with the families of those killed in #ManchesterArena last night. May we unite together to eliminate terror.”

— Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn on Twitter: “My prayers go out to those in Manchester, as a Father of 2 little girls, I can’t imagine what these families are going through.”

— Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry on Twitter: “Outrage!!–Manchester terrorist attack. Tears & prayers for the victims and families.”

— State Attorney Melissa Nelson: “We’re all grieving for the victims and those affected by yesterday’s bombing in Manchester.

The Associated Press contributed to this report, reprinted with permission.

Stalking pythons: Carlos Lopez-Cantera joins Everglades hunt

Florida’s lieutenant governor joined hunters paid by the state to stalk and shoot invasive Burmese pythons in the Everglades.

South Florida Water Management District spokesman Randy Smith says Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera went hunting Monday night with one of 25 hunters hired to kill pythons on district property.

Smith says Tom Rahill and Lopez-Cantera brought in a 15-foot-4-inch (5-meter) python. It was the 96th python caught by the district’s hunters since March 25.

Rahill leads the “Swamp Apes” program taking veterans on hunts to remove invasive animals from the Everglades. He took Lopez-Cantera hunting along a canal in western Miami-Dade County.

The district is paying $8.10 an hour in a python-killing pilot program ending June 1. Florida’s wildlife agency also is hiring contractors to remove pythons from specific areas.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Carlos Lopez-Cantera to head federal judicial nominating panel

Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera will be the next statewide chair of the panel that vets candidates for federal judges, according to a Thursday statement from U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio‘s office.

The purpose of the Florida Federal Judicial Nominating Commission is “to identify highly qualified individuals as finalists to become U.S. district judges in each of the three judicial districts in Florida,” the release said.

“Carlos is well-suited for this position and I am confident he is dedicated to this important process and will successfully lead the commission in identifying exceptional candidates to serve on the federal bench in Florida,” Rubio said.

“I look forward to reviewing the commission’s selections and working with Senator (Bill) Nelson and the president to ensure that these critical positions are filled.”

Added Lopez-Cantera: “I am committed to ensuring that the commission identifies for our senators’ consideration the most qualified applicants to serve as U.S. district judges.

“I am looking forward to working with all of the members of the commission to evaluate candidates based on their qualifications, experience, character, and integrity.”  

According to the Administrative Office of the U.S. CourtsFlorida now has seven U.S. District Court vacancies, the trial level of the courts.

Officially, district judges are nominated by the president and confirmed by the U.S. Senate. But individual senators have veto power over individual candidates, a tradition known as “senatorial courtesy.”

“The commission will send the names of the finalists to Senators Rubio and Nelson for their individual and independent review and, if neither senator objects, those names will be forwarded to the White House for the president’s consideration,” the release said.

 

State lawmakers applaud Florida TaxWatch during annual State of Taxpayer dinner

State lawmakers applauded Florida TaxWatch this week, hailing the organization for its role in the legislative process.

“The folks that formed Florida TaxWatch had a good focus in mind,” said Sen. Jack Latvala. “And as a result of Florida TaxWatch’s efforts, we’ve turned things around.”

The taxpayer advocacy group hosted its State of the Taxpayer dinner Wednesday. The annual event is meant to highlight issues affecting the average taxpayer, and features speeches from Latvala, Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, Attorney General Pam Bondi, Rep. Jim Boyd and Rep. Manny Diaz. House Speaker Richard Corcoran was scheduled to attend, but was unable to make it, according to a spokesman for the organization.

While speakers used the event as a chance to promote the work they’re doing, some took a few moments to show their support for Enterprise Florida, one of Gov. Rick Scott’s top priorities.

Latvala, who serves as chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said at some point the state needs to start thinking about how it can balance its desire to keep taxes low, while still meeting the needs of the state.

“I believe the way we do that, just like the governor believes, is by growing the economy organically,” said Latvala. “We need to bring in high paid employees and get them in to the Florida economy, get them buying homes. And that’s been a function that’s been performed admirably by Enterprise Florida.”

While the program has come under fire in recent years, Latvala told attendees the program was the “creation of Republican leaders.” And before Enterprise Florida, there was a “zero match” when it came to companies putting in dollars to recruit businesses.

“We’ve come a long way,” he said. “If we get rid of our (economic incentive) programs, we’re going into the world in a competition situation naked as a jaybird. And I don’t want to do that.”

Florida TaxWatch has opposed legislation by the Florida House that would eliminate Enterprise Florida and a slew of other economic incentive programs. The bill cleared the House Appropriations Committee last week, and is scheduled to get its first hearing in the full House on Thursday.

“The session has gotten off to a slow start, with not much happening in the next couple of days,” joked Lopez-Cantera.

Boyd, the chairman of the House Ways & Means Committee, discussed what his committee was doing, and said the House wants what is best for Florida.

