Reflecting the importance of winning Florida’s largest media market as he seeks the Democratic nomination for Governor, Philip Levine has named Jocelyn Mund as his regional director for the Tampa Bay area.
Mund most recently served as deputy finance director for Charlie Crist, handling community outreach and public events for the Democratic congressman from St. Petersburg. She began her political career as an organizer for Barack Obama‘s 2012 election and on his inaugural committee.
Mund also worked in Washington for Texas Rep. Joaquin Castro and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, before returning to Florida as deputy director of scheduling for Crist’s 2014 gubernatorial bid.
“We are thrilled to have Jocelyn join our team, as we continue to expand our efforts to reach voters in every part of our state,” said Levine campaign manager Matthew Van Name. “With Jocelyn’s expertise and incredible organizing abilities, we are more equipped than ever to build a successful grassroots 67-county strategy, building our movement throughout the critically important Bay area and beyond.”
“Mayor Levine is an exciting candidate, with an exciting vision for Florida, and I am grateful for this one-of-a-kind opportunity. I can’t wait to hit the ground running, helping to build grassroots movement in a part of Florida that I love so much,” Mund said.
The Tampa Bay area is the biggest media market in Florida. While extremely important for a statewide candidate, being from the Tampa Bay market hasn’t helped the last five Democrats who ran for governor going back to 2002. Bill McBride, Jim Davis, Alex Sink and Crist were all Tampa Bay-area Democrats who ran for governor — and lost.
Democrats haven’t won the governor’s race since 1994 when Lawton Chiles defeated Jeb Bush.
Levine was elected as mayor of Miami Beach in 2013.
Gwen Graham, Andrew Gillum and Chris King are the other candidates vying for the nomination.
In eight days, there will be a special election in Sarasota. It is a race that probably shouldn’t look interesting, but alas, it is turning into one heck of a fight.
For those of you not from Florida, the corners of this state take on the characteristics of the part of the country where people migrate from.
Sarasota, like much of Florida from Tampa south to Naples, has a Midwestern feel, a result of migration that came down from the parts of America accessed from I-75.
So, the voters here, in large part, have more in common with voters from the northern suburbs of Chicago (the district used to be spring training home to the real Chicago baseball team, the White Sox) than they do with voters who live just 20 miles to the east, in the more rural parts of Sarasota County.
The seat became open when the incumbent, Republican Alex Miller, resigned due to a change in her business. The Republicans have nominated James Buchanan, the son of the area’s incumbent Congressman, Vern Buchanan. The Democratic candidate is Margaret Good, a local attorney.
House District 72 is a lean-Republican district. Mitt Romney won it by 4, and Donald Trump won it by 5. Overall, Republicans have a ten-point advantage in voter registration.
However, despite these numbers, this is a place where Democrats have won: from 2006-2010, this seat was held by a Democrat, Keith Fitzgerald. In 2014, Charlie Crist beat Rick Scott by about 1.5 percent, and in 2008, Barack Obama and John McCain played to a draw.
Nonetheless, conventional wisdom would say this seat should be a little more Republican in a special election, due to their super voter turnout advantage, but alas, this isn’t a conventional wisdom year.
With a week to go before the Election, Democrats are turning out their voters at a higher rate than Republicans, and the race appears to be headed to a very tight finish.
Just how close?
Well as of this morning, some 20,621 voters have cast a ballot either by returning an absentee ballot or by voting in person at an early voting site, with Republicans holding a 199-ballot advantage.
So far, just under 17 percent of District 72 voters have voted. Democratic voter turnout is at 22.5 percent, while 17.5 percent of the district’s GOP voters have cast a ballot.
So how does this district typically perform?
In the last three top of the ticket races: the 2012 presidential, the 2014 governor’s race, and the 2016 presidentials, there is a distinct pattern: Democrats have won the votes cast before Election Day, and Republicans have won Election Day.
In 2012 and 2016, Obama and Hillary Clinton went into Election Day with a 3.5 and 5-point lead respectively. In 2012, Romney won Election Day by 15 percent, and in 2016, Trump won by 26 percent.
