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Charlie Crist pleads case of Michael Morgan, unjustly jailed for 23 years, to Barack Obama

Michael Morgan

Charlie Crist is calling on President Barack Obama to intervene on behalf of one of his constituents, a St. Petersburg man imprisoned for 23 years for a crime a growing number of people believe he did not commit.

On Friday, the freshman St. Petersburg Democrat sent a letter to the White House telling the story of Michael Morgan, who has been unjustly serving three life sentences for crimes that many — including reporters, a former Pinellas County Commissioner and even a juror who voted to convict — now say he is innocent.

More than two decades ago, Morgan, 18 years old at the time, was in St. Petersburg riding his bicycle home from school. After encountering a man with a large dog, who began yelling and chasing him, Morgan went to a neighbor’s house and called his mother, Vel Thompson, to help.

When Thompson arrived a few minutes later, police had Morgan in handcuffs.

That day, officers were looking for a black male suspected of the assault and attempted rape of Felicia Fuller 12 days earlier. Fuller’s father, Earnest Fuller, was an officer for the St. Petersburg Police Department.

Felicia Fuller had been shot in the buttocks during what was described as a “drug deal gone wrong.” Cocaine was found at the scene. Fuller claimed that two African-American men assaulted her: one with a gold tooth and another who was clean-shaven.

Morgan had an alibi for Fuller’s attack — he was at a school dance with friends, something corroborated by multiple witnesses. He also did not fit the description of either man, having a full mustache and no gold tooth. Nevertheless, Morgan was arrested.

After going to trial three times, Morgan was ultimately convicted and sentenced to three life sentences and has been in prison for the past 23 years. Three years ago, supporters created a Change.org petition to request the Florida Clemency Board to consider his clemency request. The petition, which now has 337 signers, asks the Governor to waive the rule preventing the board from hearing Morgan’s request because of his life sentences.

In January 2015, WTSP’s Mike Deeson highlighted Morgan’s case in a nine-minute video summarizing the problems with both the case and his conviction, which came about without DNA or other physical evidence. The video, which is available on YouTube, also shows Morgan meeting with former Pinellas County Commissioner Norm Roche in the effort to gain clemency.

In Crist’s letter, he invoked Obama’s campaign for criminal justice reform, where the president granted clemency to more than 1,300 people over his two terms in office.

“I applaud your valiant efforts to reform our nation’s criminal justice system; ending juvenile solitary confinement, banning the box for federal employees, and reducing the use of federal private prisons,” Crist writes. “In that same vein, your support for people serving unjust or excessive sentences has brought justice and hope to thousands of nonviolent offenders and their families.”

Crist then related his time as Florida Governor, during which he worked to streamline the state’s clemency process.

However, Obama cannot just grant Morgan a pardon, since presidential commutation powers are restricted only to federal crimes. Any change in Morgan’s sentencing lies in the hands of Republican Gov. Rick Scott, who would need the agreement from two cabinet members who are also statewide elected officials.

“I only wish Michael Morgan’s case fell within federal jurisdiction,” Crist writes. “Our Chief Executive in Florida has the power to grant clemency, but to date has not chosen to take action on this case.”

Now, Crist is asking for Obama to help — in his few days left as president — to right this injustice.

“Mr. President, your kind attention and willingness to lend your voice to this grave injustice would be incredibly helpful,” Crist writes. “Thank you again for all that you have done to improve our criminal justice system and restore the lives of the unjustly accused. It is my hope that your efforts lead to freedom for Americans, like Michael Morgan, who sit in prison today for crimes they clearly did not commit.”

Charlie Crist to hold first St. Petersburg fundraiser of 2017 Saturday

This weekend, Congressman Charlie Crist will be back on home turf for one of his first Florida fundraisers of 2017.

The afternoon reception, scheduled Saturday from 5:30 – 7 p.m., will be at the home of Crist’s sister, Dr. Elizabeth Crist Hyden, at Casa Las Brisas, 515 Brightwaters Blvd, NE in St. Petersburg.

Supporters of the freshman St. Petersburg Democrat include Palm Harbor Attorney Fran Haasch as honorary chair, with a tentative host committee including St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, Janette and Tom Carey, Gordon Chernecky, Susan and Bob Churuti, Aubrey Dicus, Watson Haynes, Paul Jallo, Katharine and Joe Saunders, Kent Whittemore and Emory Wood.

A spot on the guest list will cost $500; $2,700 to be a host. Co-hosting the event will set supporters back $1,000. RSVPs are through Evan Lawlor at Evan@CharlieCrist.com or (202) 741-7215.

