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Charlie Crist sponsors bill allowing veterans to use medical marijuana

Democratic U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist announced a new bill Wednesday that would allow veterans to be treated with medical marijuana without getting canned from federal government jobs.

Crist introduced H.R. 6589, also known as the “Fairness in Federal Drug Testing Under State Laws Act,” during a roundtable discussion with veterans and cannabis industry representatives in Largo.

“Medical marijuana is an issue of compassion, and in the veterans’ community, access is even more important as more and more veterans are turning to cannabis to address chronic pain and PTSD. At the same time, the federal government is the largest employer of veterans; however, private cannabis use even in states that have legalized medical marijuana is prohibited in these positions,” Crist said.

“Our bipartisan bill would protect federal employment for those in compliance with their state’s cannabis laws. Because our veterans shouldn’t have to choose between treatment options or job opportunities,” he continued.

Republican U.S. Rep. Drew Ferguson of Georgia, who is co-introducing the measure with Crist, added that “no one should face unemployment for choosing to pursue private legal medical treatment,” including federal workers, one-third of whom are veterans.

Crist’s email announcing the bill said it had already earned the backing of numerous marijuana advocacy organizations, including Americans for Safe Access, Florida for Care, Marijuana Policy Project, the National Cannabis Industry Association, NORMLVeterans Cannabis Coalition and the Weed for Warriors Project.

“Congressman Crist has been a strong ally in our fight to allow Florida patients access to medical marijuana and efforts to protect this access from federal interference. Florida for Care is proud to support his common-sense bill to protect employment of Floridians whose well-being depends on continuing medical marijuana treatment,” said Ben Pollara, executive director of Florida for Care, and campaign manager of the successful 2016 campaign to approve medical marijuana in Florida.

“We applaud Congressman Crist’s leadership on this important issue as we continue working together to protect patients and strengthen the state’s medical marijuana system.”

Medical marijuana company Surterra Wellness, which operates 10 dispensaries in the Sunshine State, also lauded the plan in a separate statement.

“We applaud Congressman Crist for introducing a bipartisan bill to protect veterans’ treatment options. Surterra stands proudly beside the Congressman as he pursues medical cannabis reform in Congress so that our communities and local veterans can have access to safe and effective treatment options,” said Surterra CEO Jake Bergmann.

“We have a significant veteran community in Florida that deserves the highest quality, most consistent medical cannabis products available. We are proud to lead a company that seeks to improve the quality of our brave men and women’s lives through safe, natural means,” he continued.

Sean Shaw

Democratic U.S. Reps. line up behind Sean Shaw for Attorney General

Attorney General candidate Sean Shaw picked up endorsements from eight Democratic members of Florida’s congressional delegation Wednesday, less than four weeks from the primary election to determine whether he or Ryan Torrens be the Democratic option in November.

Lining up behind Shaw were U.S. Reps. Kathy Castor, Charlie Crist, Val Demings, Ted Deutch, Alcee Hastings, Al Lawson, Darren Soto and Frederica Wilson.

While each member of Congress listed in the announcement had kind words for the freshman state representative, the most personal recommendation — and the lone shot at term-limited Attorney General Pam Bondi — came from Castor, who represents Shaw as the Congresswoman for Florida’s 14th Congressional District.

“I am excited to announce my endorsement for Sean Shaw for Attorney General of Florida. I have had the pleasure of working with Sean to improve the lives of Floridians and know that he’ll fight for the values that we share as Democrats,” she said. “Unlike the current Attorney General, Sean will stand up to the special interests that have flooded our streets with weapons and push back against companies determined to rip off Floridians. Sean Shaw is the best choice for Attorney General of Florida.”

Other statements celebrated Shaw’s accomplishments in the House and during his tenure as Florida’s insurance consumer advocate under former CFO Alex Sink as well as the service of his father, Leander Shaw, who was Florida’s first African-American Supreme Court Justice.