But 2014 looked a bit different, and in it, the path for how Democrats win here: Crist went into Election Day with a 7-point lead, but this time, Republicans only won Election Day by 6, leading to the Crist win in the district.
But since 2016 was more recent, let’s take a closer look at that race.
Overall, Republicans had about an 11.5 percent advantage in the share of the electorate. The way this broke down: Republicans held a 5.5 percent advantage in the share of voters who voted before Election Day, and about a 23 percent advantage on Election Day. Just as in this race, Democrats had a higher turnout rate before Election Day than Republicans, but on Election Day, Democratic turnout cratered and GOP turnout spiked.
This translated to Clinton 5-point advantage among the 68 percent of the HD 72 voters who voted before Election Day, and Trump winning the remaining voters on Election Day by 26, for an overall Trump 5 percent win.
If you compare where Good is today compared to Clinton, in terms of turnout, the district is definitely more Democratic than it was going into Election Day in 2016.
By any fair assumption, given the district’s current turnout, and historical performance, she should be ahead by at least as much as Clinton was going into Election Day.
The unknown question, can she hold on — and just how much of a lead does she need to pull off the upset?
Eight days out, there are two big questions.
Republicans have more outstanding vote-by-mail ballots, so they see their numbers improve — though, over the last week, the delta between the two parties hasn’t changed much (remember Democrats in 2016 statewide left a lot more ballots on kitchen tables than did Republicans).
Right now, Democrats have returned 68 percent of their ballots, and Republicans have returned 65 percent, so I will be curious over the next week if the GOP can close that gap. What the final margin going into Election Day looks like will say a lot about the next point.
How much can Good lose Election Day by and still win?
If Election Day looks like Crist ‘14, she wins. If it looks like Trump ‘16, she loses.
Almost surely, it will land somewhere between the two.
Turnout can be hard to predict in these races. With more than a week to go, the turnout rate is already higher than the entire state Senate special election in Miami last fall.
In the recent St. Petersburg mayor’s race, 37 percent of the total vote came on Election Day. In the Miami State Senate race, it was around 27 percent. By the end of the week, this picture will be much more clear.
But one thing is for certain, this race is headed to the wire. Again, in a conventional special election, in a conventional year, this is a race we would not be talking about. But it isn’t, thus we are.
And at this point, a Democratic win here is far from improbable.
The Florida Constitution Revision Commission may wade into the state’s process for restoring voting rights of ex-felons, after a federal judge ruled the current clemency process is unconstitutional.
Members of the commission’s Ethics and Elections Committee unanimously agreed Friday to explore ways to consider the issue, either through additional committee meetings or by amending a proposal when the full commission meets in March.
On Thursday, U.S. District Judge Mark Walker found the current process – in which ex-felons must wait years to have their clemency cases considered and only a small number are successful in getting rights restored – to be arbitrary and unconstitutional. He also asked the state and lawyers who challenged the system to file plans to resolve the problem by Feb. 12.
“I don’t know if there is anything we can do, should do, where we would go from here, et cetera,” said Commissioner Hank Coxe, a Jacksonville lawyer who heads the commission’s Ethics and Elections Committee. “But we’re here, it just happened and so we have it.”
Commissioner Sherry Plymale of Palm City said she and other members of the committee have an understanding of the problems in the current system, after they participated in an in-depth review of the clemency process.
“We were unhappy particularly with the number of people that are in the queue, which was thousands,” Plymale said. “I felt all along that we needed to find an opportunity to work on this.”
As of Oct. 1, the state had a backlog of 10,377 cases in which ex-felons are seeking to have civil rights restored, including the right to vote, according to commission analysts.
In Walker’s order, the federal judge noted that 154,000 Floridians had their rights restored under former Gov. Charlie Crist, who set up a process in which cases could be reviewed by the state parole commission.
But Gov. Rick Scott changed that policy after he took office in 2011, leaving the rights-restoration decisions up to him and the three members of the state Cabinet, although the governor has sole power to reject any application.