Crist – who represents Florida’s 13th Congressional District – has begun fundraising for a re-election bid in 2018, starting with a Washington D.C. fundraiser Jan. 3, the day he officially became part of the 115th Congress.

Charlie Crist lands ‘A-list’ assignment on Financial Services Committee

In just his second official week as a congressman, Charlie Crist lands a plum assignment on the U.S. House Committee on Financial Services.

Known as an “A-list” committee, Financial Services has oversight on several significant issues, including federal monetary policy, banking and financial institutions, insurance and housing.

 “I am deeply thankful for this opportunity to serve in a role directly impacting many of the key issues facing Pinellas County,” said the St. Petersburg Democrat in a statement.

Crist – now representing Florida’s 13th Congressional District – said he has a proven record as both a former Florida governor and Attorney General for advocating consumer protections in the insurance, utilities, housing and banking industries. During his tenure, Crist noted he had issued rules keeping companies from abandoning Florida consumers, as well as vetoing deregulation legislation that would have put the insurance companies “back in charge.”

“From this platform,” Crist said of his new congressional appointment, “I will fight to make flood insurance more affordable, defend and strengthen reform of Wall Street, and provide greater access to capital for aspiring entrepreneurs and small businesses – from the local barbershop to technology startups.”

More information of the U.S. House Committee on Financial Services is available online.

Rick Scott introduces proposal to keep higher education affordable for Florida students

As everyone knows, Rick Scott has always been about adding jobs to the rolls since getting elected Governor of Florida in 2010. And since it helps to have a good education to get a good job, he’s been similarly focused in recent years on making it more affordable for Floridians to get a degree.

Continuing in that vein on Tuesday, Scott traveled to the New Tampa headquarters of USAA, the financial services company for the military community and their families, where he unveiled what his staff is calling his, “Finish in Four, Save More” legislative and budget proposals to encourage colleges and universities to make higher education more affordable for students and get them out of school within four years.

“I’ve not met one person to get out of a university or state college and said ‘I’m interested in not having a job,'” Scott said as the dozens of staffers and interns laughed as they observed the press conference. “No one’s interested in going on unemployment or public housing or anything like. They’re interested in living their dream.”

Scott cited statistics that show that only 44 percent of undergraduate students at Florida state universities graduate within four years and 71 percent of students are graduating with four year degrees within six years. “So we have to do better,” he said.

His legislative proposal includes a request for freezing for all state colleges and universities fees. Currently fees at universities average almost $100 per credit hour and colleges average more than $26 per credit hour.

He’s also calling on state colleges to freeze any tuition increases. That follows a 2014 legislative proposal that limited the state’s universities ability to establish or raise a tuition differential.

The plan allows would cut teaching assistant fees by 25 percent.  It would also expand the Bright Futures scholarship program to cover summer school classes (it currently only covers fall and spring semesters) and provide a sales tax exemption for students purchasing required textbooks, which Scott says will save students $48 million a year collectively.

“If you can’t afford your education, it doesn’t help if we have great universities and great state colleges,” the governor said later in meeting with reporters.

In the early part of the aughts, Florida’s university presidents bemoaned the low rate of statewide tuition, saying it hurt in recruiting esteemed professors from around the nation because of reduced funding available. That changed in 2007, when former Governor Charlie Crist signed legislation that approved a five percent tuition increase set by lawmakers. In 2008, the Legislature approved a six percent increase.

In 2009, Crist signed legislation allowing the Board of Governors to raise undergraduate tuition rates past whatever the Legislature approved. As long as the total increase didn’t exceed 15 percent per year, they were allowed to do this until tuition reached the national average, which was $8,893 in 2012-13.

Scott used that tuition rate hike against Crist when the two opposed each other for Governor in 2014.

The Legislature  passed and Scott signed into a law in 2014 a bill that eliminated automatic tuition increases, even for inflation.  The law did give the University of Florida and Florida State the ability to lobby the Board for a differential increase, up to a maximum of 6 percent.

The website 24/7 reported back in 2013 that Florida had the eight cheapest average tuition in the nation with an average instate tuition rate of $6,336.

Val Demings, Florida members, lead moment in Congress to remember Orlando’s fallen officers

With a bipartisan gathering of other Florida congressional members, Orlando’s former police chief Val Demings, now a congresswoman from Orlando, led the House of Representatives in a moment to remember and honor Orlando’s fallen officers Monday night.

“I rise today to honor the lives of Master Sgt. Debra Clayton of the Orlando Police Department and Deputy Norm Lewis of the Orange County Sheriff’s Office,” Demings declared in the house chamber. As the former Orlando police chief I had the honor of knowing both Sgt. Clayton and Deputy Lewis. Sgt. Clayton was violently murdered while responding to a call this morning. Deputy Lewis was killed responding to the scene during a search for the suspect.