The new slate of endorsements adds to a list that already includes SEIU Florida, the Florida Education Association,  the Florida Police Benevolent Association, a handful of State Attorneys as well as former Florida Governor and U.S. Sen. Bob Graham.

“I’ll be ready on day one to fight back against the current Administration’s actions that are harmful to Floridians and I am proud to have the support our so many of Florida’s Democratic members of Congress who have already been battling Trump for nearly the past two years,” Shaw said. “Whether it’s in Tallahassee or Washington, I look forward to working towards a better future for Florida.”

Shaw, who entered the race at the beginning of the year, is the heavy favorite in the Aug. 28 Democratic primary.

To date, the Tampa Democrat has raised nearly $839,000 between his campaign and political committee, Sean Shaw for Florida, and had about $424,000 on hand on July 20. Torrens, an Odessa attorney, has barely kept his campaign in the black, and some of his contributions — or loans, according to his campaign — have come into question in recent weeks.

The winner of the Democratic nomination will face the winner of the Republican primary between former circuit court judge Ashley Moody and Pensacola Rep. Frank White in the Nov. 6 general election.

Congressional incumbents back Nancy Soderberg in CD 6 primary

Amb. Nancy Soderberg, one of three Democrats competing for the party’s nomination in east-central Florida’s 6th Congressional District, trumpeted endorsements from five Congressional incumbents Wednesday.

Reps. Charlie Crist, Val Demings, Ted Deutch, Lois Frankel and Darren Soto all back the Clinton administration alumna.

Soderberg was “honored” and “humbled” to get the endorsements from the five, all of whom extolled the candidate in statements offered by the campaign.

Crist predicted Soderberg would “be a strong leader on the issues critical to helping Florida’s families. She’ll work tirelessly for good public education, good wages, and commonsense solutions.”

“As a diplomat and United Nations Ambassador, Nancy negotiated tough deals around the world. I have no doubt she can do the same in Congress to get legislation passed for her constituents,” Demings noted.

Deutch said “Soderberg will help strengthen public education, bring economic opportunities to Florida, and fight to protect Medicare and Social Security.”

Frankel spotlighted Soderberg’s “vast experience, a commitment to fight for the middle class, and strong leadership skills.”

Soto extolled the candidate’s “experience to create better paying jobs, protect Florida’s environment and keep our country safe.”

These endorsements boost a strong, disciplined campaign intent on flipping the east-central Florida seat from Ron DeSantis red to Democrat blue.

survey released last week from St. Pete Polls showed Soderberg up big, with her 30 percent support amounting to more than opponents Steve Sevigny (10 percent) and John Upchurch (13 percent) had combined.

Soderberg is well-positioned to make her case with undecided voters, with nearly $1.5 million in total fundraising since she entered the race and $981,790 cash on hand.

Sevigny and Upchurch both have resources, respectively with $365,662 and $171,874 on hand. But Soderberg has a national network of support that appears especially formidable, including backing from former Vice President of the United States Joe Biden.

The winner of this primary will face one of three Republicans: either former state Rep. Fred CostelloMike Waltz or John Ward.

Waltz and Ward, both heavily self-financed, have on hand more than $616,000 and $467,000 respectively. Costello, at $51,000 cash on hand, is more cash-poor.

NAACP calls on DOJ to investigate Clearwater ‘Stand Your Ground’ case

The Clearwater branch of the NAACP on Tuesday repeated its call for an arrest in the recent fatal shooting of Markeis McGlockton and said that it has also sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Justice asking for an investigation.

The statement from Clearwater/Upper Pinellas County NAACP chair Marva McWhite came after the group skipped out on a planned meeting with Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, who has said his hands were tied when it came to arresting the shooter due to a 2017 change in the state’s “Stand Your Ground” law.

Stand Your Ground” eliminated a citizen’s duty to retreat before resorting to the use of deadly force. A 2017 amendment to the National Rifle Association-backed law requires prosecutors to prove a shooter did not feel threatened before an arrest can be made or criminal charges can be filed.

