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Ryan Torrens, political outsider running for Attorney General, says he’s what Florida Democrats need

Consumer protection attorney Ryan Torrens is quite aware that he’s not an established political presence, but he says that should be an argument for his fledgling candidacy to become Florida’s next Attorney General.

“Look, I get it,” the 32-year-old told an audience who gathered Friday morning at Tampa’s Oxford Exchange to hear the Hillsborough County resident speak as part of the Cafe Con Tampa lecture series.

“I’m young. First-time candidate. A lot of people look at me and think, ‘Can he really win this thing? He’s never run for office before. He’s been practicing for five years? Come on.””

The answers are hard to dispute.

“In the Democratic Party in Florida, what we’ve been doing the last 20 years isn’t working.”

Torrens says he’s offering something different. Energy, passion, new ideas and the fact that he is decidedly not a politician, which he has surmised during his brief time as a statewide candidate is something that voters are hungry for.

A fifth generation Tampa native with Cuban roots, Torrens became the first (and still only) Democrat to file for Attorney General two months ago. Former Hillsborough County judge Ashley Moody and Jacksonville state Representative Jay Fant have filed to run in the GOP primary.

Under previous AG’s like Charlie Crist and Bob Butterworth, the position as Florida’s top cop was about being a consumer advocate for the people, something that Torrens says has been missing under Pam Bondi’s direction.

“A lot of people think it’s like the state attorney prosecuting murders and things like that,” he says of the AG’s job description.”That’s really not what the Attorney General does. If I’m Attorney General, I’m supposed to fight for all the people of Florida, and not simply take big contribution checks from companies and give them a pass.”

Working on the opioid epidemic he says will be a top priority in his administration, and if elected, he says he’ll sue the pharmaceutical companies for their role in perpetuating the crisis.

“They need to be held liable,” he says, “and we could use those proceeds from a settlement or a verdict to help get treatment from those who are currently suffering.”

That’s not such a radical idea, as attorneys general in Ohio and Mississippi have already done so.

Torrens recently outed himself as being a recovering alcoholic, and said that experience allows him to identify with  Floridians working through their own addictions.

Referring to the controversy over the recent “school of hope” education bill, he talked about the state constitution, which says that the state must adequately fund public schools.

“I would like to see if the AG could possibly file a lawsuit against the Legislature, for not adequately funding the public schools, and fulfilling its constitutional obligation,” he said.

Torrens also says he’ll go after predatory student lenders and abusive debt collectors. But he insists that he’s not some “left-wing radical” who wants to pick on Wall Street.

“When I talk all over the state with Democrats and Republicans they want the same thing, which is, they need to follow the same rules.”

A political science major at the University of Tampa, Torrens sounds like an analyst when he told the crowd he understands that it’s been the Democratic party’s arrogance that led to the election of Donald Trump last November.

“They feel that the Democrats are not speaking to them. That we make promises that we’re going to fight for working class people, but we’re a bunch of hypocrites because we get into office and we don’t really fight for them,” he said, adding that “we have a  tendency sometimes to talk down to working class people and they feel like we’re trying to dictate to them how they need to live their lives.”

Torrens will certainly be an underdog to the Republican nominee if makes it that far next year when it comes to fundraising. He announced that he had raised a little more than $22,000 after two months on the campaign trail recently.

Fant raised over $79,000, and Moody more than $600,000 between her own campaign and her political committee.

Money pouring in for Florida’s Congress members in tough districts

Members of Florida’s congressional delegation vulnerable because of their balanced districts each raised hundreds of thousands of dollars in the second quarter of 2017, new reports show.

The latest campaign finance reports posted this week, covering money raised and spent in April, May and June, shows that Republican U.S. Reps. Brian Mast of Palm City and Carlos Curbelo of Miami had the biggest hauls in the second quarter, while Democrats Charlie Crist of St. Petersburg and Stephanie Murphy of Winter Park were not far behind.

The reports also show the heat already rising in Florida’s 27th Congressional District based in Miami, where longtime incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen announced her retirement and numerous Democrats and Republicans are scrambling for her seat.

Two of them, Democrat Kristen Rosen Gonzalez Miami Beach, and Republican Bruno Barreiro, raised at least $175,000 each last quarter, more than most Florida incumbent members of Congress managed.

Regardless of what they did in the second quarto of 2017, the candidates with biggest war chests all were Republican incumbents who hold fairly safe seats, U.S. Reps. Vern Buchanan and Ron DeSantis each sit on more than $1.5 million in cash more than 15 months before the 2018 general election.

Among challengers, only Louis Sola raised at least $50,000 during the quarter, and that’s because he fueled his campaign to take on Democratic U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson in Florida’s 24th Congressional District with a $99,000 personal loan. That’s all he reported.

Among Florida’s incumbent members of Congress:

Mast, in the 18th District, raised $733,964 in the quarter, spent $303,010, and finished the quarter with $797,222 in the bank.

Curbelo, in the 26th District, raised $705,026, spent $231,831, and finished with $1,078,588.

Crist, of the 13th, raised $551,811, spent $102,558, and finished with $1,121,494.

Murphy, of the 7th, raised $412,924, spent $150,642, and finished with $518,970.

Republican Neal Dunn of Panama City, in the 2nd, raised $337,793, spent $134,271, and finished with $270,857.

Republican Mario Diaz-Balart of Miami, in the 25th, raised $296,319, spent $81,541, and finished with $748,837

Republican Gus Bilirakis of Palm Harbor, in the 12th, raised $264,221, spent $122,127, and finished with $302,261.

Republican Dennis Ross of Lakeland, in the 15th, raised $256,313, spent $149,872, and finished with $932,904.

Buchanan, in the 16th, raised $241,662, spent $66,606, and finished with $1,982,876.

Democrat Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Weston, in the 23rd, raised $216,626, spent $238,332, and finished with $215,220.

Democrat Darren Soto of Orlando, in the 9th, raised $157,596, spent $37,417, and finished with $171,175.

Democrat Lois Frankel of West Palm Beach, in the 21st, raised $149,962, spent $132,693, and finished with $943,810.

Democrat Ted Deutch of Boca Raton, in the 22nd, raised $142,658, spent $125,991, and finished with $277,383.

Democrat Alcee Hastings of Miramar, in the 20th, raised $121,314, spent $112,396, and finished with $92,074.

Republican John Rutherford of Jacksonville, in the 4th, raised $116,784, spent $16,287, and finished with $132,332.

Democrat Kathy Castor of Tampa, in the 14th, raised $102,675, spent $64,744, and finished with $629,803.

Republican Ted Yoho of Gainesville, in the 3rd, raised $96,327, spent $42,183, and finished with $157,680.

Republican Bill Posey of Merritt Island, in the 8th, raised $93,627, spent $47,364, and finished with $506,876.

Republican Francis Rooney of Naples, in the 19th, raised $89,981, spent $57,435, and finished with $305,685.

Democrat Al Lawson of Tallahassee, in the 5th, raised $86,468, spent $38,501, and finished with $147,206.

Republican Matt Gaetz of Fort Walton Beach, in the 1st, raised $80,901, spent $40,417, and finished with $170,046.

Republican Tom Rooney of Okeechobee, in the 17th, raised $70,097, spent $49,182, and finished with $114,763.

Republican Dan Webster of Webster, in the 11th, raised $66,655, spent $59,304, and finished with $83,295.

Wilson of Miami Gardens, in the 24th, raised $63,709, spent $21,873, and finished with $401,544.

DeSantis, in the 6th, only raised $52,379, while spending $51,153, yet he was sitting well going in, and finished with $1,674,185 in the bank.

The Federal Election Commission did not post second-quarter reports for Democratic U.S. Rep. Val Demings of Orlando, in the 10th District. Her first quarter report showed she finished March with $189,021 in the bank.

Among other challengers, Tim Canova of Hollywood, seeking a Democratic primary rematch with Wasserman Schultz in the 23rd, reported raising $49,117 in the second quarter, spending $32,819, and finishing with $19,641.

Two Democrats in the 15th, James Pilkington of Indian Lake Estates and Andrew Learned of Valrico, put up somewhat respectable fundraising numbers seeking a challenge with Ross. Pilkington raised $26,338, spent $6,699, and finished with $19,739. Learned raised $22,289, spent $6,162, and finished with $16,127.

Robert Tager of Clearwater, seeking to take on Bilirakis in the 12th, reported raising $12,404, spending $3,320, and finishing with $11,823.

No one else raised $10,000 in the quarter.

However, several former members of Congress and former candidates kept their FEC paperwork updated.

Republican former U.S. Rep. Cliff Sterns reported raising $51,704, nearly all on interest, and spending $6,618, nearly all on account management, and finished with $1,579,227 in the bank in the 3rd.

Democratic former U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, who served in the 9th and moved his paperwork to the 11th; and his wife, Democrat Dena Grayson, who ran in the 9th and moved her paperwork to the 8th, both reported activity too. Alan Grayson raised $68,532 in the quarter, spent $50,340, and finished with $455,584. Dena Grayson reported raising $9,821, spending $10,117, and finishing with $729.

The Delegation for 7.13.17 — Insights from the Beltway to the Sunshine State

Russia issue not yet hurting GOP fundraising or giving Dems advantage

The saga regarding Donald Trump – Senior and Junior – and Russia continues with no end in sight. It began in January and now, following the latest “bombshell,” the 2016 Democratic nominee for vice-president, Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia, is throwing out the word “treason.”

To their credit, the Florida delegation is showing greater restraint. Weston Democrat Debbie Wasserman Schultz did call Donald, Jr. “a liar” and that his actions represent “the definition of collusion,” but the t-word remained in the holster.

Boca Raton Democrat Ted Deutch took the opportunity of the latest revelations to urge the House to vote on a sanctions bill against Russia already passed by the Senate 98-2. Deutch said in a release that “failure to act on this sanctions bill makes the Speaker complicit in the White House’s apparent efforts to repay Russia’s political favors.”

All of this this has got to be killing GOP fundraising, right? Or, at the very least, Trump must be providing sufficient fodder for Democrats to raise a ton of campaign cash to bludgeon Republicans with rhetorical vodka bottles.

Second quarter fundraising reports are due later this week, but the first two months show Trump is actually helping Republicans raise money. While the Russia story percolated, the Republican National Committee set a record in the first quarter.