“I do believe with all of my heart, and I know leadership of the House does as well, that we’re all out for the same thing. At the end of the day we want a vibrant economy, we want jobs, we want good education,” he said. “I know that as we move through this process … we share the same goal. This is a marathon, not a sprint. We’re getting closer every day.”

Tom Grady

Jeff Atwater’s surprise departure makes CFO job the hottest in state

Never mind who’s running for Governor in 2018, Floridians want to know which Republicans are in the running for Florida Chief Financial Officer now that CFO Jeff Atwater announced he is leaving this year, with speculation starting with Tom GradyTom Lee, Will Weatherford and Teresa Jacobs and including seven or eight others.

Grady, a securities lawyer who is a former state representative who also has held several positions in state government, is widely reported as a close friend of Gov. Rick Scott, who will select a replacement for Atwater for the nearly two full years left in the term.

Weatherford, a venture capital and business consultant, is a former Speaker of the House who draws praise from the Florida Chamber of Commerce, and who recently announced he’s not running for Governor.

Jacobs is the Orange County Mayor and a former banker who always sounds like she’s already someone’s chief financial officer, and who reportedly has been exploring a possible state run for that job in 2018 when she’s term-limited from the mayor’s office.

Names tumbling around Tallahassee  – some with more spin than others – also already have included Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, former Speakers Steve Crisafulli and Dean Cannon, state Sens. Jack LatvalaAaron BeanJeff BrandesLee and Lizbeth Benacquisto, state Rep. Jim Boyd, former state Sen. Pat Neal, and Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera.

Atwater was once a widely-speculated candidate for Governor himself, but that buzz cooled to nothing and on Friday he surprised much of Florida’s political establishment by announcing that he’s planning office to become vice president for strategic initiatives and chief financial officer at Florida Atlantic University after the Florida Legislative Session.

Besides overseeing the states’s financial operations and financial and insurance regulations, as well as the state fire marshal’s office, the job is a full-voting position on the Florida Cabinet. It’s normally filled by statewide vote, for a four-year term, and Atwater was to be term-limited out with the 2018 election.

Atwater’s office’s imminent availability is so fresh almost no one has had time to actually declare interest in it. No one has filed to run in 2018.

Said Brandes in a tweet Friday, “I haven’t talked to the governor yet, but if I was asked, I would carefully consider it.”

Grady, from Scott’s hometown of Naples, has been looking around. He recently was interviewed for the open president’s post at Florida Gulf Coast University, and last cycle talked briefly about running for Congress in Florida’s 19th District. Last year he declined an opportunity to become the state’s insurance commissioner. He’s on the state board of education, is a former commissioner of financial regulations and a former interim president of Citizens Property Insurance Corp. the state-chartered insurer of last resort.

Once this is done there may be another opening on the cabinet, as state Attorney General Pam Bondi remains a widely-speculated prospect to move on to Washington as part of President Donald Trump‘s team.

At annual meeting, Republicans contemplate their place at the top after election wins

With big wins in the November elections and now about to control the House, Senate and the presidency, the Republican Party of Florida didn’t feel the need to shake up party leadership much — re-electing Blaise Ingoglia by a sizable margin at the 2017 annual leadership conference Saturday morning.

The RPOF spent much of the rest of the morning at the Rosen Centre Hotel in Orlando on top of the world and in good spirits. But they also focused on the future and action, now that they have so much power in government.

Sen. Marco Rubio spoke about the need to not waste the chance to take action.

“We’ll veto a lot of the regulations put in place,” he said. “The Senate has moved to start repealing Obamacare. Donald Trump will be presenting his plan for a replacement within the next few weeks.”

Rubio said in the first half of this year, he anticipated Obamacare to be repealed and replaced.

He also said Republicans could look forward to a new Supreme Court justice replacing the late Antonin Scalia, who would hopefully serve for 20 to 25 years, and tax reform and fiscal plans in line with what they said would help fix the economy.

“We can provide an opportunity for the American dream,” he said. “The party will be organized around limited government, free enterprise and a strong national defense. If we don’t do our jobs, there are no excuses. We control the House, the Senate and the White House. We can set the country on the right course.”

Palm Beach County official Michael Barnett won the Vice Chair seat, and he and others spoke of moving forward and expanding the party to include everyone.

Barnett, who previously served as the party’s Chairman of their Minority Engagement Committee, said it was important to show various minority communities that the Republican Party could serve their interests.

“We’ve made a good start with this election,” he said. “Eight percent of the black vote went to Donald Trump — double what Mitt Romney was able to get.

“We need to keep reaching out to the Haitian, Caribbean and other communities, and become a part of their community. We don’t all come from the same background, but we can share the same values.”

Though Ingogilia’s win was easy enough, not everyone was happy. Challenger Christian Ziegler was touted as the candidate who could devote full attention to RPOF chair, rather than wear more than one hat as Ingoglia does as a member of the Legislature. Ingoglia currently represents the Florida House in District 35.