Since that time, only 3,000 applications have been granted, with Walker noting the process has resulted in nearly 1.7 million Floridians being denied the right to vote, including more than one out of every five voting-age African-American residents.
“I do think we owe it to an awful lot of people in Florida to have this process work a lot better than it does,” Plymale said. “Even if they don’t want to restore rights, OK. But they’re not even getting a hearing, which is really not fair.”
Former Senate President Don Gaetz, a Niceville Republican who is a member of the ethics and election panel, expressed regret that lawmakers did not address the issue during his 10 years in the Legislature.
“We didn’t do what perhaps we could or should have done if we had known then what we know now,” Gaetz said. “It’s obvious that the clemency process in our state is not only broken but it’s scandalously broken.”
The commission considered several proposals aimed at automatically restoring voting rights for ex-felons. But those proposals were withdrawn when the political committee Floridians for a Fair Democracy obtained enough petition signatures to place an initiative, known as Amendment 4, on the fall ballot. That amendment would automatically restore voting rights to felons who have served their sentences, excluding those convicted for murder or sexual offenses.
As commissioners debated the ex-felon proposals, several members raised the possibility of “ballot confusion” if the commission placed a measure on the 2018 general election ballot in addition to Amendment 4.
Coxe, the chairman of the ethics and elections panel, said if the commission now takes up a proposal, he expects it to be focused on the clemency process rather than on the automatic restoration of voting rights.
“I’m not concerned about ballot confusion if one deals with clemency and it clearly does,” Coxe said.
Gaetz said he expects Amendment 4 to fail to gain the required 60 percent support from voters because it is “too broad.” While it excludes murderers and sex offenders, it would automatically restore rights to other felons who have committed serious crimes, such as kidnapping or carjacking.
He said he would not like to see competing proposals on the ballot, “but I think that we should not just give up on the opportunity to fix the clemency process even if we can’t fix the broader issue because of the way it is drawn so expansively.”
The commission, which meets every 20 years, has the unique ability to place constitutional amendments on the 2018 ballot. Ballot measures must be supported by at least 60 percent of voters to be enacted.
Republished with permission of the News Service of Florida.
The Senate passed a bill Wednesday that would require state and local officials to give up their current seat in order to run for federal office.
Under the “resign to run” bill, SB 186, candidates would need to resign their current office 10 days before the qualifying period opens in a federal race if the terms of the old office and the new office overlap.
The rule wouldn’t apply if a candidate’s potential federal term doesn’t overlap with the term for their current office.
State and local elected officials already must abide by a similar rule if they opt to run for a different, non-federal seat, and the rule also used to apply to federal seats, but in 2007 GOP lawmakers changed the rule in order to allow then-Republican Gov. Charlie Crist to run for vice president without giving up the governor’s mansion.
Crist didn’t end up as a VP pick, but the rule change stuck around.
The Senate voted 27-7 in favor of the proposal, sponsored by Republican Sen. Travis Hutson, with all the nays coming from Democratic Senators. The bill would go into effect immediately if signed into law.
Of the 15 Senate Democrats, only Sens. Bill Montford, Kevin Rader, Annette Taddeo and Jose Javier Rodriguez voted in favor.
Rodriguez could potentially be affected if the bill becomes law, as he is running in the race for Florida’s 27th Congressional District this fall and his Senate term runs through 2020. Rep. David Richardson and a half-dozen other Democrats are also vying for the seat, which is opening up due to the retirement of longtime Republican U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.
An identical bill in the House, HB 105 by Republican Rep. David Santiago, has cleared all of its committee stops and is ready for a vote on the chamber floor.
U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist is bringing a medical marijuana patient. U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch is bringing the wife of an American held hostage in Iran. U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel is bringing a trailblazing anti-sexual harassment advocate. U.S. Reps. Darren Soto and Stephanie Murphy are bringing Puerto Rico evacuees. U.S. Rep. Val Demings is bringing a police officer who responded to the Pulse nightclub massacre.