McGlockton was shot outside of a convenience two weeks ago after intervening in an argument between his girlfriend, Britany Jacobs, and Michael Drejka. McGlockton pushed Drejka to the ground and Drejka pulled out a handgun and shot McGlockton in the chest.

Security camera footage from the convenience store appears to show McGlockton backing away from Drejka after he drew his weapon. That footage, combined with Drejka not being arrested for the shooting, has led to renewed calls for a “Stand Your Ground” repeal from Democratic politicians.

In her statement, McWhite said her branch of the NAACP “has no intentions of standing with the sheriff on this issue. We have from the onset called for an arrest, we have never wavered, and we will continue to demand justice.”

McWhite said the group was “encouraged” by statements made by NRA lobbyist Marion Hammer and Republican Rep. Bobby Payne in a recent POLITICO Florida article. Payne, who sponsored the 2017 amendment in the House, said after watching the video that “the assertion of Stand Your Ground was weak, based on the victim’s retreat or de-escalation of the event once he saw the gun.”

McWhite added that since Gualtieri said “the bus had left his station” when it came to arresting Drejka, “the next stop (State Attorney [Bernie] McCabe’s office) would have to address this issue. We agreed that the sheriff should let the community know that the buck did not stop with his refusal to arrest Mr. Drejka.”

“I reiterate,” McWhite wrote. “We have from the onset called for an arrest, we have never wavered, and we will continue to demand justice. We stand in solidarity in calling for an arrest.”

The organization’s additional call for an investigation by the DOJ echoes a Friday request from U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson that was also signed by U.S. Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris of California, and U.S. Reps. Charlie Crist and Alcee Hastings of Florida.

Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, who is running in the Democratic primary for Governor, has also called on Gov. Rick Scott, who is running against Nelson for the U.S. Senate, to declare a state of emergency and suspend the state’s “stand your ground” law by executive order.

Bill Nelson to DOJ: Investigate Markeis McGlockton shooting

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson is calling for a federal investigation into last week’s shooting death of Markeis McGlockton outside a Clearwater convenience store.

McGlockton was shot dead following a dispute with 47-year-old Michael Drejka over a handicapped parking space. The issue has earned attention because of the state’s “Stand Your Ground” law possibly shielding Drejka from prosecution.

The short letter from Nelson and four other lawmakers is addressed to Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Assistant Attorney General John M. Gore. It calls on the Department of Justice to look into whether federal law was violated in the shooting.

“We are writing to request that the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division Criminal Section open an investigation into the death of Markeis McGlockton at the hands of Michael Drejka in Clearwater, Florida, on July 19, 2018. Thank you for your immediate attention to this matter.”

The letter was also signed by U.S. Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris of California, and U.S. Reps. Charlie Crist and Alcee Hastings of Florida. All are Democrats.

Drejka has not yet been arrested, as Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri argues the “Stand Your Ground” law prevents arrest absent a determination by the state attorney that the defense does not apply.

The appeal by Nelson comes after a pair of state lawmakers urged State Attorney Bernie McCabe to pursue charges against Drejka.

Todd Marks unleashes attack ad on Aakash Patel

Hillsborough Commission candidate Todd Marks has already attacked Republican opponent Aakash Patel for past donations to Democrats, but now he’s doing it over the airwaves.

Marks, a Tampa attorney, is out with a new ad that intersperses clips of Patel’s first ad with his Jan. 28 interview on LeaderCast Tampa, where the Tampa businessman said he doesn’t have a “Republican or Democrat philosophy. I’ve given money to Democrats. I’ve supported Democrats.”

That line, which comes halfway through the 36-minute interview, was highlighted in an attack email sent out by Marks back in April. The new ad is trotting it out again, and Marks uses it to label the Tampa businessman as Aakash “Too Liberal” Patel.

The 30-second spot begins with the portion of Patel’s ad where supporters say, “My county commissioner should be a trusted conservative, who protects our values,” before a narrator interrupts and says “Aakash Patel betrays those values” and rolls the aforementioned interview clip.