Ziegler said he could act like a “CEO of a business” for the party, and always be available to people, no matter what.

Orange County Republican chair Lew Oliver voiced some displeasure with this to FloridaPolitics.com. Oliver thought the chair should be someone with no other interests or positions in politics.

“In politics, there are a lot of battles already,” Oliver said. “Members of Legislature are involved in a lot of struggles, factions and groups. You don’t want someone who may be motivated to have another set of battles.”

Ingoglia’s acceptance speech focused on the ability of the RPOF to create “a dynasty” that could keep the state in Republican control for the foreseeable future.

Lieutenant Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera noted it might be unwise for Republicans to get too complacent in their place at the top — the 2018 election cycle could be even more difficult.

“The Democrats suffered losses in this election,” he said. “They’re doing pretty bad. As low and as bad as they are, they may only have one place to go, though — unless we keep our place and not take this for granted. Because they’re not taking their losses for granted.”

“Because they’re not taking their losses for granted.”

Carlos Lopez-Cantera endorses Blaise Ingoglia for RPOF Chair

Florida Lieutenant Governor Carlos Lopez-Cantera is the latest high profile Republican to back Blaise Ingoglia in his bid for re-election to be the chairman of the Republican Party of Florida.

“I have been active in the RPOF for 20 years and I cannot recall a chairman that has shown the commitment and dedication to the Republican Party of Florida as Blaise Ingoglia,” Lopez-Cantera said in a statement issued out by Ingoglia on Monday. “That is why I am proud to stand behind him for his reelection as our Chairman, and I encourage our entire Republican Party of Florida to do the same.”

Lopez-Cantera joins his fellow cabinet member, CFO Jeff Atwater, in backing Ingoglia in his election bid. The other members of the cabinet – Attorney General Pam Bondi and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam – have yet to weigh in on the race.

Ingoglia is being challenged by Sarasota committeeman Christian Ziegler for the position.  Governor Rick Scott has also to weigh in, but he and Ingoglia have never been on the same page, ever since Ingoglia defeated Scott’s hand picked choice for chair, Leslie Dougher, two years ago.

The Senate Republicans and Scott still fundraise separately from the party, an issue that Ziegler has seized on as part of his candidacy. Ingoglia responds that while fundraising is down with the RPOF, it’s still going to the same places to help Republicans win races, and he points to the state turning red with Donald Trump as the most concrete proof that he’s on the right track in leading the party.

Florida U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, a good friend of Lopez-Cantera, has also previously endorsed Ingoglia.

In his statement, the Lieutenant Governor said that he has traveled tens of thousands of miles across the Sunshine State in his duties to meet with Republicans, and says more than he can remember, Ingoglia was always there too.

“As a former State Committeeman for Miami-Dade I can’t tell you how much I appreciate a Chairman who travels the state spending time at local REC events all the while seeking input on building up our local parties, meeting with grassroots leaders and then putting those ideas into action,” Lopez-Cantera said.

The election for the RPOF chair takes place this Saturday in Orlando.  A third candidate in the race, Lafayette County Republican state committeeman Alan Levy, has announced that he is withdrawing from the race.

Infamous dates: The moments that shaped Florida politics in 2016

Everyone expected Florida to play an important role in politics this year.

And why wouldn’t they? Presidential hopefuls hailed from here; the state’s electoral votes were coveted; and its Senate race could have determined control of the U.S. Senate.

But just like many predictions in 2016, some of the prophecies for Florida’s outsized role on the national stage fell flat. Many believed a Sunshine state politico would be a presidential nominee (not quite right) or that the election would hinge on its 29 electoral votes (close but no cigar). And that much anticipated battle for the U.S. Senate? It fizzled out before the first vote was even cast.

Here are the dates that really mattered in Florida politics this year. And some of them might just surprise you.

Jan. 20Florida Senate says it won’t appeal redistricting decision — A years-long battle over the state’s political lines came to an end in January, when Senate leadership announced it planned to let the court-ordered maps go into effect. The Tampa Bay Times/Miami Herald reported the four-year legal battle cost Florida taxpayers more than $11 million. The new maps threw a wrench in the 2016 election cycle, with all 40 of Florida’s state Senate seats on the ballots. While many believed the new maps could boost Democrats chances in 2016, that didn’t quite pan out.

Feb. 20 — Jeb Bush ends 2016 presidential bid —  All signs pointed to Jeb Bush being the front-runner for the GOP nomination. The son and brother of two presidents, the former Florida governor racked up a massive war chest and plenty of big-name endorsements. But Bush couldn’t make headway in a crowded field of Republican hopefuls and was often on the receiving end of then-candidate Donald Trump’s attacks. After a sixth place finish in Iowa and a fourth place finish in New Hampshire, Bush hung his hopes on South Carolina. He spent days on end campaigning in the Palmetto state, but it was just too late. He came in third, and ended his campaign that night.