As usual, a handful of members of Congress are using their guest tickets to the president’s State Of The Union Address to honor someone from their district they admire — and to maybe make a political statement. On Monday and Tuesday a few of them will be holding press conferences introducing their guests, offering their inspiring story, and promoting the political causes they personify.
Florida Politics surveyed Florida’s 27 members of Congress and two senators and got a handful of advance responses on guests being brought to President Donald Trump‘s first State Of The Union address. Almost all of the responses came from Democrats.
U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, the Ponte Vedra Beach Republican running for governor, is bringing his wife Casey Black DeSantis, his office said.
U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson‘s office said she gave her guest ticket to Frankel.
Frankel is not yet saying exactly whom she’s bringing, but said on Friday it will be “a trailblazing anti-sexual harassment advocate” to be introduced on Monday.
Deutch, a Democrat from Boca Raton, is bringing Christine Levinson, wife of Bob Levinson, of Coral Springs, who has been missing in Iran for nearly 11 years, making him the longest-held hostage in American history.
Crist, a St. Petersburg Democrat, is bringing Dani Hall of Clearwater, who was born with a birth defect impacting her lower spine, and who moved from powerful narcotics to medical marijuana, when she finally found relief.
Soto, an Orlando Democrat, will be introducing Claudia Sofía Báez Solá, 18, who was a college student at the University of Puerto Rico when Hurricane Maria shut down that institution and most of the island, and who was sent, by her parents, and with her brother and grandmother, to live in Orlando while the parents continued to work to support them, living in a house with limited power.
Murphy, a Winter Park Democrat, is providing her ticket to Emmanuel Ortiz-Nazario, a 30-year-old from Puerto Rico who relocated with his wife and two young children to central Florida after Hurricane Maria.
U.S. Rep. Val Demings, an Orlando Democrat, is bringing Orange County Police Officer Adam Gruler, who was the first on the scene at Pulse the morning of June 16, 2016, and his wife Jaimi Gruler. The couple has just adopted three elementary school-age siblings.
U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, a Tampa Democrat, is providing her pass to Brenda Irizarry, 43, who serves on Castor’s Task Force on Puerto Rico Recovery & Assistance. She was among many Tampa Bay-area Puerto Ricans who took immediate action the day after Hurricane Maria to mobilize relief efforts, collecting supplies to send to the island.
U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a Democrat from Weston, is bringing a DREAMer from her district, Nicholas Perez, a DACA recipient who is a Broward County businessman.
Freshman Democratic U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist brought in about $486,000 during the final three months of 2017, putting his re-election campaign past the $2 million mark for the year.
Crist’s year-end report isn’t viewable yet on the Federal Elections Commission website, though the Crist campaign said it started 2018 with about $1.76 million in the bank.
Through the end of September, Crist had raised about $1.67 million and had $1.43 million on hand, indicating that his campaign account grew by more than $325,000 after the fourth-quarter report. That puts the St. Petersburg congressman’s spending somewhere in the ballpark of $150,000 for the October through December reporting period.
Crist is the only candidate who has filed a finance report this cycle for Florida’s 13th Congressional District, though Republican George Buck recently announced he would run against the former Florida governor this cycle.
Crist likely isn’t quaking in his boots over the challenge.
There’s also a chance Crist would have to face former U.S. Rep. David Jolly on Election Day, though the odds of that happening took a blow after Jolly said he was expecting a Democratic tsunami at the polls in November.
Jolly did say, however, that “he’s still considering being on the ballot for Congress, and having conversations about some statewide possibilities that we might confront by filing deadline.”
That leaves Crist cruising along as the sole major candidate for the Democratic-leaning district with a campaign account well into the seven figures.
There’s something shady going on with CareerSource Pinellas and CareerSource Tampa Bay, and Democratic U.S. Rep. CharlieCrist wants to know whether the U.S. Department of Labor has any oversight in place and if changes are needed to prevent fraud in the future.
The first-term congressman, who represents Pinellas County, sent a letter Thursday to Labor Secretary Alex Acosta. He previously called on the House Committee on Education and the Workforce to look into reports that the two Careersource branches were falsifying jobs numbers.
