Charlie Crist Archives - Florida Politics

National Weather Service employees ask Charlie Crist to help stop personnel cuts

Charlie Crist was already well aware of how unhappy National Weather Service (NWS) employees were about budget cuts proposed by the Trump administration.

But the St. Petersburg Democrat learned a whole lot more Monday about the concerns of career agency staffers over personnel reductions — specifically in Alaska. They say such cuts could damage the accuracy in forecasting storms and other major weather events.

“I’ve noticed that it’s under attack, but sadly a lot of things that make a lot of good sense are under attack in the recommendations from the administration,” Crist told members of the National Weather Service Employees Organization.

The group was holding its annual convention this week at the Vinoy Hotel in St. Petersburg.

Crist said that while the president can propose, it’s Congress that has the power to appropriate, and he predicted that the agency wouldn’t get the proposed five percent budget cut proposed by the Trump administration.

The former Florida governor said that in all of his decades living in the Sunshine State, he’s never seen federal, state and local officials work better in preparing for Hurricane Irma last week, and he said that much of that credit has to go to the NWS and their colleagues. “You are heroes to an awful lot of my fellow Floridians from this past week,” Crist told the attendee. “People are watching your colleagues on television, practically 24/7.”

But the employees with the National Weather Service don’t feel very appreciated these days.

“In Alaska, we have something like a 23 percent vacancy rate,” said Jim Brader, the Alaska Regional Chair with the NWSEO. “Positions aren’t being filled. Some offices have no employees, and so there’s other people filling in.”

Brader added that in one case, a reduction in personnel forced one employee in his office to work 145 days in a row, and some of those were double shifts. He said such reductions in Alaska impact weather forecasting for the rest of the country.

While there are staffing issues in other NWS offices, other employees also noted the significance of downgrading the Alaskan office.

“If you don’t get the critical data into our models, the forecasts are going to deteriorate,” warned Surranjana Saha, who works at the National Weather Service in Maryland. She said that the Alaska region is critical to read out climate forecasts.

“It’s a data void region and whatever radars you get are so precious because this affects the upper stratospheric winds and the wintertime flow over these areas,” Saha said, calling it “gold” to have such information.

Daniel Sobien, president of the National Weather Service Employees Organization, said that it was information from the Alaska office of the National Weather Service that was able to predict when the eye of Hurricane Irma began moving more eastward and out of the Tampa Bay area last Sunday.

“What causes it to make that turn was a mild attitude system was dropping down into the continent, but the information from Alaska is the information that we use to determine where that mid-latitude thing is going to come down so when that storm is going to turn,” he said.

Sobien also said that the NWS has also stopped sending up balloons to get the weather information needed to feed the models that are used to forecast hurricane.

“They just stopped doing that,” he said.

The problems with the National Weather Service aren’t exclusive to the Alaska, however. Brandon Dunston is with the NWS forecast office in Raleigh, North Carolina. He said that his office has lost five operational forecasters in recent years, approximately 40 percent of their meteorologists’ staff.

Although Trump has proposed a budget cut of five percent to the NWS, officials with the agency say the reduction in hiring additional staffers goes back a decade, and they’re still not certain why.

Some NWS employees said they want to have Crist push the chairman of the Subcommittee on Environment on the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee, Arizona Republican Andy Biggs, to call for holding a hearing based on the study the Government Accounting Office has released that confirms the  confirms the vacancy rate in NWS operational units has reached a point where NWS employees are “unable at times to perform key tasks.”

The GAO also found that NWS “staff experienced stress, fatigue and reduced morale resulting from their efforts to cover for vacancies” due to lack of time off and a loss of training.

According to the GAO, NWS managers admit “that employees are fatigued and morale is low” and that employees “were demoralized because they had to cover the workload for multiple vacancies.”

Charlie Crist calls for an investigation into United Airlines pricing

Congressman Charlie Crist says he’s heard complaints from constituents about price gouging from United Airlines, and he’s written a letter to U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao asking her to investigate.

“While I understand the fundamental economic principle of supply and demand, no company engaged in interstate commerce should exploit an emergency to take advantage of the people,” the Pinellas County Democrat writes.