March 15Donald Trump triumphs in Florida primary — Was it the turning point for Donald Trump’s presidential campaign? Maybe. The New York Republican was already on a winning streak by the time the March 15 primary rolled around, but the Sunshine State contest was the biggest one to date. And Trump was up Sen. Marco Rubio, who was believed to be a hometown favorite. Turns out, Florida voters weren’t keen on sending Rubio to the White House. Trump trounced Rubio, winning every county except for Miami-Dade County. Rubio ended his presidential campaign that night, saying America was in “the middle of a real political storm, a real tsunami. And we should have seen this coming.”

April 21Gwen Graham hints at 2018 plans — When the dust settled on new congressional districts, one thing was clear: Florida’s 2nd Congressional District was solidly Republican. What wasn’t entirely clear was whether Rep. Gwen Graham would run for re-election or follow in her father’s footsteps and run for governor in 2018. She put the rumors to rest in April, announcing she was dropping her re-election bid and was “seriously considering running for governor in 2018.” In the months since, Graham has continued to fuel speculation about her plans for 2018, most recently telling reporters every part of her “wants to run for governor,” but that her husband’s battle with cancer will play a significant role in her decision.

April 28Workers’ compensation decision rocks business community — A Florida Supreme Court decision striking down the state law limiting attorney’s fees in workers’ compensation cases might have been a victory for injured workers, but it also set the wheels in motion for what would become significant workers’ compensation rate hikes. The 5-2 ruling in Castellanos v. Next Door Company was just one of the decisions striking down workers’ compensation laws this year. Those rulings prompted the National Council on Compensation to ask state regulators to approve a nearly 20 percent rate hike. That rate, which was eventually lowed to 14.5 percent, went into effect Dec. 1. The state’s business community has said the rate hikes could have a dramatic impact on business, and are pushing lawmakers to tackle workers’ compensation reform in 2017.

June 1249 killed in an attack on Pulse nightclub — In the wee hours of the morning on June 12, a gunman entered the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, killing 49 people and injuring more than 50. It was the deadliest mass shooting in recent history, and sent shockwaves through the state and country. Gov. Rick Scott spent several weeks in Orlando, visiting with the victims and their families, attending funeral services, and meeting with members of the community. In the weeks and months that followed, the community came together to support the victims and their families. Spearheaded by Mayor Buddy Dyer, the city set up the OneOrlando Fund to assist victims of the attack. As of Dec. 2, the fund distributed $27.4 million for 299 claims, or 98 percent of all eligible claims filed.

June 17David Jolly drops out of U.S. Senate race, announces re-election bid — When Rep. David Jolly announced he was forgoing a re-election bid to run for the U.S. Senate, all signs indicated former Gov. Charlie Crist would sail to an easy victory. But after more and more politicos pushed encouraged Sen. Rubio to run for re-election, Jolly ended his U.S. Senate bid and announced a re-election bid, challenging Crist in an effort to keep his seat in a newly drawn district that favored Democrats. He had the support of many local Republicans, but Jolly’s push to end the practice of lawmakers dialing for dollars soured many congressional Republicans. When Election Day rolled around, Crist defeated Jolly, 52 percent to 48 percent.

June 22 — Marco Rubio reverses course, decides to run for re-election — After a devastating loss in his home state’s presidential primary, Sen. Rubio swore he wouldn’t run for re-election. The Miami Republican said multiple times that was going to serve out the remainder of his term and then go back to being a private citizen. And, as he mentioned on more than one occasion, a close friend — Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera – was already running for his seat. But in the days after the Pulse shooting, Lopez-Cantera encouraged his friend to run for re-election. Rubio ultimately announced his re-election bid just days before the qualifying deadline, effectively clearing the Republican field. He walloped Carlos Beruff in the Republican primary, and led in nearly every poll between him and Democrat Patrick Murphy. Rubio sailed to victory, winning a second term with 52 percent of the vote.

June 29 — Gov. Rick Scott declares state of emergency after algae clogs waterways — The Army Corps of Engineers began releasing Lake Okeechobee discharges down the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers after record rainfalls earlier in the year. While those discharges sparked outrage in both communities, the appearance of algae blooms on the state’s east coast prompted action from the governor. Scott declared a state of emergency in Martin, St. Lucie, Lee and Palm Beach counties in June, and called on the federal government to quickly approve permits for dispersed water management projects. The declaration helped push the issue of water quality to the forefront of many campaigns.