The RNC raised more than $20 million in May and June, more than twice the amount of the Democratic National Committee. The National Republican Congressional Committee and Republican National Senatorial Committee also set first quarter records.

To be fair, the new administration at the DNC is not yet up to speed, but the message is clear that the Russia issue is not hurting the Republicans on the money end.

Russia will also have little effect on federal races in Florida. In addition to Bill Nelson’s re-election race, a few competitive districts will focus – and raise money – on the usual kitchen table issues.

Nelson is expected to report another strong quarter. Late Wednesday evening, the Orlando Democrat’s campaign announced he will report raising more than $2.1 million between April 1 and June 30. The $2.13 million haul, according to the campaign, comes on top of raising nearly $2.1 million during the first three months of the year. Nelson, according to his campaign, now has more than $5.1 million in the bank.

Candidates in swing districts have either released or leaked their second quarter numbers. Winter Park Democrat Stephanie Murphy, a target of national Republicans, raised $410,000 between April 1 and June 30, according to her campaign.

Rep. Stephanie Murphy reportedly raised more than $410,000 in the second quarter of 2017.

Kendall Republican Carlos Curbelo, targeted by national Democrats, had a big haul with $705,000 in the second quarter, leaving him with $1.1 million cash on hand, according to the Miami Herald. St. Petersburg Democrat Charlie Crist, also a target of national Republicans, hauled in $550,000, according to Florida Politics.

The Herald also reported Bruno Barreiro, one of those seeking the seating of the retiring Miami Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, raised $176,000 since his entry into the race in May. Numbers for Barreiro’s opponents were not available.

The old saying, “all politics is local” is likely to be true in all areas of the country, but especially in Florida.

Meanwhile, here are this week’s insights from the Beltway to the Sunshine State.

VP: Touched NASA equipment because “Rubio dared me”

The viral image of Vice President Mike Pence touching some NASA equipment that he wasn’t supposed to touch now has an explanation from Pence himself: Florida’s junior senator dared him to, reports Brandon Morse of The Blaze.

Pence tweeted out from his official Twitter account on Friday that while he and Rubio were touring NASA’s Kennedy Space Center on Thursday, the Florida senator had dared him to touch the surface of “critical space flight hardware” that had a sign saying “DO NOT TOUCH” taped to it.

Vice President Mike Pence gets a tour of the Orion spacecraft clean room with Sen. Marco Rubio at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral. (Photo via AP)

Rubio responded jokingly that he had warned Pence that if he broke it, he owned it. NASA’s social media account tweeted back at Pence, telling him that touching it wasn’t a big deal, as they were going to clean it later anyway.

The vice president wasn’t done with the jokes, however.

“Okay…so this isn’t exactly the first time this has happened,” Pence tweeted, posting a photoshopped picture of himself touching a porcupine.

Tweet, tweet:

Air Force backs moratorium on drilling in the Gulf

The U.S. Air Force supports extending a moratorium on drilling in the eastern Gulf of Mexico, according to a recent letter from David Goldfein, the Air Force chief of staff, to Sen. Bill Nelson.

In the June 27 letter to Nelson, Goldfein said he was writing in “whole-hearted support of a proposal seeking to extend the moratorium on leasing, preleasing or any other related activity in the area east of the Military Mission Line in the Gulf of Mexico.” Goldfein said the Air Force fully supports the development of domestic energy resources, so long as it is compatible with the military testing, training and operations.

“The moratorium on oil and gas leasing, pre-leasing, and other related activities ensures that these vital military readiness activities may be conducted without interference and is critical to their continuation,” he wrote.

“The moratorium is essential for developing and sustain the Air Force’s future combat capabilities,” he continued. “Although the Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act’s moratorium does not expire until 2022, the Air Force needs certainty of the proposed extension to guarantee long-term capabilities for future tests. Emerging technologies such as hypersonics, 5th generation fighters, and advanced sub-surface systems will require enlarged testing and training footprints, and increased Air Force reliance on the moratorium far beyond 2022.”

Nelson, a long-time opponent of drilling near the coast, filed legislation earlier this year to extend the moratorium until 2027.

Rubio joins Coons in highlighting need for pediatric medical research

A briefing featuring experts from Nemours Children’s Health System and Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia aimed to highlight the urgent need to include children in cancer research and precision medicine initiatives.

Sen. Rubio and Sen. Chris Coons, a Delaware Democrat, co-hosted and spoke at a policy briefing this week to highlight the need for pediatric medical research. The policy briefing came as the House was poised to take up a package in the coming days that could close a research loophole.

“Even though our technical capabilities have caught up to enable researchers to pinpoint similarities in adult and childhood cancer genomes, the law that prompts companies to examine the drug’s safety in children has not been updated,” said Rubio. “The pace of innovation is moving much faster than the ability of a republic to keep pace with.”

Sen. Marco Rubio said lawmakers need to work together to close a loophole to “enable researchers to pinpoint similarities in adult and childhood cancer genomes.” (Photo via Sen. Rubio’s office.)

Rubio said the House could take up a package that included legislation — the RACE for Children ACT — to close what he called an “unintended loophole” this week.

Rubio — along with Republican Cory Gardner, and Democrats Michael Bennet and Chris Van Hollen — reintroduced the RACE for Children, or Research to Accelerate Cures and Equity for Children Act, in February. According to Rubio’s office, the bill would update the Pediatric Research Equity Act to reflect the latest advances in drugs, and has the backing of Nemours Children’s Health System, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, MD Anderson Cancer Institute, and more than 100 pediatric cancer advocacy programs.

“Now what this is, this is the result of a lot of hard work from a number of stakeholders, including our hosts here today. So this is an exciting step forward, but it is only one piece of the puzzle,” Rubio said this week. “With the launch of the Beau Biden Cancer Moonshot and the All of Us Precision Medicine initiatives, we have a real opportunity to close the gaps between public policy and research with today’s technology. And we must all work together to ensure that as we close that gap, pediatric medicine in general and pediatric oncology in particular are not left out.”

Kate’s Law draws some bipartisan support within delegation

Just before the House and Senate went on their July 4 recess, two contentious bills came up for final votes in the House. One is Kate’s Law, named after the murdered San Franciscan Kate Steinle, which calls for strict penalties for criminal aliens who return to the U.S. after being deported.

Virginia Republican Bob Goodlette was the bill’s sponsor with Fort Walton Beach Republican Matt Gaetz and Sarasota Republican Vern Buchanan among 17 co-sponsors. The bill passed 257-167 with 24 Democrats joining all but one Republican (Justin Amash of Michigan) voting in favor.

Among the 24 Democrats voting aye was Val Demings of Orlando, Stephanie Murphy of Winter Park and Charlie Crist of St. Petersburg.

That same day, the House also passed the No Sanctuary for Criminals Act which, among other things, would withhold federal grant money for “sanctuary cities.” Goodlette was also the sponsor of that bill, while Gaetz and Buchanan were also co-sponsors.

Jim Steinle, second from left, father of Kathryn Steinle, testifies next to Montgomery County (Md.) Police Department. Chief J. Thomas Manger at a Senate Judiciary hearing to examine the administration’s immigration enforcement policies. (Photo via the Associated Press)

It passed on a more partisan vote, 228-195. All Florida Republicans voted for it and all Democrats voted against it.

“Taxpayer dollars should not be going to jurisdictions that provide safe harbor to dangerous criminals,” Buchanan said while noting Steinle’s alleged killer was on the street because of sanctuary policies. “These two bills ensure we prioritize public safety.”

Also adding voice to his yes vote on both bills was Naples Republican Francis Rooney.

“It’s tragically too late to save the life of Kate Steinle, who was murdered by a 5-time deported criminal illegal alien with 7 prior felony convictions,” Rooney said in a statement. “We must deter illegal immigrants who have been convicted and deported, from re-entering our country.”

Both bills are now in the Senate.

— “Kate Steinle’s father: We didn’t coin ‘Kate’s Law’” via Julia Manchester of The Hill

Single-payer health care becoming more popular with delegation Democrats

While Republicans try to unite on a replacement for the Affordable Care Act, Democrats are not solidly behind a plan themselves. One idea floated in 2010, but gaining some traction recently, is the idea of single-payer health care.

Six members of the delegation have signed on to the Expanded and Improved Medicare for All Act sponsored by Michigan Democrat John Conyers. They are among 113 co-sponsors of the bill.

Those signing on are Alcee Hastings of Miramar, Frederica Wilson of Miami Gardens, Al Lawson of Tallahassee, Darren Soto of Orlando, Ted Deutch of Boca Raton and Kathy Castor of Tampa.

While such legislation has almost zero chance of passing a Republican Congress, Castor told Florida Politics that now is the time to look for alternatives to bring down escalating costs of health care in America. The idea is polling better than in the past.

A Kaiser Family Foundation poll conducted in June found 53 percent, the highest ever, support single payer. The number of Democrats supporting it represents 52 percent of the Democratic caucus, but that is watered down by zero support from Republicans.

Gaetz’s beach ownership bill heads to House floor

Legislation overturning decades of federal government restrictions in the Florida Panhandle is headed to the House floor, after the House Committee on Natural Resources recently OK’d it.

Sponsored by Rep. Gaetz, the bill gives leaseholders in Santa Rosa Island the option to acquire fee simple title to their land. Melissa Nelson Gabriel with the Pensacola News Journal reports the bill would overturn restrictions put in place by the federal government when it deeded a portion of Santa Rosa Island to Escambia County after World War II.

The federal government transferred land that was part of the Santa Rosa Island National Monument to Escambia County in 1947. Since then, according to Gaetz’ office, Santa Rosa Island resident have been ineligible to own their land, only lease it. While businesses and residents of Santa Rosa Island initially only paid lease fees, Gaetz’s office said the rules have changed and residents are now required to pay both lease fees and property taxes.

“Residents of Santa Rosa Island have suffered under double taxation for years,” said Gaetz in a statement. “My bill will help lift this unfair tax burden, and will finally give Santa Rosa Island residents the ability to obtain titles to their property. As a Republican, I believe land ownership is a cornerstone of the American dream — and now, for Santa Rosa Island residents, it’s finally within reach.”