“When I served Florida as Attorney General, I was proud to pursue price gouging aggressively, before, during, and after hurricanes,” he said. “My office prosecuted offenders within the full extent of the law.”

Delta and United have been the two U.S. airlines that have engendered the most criticism this week for price gouging in Florida. Delta announced Wednesday that they were capping all flights out of Florida at $399.

FloridaPolitics.com contacted United Airlines Thursday night for comment on Crist’s criticism. They did not immediately respond but did tell CNBC on Wednesday that they were sold out for all flights on Thursday and Friday but had added six new flights, all capped at $399.

The text of the letter is below:

I write on behalf of my constituents’ concerns that United Airlines is gouging Floridians trying to evacuate Hurricane Irma, one of the most powerful storms ever to threaten the State of Florida. According to the National Weather Service, Hurricane Irma will bring potentially catastrophic and life-threatening conditions. As a result, local and state governments have taken steps to help Floridians comply with evacuation orders and save their lives, including suspending highway tolls statewide.

In response to public criticism of outrageous prices, several airlines, including Jet Blue, Delta, American, and Southwest, have capped rates and, in some cases, expanded outbound capacity. I remain concerned that as of this evening, United Airlines’ price remain sky high – advertising pre-storm evacuation tickets for 10 times more than routine flights. While I understand the fundamental economic principle of supply and demand, no company engaged in interstate commerce should exploit an emergency to take advantage of the people. When I served Florida as Attorney General, I was proud to pursue price gouging aggressively, before, during, and after hurricanes. My office prosecuted offenders within the full extent of the law.

While this may be nothing more than an airline pricing algorithm that needs to be updated, my constituents are running out of time. Consistent with federal law and regulations, please give full and fair consideration whether it would be appropriate for the Department of Transportation to investigate this matter. I look forward to your timely response.

Hurricane raises temperatures within Florida Capitol Press Corps

Despite getting rave reviews for his handling of pre-landfall Hurricane Irma, some in the Capitol Press Corps remain unsatisfied with Gov. Rick Scott, accusing him of being less forthcoming than his predecessors during the worst weather threat in a generation.

As South Florida awaits the arrival of a potentially deadly Category 5 storm — and the bedlam it has already caused — one reporter feels the governor is still not doing enough, accusing Scott of holding back essential information to media, and by extension the public, during one of the most severe public threats in recent history.

In an email to Scott spokesperson McKinley Lewis — cc’d to several other reporters — Mary Ellen Klas of the Miami Herald suggests the governor and his staff are “going backward” in providing real-time emergency information to Floridians in the path of the Category 5 storm.

Timeliness is essential since Irma is scheduled to begin passing through Florida starting sometime Saturday evening.

As Irma approaches southeast Florida and the Keys, with the storm possibly making landfall in the Miami area this weekend, a shift of only a few miles west — staying offshore even slightly — could save lives and prevent billions of dollars in damage. And a slight move to the east could bring the center of the storm straight up through Florida, with even more catastrophic results.

Klas is also questioning a lack of audio access to briefings, as well as a failure of state officials to distribute timely situation reports to the public. She says both are a distinct departure from the administrations of both former Govs. Jeb Bush and Charlie Crist.

In an email obtained by FloridaPolitics.com, Scott communication director John Tupps replies that it is standard practice to not invite the media to briefings on law enforcement or military actions. However, once the information is ready, the information is immediately made public.

“We do not invite the media to briefings that contain detailed movements of military units or tactical law enforcement lifesaving efforts when in progress,” Tupps said. “However, this information is immediately released once it is ready to be made available. This is standard practice – and our goal is to ensure that our military can share this information with counties officials directly.”

Tupps also pointed out that over three days, Scott has held ten media briefings across the state – including two in Tallahassee with the Klas’ own Miami Herald.

“He has answered questions from the media at each one of his press conferences – including questions from the Times/Herald Bureau,” Tupps added. “Hurricane Irma is unprecedented, and making comparisons to weather events from nearly a decade ago is irresponsible and very inaccurate … The Governor has worked nonstop to keep Floridians and our visitors fully aware of the dangerous storm – including many press releases, information handouts and social media posts.”