July 8Corrine Brown indicted — It was a no good, very bad year for former Rep. Corrine Brown. Florida’s 5th Congressional District, which she represented since 1993, was redrawn as part of the state’s ongoing redistricting case. She and several other political operatives were served with subpoenas at a BBQ joint in Jacksonville. And in July, Brown and her chief of staff were indicted on federal corruption and fraud charges. The charges stem from her involvement in an allegedly fraudulent charity scheme. Brown was defiant, saying “just because someone accuses you, doesn’t mean they have the facts.” To add insult to injury, Brown was lost her primary in the newly drawn district.

July 29 — Zika comes to Florida — The first reported cases Zika virus in the Sunshine State began popping up in February, when state health officials confirmed there were nine travel-related cases of the mosquito-borne virus. Gov. Scott declared a public health emergency in four Florida counties, a number which would grow as the months wore on. As concerns about the illness spread, officials called on the federal government to assist Florida in combatting the disease and minimize the chances of homegrown cases. But in July, health officials announced the first cases of locally acquired Zika had been reported. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention quickly issued a travel warning for the Wynwood neighborhood, where the first cases were found. The state eventually identified several Miami-Dade communities, including a portion of Miami Beach, where local people had contracted the illness. The state cleared the final Miami-Dade Zika zone in early December. According to the Department of Health, there were more than 250 cases of locally acquired infections reported this year.

Aug. 30The Grayson era comes to an end — Rep. Alan Grayson was known throughout Florida — and beyond — as a bombastic, no holds bar congressman. And he lived up to that reputation when he ran for U.S. Senate. Grayson made headlines after his ex-wife claimed domestic abuse over two decades, a claim he refuted (but not before getting physical with a reporter). Grayson gave up seat in Florida’s 9th Congressional District to run for office, but convinced his second wife to run. That pitted Dena Grayson against Susannah Randolph, a former aide to the congressman, both of whom tried to carry the banner for the liberal wing of the Democratic Party. And there was no party at the Grayson house when primary night rolled around. Rep. Murphy crushed Rep. Grayson in the U.S. Senate primary; while former state Sen. Darren Soto defeated both Dena Grayson and Randolph (Dena Grayson came in third). The hits kept coming for the Grayson political dynasty. In November, Star Grayson, the former congressman’s daughter, finished a distant third in a three-person race for the Orange County Soil & Water Conservation District Board of Supervisors.

Sept. 2Hurricane Hermine ends Florida’s hurricane-free streak — The Category 1 hurricane was the first storm to make landfall in Florida since Hurricane Wilma in 2005. And boy, did it leave an impression. The storm smacked the Panhandle, knocking out power to thousands upon thousands of customers. While power was restored in some communities relatively quickly, Tallahassee struggled to get up and running. That led to a tussle between Democratic Mayor Andrew Gillum and Gov. Scott. In a testy press release, the governor said the city was declining help from other utility companies and expressed frustration over how long it was taking to get the power back on. Gillum shot back, saying Scott was just trying to undermine a cooperative process. But politicos across the state noted the way Gillum, a rising star in the Democratic Party, handled the situation might come back to haunt him in future political runs.

Sept. 26 Water contamination concerns prompt rule changes — Days of rain leading up to, and following, Hurricane Hermine overwhelmed St. Petersburg’s sewer system. City officials opted to release millions of gallons of partially treated sewage into Tampa Bay, marking the first time in about a year the city did that. Combine that with news that a Mosaic Fertilizer sinkhole released 215 million gallons of toxic, radioactive water into the water supplies, and it’s no wonder concerns about Florida’s water supply ran rampant this fall. After many people raised questions about when the spills were reported, Gov. Scott ordered the Department of Environmental Protection to establish new reporting requirements. Those requirements are meant to guarantee local governments and the DEP are notified within 24 hours of a pollution incident. The state in October reached a deal with Mosaic over the sinkhole, which held the company accountable for fixing the sinkhole and rehabilitating the impacts of the spill.

Oct. 7 — Deadly storm threatens Florida’s east coast — One month after Hurricane Hermine made landfall near Tallahassee, Floridians were faced with another hurricane barreling toward their shores. What started as destructive tropical cyclone morphed into Hurricane Matthew, the first Category 5 Atlantic hurricane since Hurricane Felix in 2007. Gov. Scott and other officials throughout the state encouraged Floridians to evacuate and warned of days without power. The storm sideswiped the entirety of the East Coast, causing damage up and down the coast. The storm tore apart A1A in Flagler Beach, forcing it closed and requiring significant restoration.

Nov. 8Medical pot becomes legal — The second time was the charm for a medical marijuana ballot initiative. The constitutional amendment which allows people with debilitating medical conditions to use medical marijuana, easily passed with 71 percent of the vote. Supporters of the amendment, led by Orlando attorney John Morgan, were able to fend off opposition attacks. Florida was one of six states that legalized marijuana for either medicinal or recreational purposes on Election Day, marking one of the biggest electoral victories for marijuana reforms in years.