State investigators started looking into the apparent fraud last week.
“I write to you regarding troubling reports of mismanagement at two workforce development programs in the Tampa Bay region, including my congressional district. This week, I asked Chairman Virginia Foxx and Ranking Member Bobby Scott to review reporting by the Tampa Bay Times which highlights the falsification of records by officials at CareerSource Pinellas and CareerSource Tampa Bay. Given that Department of Labor funding may have be used to conduct these activities, it would seem the Department has an important role to play in that oversight process as well,” Crist wrote.
“As you know, CareerSource centers in Florida rely heavily on federal Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) funding. Please provide information on what accountability and oversight processes the department follows to protect the integrity of WIOA funding. I think we can both agree that inadequate oversight of federal tax dollars can come at a steep cost to both taxpayers and the communities who rely on these important workforce development programs. The enclosed reports would suggest that simply outsourcing stewardship of federal tax dollars to the states may be insufficient.”
Also on Thursday, House Speaker Richard Corcoran ordered a House probe of the two offices, and asked the agency’s high-paid chief executive, Edward Peachey, to hand over copies of all employment contracts and records of how many people the agency had trained for jobs, among other things.
Both of Florida’s U.S. senators and 22 of its House members are in a dither over mixed signals on offshore oil drilling from Washington.
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke assured Gov. Rick Scott that Florida was “off the table” earlier this month.
Soon, Zinke’s position was undercut by Ocean Energy Management Acting Director Walter Cruickshank’s telling the House Natural Resources Committee that areas off Florida’s coast are still under consideration.
With inchoate policy guidance from the Executive Branch, Florida legislators demanded answers Wednesday from the Donald Trump administration in a letter.
“In light of Bureau of Ocean Energy Management Acting Director Walter Cruickshank’s recent statement before the House Natural Resources Committee that the Planning Areas off Florida’s coasts are still under consideration for offshore drilling, we write to reiterate our strong opposition to any attempt to open up the eastern Gulf of Mexico to oil and gas drilling,” the lawmakers wrote. “We object to any efforts to open the eastern Gulf of Mexico to drilling, and we urge you to remove this area from the five-year plan immediately.”
The letter notes that these areas have been off limits since 2006, and that since the Deepwater Horizon explosion in 2010, local and regional stakeholders and leaders have been adamant in opposition.
The letter also cites the “critical” nature of the Eastern Gulf Test and Training range for training missions for F-22 and F-35 pilots. And on the eastern side, facilities like Patrick Air Force Base, Kennedy Space Center, and the Jacksonville Naval Air Station would be impacted.
Some Florida politicians — notably, Scott — took Zinke at his word, even after the Cruickshank remarks became news.
“Secretary Zinke is a man of his word. He’s a Navy Seal. He promised me that Florida would be off the table, and I believe Florida is off the table,” Scott said.
“Secretary Zinke has made a commitment,” Scott added, “and he’ll live up to his commitments.”
However, Sen. Bill Nelson, who will likely face Scott in his re-election contest this year, called Zinke’s declaration and Scott’s trumpeting thereof a “political stunt.”
Joining Sens. Nelson and Marco Rubio signing the letter: Reps. Stephanie Murphy, Ted Deutch, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Kathy Castor, Alcee Hastings, Vern Buchanan, Val Demings, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Frederica Wilson, Darren Soto, Bill Posey, Al Lawson, Gus Bilirakis, Lois Frankel, Brian Mast, Charlie Crist, John Rutherford, Ron DeSantis, Dennis Ross, Francis Rooney, Neal Dunn, and Matt Gaetz.
When Floridians went to the polls in 2016, more than just names were on the ballot.
Included was Amendment 2, amending our state constitution to legalize medical marijuana.
Amendment 2 received the support of 71 percent of voters – surpassing the 60 percent needed for passage. Do you know how hard it is to get more than 70 percent of the people to agree on anything these days? But Floridians understood that medical marijuana is vital to alleviating the pain and suffering caused by serious illness, affecting people in their families, their friends and neighbors.