The text of Klas’ letter is below (h/t to Diane Roberts):

From: Mary Ellen Klas <meklas@miamiherald.com>
Date: Thursday, Sept. 7, 2017, at 10:49 a.m.
Subject: Questions about public access to information

With the most damaging and dangerous storm rapidly approaching our shores, the ability of the media to provide assistance to help inform the public with real time and accurate information is more important than ever. It is also easier than ever with the emergence of smartphones, social media, and hardened telecommunications and satellite technology.

At the Miami Herald and Tampa Bay Times, we have every intention of operating through the storm and providing updated and accurate information to the public on our website and Twitter feeds. We have removed our paywalls, deployed staff and resources, fortified our headquarters and are determined to do our job.

The last time Florida was tested to this degree was during the hurricane seasons of 2005 and 2006 and while it was a time with little social media presence, the internet and online news was a constant and important force.

So why would the Scott administration choose to go backward from the accessibility provided to the public and the media during the Jeb Bush and Charlie Crist administrations?

McKinley asked me to provide my questions in writing. None of these is new to you since we have presented them to McKinley and other administration PIOs over the past few days. Our goal is not to write a story but to get you to open up to a level that was once expected for Florida. I hope we can achieve that.

Meanwhile, please provide us with answers to the following by 3 p.m. today:

* Why is the media no longer given audio access to the briefings from key officials in the command center?

* Why have you rejected requests to allow the media to attend the briefings if the audio is not available?

* Why are situation reports not distributed to the public and media in real time? (Please refer to the FLSERT archives for reference of how this was handled during other natural disasters by previous administrations.)

* Why have you rejected requests to have EOC command officials brief the media about issues and updates on a daily basis as previous administrations have done?

* Current and former officials who were actively involved in previous state emergencies speculate there has been no practical change but a leadership change and a change in the philosophy and approach to openness.

Please explain what protocols and documentation of events at the EOC have changed since the Bush and Crist administrations?

 

Florida Democrats in Congress call for Florida special session to replace statue

U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz now has gotten the other ten Florida Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives to join her call for a one-day Florida Legislature special session to replace Confederate General Edmund Kirby Smith‘s statue in the U.S. Capitol.

“We must denounce symbols of what supremacy and stand up for love and compassion – not just with words, but with our deeds,” state letters from the 11 Florida Democratic members of Congress to Gov. Rick Scott, Senate President Joe Negron, and House Speaker Richard Corcoran. “As the third largest state, and easily one of the most diverse in our nation, Florida has an opportunity to send a defining message.”

Wasserman Schultz first called for such a special session on her own, on Aug. 15.

The issue involves one of Florida’s two state representation statues in the U.S. Capitol. In 2016 the Florida Legislature voted to replace the Smith statute, but in 2017 was unable to agree on a replacement, so the statue remains.

The new congressional letter calls for Scott, Negron and Corcoran to act immediately, “in the shadow of Charlottesville,” to “stand at a crucial moment when leaders and institutions must confront hate and violence without ambiguity.”

A spokesman for Scott’s office expressed confidence that the legislature would take care of the matter as soon as possible. In January. When the regular 2018 Legislative Session convenes.

“In 2016, Governor Scott signed a bill that replaced this statue at the U.S. Capitol. A committee was quickly convened, public input was gathered and three names were submitted to the Legislature for consideration for a replacement. It is now up to the Legislature to decide how to resolve this issue and Governor Scott hopes they do so when they convene in January,” McKinley Lewis said in a statement.

The offices of Negron and Corcoran did not immediately respond to an inquiry about the letter.

When Wasserman Schultz first made her call two weeks ago, Corcoran responded by accusing her of being out of touch and grandstanding, noting that the Florida Legislature already had voted to replace Smith’s statue and was working on picking a replacement.

The latest letter was signed by the 11 Democrats Florida has elected to the U.S. House, Wasserman Schultz of Weston, Kathy Castor of Tampa, Charlie Crist of St. Petersburg, Ted Deutch of Boca Raton, Alcee Hastings of Miramar, Darren Soto of Orlando, Frederica Wilson Miami Gardens, Val Demings of Orlando, Al Lawson of Tallahassee, Lois Frankel of West Palm Beach, and Stephanie Murphy of Winter Park.

