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.'”
The controversial proposal in the Legislature to combine the three campuses of the University of South Florida has drawn the ire of U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist of St. Petersburg.
In a letter to Senate President Joe Negron and House Speaker Richard Corcoran, Crist said he is “deeply concerned” over the bill offered by state Rep. Chris Sprowls, a Palm Harbor Republican. It would bring the campuses in St. Petersburg and Sarasota-Manatee under control of the main USF campus in Tampa.
It also would phase out separate accreditation for each school, which supporters of the St. Petersburg campus argue would reduce that school’s prestige and independence.
“As you know, USFSP worked for many years in its quest for autonomy, achieving this status in 2006. Since that time, USFSP’s enrollment, performance, and fundraising have steadily increased and the institution is on course to become a nationally recognized university in its own right,” Crist wrote. “Further, an independent USFSP is a major point of pride for USFSP alumni, the student body, and the St. Petersburg community.
“I am deeply concerned with the proposal to revoke USFSP’s autonomy. The lack of public input or rigorous study for such a far-reaching, disruptive proposal is also very troubling. At minimum, this issue requires greater analysis, and USFSP students, faculty, administrators and the St. Petersburg community deserve adequate opportunity to have their voices heard on this issue. Unless or until that occurs, I request that further consideration of any proposal affecting USFSP’s autonomy be put on hold.”
In a separate statement, Crist questioned the lack of “appropriate public input” and says the bill is “not in the best interests of the student body.”
To garner sufficient support to keep the government from shutting down midnight Friday, House Republican leaders are including funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) to a four-week spending bill.
That’s good enough for Longboat Key Republican Vern Buchanan to get on board in supporting the bill.
“We cannot allow this program to lapse and jeopardize the health of 9 million children nationwide,” Buchanan said Thursday. “I am urging congressional leaders from both parties to work together on a bipartisan basis to reauthorize this critical program for six years.”
However, that plan may have blown up when President Donald Trump tweeted Thursday that “CHIP should be part of a long-term solution, not a 30 Day, or short-term, extension!”
CHIP should be part of a long term solution, not a 30 Day, or short term, extension!
That was followed up shortly by a tweet from Texas Senator John Cornyn, who reminded the president that, “the current house Continuing Resolution package has a six-year extension of CHIP, not a 30 day extension.”
As the clock ticks down toward a potential government shutdown, there remains doubt about whether Congress will support a continuing resolution, the fourth since last October.
If Congress fails to act, funding for the CHIP program is scheduled to expire March 31. While most members of Congress say they need to reauthorize the program, Democrats, in particular, have said that the issue should be decoupled from the spending bill. CHIP is a bipartisan program that provides health insurance to 9 million children. It’s provided to the children of families who earn too much for Medicaid but do not receive insurance through their employers.
Buchanan says that isn’t the right call.
“We should not be playing politics when the health of our children is at stake,” he said.
Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi is asking Democrats to vote against the continuing resolution Friday, despite the inclusion of CHIP funding. On Wednesday, St. Petersburg Democrat Charlie Crist announced he would not vote for the resolution.
While Congress stares at a potential government shutdown Friday, St. Petersburg U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist is one House Democrat who says he won’t vote for another stopgap spending bill to keep the government afloat for another four weeks.
“The House of Representatives is once again being asked to vote on a short-term spending bill that fails to address the many urgent challenges facing our nation. I voted for the last two continuing resolutions to allow more time to negotiate these issues. But ‘time’s up,'” Crist said in a statement Wednesday night.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi is urging Democrats to vote against the latest measure proposed by GOP leaders that would fund the government until February 16.
The continuing resolution, or “CR,” would be the fourth since the fiscal year began on October 1.
“This is no way to run a government. What does kicking the can to mid-February help solve that we can’t hash out this week? The answer: nothing,” a disgusted Crist said.
Democrats are unhappy that the CR currently does not include a plan to deal with the more than 700,000 young undocumented immigrants known as “dreamers.” It does extend the Children’s Health Insurance Program for six years, and delay some Affordable Care Act taxes that also help pay for the health insurance program.