The bill would require Escambia County to turn over to Santa Rosa County the land it owns there within two years, thus eliminating confusion around county land ownership, said Gaetz’s office. It also calls on Escambia to preserve the areas of the conveyed monument land that are dedicated for conservation, preservation, public recreation access, and public parking.

Sen. Rubio has introduced similar legislation in the Senate.

“This is a team effort on the part of federal, state, and local governments,” said Gaetz. “This is how legislation is supposed to work. I am happy to hear that the bill will come to a vote soon, and I look forward to working with my colleagues in the House and the Senate to make this long-anticipated goal a reality at last.”

Yoho defends Trump Jr.’s Russia meeting

Rep. Ted Yoho came to Donald Trump Jr.’s defense this week, saying a meeting with someone who might have information helpful to a campaign isn’t out of the ordinary.

“Keep in mind, she wasn’t an official for the Russian government, the way I understand it. She’s a lawyer — a Russian lawyer — and if somebody comes to us and says, ‘Hey, we’ve got information on an opponent,’ yeah, I think that’s an appropriate thing to do,” the Yoho Republican told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on The Situation Room this week. “I don’t think it was inappropriate for what he did. If you’ve got information about an opponent running against you, wouldn’t you want that information to vet it, to see if it’s real information, and to use it accordingly? And you can’t do that if you don’t have the initial meeting.”

Donald Trump Jr. acknowledged this week that he met with a Russian lawyer, who he had been told might have information helpful to his father’s presidential campaign. The statement was issued in response to New York Times reporting that Trump Jr. was promised damaging information about then-candidate Hillary Clinton before agreeing to meet with Natalia Veselnitskaya.

CNN reported that Veselnitskaya is a Russian lawyer who represents Russians who want to see an end of U.S. sanctions.

Yoho told CNN that he also would have probably taken the meeting.

“Do I think it’s appropriate? I think I probably would have done the same thing,” he said. “I mean, it’s opposition research and, you know, anybody that’s been in an election — you’re always looking to get the upper hand.”

Tweet, tweet:


— DCCC spokesman Cole Leiter responds: “Congressman Yoho’s admission that he would have taken opposition research from Russians with ties to Vladimir Putin is outrageous. Sadly, Yoho is taking his cues from fellow Florida Republican, Congressman Brian Mast, who called Russian hacked material ‘open source,’ and the National Republican Congressional Committee, which actually used material hacked by Russians in their 2016 attack ads. Voters are looking for leaders, not opportunists who are willing to sell out the sanctity of our Democracy for cheap political points.”

Murphy, T. Rooney join West Point oversight board

Reps. Stephanie Murphy and Tom Rooney have joined the board overseeing the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, New York, reports Scott Powers with Orlando Rising.

The two members — Murphy, a Winter Park Democrat, and Rooney, an Okeechobee Republican — were appointed in May to congressional seats on the academy’s Board of Visitors, which in many ways is the equivalent of a Florida university’s board of trustees.

The U.S. Military Academy Board of Visitors keeps an eye on and considers the morale and discipline, curriculum, instruction, physical equipment, fiscal affairs, academic methods, and other matters relating to the academy.

Both were appointed by U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan, and have indefinite terms. They join the board’s chair, U.S. Rep. Steve Womack of Arkansas, Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina, Sen. Kristen Gillibrand of New York, U.S. Rep. Mike Conaway of Texas, and six presidential appointees.

Crist named co-chair of economic task force

The St. Petersburg Democrat has been named a co-chair for the Blue Dog Coalition Task Force on Economic Growth for the 115th Congress. He is joined by Lou Correa of California.

The mission of the task force is to advocate policies that focus on creating a positive economic climate geared toward boosting economic growth and creating jobs. Among the goals are advancing policies that accelerate the economic recovery, create good job opportunities for middle class Americans and assisting small business owners as they work to grow their companies.

Rep. Charlie Crist, who was recently named co-chair for the Blue Dog Coalition Task Force on Economic Growth for the 115th Congress, said it’s “Congress to work together” to address economic issues.

“While our economy continues to recover from the great recession, too many hardworking Americans still struggle to find good-paying jobs and entrepreneurs still face difficulties to secure loans needed to start or expand their own businesses,” said Crist in a statement. “It’s our job in Congress to work together to address these challenges, creating an environment that fosters economic growth.”

Blue Dog Democrats, who advocate some fiscally conservative policies, have not held much influence in recent years following the defeat of several prominent members, including north Florida’s Allen Boyd. By re-filling the pool with new members such as Crist and Stephanie Murphy of Winter Park, coalitions with moderate Republicans may be possible – if leadership permits.

“The Blue Dogs are continuing their tradition of strong leadership on economic growth, fiscal responsibility, government reform and accountability, and national defense,” said Daniel Lipinski, the group’s co-chair for policy of Illinois.

Diaz-Balart tours Herbert Hoover Dike

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart toured the Herbert Hoover Dike with the U.S Army Corps of Engineers and Hendry County officials to get an update on rehabilitation efforts.

“The rehabilitation of the Herbert Hoover Dike is a key step towards restoring the Everglades,” said the Miami Republican, who is the founder and co-chairman of the Everglades Caucus “In Congress, I will continue to work with our federal and local partners to ensure that critical rehabilitation projects like the Herbert Hoover Dike remain a priority and are adequately funded.”

Diaz-Balart, a senior member of the House Appropriations Committee, was able to secure nearly $50 million for repairs this year. Diaz-Balart was able to include $82 million for the Herbert Hoover Dike rehabilitation project and $76.5 million for Everglades restoration in the energy and water bill for fiscal 2018.

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart said the “rehabilitation of the Herbert Hoover Dike is a key step towards restoring the Everglades.” (Photo via Rep. Diaz-Balart’s office.)

“Florida is fortunate to have so many diverse natural treasures that have significant impacts on our local community” he said in a statement this week. “These funds will go towards the ongoing Everglades restoration work that is vital to the ecosystem’s preservation. Continued funding for the Herbert Hoover Dike is critical to the timely rehabilitation of the waterway.”

Diaz-Balart was joined by Col. Jason Kirk, the commander and district engineer of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Jacksonville District; Clewiston Mayor Mali Gardner, LaBelle Mayor David Lyons, and Hendry County Commissioner Karson Turner.

“I’m glad that Mayors Gardner and Lyons and Commissioner Turner were able to join me on this tour to get a first-hand look at the progress being made,” said Diaz-Balart. “I particularly want to thank Colonel Kirk for his unwavering and steadfast leadership.”

Lake O Rural Health Network gets federal rural health grant

The Lake Okeechobee Rural Health Network has received a federal grant to improve health care delivery.

Rep. Diaz-Balart recently announced the health network received a $297,408 grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Federal Office of Rural Health Policy. The Rural Health Network Development Program grant can be used to “provide support for networks of rural providers to integrate administration, clinical, technological and financial functions to improve health care delivery.”

“This grant will allow LORHN and local medical professionals to deliver a higher quality of care to its patients in Florida’s rural communities,” said Diaz-Balart in a statement. “I look forward to continue working with LORHN as they serve Southwest Florida.”

LORHN serves rural parts of Southwest Florida, including LaBelle, Clewiston and other areas of Hendry County.

Ros-Lehtinen calls on Germany to do more for Holocaust survivors

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen wants German officials to do more for Holocaust survivors, calling on officials to “comprehensively address the medical, mental health and long-term needs of survivors.”

Last year, Ros-Lehtinen and other members of the Florida delegation called on Germany to provide more financial assistance to Holocaust survivors. Kevin Derby with Sunshine State News reported the group cheered with the country announced it would lift caps on assistance to survivors for home care.

Ros-Lehtinen, the chairwoman of the Subcommittee on Middle East and North Africa, said in a statement that last year both the House and Senate “unanimously agreed that Germany must do more to ensure that all Holocaust survivors can live their remaining years in the comfort and dignity that they deserve.”

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen recently German officials to do more for Holocaust survivors, calling on officials to “comprehensively address the medical, mental health and long-term needs of survivors.”

“We urged our partners, Germany, to reaffirm its commitment to comprehensively address the medical, mental health, and long-term care needs of survivors by guaranteeing full funding to meet those needs. Now Germany has an opportunity to step up when it concludes its upcoming negotiations with the Claims Conference, and the Claims Conference leaders must recognize that Germany can do more for survivors,” she said in a statement ahead of annual negotiations between the government and the Claims Conference.

“Those leaders at the Claims Conference must not accept anything less than a comprehensive, permanent, and accountable commitment to fully fund survivors’ medically prescribed needs,” she continued. “Allowing once again for a modest increase when so much more is needed is not consistent with Germany’s past statements of responsibility, would defeat the purpose of the Claims Conference, and would tragically force tens of thousands of Holocaust survivors to continue to suffer when we all know the resources exist to provide the care and dignity that survivors worldwide deserve.”

Ros-Lehtinen urged the two sides to “do the right thing and not settle for anything less than what is really and truly needed.”

Paulson’s Principles: Election Trends Favor Democrats

The good news for Republicans in the 2018 Florida Congressional elections is that Republicans have dominated not only the congressional elections, but also most elections statewide. The Republicans currently hold a 16 to 11 advantage in congressional seats.

The bad news for Republicans is virtually everything else. Most of the important election factors favor the Democrats.

Money has always been the lifeblood of politics, and Republicans have dominated partisan fundraising for over two decades. This is why the recent fundraising report is bad news for the Republicans. The Democrats raised $1.3 million more than the Republicans in the second quarter ($1.67 million for the Democrats and $338,00 for the Republicans). The total raised for the first six months of 2017 find the Democrats leading Republicans $3.5 million to $2.4 million for the Republicans. This is almost an apocalyptic sign.

The president’s approval rating is directly related to election success. President Trump started with the lowest approval ratings in modern history, and the only direction his ratings have gone is down. Trump’s approval is now in the mid-30’s, which will drag down many Republicans.

Trump’s poor ratings are tied to three primary events. His firing of FBI Director James Comey, his alleged ties of Trump and Administration officials to the Russian government in trying to impact the 2016 election results, and the strongly negative reaction by the public to the Republican effort to, “repeal and replace Obamacare.” Combine this with the failure of the Trump Administration to pass a single major piece of legislation, it is easy to see the dilemma facing Republicans in congress.

Another obstacle confronting Republicans is the impact of midterm elections. Since 1952, the president’s party has won majorities in only four of 16 midterm elections. Each of those four elections where the president’s party won contained unique circumstances that do not now exist.