“The legislature’s inaction leaves in place of honor, a symbol that represents a painful and horrific period in American history for so many Floridians and Americans,” the letter states.

“No family visiting our nation’s Capital should have to explain to their child that the statue representing our state honors someone who fought for a philosophy built on hatred, inequality and oppression.

“We urge you to take immediate action by calling a one-day special session during the Florida House and Senate’s upcoming interim committee meetings that already are scheduled in Tallahassee and finish this important and historic work.”

Nine Florida Democrats urge Donald Trump to rescind transgender ban

Nine of Florida’s 11 Democratic members of Congress signed a letter Tuesday urging President Donald Trump to reconsider his recently announced ban on transgendered people in the military.

“There is no place for discrimination in our Armed Forces or indeed anywhere else in American society,” the letter signed by most Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives reads.

“Enforcing your ban could mean discharging active duty soldiers, sailors, Marines and members of the Air Force who serve honorably. It also would mean barring other patriotic Americans from serving in the future. Both actions are detrimental to our national security, ill-advised, and contrary to the values upon which our nation was built,” it continues.

The letter states there are thousands of active-duty transgender service members and refutes Trump’s contention that they have been a disruption or burden on the military, saying they serve with equal distinction, and are “equally deserving of our gratitude and respect.”

The letter also argues that the ban is likely unconstitutional.

The 143 signatories Tuesday afternoon included Democratic U.S. Reps. Kathy Castor of Tampa, Charlie Crist of St. Petersburg, Ted Deutch of Boca Raton, Lois Frankel of West Palm Beach, Alcee Hastings of Miramar, Al Lawson of Tallahassee, Stephanie Murphy of Winter Park, Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Weston, and Frederica Wilson of Miami Gardens.

Democratic U.S. Reps. Val Demings and Darren Soto, both of Orlando, had not signed the most recent copy sent to FloridaPolitics.com, but Soto’s office said he fully endorsed the letter and wanted to sign it but did not get the chance before the letter was closed.

Last month, after Trump signaled, in a Twitter post, his intention to ban transgendered people, Soto released a statement that included, “There are over 15,000 transgender military service men and women currently risking their lives every day protecting our country. Now, we must also protect them. I proudly stand with the transgender troops serving in the U.S military, you make us proud to be American! “

Demings office did not respond to an inquiry about why she had not signed the letter.

In a Facebook post Murphy, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, wrote, “All people who are willing and qualified to defend our nation and to protect those who fight alongside them should be free to serve.”

Charlie Crist maintains centrist persona at Clearwater town hall

Congressman Charlie Crist isn’t likely to join the growing group of Democrats signing on to legislation to bring a single-payer health care system to America, nor is he prone to changing his mind regarding his opposition to the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) movement.

Those were a couple of revelations the St. Petersburg Democrat dropped during a town-hall meeting Friday at the St. Petersburg Florida Clearwater Arts Auditorium on Friday.

Read more

David Jolly, Patrick Murphy to embark on speaking tour of Florida college campuses

Former Florida Congressmen David Jolly and Patrick Murphy will tour college campuses this fall, where the onetime U.S. Senate rivals will try to explain why politics in Washington is so screwed up.

“Why Gridlock Rules Washington and How We Can Solve the Crises” will feature a town-hall style format moderated by members of the media and academics, with a question-and-answer session to follow.

The first stop is Sept. 12 at the University of South Florida in Tampa.  The 75-minute event will be sponsored by USF and the Tampa Bay Times.

Other stops include Oct. 4 at Florida International University, Oct. 18 at the University of Miami and the University of Florida in Gainesville Oct. 25, with more events likely to be added.

Jolly, a Republican from Pinellas County, won the special election in early 2014 to succeed the late Bill Young; he was re-elected later that year. He lost his bid for re-election last fall to Democrat Charlie Crist after his 13th Congressional District was redrawn up with plenty more Democrats after the Florida Supreme Court ruled that the district had been illegally drawn up by the Florida Legislature.

“I think what Patrick and I are focusing in on is regardless of where you consider yourself on the (political) spectrum, there’s a path forward to working together, and in this environment I don’t think there’s enough people speaking to that,” said Jolly, who describes himself as a “governing conservative,” willing to approach issues where few Republicans seek a compromise.