Nov. 10Richard Corcoran era brings new rules to Florida House — Calling for a new culture of transparency in the Florida House, House Speaker Richard Corcoran announced new rules aimed at getting tough with with the capital’s lobby corps. The rules prohibit representatives from flying on planes owned, leased or paid for by lobbyists; require lobbyists to filed individual disclosures for each bill, amendment and appropriation they’re working on; and increased the lobbying ban on former members from two to six years. Corcoran also created the Committee on Integrity and Ethics, an oversight committee.

Dec. 22Will Weatherford rules out 2018 gubernatorial bid — Considered a likely 2018 gubernatorial contender since he left office in 2014, former House Speaker Will Weatherford ended the year (and helped officially kick off the 2018 election cycle) by saying he would not run for governor in two years. “I have decided that my role in the 2018 gubernatorial election should be as a private citizen and not as a candidate,” he said in a statement. “My focus right now is on raising my family, living out my faith, and growing my family’s business.” Weatherford was the first candidate to formally say whether they were running. But even without Weatherford in the race, Floridians can expect a crowded field. Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam is expected to run, and Speaker Corcoran has been mentioned as a possible candidate. On the Democratic side, Rep. Graham has already expressed her interest, as has trial attorney Morgan. And Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine and Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer are all believed to be pondering a run.

Florida leaders react to the death of Fidel Castro

Florida leaders are reacting to the death of former Cuban President Fidel Castro, who died Friday at the age of 90.

U.S. Senator Bill Nelson:

“Now that Fidel is gone, the U.S. should continue to press hard against his brother Raul and continue to take steps to support the Cuban people until he provides basic rights and freedoms to all the people of Cuba. In the meantime, the new Trump administration should continue the policy of opening travel and communication with Cuba.”

U.S. Senator Marco Rubio:

“Fidel Castro seized power promising to bring freedom and prosperity to Cuba, but his communist regime turned it into an impoverished island prison. Over six decades, millions of Cubans were forced to flee their own country, and those accused of opposing the regime were routinely jailed and even killed. Sadly, Fidel Castro’s death does not mean freedom for the Cuban people or justice for the democratic activists, religious leaders, and political opponents he and his brother have jailed and persecuted. The dictator has died, but the dictatorship has not. And one thing is clear, history will not absolve Fidel Castro; it will remember him as an evil, murderous dictator who inflicted misery and suffering on his own people. The future of Cuba ultimately remains in the hands of the Cuban people, and now more than ever Congress and the new administration must stand with them against their brutal rulers and support their struggle for freedom and basic human rights.”

Gov. Rick Scott:

“I join Cuban-Americans and Floridians across the country who are incredibly hopeful for the future of Cuba.  After decades of oppression, the Cuban people deserve freedom, peace and democracy.  I have met so many Cubans who have come to Florida to flee the tyranny, brutality, and communism of the Castro brothers’ oppressive regime and now is the time to look at policy changes that will demand democracy in Cuba.  Today’s news should usher in an era of freedom, peace and human dignity for everyone in Cuba and the State of Florida stands ready to assist in that mission.  I spoke to President-elect Trump this morning to let him know that the State of Florida will help his administration in any way to support a pro-democracy movement in Cuba.”

Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera:

“Has it finally come? FIDEL IS DEAD! I pray this is beginning of a free and democratic Cuba. Wish my Abuelo & Abuela were alive to see this.”

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, via Twitter:

“Florida is richer for all the families who arrived after Fidel took all they had. More to be done. Cuba libra!”

Attorney General Pam Bondi:

“Fidel Castro leaves behind a legacy of repression and tyranny. History will not absolve him. We must work and pray for a free Cuba.”

U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis:

“After decades of oppression under Fidel Castro, I celebrate with freedom-loving Cubans everywhere the hope for a brighter future. But until all Cubans are allowed basic human rights, democracy, and freedom, the Castro regime continues. Now more than ever, we must stand with the Cuban people against this brutal dictatorship. May the decades long oppression of human rights be tossed into the trash bin of history.”

U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor:

“Cuban families and small business owners are eager to accelerate economic and human rights reforms and America must continue to support them, especially Tampa Bay area community leaders who have been at the forefront of progress and change. With the election of Donald Trump, hardliners opposed to diplomatic relations and engagement with everyday Cubans have urged an end to new flights, travel, and cooperative efforts. Slamming the door shut at this point in time would be disastrous. Instead, Fidel Castro’s death should encourage all of us to meet the challenge of better diplomatic relations, economic opportunities for Cubans and Americans, expanded travel, and support for the dignity of the Cuban people.”

U.S. Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, via Twitter:

“Fidel Castro’s disappearance was necessary for the horror of the present to be able to end and for the future of Cuba to be able to begin.”