“As we recognize law enforcement appreciation day, we mourn the deaths of these two public servants. Sgt. Clayton was a fine officer, wife, mother, 42 years young, and had just celebrated her first anniversary with her husband. Deputy Lewis was deeply admired by all of his colleagues. He loved helping people and it showed in his work. He was just 35,” Demings continued. “Mr. Speaker, I respectfully ask that all members join me in honoring and remembering these heroes during this difficult time.”

A moment of silence followed. In the well of the house, Demings was surrounded by her fellow Orlando Democratic U.S. Reps. Darren Soto and Stephanie Murphy; as well as U.S. Reps. John Rutherford, Ted Yoho, Matt Gaetz and Brian Mast, all Republicans; and U.S. Reps. Kathy Castor, Charlie Crist, Lois Frankel, Ted Deutch and Al Lawson, all Democrats.

 

House freshmen to Pres. Obama: light the White House blue

Freshman Congress members, led by Rep. John Rutherford (a former Jacksonville sheriff), called for President Barack Obama to “light the White House blue” on Monday.

The significance is obvious: the blue light denotes support for law enforcement on National Law Enforcement Appreciation Day, which is Monday.

This support is especially critical in the wake of the assassination of a police officer in Orlando on Monday.

“As newly-elected freshmen members of Congress, we urge you to join us and Americans across the nation in observing this day by lighting the White House blue.  Recent events across the country have drawn negative attention to law enforcement officers, and some have even resulted in targeted violence, making it harder for law enforcement to protect towns and cities across America.  Now more than ever, it is imperative that communities, leaders, and our government show support for the millions of public servants who risk their lives every day to keep our communities safe,” the letter begins.

“Each of us has seen and heard firsthand the tireless work by law enforcement officers to ensure the safety of their communities, all while putting their lives on the line.  They serve with little reward and at great personal risk.  It is our duty to support them and their families. We once again urge you to join us in supporting law enforcement officers on Monday by lighting the White House blue,” the letter concludes.

Many of the freshman signatories to the letter are from Florida, including Matt Gaetz, Val Demings, Charlie Crist, Brian Mast, and Francis Rooney.

Demings, a Democrat, is a former Orlando police chief.

Rutherford lauded the bipartisan support among those who signed on.

“Our law enforcement officers represent the best that our country has to offer, putting their lives and well-being on the line each day.  We witnessed yet another example of their daily heroism [Friday] as we watched public safety officers respond to the terrible attack in Ft. Lauderdale.  We owe our law enforcement officers a level of respect and support befitting of their commitment to us.  I thank my House freshman colleagues on both sides of the aisle for their willingness to stand up for law enforcement and hope the President will join us in that effort,” the Jacksonville Republican said.

No word yet from the White House as to whether the president will comply with the request.

Florida Democratic congressional delegation overwhelmingly opposes President Obama on U.N. Israeli imbroglio

With just a couple of weeks before President Obama leaves the White House, Florida’s Democratic congressional delegation apparently has no qualms in not standing by him when it comes to the issue of Israel and their settlements in the Palestinian territories.

In a vote Thursday night on a resolution condemning a U.N. Security Council resolution aimed at Israel settlements that the U.S. notoriously abstained on last month, not one Democratic member of the Florida Democratic House caucus backed the president, with all 11 Democrats – Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Fredericka Wilson, Alcee Hastings, Lois Frankel, Kathy Castor, Darren Soto, Stephanie Murphy, Val Demings, Ted Deutch and Al Lawson -supporting the resolution from Texas Republican Ed Royce.

The measure declared unwavering support for Israel and insisted that the United States reject any future UN actions that are similarly “one-sided and anti-Israel.” It passed, 342-80.

That includes recently freshman lawmaker Charlie Crist, who showed up late and didn’t make it to the House floor on time to cast a vote. He later issued a statement saying that he co-sponsored the resolution, but was not able to officially make his voice heard on the issue.

“As a cosponsor of this measure, I believe it is vital that the United Nations Security Council be sent a clear message that biased, one-sided resolutions targeting Israel are unacceptable and only make it more difficult for negotiations to resume between Israelis and Palestinians,” Crist said.