That’s why it was so disturbing when Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that the U.S. Department of Justice would rescind policies enacted under the Obama administration that discouraged enforcement of federal marijuana laws in states like Florida that legalized marijuana for medical or recreational use. It is an attack on states’ rights, undermining the will of 6.5 million Floridians, and putting at risk the ability of sick children and adults to receive the medical care they need to get well and reduce suffering.
I strongly oppose this change, and I want to tell you why.
I’m blessed to represent my Pinellas County neighbors in a district that stretches from my hometown of St. Petersburg to the beautiful white sand beaches of Clearwater, where Dani Hall lives with her two sons.
I am honored that Dani will attend the State of the Union as my guest later this month, and for her to allow me to share her story.
Born with a birth defect impacting her lower spine, Dani has endured severe pain and multiple back surgeries over the course of her life. To deal with the pain, she was given narcotics. But they didn’t help, which led to more painkillers being prescribed – at one point she was on 14 different medications. As you can imagine, this left her feeling almost zombie-like, unable to function normally.
Her options with traditional pharmaceuticals exhausted, Dani decided to try medical marijuana. Her pain subsided. She came off all other medications. Just think about that.
Now, Dani can exercise and was able to return to work thanks to the relief medical marijuana provides her. A biologist by trade, with this new lifeline Dani is currently going back to school to become a teacher.
Dani did notice a side effect, however – a welcome one.
As someone on the Autism spectrum, Dani found that her symptoms of severe anxiety and sensory sensitivity were also alleviated.
Dani was hopeful that medical marijuana might be able to help her two sons, who are also on the spectrum. She began advocating Florida officials to legalize medical marijuana so it could be an option to help others in the way it changed her life.
It would be cruel for the Trump administration to take this legal option of healing away from Dani, her boys, and the hundreds of thousands of people – perhaps millions – that medical marijuana helps across the country.
As a person of faith, to me, this is an issue of compassion. The Bible teaches us to recognize the suffering of others and act to help, similar to the “Golden Rule” that I try to live by every day.
I call on Attorney General Sessions to remember the Golden Rule, act compassionately, and reverse course on this harmful policy change. The well-being of countless families just like Dani’s are at stake.
St. Petersburg Democrat Charlie Crist represents Florida’s 13th Congressional District.
Kay Akins is still “pissed off” about Donald Trump‘s election more than a year ago. “It gets worse every day.”
The Naperville, Illinois resident joined thousands of protesters Sunday in what felt like a seismic level of antipathy for the President of the United States, felt in both St. Petersburg and many parts of the country.
A year ago, Akins participated in the massive Women’s March in Washington D.C. She never felt more solidarity with so many like-minded people in her life, she said.
This time around, Akins found herself in the Tampa Bay area; she drove by herself Sunday to the Women’s March in St. Petersburg’s Williams Park, joined by thousands of similarly like-minded people. Organizers called on them to make their voices heard by voting in this year’s midterm elections.
Unlike last year, when the marches were all held on the day after the president’s inauguration, protestors held rallies over both weekend days this year, with gatherings Sunday in Las Vegas, Miami, Seattle, Phoenix and many other cities around the country.
On Saturday, a reported 120,000 crowded streets in Manhattan for a women’s march, with massive rallies in Chicago, D.C., the San Francisco area and many other locations.
Among organizers, the theme was “Power to the Polls,” featuring a call to have more women participate in elections this November.
But among those in the crowd, the focus was squarely on Trump.
“He awakened the sleeping giant,” said Patti Michaud, who served asco-captain of the Central Gulf Coast Women’s March.
An activist in the 1960s, Michaud said that while things may have become better for women, following Trump’s election, they were now “fighting for the rights we fought for fifty years ago.”
As a result, record numbers of women are running for office this year. At least 79 female candidates are exploring runs for governor, according to the Rutgers UniversityCenter for American Women and Politics.
Emily’s List, which recruits and trains pro-choice Democratic women, announced last month that over 25,000 women had contacted the organization about running for office since the 2016 election. Additionally, over 8,000 people have signed up to help women run for office.