Murphy was a two-term Democratic Representative from Jupiter who narrowly defeated Republican Allen West in Florida’s 18th Congressional District in 2012. He was the Democratic Party’s nominee for U.S. Senate last fall but lost to GOP incumbent Marco Rubio.

“One of the biggest things that are frustrating Americans on both sides of aisle, and perhaps resulting somewhat in President Trump’s election, was the lack of progress that people have been seeing,” says Murphy, who said both he and Jolly agreed upon their election that there was common ground to be found on issues such as climate change, tax reform and the need for infrastructure spending.

During their short time serving together in Congress, the two men found ways to work together on those issues and more. There was the possibility that the two could have faced each other in the Senate race last year, but Jolly ultimately dropped out of the race once Rubio flip-flopped and decided he would run again for his Senate seat after his presidential ambitions collapsed.

Murphy says of all the problems with a dysfunctional Congress, gerrymandering is at the top. Jolly agrees but believes that districts should be redrawn in terms of electoral competitiveness, so that working across the aisle will be positive, instead of giving ammunition to political party officials to have that candidate “primaried” come election time.

Murphy recently agreed to serve as one of six fellows at Georgetown University’s Institute of Politics and Public Service this fall.

Jolly, meanwhile, has been ubiquitous on CNN and MSNBC this year offering unfettered criticism mostly at Trump. He says that while the tour isn’t about Trump at all, it clearly is designed to provide an alternative to politics in the Trump era.

You can find more information about the tour at fixwashington2017.com.

Paulson’s principles: Money, money, money!

It has been said that money is the lifeblood of politics. If so, many members of the Florida congressional delegation are very healthy, while others are on life support.

This is based on second quarter financial reports covering funds raised, funds spent and cash on hand. In contrast to the general assumption, money does not guarantee political success. Just ask Jeb Bush, who quickly raised over $100 million in his quest for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination. The money produced no primary wins and only three delegates.

Candidates who raise large sums of money do so either to scare off political opponents, to prepare for a serious challenger, or to stockpile funds to run for higher office. The biggest war chests among the Florida congressional delegation are held by incumbent Republicans who are considered safe.

Small campaign accounts do not necessarily signal a political problem. In many cases, a small campaign account is a sign that the incumbent faces no serious opposition. Democrat Alcee Hastings, representing District 20 in Miami, only has $92,074 in his campaign account. That signals that Hastings has never faced a serious challenge since winning a congressional seat in 1992.

Those with the largest campaign accounts include Republican Vern Buchanan in District 16 ($1,982,876), Republican Ron DeSantis in District 6 ($1,674,185), Republican Carlos Curbelo in District 26 ($1,078,588) and Democrat Charlie Crist in District 13 ($1,121,494).

Crist, serving his first term in Congress, is perhaps Florida’s best-known member of Congress and a prodigious fundraiser. Curbelo represents one of two Florida congressional districts held by a Republican that has a large Democratic advantage. Curbelo is more threatened than most members of Congress. Both Buchanan and DeSantis represent districts with a marginal Republican electorate. DeSantis’ district has a +4 Republican advantage and Buchanan’s district has a +6 Republican advantage.

Only one challenger taking on an incumbent has raised over $50,000. Louis Sola made a personal loan of $99,000 to his campaign account.

Two former members of the Florida congressional delegation filed campaign reports, signaling their hopes to keep their options open to another congressional run.

Former Republican Congressman Cliff Stearns raised $51,704 and has $1,579,227 in his campaign account, more than all but two of the current members of the delegation.

Democrat Alan Grayson, who represented District 9, filed paperwork in District 11. Grayson raised $68,532 and has $455,584 in the bank.

It is still very early with 19 months to go before the 2018 congressional elections. Some candidates have not announced and still have plenty of time to do so. What we do know, based on past history, is that two-thirds of the delegation face no serious threat. The other third who are in marginal districts or who have angered their constituents are going to raise as much money as they can to retain their seat.

There is one truism in Congress: Every member of Congress thinks they are indispensable.