Wasserman Schultz, who received some heat from her constituents for backing President Obama’s Iran nuclear deal, strongly supported the measure, saying in a statement that, “I voted for and cosponsored tonight’s resolution to reaffirm our unbreakable commitment to Israel, our most true and dependable Middle East ally. This resolution rightly acknowledges the United States’ longstanding policy that direct, bilateral negotiations are the only viable method for achieving peace, and that our country must reject any attempt to internationalize the peace process. We cannot allow Israel’s enemies to use international organizations like the UN to undermine and attack it. Instead, we must continue to support Israel by building on the historic Memorandum of Understanding regarding security assistance and standing shoulder to shoulder with Israel as we undertake the difficult task of obtaining a long and lasting peace.” 

Tampa Representative Kathy Castor also voted for the measure. She did not issue out a statement after her vote.

 

Charlie Crist praises imminent buyback agreement between St. Petersburg, Jordan Park

Congressman Charlie Crist is applauding the imminent return of the troubled Jordan Park public housing complex back to the St. Petersburg Housing Authority.

“Having heard the concerns from Jordan Park residents firsthand this past summer, it was clear urgent action was needed on their behalf,” the St. Petersburg Democrat said in a statement Thursday.

Inhabitants of the 237-unit complex have brought a steady stream of complaints over the past few years including broken appliances, mold, mildew, rodent infestation, poor maintenance and landscaping.

Crist, who represents Florida’s 13th Congressional District, which includes Midtown St. Petersburg, is encouraging the federal government to work with the city of St. Petersburg to approve the agreement quickly, which would help make much-needed improvements to the living conditions of residents

The final agreement, which has been reported to be “any day now,” must be approved by both the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Florida Housing Finance Corp.

The complex, at Ninth Avenue South in 22nd Street in St. Petersburg’s historic African-American district, is currently owned by Jordan Park Development, a partnership of the Richman Group of Florida and Landex of Jacksonville.

Winn­Residential, the firm hired by Jordan Park Development to manage the property, has been accused of being unresponsive to resident complaints.

Crist sees the pending agreement as a significant step forward for residents of Jordan Park.

“I am happy to see the city moving forward with plans to take over this complex, which has been lacking oversight and standards enforcement to the detriment of its tenants,” Crist said. “I encourage the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to do all they can to see this deal through to help better the lives of those living in this community.”

 

Rick Kriseman formally announces he’s running for re-election

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman filed for re-election Thursday.

“I’m asking the citizens of St. Petersburg to continue the progress of the past three years,” the mayor said in a statement. “Working together, we’ve taken on the serious issues and made a positive impact in all corners of our city.”

The announcement comes nearly three years to the day that Kriseman was sworn into office. It had been mostly smooth sailing for the former city councilman and state representative until issues with the town’s sewage system occurred last summer.

That’s led to some of the toughest criticism of his time in office for how his office has handled the situation.

St. Pete was already on the rise when Kriseman defeated Bill Foster by 12 percentage points in November 2013 and has continued to see unprecedented growth over the following three years.

As the Tampa Bay Times wrote in an editorial over the weekend, “No question St. Petersburg is on a roll. Is that because of City Hall or in spite of it?”

The Times also noted the rising cost of the new Pier, the lack of creating jobs in Midtown’s poorer neighborhoods and the redevelopment of the Tropicana Field as issues that voters will need to consider this fall. In his statement issued out by campaign manager Tom Alte, the Kriseman administration is taking credit for moving forward on the issues of the Rays and the Pier.

“Under the leadership of Mayor Kriseman, St. Petersburg has resolved numerous high-profile issues, including resolving the stalemate with the Tampa Bay Rays, moving forward with a community-based plan to build a new pier, hiring a new police chief, and finding the funding needed for construction of a new police station,” it reads.

Since his election, Kriseman has signed legislation allowing for paid parental leave for employees, a higher minimum wage, and second chances for minors.

He’s also elevated the city’s profile through the pursuit of a Cuban consulate, picking up the void left by his friend across the bay, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, after he declined to get involved in that campaign.

“We’ve become the beacon of progress I spoke about on the steps of City Hall more than three years ago — but there is still work to do,” Kriseman said. “We must continue our efforts to combat gun violence and intervene in the lives of our troubled youth. We must do our part to make the sun shine bright on every student in every single public school.

“And we must upgrade our wastewater and stormwater systems as soon as possible if we’re serious about being a true 21st-century City.

“Our residents, business owners, and community groups are interested in action and progress, not politics. They want a mayor who faces challenges head-on and gets things done. I’ve been that mayor,” Kriseman said. “I know that we can solve any issue as long as we work together. I remain optimistic and excited about where the Sunshine City is heading.”

Throughout most of his tenure, the mayor’s poll numbers have been good, with his handling of the sewage system being his only real Achilles’ heel.

While the issues surrounding the Pier and the Rays have yet to be completely solved, they haven’t dented his popularity, which is unlike the case with Foster.