The back and forth continues with a woman from Patel’s ad saying, “I don’t want a career politician,” followed by the narrator asking “Then why does Patel brag about meeting with Barack Obama and other liberals?”

“Aakash Patel donated to Democrats as they bashed President [Donald] Trump,” the voiceover continues as pictures of Patel with Obama and U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist fill the screen. “Aakash Patel: Two-faced and too progressive.”

According to campaign finance records with the Florida Division of Elections and the Federal Elections Commission, Patel did not donate any funds to Obama. Nor did he donate to Crist — either personally or through his business, Elevate Inc. — during the Pinellas politician’s independent run for U.S. Senate or his campaigns for Governor and Congress as a member of the Democratic Party.

However, Patel did donate to Crist’s opponent, then-U.S. Rep. David Jolly, last cycle as well as in 2014.

Patel has donated to dozens of Republicans over the years, among them Jeff Atwater, Pam Bondi, Richard Corcoran, Matt Gaetz, Adam Putnam, Jimmy Patronis and Ross Spano. Bondi, Corcoran and Gaetz are among the many conservative politicians who have endorsed Patel in the county commission race.

As far as Democrats go, six have received a check from Patel according to state and federal database searches: State Attorney Dave Aaronberg, U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, state Rep. Ben Diamond, state House candidate Rena Frazier, former state Rep. Ed Narain and former CFO Alex Sink.

All told, those Democratic donations totaled $1,853, while his contributions to Republican candidates and political committees clocked in at $21,875. A similar search for past political contributions from Marks found no indication he’s given to any politician or political committee.

Florida Politics reached out to Patel for a response after the ad was released.

“I’m disappointed that my opponent decided to use his campaign dollars to attack me rather than focusing on the issues that matter to Hillsborough County,” he said.

Patel and Marks are the only Republicans running for the countywide District 7 seat currently held by retiring commissioner Al Higginbotham. Both men were previously candidates for the District 1 seat held by Commissioner Sandra Murman but they switched races after she decided to serve out the remainder of her term rather than make her own run for District 7.

Also running for the seat are Democrats Ray ChiaramonteMark NashKimberly Overman and Sky White as well as Green Party candidate Kim O’Connor.

Through July 6, Patel led the money race with more than $364,000 raised for his campaign and about $130,000 in the bank. He has also raised another $124,000 via affiliated political committee, Elevate Tampa, and had $43,500 of that cash in the bank on July 20.

Marks is the only other candidate to break the six-figure mark in fundraising. As of July 6, he had raised $108,768 in hard money and had $99,365 in the bank.

The ad is below.

Charlie Crist bringing Joe Kennedy to St. Pete for health care rally

U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist hopes for a boost from the Kennedy clan next month. The Tampa Democrat will speak at a rally with U.S. Rep. Joe Kennedy III in St. Petersburg in early August.

The #ProtectOurCare event will take place Aug. 7 at Williams Park, where a line-up of advocates will discuss ways to preserve and improve affordable healthcare in the state of Florida. An event announcement makes clear ObamaCare will also be a hot topic of discussion, with the two Democratic congressmen ready to discuss “fighting attempts to undermine protections for those with pre-existing conditions, holding ‘Big Pharma’ accountable for rising prescription drug prices, and calling on Florida to expand Medicaid.”

On Twitter, Crist made clear his own support for the Affordable Care Act and desire to expand Medicaid in Florida. He also says he expects a fight over requirements for insurance companies to cover pre-existing conditions.

Kennedy, a Massachusetts representative, has been a popular speaker nationally, appearing last week on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. There, he talked about efforts for Democrats to retake the House of Representatives this November. That likely means winning a number of Republican-controlled seats in Florida, but also requires defending a couple of purple seats including Florida’s 13th Congressional District.

Crist, a former Republican governor who since changed parties, won in the Tampa-based district in 2016 after defeating Republican incumbent David Jolly. That year, Crist took 51.9 percent of the vote, eking out a narrow 14,544-vote victory and flipping the seat even as Republican Donald Trump won Florida’s electoral votes in the presidential election.