In 1964 and 1976, Democrats won enormous majorities in the House that almost guaranteed losses in the next midterm election. LBJ racked up a large House majority as a reaction to the extreme positions of Goldwater and, in 1976, Democrats won a huge majority due to the reaction against Nixon and Watergate.

In 1962 and 2002, the majority party maintained control due to the popularity of their president. In 1962, President Kennedy’s popularity hovered around the 70% range due to the Berlin and Cuban missile crises. In 2002, President George W. Bush’s popularity rose to 60% due to 911 and the Afghanistan invasion. Presidential popularity almost always increases when there is an international crisis.

Since the Republican Party does not have a 2 to 1 majority like the Democrats had in 1964 and 1976 and, since the Republicans do not have a president with high approval rates such as occurred in 1962 and 2002, the conditions are good for a Democratic victory.

Finally, the generic ballot finds Democrats with a 7-point advantage, 44 to 37%. If the Democrats can maintain at least a five-point lead in the generic ballot, they should be able to flip the 24 seats needed to regain a house majority.

The opportunity is there for the Democrats. It was also there for them in the 2016 election, and look what happened. Opportunity does not guarantee success.

Naples Democrat to challenge F. Rooney in ‘18

David Holden has announced he will challenge Rep. Francis Rooney in Florida’s 19th Congressional District in 2018, reports Alexandra Glorioso with the Naples Daily News.

While the 58-year-old Naples Democrat has the backing of local Democrats and activists, he will face an uphill battle in the Southwest Florida congressional district. Rooney, the former ambassador to the Holy See, handily won his election in 2016, and the district — which covers part of Collier and most of Lee County — is a Republican stronghold.

Still, Holden isn’t letting that stop him. He told the Naples Daily News he plans to attack Rooney on health care and the environment.

The Naples Daily News reported Holden’s political activism stretches back to his parents, who were civil rights activists and were against the Vietnam War. He helped flip a City Council in White Plains, New York, through a series of campaigns and as the local Democratic party chairman during the late 1980s and ‘90s.

Holden moved to Naples two years ago.

Gov. candidate Chris King weighs in on “Trumpcare”

We know how the delegation Democrats feel about the GOP health care bill. Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum and former Congresswoman Gwen Graham, both candidates for governor, make no bones about their distaste for the effort to “repeal and replace Obamacare.”

This week the other Democratic candidate, Winter Park Businessman Chris King, went on the record with a detailed critique of the legislation that is dividing Republicans. While the message is similar to what is heard in Washington, King presents his case in simple terms.

Chris King, an Orlando Democrat running for governor, called the Senate GOP health care proposal an “attack on Florida seniors” this week.

“First, it’s not a health care bill. It’s a massive tax cut bill paid for with huge cuts to health care,” he said in a release issued by his campaign. “Trumpcare is an attack on older Americans. Anyone over 50 will feel the draconian cuts most acutely.”

King makes the case the bill will allow “insurance companies to charge older Americans 5 times the amount they charge everyone else.” The Affordable Care Act allowed those companies to charge older Americans 3 times the amount.

“As governor, I will do everything I can to protect affordable, quality health care coverage for all Floridians,” he said.

Save the date

Sen. Tim Kaine, a Virginia Democrat and the 2016 Democratic nominee for vice president, will attend a fundraising reception for his re-election campaign at The Francis in Sarasota on July 23.

The event is being billed as a chance to meet Kaine and hear about strategies to “combat the policies coming out of the Trump administration.”

Watchdog looks into rapid rise by Ballard Partners DC operation

The Center for Public Integrity recently profiled the continuing rise of Ballard Partners’ Washington, DC office, as well as founder and President Brian Ballard. Stories featuring Ballard’s ties to President Trump are not new, but this one comes from an organization dedicating to “revealing abuses of power; corruption and betrayal of public trust by powerful public and private institutions using the tools of investigative journalism.”

Ballard “must ply his trade in the nation’s capital without looking as if he’s selling access to a president who has promised to stand up to special interests – a tricky course to navigate that has quickly tripped up other Trump alumni such as former campaign manager-turned-lobbyist Corey Lewandowski,” the story reads.

The Center for Public Integrity is the latest news organization to profile Ballard Partners’ rise in D.C.

“There’s a lot of blurred lines, you know,” Ballard said. “It’s easy to say ‘oh, you’re a Trump person, you get this and that,’ but I don’t think it works out that way.”

Among the many interesting revelations from the article involves Ballard client Univision. Following the hostile relationship between the network and Trump (he threw out correspondent Jorge Ramos from a campaign press conference), Univision has retained Ballard to “help mend the rocky relationship between Trump and the network.”

The Center for Public Integrity is led by Chief Executive Officer John Dunbar, the former chief investigative reporter for the Florida Times-Union and a graduate of the University of South Florida.

Murphy to lead Future Forum Foundation

Former Rep. Patrick Murphy has been tapped to serve as the chairman of a new political non-profit organization, which aims to identify solutions to the challenges facing millennials.

Dubbed the Future Forum Foundation, the group will raise and deploy resources to provide advocacy organizations, elected leaders and other forward-thinking individuals a platform to explore the changing dynamics facing young Americans. The group is expected to conduct research, hold events, and create partnerships with the private sector, young professionals and students.

Former U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy said the newly formed Future Forum Foundation will help “empower a new generation of leaders to find solutions.”

“Now is the time for the next generation of leadership to step up and take the lead. I’ve seen first-hand the disconnect between the leaders who serve us and our changing young workforce. Millennials are at the heart of every critical issue facing our nation,” said Murphy, a Palm Beach County Democrat who unsuccessfully ran for U.S. Senate in 2016.

“They are defining the future of work. By gaining a better understanding of the economic uncertainty and the disruption caused by technology and automation, we can empower a new generation of leaders to find solutions.”

Trump nominates #FloridaMan as ambassador to Italy

President Donald Trump will nominate Vero Beach resident Lewis Eisenberg as the ambassador to Italy, reports Kristina Webb with the Palm Beach Post. Eisenberg will also serve concurrently and without additional compensation as the ambassador to the Republic of San Marino.

Eisenberg is the co-founder and managing partner of Ironhill Investments in New York, and is the former chairman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

Eisenberg also served on Trump’s inaugural committee and donated more than $35,000 to Trump’s presidential campaign.

He now faces Senate confirmation.

Backlash against bourbon?

The nation’s bourbon industry could take a hit if the European Union acts on a threat to respond to a blanket steel tariff being mulled by the Trump administration.

Amanda Holpuch with The Guardian reported recently that EU officials confirmed one of the targeted products could be bourbon, 95 percent of which comes from Kentucky. According to The Guardian, U.S. spirit exports to the EU were valued at $654 million in 2016, 20 percent of which was from bourbon.

Bourbon has historically been popular in Europe, and US distilleries have recently been looking to grow their export market in Asia and Australia. (Photo via the Associated Press.)

Camila Domonoske with NPR reported that a tariff on bourbon wouldn’t just be symbolic. It’s experienced a big boom in global popularity over the last few years, and Roxanne Scott with WFPL in Louisville reported that 59 percent of the country’s bourbon exports went to EU member countries last year.

“Any efforts to impose retaliatory tariffs on US spirts exports to the EU will harm consumers, producers and the US and EU sprits sectors,” the Distilled Spirits Council on the United States said in a statement.

But hooch isn’t the only thing EU officials are targeting. Ivana Kottasova with CNN Money reported the EU is also considering hitting imports of orange juice.

Continuing strong fundraising effort, Charlie Crist adds more than $550K during second quarter of 2017

First-term Democratic U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist raised more than $550,000 between April 1 and June 30, according to a campaign source familiar with the congressman’s fundraising efforts.

Crist has more than $1.1 million cash-on-hand for his re-election bid.

Crist, who represents Florida’s 13th Congressional District, led the Florida congressional delegation in fundraising and was one of the top Democratic fundraisers overall during the first quarter of 2017, outperforming incumbents from both parties.

Although throughout his career, Crist has always been a prodigious fundraiser — most notably as Florida Governor and candidate for U.S. Senate — one reason for this most recent fundraising success could be traced to an overwhelmingly positive message, particularly in the push for more civil discourse in politics.

“As public officials, I believe we have a responsibility to try to lead by example,” Crist said recently.

Last month, St. Petersburg Democrat co-sponsored a measure to designate July 12 — in a nod to the Bible  — as a National Day of Civility.

According to Matthew 7:12: “Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you: do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets. … shall also do to them; for this is the law and the prophets.”

This theme of the “Golden Rule” — do unto others as you would have them do unto you — is a common thread through much of Crist’s career and first year in Congress.

The Day of Civility proposal, which has gained traction after the shooting of Crist’s colleague Steve Scalise during a charity baseball practice in Alexandria, Virginia, urges congressional leaders to set a more cordial tone for the nation.

“It is obvious that we need to be kinder, we need to be nicer. We need to do unto others as you would have done unto yourself,” said Crist at a news conference announcing the measure. “We all learned that … as little kids growing up and yet somewhere along the way it seems to have been forgotten.”

“I think it’s important to have these reminders …,’’ he added. “We need to do it every day, all 365 days.”

Crist also plans to supply fellow lawmakers with yellow wristbands saying: “Practice the GOLDEN RULE every day.”

Annette Taddeo leads in SD 40 Democratic primary, new poll says

Florida Senate District 40 candidate Annette Taddeo is touting a new poll giving her a 17-point lead over Democratic primary opponent Ana Rivas Logan.

The survey, conducted by SEA Polling, shows Taddeo leading Rivas Logan, 40 to 23 percent, with more than a third of those polled (37 percent) undecided. However, neither candidate is that well known. Forty-two percent of those surveyed said they didn’t know who Taddeo is, while 54 percent say they aren’t familiar with Rivas Logan.

However, neither candidate is that well-known; 42 percent of respondents didn’t know who Taddeo is. Similarly, 54 percent say they aren’t familiar with Rivas Logan.

The gap between the two Democrats widens to 29 points after voters were presented with biographical information, the survey reports. It did not list what additional info was inserted to questions.

A Miami-based businesswoman, Taddeo has found herself on the losing side of a number of recent elections. She is perhaps best known as Charlie Crist‘s running mate in the 2014 gubernatorial election.