As of today, seemingly the only man in the way of another four years is former Mayor Rick Baker, who led St. Petersburg from 2001-2009. A St. Pete Polls survey conducted last month of 1,100 votes showed Baker with a surprisingly solid lead over Kriseman, 44 percent to 35 percent.

No other person in the poll mentioned — Jeff Brandes, Amy Foster, Steve Kornell or Karl Nurse — came close to defeating Kriseman (None of those lawmakers, it should be noted, have expressed any interest in running for mayor).

Baker has also been circumspect about another run for office. Since leaving City Hall in 2009, Baker declined opportunities to run for Florida’s 13th Congressional District on two separate occasions. Since 2012, he has served as president of The Edwards Group, the umbrella company that oversees all the enterprises of entrepreneur Bill Edwards.

Included in Kriseman’s re-election statement were endorsements from Sen. Bill Nelson and CD 13 Rep. Charlie Crist.

“Our residents, business owners, and community groups are interested in action and progress, not politics,” Kriseman said. “They want a mayor who faces challenges head-on and gets things done. I’ve been that mayor.”

“I know that we can solve any issue as long as we work together,” he added. “I remain optimistic and excited about where the Sunshine City is heading.”

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Mitch Perry Report for 1.5.17 – Poll says voters want Dems like Bill Nelson to fight Donald Trump when necessary

We’ve heard from several Florida Democrats (such as Kathy Castor and Charlie Crist) that, when appropriate, they look forward to working with President-elect Donald Trump once he takes office later this month.

The question for them and other Democrats concerned about their own poll numbers as well as what’s good for the country is where and when they decide to go along with Trump and, more likely, when do they oppose him.

On a conference call yesterday, the folks with the Center for American Progress provided the details about a new poll they conducted in 14 battleground states where Democrats like Bill Nelson will be running for re-election in ’18. The survey concluded that a majority of the public want Senate Democrats to serve as a check and balance on the new president and congressional Republicans even if it means blocking his initiatives “on many occasions.”

That could be a challenge for Nelson, who, on occasion, can be progressive, but also likes to maintain a centrist mien, especially when election time comes around.

Well, good luck to him on that one, because he’s being challenged right now by his supporters here in the Tampa Bay area. Yesterday, dozens came to call on him to, at the very least, call for a delay in the confirmation vote scheduled for next week for Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions, Trump’s choice for Attorney General.

One area where Nelson one might be surmise he’ll stick with his liberal colleagues is in acting as a bulwark to defend the Affordable Care Act.

“They want to repeal it and then try to hang it on us. Not gonna happen. It’s their responsibility, plain and simple,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said at a news conference.

Dems have been pushing the reality that if the Republicans have a legitimate vehicle to replace the ACA with, nobody really knows what it is. And no doubt, some in the GOP might be fearing the repercussions of taking away people’s care.

“Republicans must be careful in that the Dems own the failed ObamaCare disaster, with its poor coverage and massive premium increases……like the 116% hike in Arizona,” Trump tweeted yesterday, adding, “Also, deductibles are so high that it is practically useless. Don’t let the Schumer clowns out of this web…massive increases of ObamaCare will take place this year and Dems are to blame for the mess. It will fall of its own weight – be careful!”

Meanwhile, Schumer’s office said yesterday that the Democrats are targeting eight Trump Cabinet nominees for extra scrutiny, name checking Rex Tillerson, Betsy DeVos, Steven Mnuchin, Scott Pruitt, Mick Mulvaney, Tom Price, Andy Puzder and Wilbur Ross.

Schumer said he wants their full paperwork before hearings are scheduled, adding that only a few have turned it in while most haven’t. Schumer said he also wants their tax returns, particularly because some are billionaires and given the potential for conflicts of interest.

Those hearings begin next week.

In other news…

The race for the Florida Democratic Party gets crazier by the day. Yesterday we learned that 13 members of the Miami-County DEC filed a complaint with the FDP regarding the circumstances that have allowed Coconut Grove real estate developer and donor Stephen Bittel to be eligible for the party chair position. Earlier in the day, Tampa’s (or should we say Bradford’s) Alan Clendenin was shooting down a complaint filed against him regarding the circumstances that have allowed him to become eligible in the race.

The House of Representatives is poised to vote on condemning President Obama and the UN for that resolution last month castigating Israel for continuing to build settlements in the West Bank. The resolution was written by Polk County’s Dennis Ross.

And newly sworn-in Hillsborough County State Attorney Andrew Warren celebrated his victory on Tuesday night with friends and family in Tampa Heights.

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