This year, Crist will face the winner of an Aug. 28 Republican primary between George Buck and Brad Sostack.

While the tight district should be one of the places Republicans put Democrats on defense this year with a freshman congressman elected in a close race two years ago, political prognosticator Larry Sabato still lists the race as “Likely Democratic” on his 2018 election forecast.

Donald Trump Jr.: Ron DeSantis was with us from the start

Rising rapidly in the Republican gubernatorial primary polls under President Donald Trump‘s balloon, U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis brought a little of the president’s family mojo to Orlando Tuesday, as Donald Trump Jr. reminded an appreciative crowd that DeSantis had been with his father from the start.

“Ron DeSantis was there from Day 1. He got it. He saw it. He went on TV. He was with us when it wasn’t cool to be with us,” Trump declared to several hundred exuberant people packing the B.B. King‘s Blues Club in Orlando.

In a Republican Party in which President Trump rewards loyalty, DeSantis is soaking it up, shooting well past Republican rival Adam Putnam in the polls and using that chip to draw large, loud crowds dedicated to Trump, fueled by every attack on him, and convinced that he is making America great again.

Trump Jr. was there on International Drive Wednesday to drive those points home.

“There is not a single matrix in existence, economic or otherwise, where we are not better off than we were four years ago under the previous administration. Not a one,” Trump Jr. told the crowd. “So what I see the Democrats running on: doing everything against Donald Trump.”

For his part, DeSantis provided much of the speech he’s been using since taking his campaign on the road three weeks ago. He railed against crony capitalism in Tallahassee, against illegal immigrants, against the sugar industry’s influence over water and natural resources, against Common Core curriculum guidelines in schools, pushing for creating a curriculum to study the U.S. Constitution, and taking shots at Putnam on every issue, including declaring him to be “in the pocket of big sugar.”

Putnam’s name drew boos in this crowd.

“Adam Putnam, though I respect him, he is somebody who is a career politician. He’s been in office since he was 22 years old. He’s a transactional Republican. And he is the choice of every insider in Tallahassee. He is the crown prince of crony capitalism. He’s the toast of Tallahassee,” DeSantis said.

“I, on the other hand, am an Iraq veteran,” DeSantis declared, drawing a huge cheer. “I am a principled, proven conservative leader. And I am endorsed by the president of the United States.”

That drew show-stopping applause.

DeSantis also appears to have found a winning issue with conservatives with his talk of adding U.S. Constitution curriculum to the schools; this crowd thundered when he spoke of it.

“We gotta get the Constitution back in the classroom. It can’t be a day or a week. I think it really needs to be a comprehensive study about the principles that make our country unique,” DeSantis said. “Because when you think about it, we have different religious denominations. We have different ethnic ancestries. But the thing that’s supposed to unite us is the belief that we serve enduring truths and fundamental principles. We need to be teaching the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. If you don’t have that foundation, then I don’t think you are fully prepared for citizenship.

“So we’re going to make that something that is an emphasis. And if there are teachers that excel in that, let’s pay them more,” he said.

DeSantis also praised Gov. Rick Scott, saying “We have a chance to build off what Rick Scott has done,” and then painted Scott’s predecessor, Republican-turned-independent-turned Democrat Charlie Crist as the king of cronyism, and implying that Putnam was the same.

“None of that is possible if we go back to the days of Charlie Crist, when the good old boys ran the show,” DeSantis said.

Florida politicians reflect on passing of nursing legend Barbara Lumpkin

Barbara Lumpkin, a widely respected nurse and advocate in the Sunshine State, sadly passed away Thursday night at the age of 81.

An Ohio native, Lumpkin worked as a nurse for 16 years prior to moving in 1974 to Florida. There, she began work as a lobbyist for the Florida Nurses Association. 

“Barbara Lumpkin was the backbone of the FNA legislative program for over 30 years. She has educated and mentored countless nurses and built the foundation for a strong presence for nurses in the health policy arena in our state as well as nationally,” FNA Executive Director Willa Fuller said. “Her legacy is undeniable. She will be missed.”