___

Darryl Paulson is Emeritus Professor of Government at USF St. Petersburg specializing in Florida politics and elections.

Art Graham, Ronald Brisé win nominations to be returned to PSC

Art Graham and Ronald Brisé on Thursday won nominations to be returned to their seats on the Public Service Commission, which regulates investor-owned utilities in the state.

If selected, both men would serve third terms; each was first appointed by Gov. Charlie Crist in 2010.

The Public Service Commission Nominating Council also decided on six people to fill the unexpired term of former Commissioner Jimmy Patronis, who stepped down to replace Jeff Atwater as state Chief Financial Officer. Patronis’ term is up at the end of 2018. Those candidates are:

— Bill Conrad, former mayor of Newberry in Alachua County.

— Associate Public Counsel Erik Sayler. The Office of Public Counsel represents the interests of ratepayers before the commission.

— Ted Schrader, a former Pasco County commissioner and Tampa Bay Water board member.

Rich Glorioso, a Plant City Republican and retired U.S. Air Force colonel, who served in the House 2004-2012.

Gary Clark, the Department of Environmental Protection’s deputy secretary for land and recreation.

— Ritch Workman, a former state representative. The Melbourne Republican lost a bruising primary battle last year to fellow GOP Rep. Debbie Mayfield for Senate District 17.

The council also recommended another four for Graham’s and Brisé’s seats; their terms are up at year’s end. Those candidates include Conrad and:

— Former state Rep. Kenneth Littlefield, a Pasco County Republican who once chaired the House Utilities & Telecommunications Committee. Littlefield is a former PSC member himself, having been put on the commission by former Gov. Jeb Bush in 2006. Then-Gov. Charlie Crist replaced him the following year.

— Anibal Taboas, an Illinois-based consultant and former U.S. Department of Energy official.

— Jody Ann Newman, who chairs the Florida Board of Nursing.

Taboas and Newman won their nominations in a runoff vote, after initially not capturing the required seven votes.

Losing candidates include Greg Evers, a Baker Republican who left the Senate to run last year for northwest Florida’s Congressional seat, losing to Matt Gaetz; and current state Rep. Tom Goodson, a Brevard County Republican who chairs the House Agriculture and Property Rights subcommittee and is term-limited next year.

Another noteworthy applicant, former state Comptroller and retired Marine general Bob Milligan, was shut out early in the process, receiving no votes to move forward when the council met in Tampa last week.

The council will forward its recommendations to Gov. Rick Scott, who will decide on the appointments, subject to final approval by the Florida Senate.

Personnel note: Cesar Fernandez appointed to Hispanic Chamber board

A top Uber executive in Florida has been named to the Board of Governors of the Florida State Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (FSHCC).

Cesar Fernandez, the ride-booking company’s Miami-based Senior Public Policy Associate, is joining the board, said Julio Fuentes, the chamber’s president and CEO, in a statement.

“Cesar’s breadth of experience in political and government affairs coupled with his innate leadership qualities, makes him a powerful addition to our board,” Fuentes said. Fernandez was a member of the 2015 class of Florida Politics’ “30 Under 30” Rising Stars of state politics.

“He knows first-hand the business community’s critical role in and impact on our state. Uber is an innovative company that will help bolster employment and economic opportunities for our state. We welcome Cesar’s leadership and support of our mission to educate our statewide members on free market principles and economic growth.”

Fernandez added: “Cultivating entrepreneurs is critical to the success of Florida’s economy. I’m honored to be part of the Florida State Hispanic Chamber of Commerce’s Board of Governors, which represents the interests of more than 600,000 Hispanic-owned businesses across the state, and look forward to serving with these distinguished leaders.”

Fernandez joined the Uber Public Affairs Team in Florida in January 2015. He has worked at the city, county and state levels to secure regulatory frameworks for transportation network companies (TNCs), a press release said.

Before working for Uber, he was political director on Gov. Charlie Crist‘s 2014 gubernatorial campaign and successfully managed the political campaigns of incoming Senate Democratic Leader Jeff Clemens and St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman.

In 2011-12, he was a legislative aide in the Florida Senate. Fernandez was born and raised in Miami and is a graduate of the University of Florida.

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