A former Republican, Rivas Logan switched to the Democratic Party in 2014 after a single term in the Florida Legislature. She also served on the Miami-Dade County School Board.

SD 40 encompasses Southwest Miami-Dade and was represented by Hialeah Republican Frank Artiles until April, when he resigned just days after reports emerged that he had made racist and sexist comments to two black Democratic lawmakers.

On the GOP side, the race is between state Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, former state Sen. Alex Diaz de la Portilla and Lorenzo Palomares.

The primary election is July 25; the special general election is September 26.

The poll contacted 350 registered and likely Democratic primary voters June 26-28 and was conducted in both English and Spanish. It has an error sample of 4.29 percent.


The Delegation for 6.29.17 — Insights from the Beltway to the Sunshine State

As Democrats speak out on health care bill, Rubio’s listening tour continues

No one is certain when, if ever, the Senate will vote on its current version of the health care bill, but we now know it will be after July 4. The level of opposition to it, measured in decibels, is well known, while supporters, or those on the fence, are either soft-spoken or mute.

With all Democrats opposed, it was a handful of GOP senators that brought the process to a halt Tuesday. Florida Republican Marco Rubio was not one of those but has vowed to gain as much input from his home state as he can before making a decision.

“Senator Rubio will decide how to vote on health care on the basis of how it impacts Florida,” read a statement. “He has already spoken to Governor (Rick) Scott, Senate President (Joe) Negron and Speaker (Richard) Corcoran about the first draft of this proposal.”

Rubio also spent some time Tuesday with Mitch McConnell meeting with the Majority Leader and Scott, who was on Capitol Hill for the day. The senator was nonspecific on any changes he seeks but has also spent time meeting with Florida House and Senate staffers with health care expertise.

Sen. Marco Rubio meets with staffers from the Florida House, Senate and Governor’s Office to talk about the health care bill. (Photo via Sen. Marco Rubio’s Office Twitter)

Panama City Republican Neal Dunn was one of few House Republicans to comment. “We must act now to repeal Obamacare and fix our broken health care system,” he said in a statement.

Reaction among Florida Democrats has been predictably negative, if not harsh. They drove home the point that the Senate version is no improvement over the House bill. None of the commentaries went as far as that offered by their party’s leader in the House, California’s Nancy Pelosi.

“We do know that many more people, hundreds of thousands of people, will die if this bill passes,” she said on CBS.

Sen. Bill Nelson said the Senate bill “is just as bad as the House bill, taking coverage away from millions of people and making huge cuts to Medicaid.”

St. Petersburg Democrat Charlie Crist agreed, saying “the CBO score has confirmed that the Senate bill is just as bad as the House version – the one President (Donald) Trump described as mean.”

Al Lawson of Tallahassee said, “just like the House bill, the Senate health care bill is heartless and reckless.” Tampa’s Kathy Castor told her constituents in an email: “This is a tax-cut-for-the-rich plan disguised as a health care plan that will put your health and financial security at risk.”

According to Ted Deutch of Boca Raton, for those with pre-existing conditions or other needs, “the Senate Republicans open it up for states to turn back the clock and legalize discrimination against” those individuals.  Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Weston described it as a “financial and health care horror show.”

With the House and Senate not returning to Washington until the week of July 10, much remains to be, and will be, said about the bill (and any subsequent tweaks) between now and then.

Programming note: We’re taking next week off to celebrate Fourth of July, and recharge before what will likely be a busy few weeks. We’ll return Thursday, June 13. Until then, here are this week’s insights from the Beltway to the Sunshine State.

Trump presidency a hit to Mar-a-Lago banquet business

Trump’s presidency may have been good for the Trump Organization, but David Fahrenthold and Drew Harwell with The Washington Post found the banquet business at Mar-a-Lago Club could be suffering.

A recent Washington Post report found “seven nonprofit organizations — all repeat customers of President Donald Trump’s posh Palm Beach club — have announced their decisions to avoid Mar-a-Lago next winter during the social season.” According to the report, the charities gave a variety of reasons for leaving the club.

“It was not a decision based on politics,” said Leukemia & Lymphoma Society chair Peter Brock in an interview with The Washington Post. “The decision was based on the disruption on getting into Mar-a-Lago, because of all the security and hassle.”

According to The Washington Post, seven nonprofit organizations have announced in recent weeks they are moving their charity events from President Donald Trump’s prized Mar-a-Lago Club.

The Post reported the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society had held its gala at Mar-a-Lago for eight straight years. The charity typically held a 90-minute cocktail hour for attendees to have a few glasses of wine and bid on silent auction items. But this year, Brock told the Post, after guests got through security checks, only 20 minutes were left during the cocktail hour.

According to the report, most of the events that left Mar-a-Lago went to the Breakers instead. A spokeswoman for the Breakers declined to tell the Post how much their business has increased, but said it continues to “experience high demand.”

Aside from the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Bascom Palmer Eye Institute and MorseLife Health System are among those have announced moving their events to the Breakers, the Post reported.

The next FEMA head finally confirmed

Almost a full month into the hurricane season, the U.S. Senate confirmed Brock Long of North Carolina as Director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Long succeeds Florida’s Craig Fugate, who served from 2009 until early this year.

The vote to confirm in the Senate was 95-4. Both Bill Nelson and Rubio voted in favor of Long’s nomination. The only “no” votes came from Democrats Cory Booker of New Jersey, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Brian Schatz of Hawaii, and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.

Long brings experience as the former director of the Alabama Emergency Management Agency. During his time there, Long served as the state’s on-scene incident commander during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010.

Trump nominated Long in late April; he was officially received in the Senate May 11. As hurricane season began June 1, Florida delegation co-chair Vern Buchanan issued a warning to get the nomination moving.

The vote came less than three weeks later.

Nelson “cringes” for nominee to run TSA

Florida’s senior senator expressed sympathy toward the nominee to run the Transportation Security Administration. Sen. Bill Nelson reacted to retired Vice Admiral David Pekoske’s defense of the TSA portion of Trump’s recent budget proposal.

Pekoske appeared before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee last week for his confirmation hearing. During the hearing, Nelson asked Pekoske about the president’s 2018 budget plan, which proposes TSA cuts of $1 billion from the current year’s levels.

“At the end of the day, I support the President’s budget,” Pekoske told Nelson, the committee’s ranking Democrat. “But I wanted to make sure that as the appropriations process proceeds, members of Congress have the information they need to make their own assessment of what’s in the budget.”

Nelson responded that Congress is “going to have to save you from yourself” by providing more funding for prevention and response efforts.

“I cringe for you that you have to support the president’s budget because you have to, when in fact everybody in this room knows it ought to go the other way,” Nelson said.

Rubio teams with Ernst to launch EMPOWERS Act

Florida’s Republican senator joined his GOP colleague from Iowa, Joni Ernst, to propose a bill designed to modernize the country’s welfare programs. The Economic Mobility, Prosperity and Opportunities with Waivers that Enable Reforms for States (EMPOWERS) Act would allow states the opportunity to modernize benefit programs and better assist individuals to achieve success.

Rubio and Ernst point out that more than 80 programs exist to help those in need, but do not create a path to self-sufficiency when the programs are meant to provide temporary assistance. The bill envisions the states as the place for pilot programs featuring new ideas.

“The EMPOWERS Act recognizes what Americans already know: Washington doesn’t have all the answers,” Rubio said in a joint release. “More than 50 years after President Lyndon Johnson declared war on poverty, it’s clear our social safety net programs are in desperate need of innovation and modernization.”

Sen. Marco Rubio, shown here during a January 2016 campaign stop in Iowa, has introduced legislation with Sen. Joni Ernst that aims to modernize the country’s welfare program. (Photo via The Associated Press.)

The bill calls for requiring states to submit proposals, complete with accountability measures, for cost-neutral demonstration projects which focus on reducing poverty and promoting ways for beneficiaries to eventually reach self-sufficiency. It also permits waivers for states to develop the means to cut costs and reinvest savings to help low-income families.

“I’ve heard from Iowans struggling to make ends meet that due to our current federal programs in place, taking one step forward often means taking two steps back,” said Ernst. “Worse yet, these programs sometimes punish self-sufficiency through stiff phaseout rates, or ‘cliff effects’ which inadvertently penalize individuals when they gain employment or are rewarded a raise.”

Rubio, Nelson show rare bipartisan support for Florida judicial nominees

An op-ed by Linda Geller-Schwartz of the National Council of Jewish Women notes that Florida’s two senators, in a rare show of bipartisanship, have jointly sent a letter to Trump asking him to renominate three of Obama’s judicial nominees to Florida federal courts.

Both Rubio and Nelson vetted and approved the three nominees — Patricia Barksdale and William Jung for the Middle District of Florida, and Phillip Lammens in the Northern District — who are still waiting for hearings after their nominations expired in January.

Nelson and Rubio say that “timely action is needed as the two vacancies in the Middle District are considered judicial emergencies.”

The letter also refers to the failure of Senate leaders to take “timely action in the last Congress,” as Floridians deserve and expect a fair and functioning judicial system.

7 Florida Republicans join call for Ginsburg’s recusal

While all 9 U.S. Supreme Court Justices agreed to lift the stay on portions of Trump’s “travel ban,” several members of Congress want only 8 of the justices to hear arguments before the Court in the fall.

In a letter to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 58 Republican House members, including seven from Florida, called on Ginsburg to step aside when the Court hears arguments on the constitutional merits of Trump’s executive order.

“As an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, you are required to recuse yourself in cases in which your ‘impartiality might reasonably be questioned’ and where you have ‘a personal bias or prejudice concerning a party,’” they wrote.

Seven Florida Republicans are among the 58 Republican House members who have called on Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg to recuse herself when the Supreme Court hears arguments on the constitutional merits of President Donald Trump’s so-called “travel ban” when the court returns for its next term. (Photo via The Associated Press.)

To fortify their position, the members cited a New York Times editorial criticizing Ginsburg’s disparaging remarks toward candidate Trump in 2016. They concluded by stating Ginsburg’s participation would “violate the law and undermine the credibility of the Supreme Court of the United States.”

Florida Republicans signing the letter included Ron DeSantis of Ponte Vedra, Neal Dunn of Panama City, Dan Webster of Orlando, Ted Yoho of Gainesville, John Rutherford of Jacksonville, Bill Posey of Rockledge, and Francis Rooney of Naples.