She joined Baptist Health South Florida in 2007, but the fruits of her labor at FNA would continue to be witnessed almost a decade later.

Lumpkin — who was a fixture in the Capitol during legislative sessions — was “a trailblazer” and “giant of the nursing profession,” said Phillis Oeters, vice president of government relations for Baptist Health South Florida.

In 2016, the state passed the Barbara Lumpkin Prescribing Act. The legislation, backed by FNA, had appeared before the legislature for 22 years prior. The law permits advanced registered nurse practitioners and physician assistants to prescribe controlled substances.

“Her life’s work culminated with the passage of the Nurse Prescribing Act in 2016,” said Martha DeCastro, Vice President for Nursing and Clinical Care Policy at the Florida Hospital Association. “The outpouring of support from nurses across the state is a testament to her incredible legacy. I am so very grateful for her life, her passion, and for her friendship.”

Appreciation of her work and the widespread impact of her influence are evident. On Friday, a handful of politicians from both parties mourned Lumpkin’s passing. 

Gov. Rick Scott:

“Barbara Lumpkin was a relentless supporter of patients, nurses and the nursing profession in Florida. My wife, Ann, and I send our sincerest condolences to her family and friends.”

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson:

“Barbara Lumpkin was a champion for nursing and access to healthcare. While we mourn her loss, we also celebrate her life, her service, and her immense legacy.

“She defined what it means to care deeply for others, and to use her compassion to get things done through the legislative process. We are all grateful.”

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio:

“I am saddened by the loss of nursing champion Barbara Lumpkin. We are grateful for her service to our state, our nurses, and all those in need of compassionate care.”

Former Governor and U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist:

“Barbara Lumpkin represented the best of the nursing and healthcare profession in our state. We will remember her for her decades of advocacy, selflessness, and service to our state. And we will honor her by serving others with the same compassion, kindness, and tenacity that made her so dearly loved.”

Former Gov. Jeb Bush:

“Barbara Lumpkin was unmatched in her advocacy on behalf of nurses. She accomplished so much for so many, and her legacy will live on through the caring, hardworking nurses she loved so much.”

State Sen. Denise Grimsley:

“Barbara Lumpkin was a friend, a mentor and an inspiration to so many. She was a nurse at Highlands General Hospital in Sebring the year I was born, and led the Florida Nurses Association the year I was first elected.

“We worked together to pass the Nurse Prescribing Act that I renamed the Barbara Lumpkin Act, a proud moment for both of us. I will miss Barbara’s wisdom, her wit, and we take comfort in the inspiration and example of her life, so very well-lived.”  

The News Service of Florida contributed to this post.

Charlie Crist raised $386K, sent $200K to DCCC in Q2

Democratic U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist announced Thursday that he’d brought in another big haul for his re-election campaign in Florida’s 13th Congressional District.

The former Governor will report raising $386,000 during the second quarter of 2018, bringing his overall fundraising for the 2018 cycle past the $3 million mark.

“It’s my privilege to serve and work hard to earn the support of the people of Pinellas County,” Crist said. “This election cycle is critical — every seat, call, donation, and volunteer will help us keep families together, lower healthcare costs, and keep our schools safe.”

The first term congressman said his campaign account also cut a $200,000 check to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee last quarter. The committee is the fundraising arm supporting the Democratic Party’s goal of flipping the U.S. House.

Crist faces Republican George Buck, who has not yet announced his second-quarter tally. At the end of the first quarter, he had raised $13,100 and had just shy of $12,000 on hand. No other candidates are running for CD 13, which covers most of Pinellas County, save for its northernmost reaches.

Even if Buck gains some traction in fundraising, it’s lean shifted toward Democrats after it was redrawn by Florida courts ahead of the 2016 elections when Crist defeated incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. David Jolly by about four percentage points. The district also voted plus-3 for Hillary Clinton.

University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato‘s Crystal Ball rates the district as “likely Democratic” in the fall.

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