Among those locally who are pursuing a run for office for the first time is Tampa resident Kimberly Overman, a Democrat running for the Hillsborough County Commission\. Overman attended last year’s march in Washington, which she called “inspirational” and said it demonstrated the power of women working together to get something done.
“I think that’s one of the values of having women in the process,” she said, “whether it be on the corporate side and corporate boards, whether it be on the government side in terms of serving for office, whether it be in the lobbying world, where women actually can help people find a consensus and find some good solutions.”
Other female candidates in attendance included Democrat Jennifer Webb, who is taking a second shot at the House District 69 seat this year.
Trump’s election was a shock, one that took awhile to get over, said Palm Harbor resident Kim Nymeyer. Like others at the event Sunday, she called her participation in last year’s march a cathartic experience.
It’s different this time around, Nymeyer added. “People are asking: What is the action now?”
Joining Nymeyer was her friend Marlene Witherspoon, who made the trek from Fort Myers to St. Pete. The two sat with beach chairs directly in front of the stage at Williams Park.
Reflecting on the 2016 election, Witherspoon admitted she was restrained in her support for Hillary Clinton, the reason she didn’t campaign for her in the conservative hometown, as she had for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012.
“I wasn’t on board with her,” she recounts. “She was too polarizing for me to risk knocking on doors to people [who] I know are Republicans.”
While Trump’s candidacy brought out conservative voters disaffected from the political process for years, his subsequent election has energized progressives who had been indifferent in the past, such as Lakeland resident Michelle Ploughman.
Wearing an “Elizabeth Warren in 2020″ T-shirt, Ploughman said the opportunity to empower female voices is part of the movement in which she’s taking part. She cited the power of black women in particular for Democrat Doug Jones’ victory over Republican Roy Moore in the Alabama U.S. Senate special election last month.
“That’s what this is all about for me. It’s really just promoting the idea that we all have the chance to make change in whatever area we choose and the best choice at this point is to vote.”
There were dozens (if not hundreds) of signs held up by those in the crowd: “The future is female,” “Vote like a Girl,” “Stop tweeting and read a book,” to name a few.
Scheduled to appear was U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, but events with the government shutdown in Washington precluded his appearance.
As was the case last year, Mayor Rick Kriseman made an appearance, as did Democratic gubernatorial candidate Philip Levine.
“Are you all ready to get expelled from Trump University?” Levine asked to a roar of approval.
Levine then awkwardly posited that it was time to enroll in a new university: “The university of doing the right thing.”
That’s a mantra heard in his often-aired television commercials touting his candidacy. In a creative bit of outreach, Levine also paid to co-sponsor the event.
In a four-and-a-half minute speech, Levine touted campaign pledges: raising the minimum wage, investing in public education and keeping a strong environment. And he excitedly told the crowd that November’s election in Florida was the most important “in the world.”
“Because so goes this governorship this year, so goes the presidency in 2020,” he said. “Women of Florida, you must vote. We must change our state. We will change our country. We will change the world. It begins right here in St Petersburg. It begins right here in Florida.”
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chris King spoke later in the afternoon as well.
In the audience, St. Petersburg resident Joan Thurmond was wearing a T-shirt touting the candidacy of Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, yet another one of Levine’s opponents in the Democratic race (Gillum and Gwen Graham, the other major Democratic candidate for governor, spoke in Miami on Sunday).
“I think he’s a racist,” Thurmond said of Trump. “A bigot. And I really think that he does not know what running the most powerful country in the world is all about. ”
Thurmond added that she didn’t appreciate his recent comment reportedly disparaging African nations.
“Being African-American, I know what it’s like to be discriminated against.”
Although overwhelmingly female in number, the crowd was diverse regarding race and especially in age, where toddlers to seniors were well represented.
Whether 2018 will be “The Year of the Women” at the ballot box won’t be known until after the November 6 midterms. But to women like Akins, their outlook on politics has been forever changed, no matter what happens this fall.
“My husband always says, ‘you can’t do anything,'” she recounted. “I said, ‘I can be there and give my voice.'”