The Supreme Court will return for their next term in October.

Florida delegation hears the horrors of human trafficking

The Florida delegation, co-chaired by Sarasota Republican Vern Buchanan and Miramar Democrat Alcee Hastings, focused on the crime of human trafficking during a meeting on Wednesday. Members heard from experts who informed, among other things, that children account for more than half of the cases of human trafficking, a crime in which they are abducted or recruited for sexual exploitation.

Members heard from experts on ways to recognize and combat the rapidly growing crime. Florida is third in the nation in reported cases, trailing only California and Texas. The state saw an increase of 54 percent last year.

During the hearing, members were advised to focus on providing resources to help victims reclaim their lives. A need for greater awareness and training was another topic of discussion.

Members of the Florida delegation heard from experts on ways to recognize and combat human trafficking. (Photo via Rep. Vern Buchanan’s Facebook)

“We need to have the public understand this is a public health issue,” said Dr. Suzanne Harrison, with the Florida State University College of Medicine. “Victims go unrecognized in clinics and emergency rooms.”

Buchanan is a co-sponsor of the Abolish Human Trafficking Act in Congress.

“Human trafficking is a vile and monstrous crime against women and children,” Buchanan said. “Unfortunately, Florida is a hub for human trafficking and that’s why we must do all we can to stop this crime.”

Wednesday’s meeting was the third delegation meeting of 2017. Along with Buchanan and Hastings, those in attendance were Democrats Lois Frankel, Kathy Castor, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, and Val Demings. Republican members included Brian Mast, John Rutherford, Ted Yoho, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Mario Diaz-Balart, Gus Bilirakis, Francis Rooney, and Neal Dunn.

Gaetz, Murphy host Florida Defense Day

Republican Rep. Gaetz and Democratic Rep. Murphy joined forces this week to host Florida Defense Day at the Florida House on Capitol Hill.

The daylong event was meant to preview the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act and featured a series of roundtable discussions highlighting Florida’s military posture and the state delegation’s need for a united front on military and defense issues.

Rep. Neal Dunn Florida House on Capitol Hill during the inaugural Florida Defense Day. He was joined by Rep. Ron DeSantis and several other defense industry experts. (Photo via Rep. Matt Gaetz’s Facebook.)

Gaetz and Murphy both sit on the House Committee on Armed Services.

The event featured remarks by Rep. John Rutherford; a presentation by Tony Principi, the CEO of the Principi Group, on military readiness in Florida; a panel discussion on missions and installations in Florida; a roundtable on the future of defense in Florida, featuring Reps. Neal Dunn and Ron DeSantis; and a presentation by G. Derrick Hinton, the principal deputy director of the Test Resource Management Center.

Dunn, Yoho join Agriculture Committee in Gainesville

The House Agriculture Committee came to the University of Florida last weekend for the first of several “listening sessions” designed to gain input on a new 2018 farm bill. Yoho, whose district includes the University of Florida, joined Dunn of Panama City and committee members representing districts from around the country to hear from those who make a living in the industry.

“Everybody in this room is involved in agriculture,” Yoho told attendees. “You’re either producing it; farming, ranching, or you’re consuming it. So, we’re all involved in agriculture.”

Attendees from the region represented all sectors of the agriculture industry. The purpose of the hearing was to gain input from those involved as the committee crafts the new farm bill set to expire next year.

“Agriculture is a risky business, and while Congress can’t control the weather, we can create a climate of sound, consistent farm policy to help farmers and ranchers manage risks as they produce affordable, safe and abundant food and fiber,” said Dunn.

Committee Chairman Mike Conaway of Texas led the proceedings, which elicited a broad range of comments and suggestions from attendees.

“I appreciated today’s productive conversations with producers and stakeholders in Florida, Georgia and surrounding areas and look forward to continuing the discussion with producers across the country as we work to craft the next farm bill,” said Conaway.

Soto presses Ryan Zinke on Everglades, drilling

Rep. Darren Soto hoped to get assurances from Interior Secretary Zinke that the offshore drilling ban is in “no real jeopardy,” reports Scott Powers with Orlando Rising.

During a Natural Resources Committee meeting last week, the Orlando Democrat pressed Zinke on the offshore drilling ban and whether he would support a Wild & Scenic River Program designation. Zinke told Soto he planned to come to Florida in the coming months to work with state officials on solutions.

“My intention is to be down in Florida right after the break, in there to look and assess,” Zinke continued. “I’d be glad to work with you on that. I understand it is a huge problem. But there are solutions. My commitment to you is to work together to find the solutions.”

The offshore drilling ban, pushed by Soto and most other members of Congress from Florida, is only in jeopardy if the military determines it does not need the restrictions requested and put in place years ago by the U.S. Department of Defense.


Crist calls for “Day of Civility” — Rep. Charlie Crist is leading a bipartisan effort to be kind.

Crist — along with Louisiana Republican Rep. Mike Johnson and Democratic Rep. Nanette Diaz Barragán — recently announced bipartisan legislation to establish July 12 as a National Day of Civility.

“Too often all the American people see of Congress are the disagreements over policy and partisan bickering, which has risen to new heights in Washington in recent years, unfortunately,” said Crist during a recent press conference. “What they don’t see is when the cameras are turned off we’re all friends. The policy disputes, they happen. But they aren’t personal, even when they are passionate. And they are passionate.”

As part of his push for a national “Day of Civility,” Rep. Charlie Crist is distributing bracelets encouraging members of Congress to practice the Golden Rule. (Photo via Crist’s office.)

The resolution came on the heels of a report, according to Crist’s office, which showed 9 out of 10 Americans agreed that increased incivility leads to intimidation, threats, harassment, discrimination, violence and cyberbullying. The report also found a majority of Americans believe incivility in politics encourages general incivility in society and deters citizens from engaging in public service.

The legislation, Alex Leary with the Tampa Bay Times reports, calls for National Day of Civility to be on July 12, a reference to Matthew 7:12.

Crist and Johnson are also distributing yellow wrist hands with the words “Practice the Golden Rule every day!” to members of the House and Senate.

Crist, estranged wife selling $1.5M St. Pete condo — Crist is looking to sell the $1.5 million waterfront home he owns with his estranged wife, Carole. The couple bought the three-bedroom, three-bath condo in July 2015 for $1.036 million. The Tampa Bay Times notes it was at a time when the St. Petersburg Democrat was first considering a U.S. House run. At the same point, amid Florida’s legal battle over congressional redistricting, the couple also bought a house on St. Pete Beach, which sold earlier this year for $1.030 million.

According to the listing, the Beach Drive condo has: “Sprawling views of the waterfront and downtown St. Petersburg,” an area that continues to be a strong seller’s market. In the past six months, 30 condos have sold for $1 million or more, with one going for $3.725 million in early June.

F. Rooney touts support for technical education

A bill that could help Floridians get the skills they need to enter the workforce, without incurring thousands upon thousands of dollars in student debt, is heading to the U.S. Senate.

Rep. Francis Rooney touted his support for the Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act, which passed the U.S. House on a voice vote last week. The bill, which was co-sponsored by Miami Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo, now heads to the Senate for its consideration.

“Career and technical education is a key solution for the most critical needs of our economy. There are hundreds of thousands of good-paying jobs that do not require a four-year degree,” said Rooney in a statement. “The pursuit of career and technical education will allow students to enter the workforce with usable skills that fulfill real world needs, without incurring tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt. CTE is a win for students, businesses and for our economy.”

The bill, among other things, gives states more flexibility to use federal resources in response to changing education and education needs; enhances career and technical education through an increased focus on employable skills, work-based learning opportunities, and meaningful credentialing; streamlines performance measures to ensure career and technical education programs deliver results; and reduces administrative burdens and simplifies the process for states to apply for federal resources.

“Given the dramatic evolution of our nation’s workforce, it is imperative that we create clear pathways to education and training for students interested in pursuing careers in high-demand industries and technical fields,” said Rep. Glenn Thompson, the Pennsylvania Republican who, along with Illinois Democrat Raja Krishnamoorthi, introduced the legislation, in a statement. “This bill will work to restore rungs on the ladder of opportunity for every American regardless of age or background.”

Deutch praises European Parliament for adopting anti-Semitism definition

Rep. Ted Deutch is praising the European Parliament for its passage of a working definition of anti-Semitism.

The European Parliament voted in favor of endorsing the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition on June 1. The resolution, according to Tamara Zieve with the Jerusalem Post, also calls on European Union member states, institutions and agencies to adopt and apply the working definition.

“Passing a working definition of anti-Semitism isn’t just symbolic. European Jewish communities, feeling threatened and under attack, have been looking to their national and EU leaders to stand with them and take action to protect them,” said Deutch in a statement. “As we’ve seen here with the State Department’s definition of anti-Semitism, having a clear guide helps governments better identify and address cases of anti-Semitism. EU member states should follow the European Parliament’s meaningful action by adopting a definition and committing to protecting Jewish communities and combating anti-Semitism.

Rep. Ted Deutch said the European Parliament’s passage of a working definition of anti-Semitism “isn’t just symbolic.”

Deutch joined his colleagues on the Bipartisan Task Force for Combating Anti-Semitism in signing a letter to the EP applauding them on the passage of the resolution. In the letter, the members noted the U.S. House unanimously passed the “Combating European Anti-Semitism Act (H.R. 672), which would encourage greater coordination and partnerships between the United States and European countries to address anti-Semitism.”

“This and other important initiatives for combating anti-Semitism, including efforts to integrate a working definition of anti-Semitism into various aspects of U.S. policy and practice, are top priorities for many members of Congress. We must continue to build on the momentum created by this bill’s passage and the passage of the working definition,” they wrote. “We look forward to working closely with the EU and individual member states in achieving the shared goal of protecting Jewish communities and combating anti-Semitism.”

In addition to Deutch, Floridians Ileana Ros-Lehtinen; Debbie Wasserman Schultz; Lois Frankel and Gus Bilirakis also signed the letter.

Curbelo applauds funding for addiction research program

Florida International University will receive a more than $140,000 grant for research on the use of oxytocin to treat morphine addiction in HIV-infection patients.