U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham:

“Growing up in Miami, I saw firsthand how Fidel Castro’s control of Cuba tore apart families and destroyed lives in both our countries. Castro will forever be remembered as a failed tyrant who neglected human rights and brought more than 50 years of poverty to Cuba. Fidel and his followers are relics of the previous century. I pray that with Fidel Castro’s passing, we double our nation’s resolve to see Cuba libre, a free nation and free people at last.”

U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo:

“The passing of the dictator marks the end of a long, horrifying chapter in Cuba’s history. The Cuban people need our solidarity.”

U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart:

“Today, a tyrant is dead. Although his totalitarian dictatorship deeply scarred a once prosperous nation, his death ushers in a renewed hope that the Cuban people finally will be free. Now we must work even harder toward achieving liberty, basic rights and free, multi-party elections for the Cuban people.

The dictator has the blood of innocents on his hands, and his dictatorship is guilty of torture, murder and numerous other atrocities. As an evil dictator finally faces his Creator, the malevolent Castro dictatorship continues. Shamefully, President Obama has spent the past eight years attempting to cede important leverage to the ailing Castro regime. Despite President Obama’s collaboration and betrayal of America’s longstanding mission to promote freedom, the American people continue their strong solidarity with the Cuban people in their struggle for free elections, human rights and liberty.”

U.S. Rep. David Jolly, via Twitter:

“The last vestiges of the Cold War have passed. Now is the time to move forward.”

U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen: 

“The day that the people, both inside the island and out, have waited for has arrived: A tyrant is dead and a new beginning can dawn on the last remaining communist bastion of the Western Hemisphere.  The message is now very clear to those who think they will continue to misrule Cuba through oppression and fear. Enough is enough. The Cuban people have been shortchanged for too long to continue down this reviled path.

“Those who still rule Cuba with an iron grip may attempt to delay the island’s liberation, but they cannot stop it.  Castro’s successors cannot hide and must not be allowed to hide beneath cosmetic changes that will only lengthen the malaise of the Cuban nation. No regime, no matter who leads it, will have a shred of legitimacy if it has not been chosen by the people of Cuba in free and fair elections.

“Fidel’s apologists around the world can help to restore freedom and human rights for Cuba by joining the call for the new regime to free the hundreds of freedom fighters and pro-democracy activists still locked in Castro’s prisons.

“Not until the gulags are closed, elections are held, political prisoners are freed and liberty is restored can the United States lawfully end its embargo against the communist regime in Havana. The time to act is now.

“We must seize the moment and help write a new chapter in the history of Cuba; that of a Cuba that is free, democratic and prosperous. A Cuba where faith in God has prevailed over tyranny, a Cuba whose people rose up to meet the challenges placed before them and overcame them through sheer patriotism and love of country.”

U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz:

“Fidel Castro’s death ends his personal tyranny of the Cuban people and ushers in the possibility of a new era for Cuba. However, the legacy of his oppression continues today in Cuba and as we look ahead to the future, the Cuban government should hold free and fair elections that allow all Cubans a true voice in their government, fully embrace human rights, recognize opposition parties, cease imprisoning people for expressing their views and release all political prisoners. I look forward to working with the Cuban-American community and my colleagues to ensure a bright, prosperous and free future is a reality for all Cubans.”

U.S. Rep-elect Charlie Crist:

“History will remember Fidel Castro as a tyrant, a represser of democracy, civil rights, and human rights. But my heart isn’t full of hate today, it’s full of optimism due to the progress we’re already seeing in bringing our American ideals of freedom and prosperity to Cuba through improved diplomatic and economic relations.”

State Sen. Rene Garcia, via Twitter:

“Hopefully with the death of the oppressive tyrant #Castro our family’s can finally witness the beginning of an open and free Cuba.”

House Speaker Richard Corcoran:

“At the death of any man, all we can do is measure his life based on his actions and choices.  Fidel Castro brutalized and murdered a great people. He pillaged a tropical paradise.  He promulgated a Godless ideology that destroyed the lives of countless families. He was a thug.  His passing only makes this world a safer, better place.  Florida has deep historical, geographic and familial ties to Cuba.  I know I join all Floridians today in praying that Castro’s death will somehow pave the way for freedom and democracy to at last emerge and flourish on the island. It also seems appropriate this day to remember the many heroes in Miami and elsewhere who stood up to this terrible dictator and never lived to see this day. May their children and their grandchildren take comfort in the memory of their courage.”

State Rep. Jose Felix Diaz:

“Tonight we close a dark chapter in the history of Cuba – a day after Thanksgiving – we give thanks and pray for a free Cuba.”

State Rep. Manny Diaz, via Twitter:

“The death of the despot dictator and thug Fidel Castro marks the end of an era, you will see an emotional response 56 years in the making.”

State Rep. Julio Gonzalez, via Twitter:

“A despot died last night. ¡Viva Cuba libre! With great hope for the future of human rights in #Cuba.”