“The American people elected us to solve problems, not play games,” Crist said. “Unless or until we get serious about the fixes and compromises we know we need to make to move our nation forward, I’m a NO on the continuing resolution.”
With a majority in the House of Representatives, the Republicans may not need many Democrats to support the continuing resolution. However, there are a number of members of Freedom Caucus members reportedly unhappy about another short term funding bill as well.
“It’s crisis management at its worst,” Gainesville Rep. Ted Yoho told POLITICO. “Nobody wants to shut down the government, but if they load this up … they’re going to have a fight on this.”
Democratic state Rep. Sean Shaw has made it official: he’s running for Attorney General this year, promising if elected to operate differently from term-limited PamBondi.
“The people of our state should be able to count on their Attorney General to protect them and to always enforce the rule of law, not have someone more concerned with how their actions will play during their next Fox News hit,” he told reporters at a news conference outside the Florida Supreme Court in Tallahassee Tuesday morning.
“Soon, they will have one.”
Shaw said if he were elected, he would be an activist-oriented Attorney General to protect the interests of all Floridians. “No longer will unconstitutional laws be defended, costing taxpayers millions,” he said. “And no longer will Florida stand on the sidelines while other states battle to end this horrific opioid epidemic.”s
“He knew, and he imparted to me, that standing up for the rights of our fellow Floridians was an incredible responsibility that could never be taken lightly,” Shaw said. “Because the rule of law should act as the ultimate equalizer for everyone, no matter where you’re from, what God you worship, or who you love.”
Shaw also took a shot at President Donald Trump in his brief speech, saying, “There is a man inhabiting the White House in Washington whose lawlessness and contempt for the norms that have allowed our country to thrive for centuries seem to have no bounds.”
Shaw said that makes it incumbent for attorneys general throughout the nation to be “truly independent” to uphold the rule of law and the U.S. Constitution, “because this movement is not just about what’s happening here in Florida It is about people everywhere who want to know that their families will be kept safe and their rights will be protected.”
Although he’s only serving in his second Session as a member of the Florida Legislature, Shaw is well-versed in Tallahassee and state government. He grew up in the capital city, and after attending college at Princeton University and getting his law degree from the University of Florida, returned to run for a House seat in 2008, but lost to AlanWilliams.
Shortly after, he was picked by former Gov. Charlie Crist to serve as the state’s Insurance Consumer Advocate from November 2008 through September 2010. He is also the founder of Policyholders of Florida, a group focused on campaigning against unfair property insurance increases on Florida families.
Shaw moved to Tampa and ran for the House District 61 seat in 2014, but lost to Ed Narain in the primary. He subsequently won the seat in 2016 against fellow Democrats Dianne Hart and Walter Smith.
The only other Democrat in the Attorney General race is fellow Hillsborough County resident Ryan Torrens, an attorney. In a statement, Torrens said he welcomed Shaw’s entry into the race.
“Now Floridians will be able to determine for themselves which candidate will be the steady, crusading attorney general that Florida’s Democratic leaders have long been saying Floridians need and deserve, now more than ever,” Torrens said.
The Republican field includes former Hillsborough County Circuit Court Judge Ashley Moody and state House Republicans Ross Spano from Dover, Jay Fant from Jacksonville and Frank White from Pensacola, all of whom have raised nearly $1 million already.
“Florida’s a big state, and we’ve got to raise substantial resources, but I’m confident that we’ll be able to do that,” Shaw said when asked by reporters about how much he’d be able to raise for his campaign. When asked if it would be $4 million, he said it would be more than that.
The Republican Attorneys General Association blasted Shaw in an announcement, calling him an “extreme liberal who would put his personal political agenda ahead of anything else — including the law.”
“There should be no doubt, Shaw would join progressive Democrats across America as an activist attorney general — legislating through the court at every turn,” said RAGA executive director Scott Will. “This is an affront to our system of government and speaks volumes about Shaw’s disrespect for Floridians. Florida deserves an attorney general who defends the rule of law, protects its citizens and champions opportunity for every person.”