Rep. Carlos Curbelo announced the school will receive a $146,500 U.S. Department of Health and Human services grant through the 2017 Consolidated Appropriations Act, which Curbelo supported. The Miami Republican said the grant will be key to helping the continued study of patients’ addictions patterns.

“The drug addiction crisis facing our nation needs the attention of researchers across the country,” he said in a statement. “This grant is critical to aiding the continued study of HIV-patient’s addiction patterns and discovering treatment solutions that put these patients on the path to a healthier life.”

Curbelo has continually advocated for federal funding of research and treatment programs of HIV and AIDS, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR)

Ros-Lehtinen proposes bill to help young cancer patients

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen is taking steps to help young cancer patients.

The Miami Republican recently filed legislation, co-sponsored by Colorado Democrat Ed Perlmutter, that would let individuals diagnosed with cancer to defer payments on public student loans while actively receiving treatment. Under her proposal, students would be able to defer the loans without interest accruing during the deferment period.

“No person should have to endure cancer treatments while being concerned about pending student loan payments,” she said in a statement. “We should show compassion and help those who are living likely the most difficult period of their lives and allow them to focus on beating cancer, not fretting about repayments and answering to creditors, and this bill will do just that. During the difficulties of those we are called upon to help, not hinder, their treacherous road.”

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen called her bill, the Deferment for Active Cancer Treatment Act, a common sense solution to address the rising number of student loan defaults.

The Miami Herald reported that Kate Houghton, a Florida International University alumna and former Capitol Hill staffer who was diagnosed with cancer in her 20s, helped drive the bill. She now heads a group called Critical Mass, which provides resources for young adults with cancer.

The bill, according to Ros-Lehtinen’s office, is a common sense solution to address the rising number of student loans among borrowers by empowering patients to continue repayment after they are healthy.

“The hardships created for individuals and families dealing with a cancer diagnosis is only exacerbated by the financial burden of a student loan when one is receiving active treatment,” said Perlmutter in a statement. “It should be a no brainer while an individual is receiving treatment to defer payments without penalty during this difficult time.”

Scott goes to Washington

As the Senate’s health care plan hung in the balance this week, Rick Scott traveled to Washington, D.C. in hopes of providing input to Senate leadership about how they could “make the bill better for Floridians.”

The Naples Republican, who is believed to be considering a 2018 Senate bid, was in D.C. for just one day, but, according to the public schedule released by the Governor’s Office, it was chock full of meetings with movers and shakers, as well as a few national media interviews squeezed in.

Scott, according to his schedule, kicked off his day with a meeting with Florida’s Agency of Health Care Administration Secretary Justin Senior, who was in D.C. and met with Rubio earlier in the week. Scott squeezed in an interview with Fox News’ Bill Hemmer, before heading to a meeting with Rep. Buchanan.

Gov. Rick Scott met with Vice President Mike Pence during his visit to Washington, D.C. this week to talk about health care. (Photo via Twitter)

The governor then met with Vice President Mike Pence, before holding a media availability with the Washington press corps and another interview, this time on CNBC’s Power Lunch. According to his schedule, Scott’s afternoon was filled with meetings with HHS Secretary Tom Price, Sen. Lamar Alexander, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Rubio.

It wasn’t all work, though. Scott, according to the schedule, attended a welcome reception with the congressional delegation in the early evening, before doing one last quick hit interview with Fox News’ Martha MacCallum.

Tweet, tweet:

Tweet, tweet:

Floridians to lobby against cuts to mental health coverage

More than 1,000 member of the National Alliance on Mental Illness — including more than 40 from Florida — will are traveling to Washington, D.C. this week about cuts to mental health coverage under the proposed health care bill.

NPR reported this week that, under the proposed Senate plan, states could request waivers to opt out of requiring essential health benefits, including mental health care. The Congressional Budget Office, according to the NPR report, said if a state opted out of coverage for mental health care, “insurance that includes mental health care coverage could become ‘extremely expensive.’”

Forty-five people from Florida are expected to be in D.C. on Thursday, including NAMI supporters from Tallahassee, Orlando, Tampa, Fort Lauderdale, Port St. Lucie, Orlando, Jacksonville and Palm Beach. They are expected to meet with Sen. Bill Nelson and an aide to Sen. Marco Rubio, along with members of the U.S. House.

Trump get speaking gig at Hall of Presidents

President Donald Trump will get a speaking role in Disney’s Hall of Presidents attraction, just like every sitting president since Bill Clinton, reports Terry Roen with Orlando Rising.

Disney has added the new president after every election, and Jacquee Wahler, vice president of communications at Disney, told News13 in Orlando that the “same thing that we’ve done with other presidents, is the same plan we have for President Trump.”

A online petition called for Trump to remain silent. It gathered 14,706 signatures but did not convince the theme park giant to squelch the sitting president.

President Donald Trump will have a speak role in the Hall of Presidents when the attraction reopens.

The attraction, modeled after Independence Hall in Philadelphia, features audio-animatronic figures of all U.S. presidents. It was one of the original attractions at the Magic Kingdom, which opened in 1971.

Abraham Lincoln and George Washington give speeches, along with the current president. The attraction was last closed in 2009 to add former president Barack Obama.

The attraction has been closed since January 17 for renovation and is scheduled to reopen by the end of the year.


A month into hurricane season, Charlie Crist says Donald Trump needs to fill NOAA post now

Among the many positions in the federal government that have gone unfilled during the first five months of the Donald Trump administration is someone to lead the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

With hurricane season only about to get more intense in the coming months, Charlie Crist is calling on the White House to fill that position now.

“Not only does NOAA’s work help support our local economy, but it also provides valuable information to my constituents — information that saves lives,” said Crist. “Leaving the position of NOAA Administrator vacant is taking an unnecessary risk with people’s lives and livelihoods. I’m urging President Trump to quickly nominate a qualified individual and work with the Senate to have them confirmed.”

The NOAA administrator oversees a wide portfolio of climate research, weather forecasting and ocean protection and a $5.6 billion budget. The long vacancy is in contrast to Barack Obama, which nominated Jane Lubchenco as his NOAA administrator a month before he was inaugurated.

NOAA is currently being led by Benjamin Friedman, the Undersecretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere.

The Washington Post recently listed three officials as being the top contenders to be nominated by Trump; Scott Rayder, a senior adviser to the President of the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research and former NOAA chief of staff; Barry Lee Myers, the CEO of AccuWeather; and Jon White, President and CEO of the Consortium for Ocean Leadership.

Last month NOAA reported that for the upcoming Atlantic hurricane season, “forecasters predict a 45 percent chance of an above-normal season, a 35 percent chance of a near-normal season, and only a 20 percent chance of a below-normal season.”

Here’s the text of Crist’s letter to Trump:

Dear President Trump,

I write today to urge you to expeditiously nominate a qualified individual to serve as Administrator of the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The work performed by NOAA is critically important to not only my District, but to countless other communities across the country. NOAA is responsible for weather forecasting, ocean monitoring, coastal resiliency and planning, and fishery management, just to name a few. Not only does this work help support the local economy of my District, but it also provides valuable information to my constituents — information that saves lives.

As a Floridian and member of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee, the National Weather Service (NWS), including the National Hurricane Center, is of utmost importance to me. As you know, hurricane season began on June 1st; and NOAA has predicted an above-normal season in the Atlantic. In fact, we’ve already seen three named storms this year — including a rare preseason tropical storm and Tropical Storm Cindy, which recently made landfall along the Gulf Coast. It is critically important that you immediately nominate a NOAA Administrator who can provide the stability and direction needed to appropriately manage and navigate hurricane season.

I would also like to commend the work performed by the NWS field offices, including the office located in Ruskin, Florida near my District. These offices fill a critical link between national weather prediction and local preparedness; and I am a strong supporter of the men and women who tirelessly staff them — many of whom work off-hours and overnight shifts. In light of the recent Government Accountability Office report showing that NWS meteorologist vacancies are growing and “employees are fatigued and morale is low,” it is my hope that the next NOAA Administrator will take a hard look at this issue and move in an appropriate direction to correct it. Fatigued employees mean less accurate predictions. Less accurate predictions mean more lives at risk during severe weather events.

Mr. President, leaving the position of NOAA Administrator vacant is taking an unnecessary risk with people’s lives and livelihoods. I urge you to quickly nominate a qualified individual and work with the Senate to have them confirmed. Thank you for your consideration of this important request.


Charlie Crist
United States Congressman

Since leaving Congress, David Jolly has discovered a different view of the Affordable Care Act

When David Jolly defeated Alex Sink in the special election for Florida’s 13th Congressional District, his criticism of Obamacare was front and center of his campaign.

But the politics of health care have changed over the past four years, Jolly told MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell on Monday night – and they certainly have for him. After losing to Democrat Charlie Crist in a redrawn CD 13 last fall, Jolly says his own personal circumstances had changed when he left office at the beginning of this year, and he was grateful that the Affordable Care Act was available to him and his wife as a “safety net.”

“On January 4th, I was a former member of Congress, unemployed with no health insurance and a pre-existing condition,” Jolly said on “The Last Word”.

“And while I ultimately chose a private sector plan, I also knew that in 2017 that Obamacare provided an exchange that was a safety net that wasn’t there before, and to be honest with you, if I had to rely on it, I knew it was there, and that’s why the politics of Obamacare in 2017 are different are different in 2013,” Jolly said. “I lost my doctor and I lost my plan in 2013 and I was angry about Obamacare and I ran for Congress, but in 2017, as an unemployed person with a pre-existing condition, I knew that Obamacare was there as a safety net if my wife and I needed it.”

The former Pinellas Congressman is hardly the only American to take a more positive look at Obamacare as the Republican Congress gets closer to repealing it.

Last week, the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 51 percent of U.S. adults in support of the ACA, while 41 percent hold an unfavorable view. This is the first month that favorability has tipped over the 50 percent mark since Kaiser Family Foundation began tracking attitudes on the law in 2010.

Jolly says he is still considering a rematch against Crist in 2018, and will make his decision early next year.

You can watch the exchange below with Jolly, O’Donnell, and editor Ezra Klein beginning at the 5:00 minute mark.

Kathy Castor puts faith in Senate GOP to resist completely repealing Dodd-Frank

Last week, the GOP-led House of Representatives voted to repeal many of the stricter regulations enacted after the 2008 financial crisis. It was part of a desire to roll back rules that they say have hurt banks, restricted consumer growth and slowed economic progress.