State Rep. Jeanette Nunez, via Twitter:

“Fidel was a monster who murdered, tortured and imprisoned countless individuals. The Cuban people are one step closer to a #CubaLibre”

Former House Majority Leader Adam Hasner, via Twitter:

“Castro put his political opponents to death via firing squads. Folks who are romanticizing him should stop and think about that”

Florida GOP Chairman Blaise Ingoglia:

“The death of Cuban dictator Fidel Castro should be the beginning of the end to an era of relentless oppression on the lives of families inside and outside the island. Unfortunately, this does not close the door on tyranny; it just reminds us of the brutal dictatorship Castro had over his very own people.  As Americans, we stand for a Cuba who will no longer struggle for human rights, free-elections or true liberty.  We anxiously look ahead towards the future of a free Cuba that embraces democratic ideals!”

Miami Mayor Carlos Gimenez:

“Early this morning, I learned of Fidel Castro’s death. His passing closes a very painful chapter for Cubans on the island and Cuban-Americans throughout the world, including for thousands of Miami-Dade County residents who were personally affected by his cruel and brutal dictatorship. Despite this historic moment however, we know that Fidel’s brother Raul continues to lead one of the world’s most repressive governments. My hope is that a free and democratic Cuba with the same freedoms we treasure here in the United States will soon emerge. It is what the Cuban people deserve. Miami-Dade County does not currently have plans to activate its Emergency Operations Center. I ask that all our residents who choose to demonstrate do so peacefully. May God bless the people of Cuba, Miami-Dade County and the United States of America.”

Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum:

“Today, I stand in solidarity with the Cuban people. In my birthplace of Miami, countless people fleeing Fidel Castro’s oppressive regime worked to build a new life for themselves and their families against all odds. Their children and grandchildren have greatly strengthened Florida, and have influenced the world through their many talents in the arts, business, and sports. It is my hope that today marks an opportunity for a new direction toward democratic freedom and human rights for all those who remain in Cuba. Fidel’s legacy will always be one of repression.  But hope remains that the future will be brighter, and bring with it the light of liberty and equality for all.”

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn:

“As one of the birthplaces of Cuban independence in the late 1800’s, Tampa has long and storied history with the island of Cuba and its people. Generations of Cubans have helped to build this amazing city and we are forever grateful for their contributions. Many arrived in our City fleeing the totalitarian policies of the Castro government with nothing more that the shirts on their backs and a yearning for freedom. They have never strayed from the belief that one day Cuba would again be free. The passing of Fidel Castro offers hope that one day the Cuban people will enjoy the benefits of a free and democratic society.”

Cubans in Miami, Hialeah take to streets in celebration of Fidel Castro’s death

South Florida cities are erupting in celebration of the death of former longtime Cuban dictator Fidel Castro.

Sergio Bustos of POLITICO Florida reports that throughout Miami, a city of Cuban immigrants, can be heard shouts of: “Libertad! Libertad! Libertad!”

Cubans of all ages took to the streets in Miami Friday evening throughout Saturday morning party over the demise of the man they believe stole their homeland.

“Words really can’t express how I feel,” a Cuban man told NBC-6 in Miami. “My parents died waiting for this day. And I’m here I’m here to celebrate for them.”

Many celebrants were seen waving the Cuban flag.

Miami Republican Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Cuban-American and frequent critic of the Castro regime, tweeted in both English and Spanish about the news that Castro was finally gone.

“After so many decades of oppression the tyrant #Castro is dead and a new beginning can finally dawn on #Cuba and its people,” Ros-Lehtinen wrote.

“We must seize the moment and help write a new chapter in the history of Cuba,” she said in a statement Saturday morning. “That of a Cuba that is free, democratic and prosperous.”

“The passing of the dictator marks the end of a long, horrifying chapter in #Cuba‘s history,” tweeted Miami Republican Congressman Carlos Curbelo. “The #Cuban people need our solidarity #Castro.”

Democratic Congresswoman Gwen Graham, who grew up in Miami told POLITICO how she saw “firsthand how Fidel Castro’s control of Cuba tore apart families and destroyed lives in both our countries.”

“He will forever be remembered as a failed tyrant who neglected human rights and brought more than 50 years of poverty to Cuba. Fidel and his followers are relics of the previous century, and I pray that with his passing, we double our nation’s resolve to see Cuba libre, a free nation and free people at last,” she said in a statement.

Graham, who currently represents North Florida’s 2nd Congressional District, also took to Twitter with comments.

Throughout Saturday morning, hundreds were seen celebrating in both Miami and Hialeah, which Bustos notes is a city of 250,000 people where six in 10 residents are Cuban.

“Now we are waiting for Raúl to die, too,” another Cuban man told NBC-6, speaking of Cuban President Raúl Castro, 85, who is Fidel Castro’s brother.

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