Democrats disagree, as each one voted against the bill.

“I think the memories of politicians in Washington D. C. are very short,” Tampa Representative Kathy Castor told earlier this week. “I remember sitting across from many of our neighbors who were at risk of losing their homes after they had lost their jobs in the economic collapse of the Great Recession, and now they want to go back to those risky practices where the banks can use their deposits to make risky bets on Wall Street?”

Significant changes included in the Financial Choice Act are major changes such as repealing the trading restrictions, known as the Volcker Rule, and scrapping the liquidation authority in favor of enhanced bankruptcy provisions designed to eliminate any chance taxpayers would be on the hook if a major financial firm collapsed.

“They want to take a lot of the Wall Street cops off of the beat by eliminating the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (a central part of the Dodd-Frank Act), gutting their ability to hold big banks and others in the financial system accountable,” Castor said. “And they want to eliminate the Volcker Rule that says banks have to be more responsible with their money and not use it to go gamble.”

“I think it’s a step backward for the folks across the state of Florida, especially who lost so much in the Great Recession,” the congresswoman added.

The Financial Choice Act isn’t totally terrible, Castor said.

“In fact there are some new provisions in the Republican bill that are helpful to community banks that I support, so I’m hopeful that they will get into negotiations with the U.S. Senate and those provisions will survive to help our community banks,” she says.

Unlike changes to the Affordable Care Act, making most changes to Dodd-Frank would require 60 votes in the Senate. Republicans in the Senate are working on their own financial regulatory bill that could gain the needed Democratic support.

The op-ed Leslie Wimes apparently doesn’t want you to read

Leslie Wimes

Editor’s note: The op-ed below originally appeared on the award-winning blog, The Florida Squeeze. However, its editors took the op-ed down because it said it failed to meet that site’s editorial standards. 

“Although the tone of the piece was intended to be facetious and is based on what many believe to be reality, we were alerted to the possibility it could have been read to assert facts not in evidence impugning Ms. Wimes’ professional integrity, which the Squeeze has no reason to question,” the editors of The Florida Squeeze wrote. 

Regardless of what the editors of The Squeeze think of the op-ed AND WITHOUT the permission of the original author, I am publishing the op-ed in its entirety because, now, the piece in and of itself is newsworthy. The taking down of the op-ed has probably made the piece more interesting than if it had just stayed up.  Readers of The Florida Squeeze, Florida Politics, and all other political websites in Florida deserve to know what is at the core of the controversy. 

We have been told that Leslie Wimes complained enough that she was able to get this piece taken down. We do not have confirmation of this from the editors at The Florida Squeeze. We will let their editorial message speak for itself; they did not think it meant the standards of their site. 

We, like the Florida Squeeze, invite Wimes to write her own op-ed for publishing here, although we’re pretty sure that if she has something to share, she knows how to get the word out.

So, as the saying goes, we’re gonna just leave this right here…

One of the best pieces of advice that I learned from old hands who have held high political office is that you should never assume that you know the motives behind the actions that people take without hard evidence.

This is especially true when your inclination is that those motives are nefarious.

Leslie Wimes is a name I came to know back in 2014, and her name has kept popping up in my efforts to stay current on what is happening in the body politic over the last several years. I have my own opinions about Ms. Wimes, but instead of overtly expressing my opinion(s) I am going to stick to the facts. I am going to lay out her actions.

I am also going to lay out the actions someone would take if they were a Republican plant who had as their main objective undermining Democrats here in Florida. In the end, we will see how her actions line up with what a Republican plant would do so that everyone can judge for themselves.

Leslie Wimes and I were actually on the same side of an election when I first heard her name back in 2014. She was supporting Sen. Nan Rich for Florida Governor, and I was the Data Consultant/Director for the campaign.

I will go to my grave espousing the fact that Sen. Rich would have made the best governor of those running had she been elected, and since the other two main candidates were the current and immediate past GOP Governor of Florida there is no doubt in anyone’s mind that she was the most liberal candidate. That being said, Sen. Rich was the candidate that Republicans most wanted to see face off against sitting Gov. Rick Scott in the General Election.

The GOP elite thought that Sen. Rich would have been much easier to beat than Charlie Crist, and while I disagree with that assessment I can say without equivocation that is what they thought. So, anyone working on behalf of GOP interests would have supported Sen. Rich back in 2014.

Surely among the top goals of Florida Republicans in 2016 was to retain a GOP US Senate seat in the state, elect a Republican President, and undermine the DNC Chair who also happened to be an elected official in South Florida.

Ms. Wimes’ support of Tim Canova and Pam Keith (initially) was among her most notable efforts in the 2016 election cycle. Canova and Keith are both intelligent, impressive, and passionate Democrats who had the ability to strengthen a weak Democratic bench in Florida. Another thing that they both have in common is that they ran for offices that they had little hope of winning, and did so in a way that was divisive.

Republicans who were paying attention were likely giddy at the notion of promising Democrats running in such races. It divided Democrats, ensured that these promising candidates weren’t added to the Democratic bench of elected officials, and had the possibility of disillusioning these candidates and their Democratic supporters.

Ms. Wimes also attacked Hillary Clinton during the General Election last year, which is one of many examples of Ms. Wimes questioning why Black voters overwhelmingly support the Democratic Party. It is a fact that Black voters are the voting bloc that has been the most loyal to the Democratic Party. Do you think that might mean that Machiavellian Republicans have near the top of their wish list either making inroads with Black voters or trying to make them disenchanted with the Democratic Party so that they don’t vote Democratic as much as they have done historically?  I certainly do.

Do you think that might mean that Machiavellian Republicans have near the top of their wish list either making inroads with Black voters or trying to make them disenchanted with the Democratic Party so that they don’t vote Democratic as much as they have done historically?  I certainly do.

Republicans would undoubtedly support such efforts, and any efforts of any plant that they may have, by giving said person a platform from which they can work from. It is noteworthy that Ms. Wimes did a media blitz espousing messages critical of Democrats to GOP-oriented outlets right before the 2016 General Election. Oh, have I mentioned yet that these articles that I keep referencing (which I will post a link to below) by Ms. Wimes are from the Republican-run website Sunshine State News?

The one stance that Ms. Wimes has taken this year that I have the most trouble wrapping my head around being taken by any reasonable Democrat is that Gov. Rick Scott “engages” the Black community more than Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson does.

This was written in a piece attacking Democrats for not celebrating Black History Month posted at 6 a.m. on the second day of Black History Month.

For context, Gov. Rick Scott is widely expected to challenge U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson for his seat next year. Winning that U.S. Senate seat is a top priority for Republicans this cycle. The fact that Gov. Scott has restored the voting rights to fewer people than any of his predecessors, and those 1.7 million Floridians who could get their rights restored skew very heavily toward minority communities, is one of many examples as to why Gov. Scott is no friend to the Black community. Ms. Wimes touting Republican Gov. Rick Scott in such a ridiculous way over a sitting Democratic U.S. Senator is curious.

Also curious is the fact that a candidate that Ms. Wimes has supported got encouragement to run in a Democratic Primary against U.S. Sen. Nelson earlier this year. Nelson is not the only Democratic leader in Florida that Ms. Wimes has gone after recently. Ms. Wimes has gone after new Florida Democratic Party (FDP) President Sally Boynton Brown just in the past week.

One constant complaint from Ms. Wimes is that the FDP and Democratic leaders meddle in party elections and primaries. Ms. Brown pulled out of an event because the person holding the event is a candidate in a contested Democratic primary for US Congress. Ms. Wimes railed against Ms. Brown in a display of sheer hypocrisy by Ms. Wimes. Ms. Brown even provided her phone number to Ms. Wimes and said that Ms. Wimes should be free to call with any questions she may have. Ms. Wimes continued her bizarre attack against Ms. Brown (posted below) in spite of Ms. Brown extending an olive branch.

What is telling about Ms. Wimes’ actions is not only what she does, but also what she doesn’t do.

I have nothing but love and admiration for someone like Susan Smith, even though we don’t always see eye to eye. If someone isn’t in line with Ms. Smith’s values, she isn’t afraid to say so regardless of who that may irritate.

The difference between a great Democrat like Susan Smith and Leslie Wimes is that Susan Smith dedicates her time and her money to numerous Democratic and liberal causes she believes in. There is no doubt that all of Susan Smith’s actions are geared toward making the Florida Democratic Party successful in a way that aligns with her vision for the party. Ms. Wimes has no such record. There has not been a single instance where Ms. Wimes has supported a Democratic nominee or institution in Florida except against other Democrats. I am not saying her record on such matters is light. It is literally nonexistent.

Ms. Wimes has no such record. There has not been a single instance where Ms. Wimes has supported a Democratic nominee or institution in Florida except against other Democrats. I am not saying her record on such matters is light.

It is literally nonexistent.

Here is what would be on my list of how to undermine Democrats as a Machiavellian Republican in Florida: ensure Democrats don’t build a bench by steering good candidates into races they can’t win and hope they get disillusioned when they lose, sow seeds of doubt and/or discontent into the most loyal Democratic voting bloc(s), and attack/try to undermine major Democratic institutions, elected officials and statewide candidates. The list is not mutually exclusive.

I would do all this while making sure that I never actually supported a Democrat over a Republican. If (s)he needed a platform from which to do all this, I would offer television and other media outlets like Sunshine State News to spread messaging beneficial to Republicans.

It is funny how this all seems to overlap perfectly with Ms. Wimes’ actions. Again, I am not saying that she is a GOP plant. Just because something walks like a duck, talks like a duck, and acts like a duck doesn’t mean that it isn’t a unicorn that lays golden eggs. I leave it to you to consider the facts and come to your own conclusion.

Ms. Wimes Sunshine State News article catalog:

Ms. Wimes’ odd Facebook response to Ms. Brown (I blacked out her phone number for privacy purposes):

Sean Phillippi

(Author’s Note: Please feel free to send any comments, suggestions, column ideas or hate mail to


Sean Phillippi is a Democratic strategist and consultant based in Broward County. He has worked for campaigns on the federal, state and local levels, including the Florida Democratic Party and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Sean is the Managing Member of TLE Analytics LLC, the political data and consulting firm he founded in 2012.

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