Charlie Crist – Page 7 – Florida Politics

Charlie Crist, California Republican team up on bill enhancing veteran treatment courts

Charlie Crist is teaming up with California Republican Congressman Jeff Denham on a bipartisan bill to provide federal resources for the establishment of new treatment courts for military veterans in the criminal justice system.

The St. Petersburg Democrat is signing onto Veterans Treatment Court Coordination Act of 2017, which establishes a program within the Department of Justice, in coordination with the Department of Veterans Affairs, to provide grants, training, and technical assistance to help state, local, and tribal governments develop and maintain veterans treatment courts.

Currently, supporting these programs are officials in law enforcement, the judicial system, the legal community, VA officials, veterans service organizations, and other community organizations.

“We owe our veterans the very best care and service, but too often their unique needs and challenges are not met by the traditional criminal justice system,” Crist said. “By bringing federal resources to this issue, we can help more veterans in difficult situations get back on their feet and thrive.”

“With Veterans Day on the horizon, it is important to take this opportunity to not only thank our veteran but also take steps toward giving back to those who have worn the cloth of this nation,” Denham said. “Making it easier to set up veteran treatment courts across the nation will help keep veterans in crisis out of the criminal justice system and give them the help they need and deserve.”

Veterans treatment courts have been in existence for less than a decade. The first was created in 2008 in Buffalo, New York.

Since then, state and local courts throughout Florida and the nation adopted additional courts.

In 2013, Florida’s 6th Judicial Circuit Court created a veterans unit to address the unique needs of those in Pinellas and Pasco counties, which is home to more than 130,000 veterans.

Supreme Court brings new meaning to ‘oral arguments’

What a year we’re having in Florida’s capital city. Just not in a good way.

In April, we had the sad spectacle of Miami Republican Sen. Frank Artiles resigning from the Senate after uttering racial slurs in the direction of Jacksonville Democrat Audrey Gibson. Less than two weeks ago, incoming Senate Democratic Leader Jeff Clemens resigned after admitting an affair with a lobbyist.

Now, we have six women alleging misconduct on the part of powerful Republican Sen. Jack Latvala, a candidate for governor. At the same time, another potentially big story, this one involving the Florida Supreme Court, is almost being ignored.

A few days ago Florida Politics’ Jim Rosica was at the Florida Supreme Court to hear arguments on the case involving whether Gov. Rick Scott has the authority to appoint three justices to the Supreme Court the day before he leaves office in January, 2019.

The lawsuit seeks to force Scott to prove he has the authority to fill the seats currently occupied by Justices Barbara Pariente, R. Fred Lewis and Peggy Quince, who all must retire due to constitutionally-imposed age restrictions. Something weird, or suspicious – choose the word – occurred after oral arguments.

Rosica reported Pariente and Chief Justice Jorge Labarga could be heard on a hot mic, where Labarga says “Izzy Reyes is on there. He’ll listen to me.” Listen to you about what?

“There” is the Supreme Court Judicial Nominating Commission, which recommends names to fill Supreme Court vacancies, from which the governor selects.

Israel U. Reyes from Miami-Dade is one of those members. Before Reyes’ name came up, Labarga can be heard uttering “Panuccio,” and Pariente shortly thereafter was picked up saying “crazy.”

Jesse Panuccio, former head of the Department of Economic Opportunity, is also a JNC member.

Was this discussion about trying to influence the nominating process? It doesn’t look, or sound, good. Jason Unger, Chairman of the JNC, filed a public records request to try and get to the bottom of it.

Another piece of intrigue developed the following day. After the Florida Channel removed the portion that included the exchange from their website, Unger sought, and received the clip.

Jason Gonzalez, a former general counsel for Gov. Charlie Crist, posted the video only to be told to take it down by the Florida Channel. To the surprise of no one who knows Gonzalez, he refused (citing the Fair Use Doctrine) and it is now part of the YouTube universe.

On Wednesday, the Tampa Bay Times reported Scott asked for documents and a copy of the recording. The request was made through his general counsel, Daniel Nordby, who is arguing the appointments case before the Court. Nordby is also a member of the 9-person JNC.

Capital watchers will recall 1998, when the outgoing and incoming governor faced a similar quandary with the impending retirement of Justice Ben Overton. Both Lawton Chiles and Jeb Bush claimed authority to make the appointment, but the two agreed to both interview the candidates and decide on a nominee.

Quince was the choice and now she is part of the other end of the process.

The court will make a decision in the coming weeks, making future Chiles/Bush-type agreements no longer possible or necessary. Before they decide, calls by Republicans for Pariente and Labarga to step aside are likely to grow.

If nothing else, this budding controversy brought an all new meaning to the term “oral arguments.”

Democrats across Florida congratulate Rick Kriseman on his re-election

Florida Democrats are more fired up than ever.

A little more than a month ago, Florida Democrats scored a historic victory in the special election for Senate District 40. In a low turnout election, Democrat Annette Taddeo flipped a competitive state Senate seat from red to blue, defeating the well-funded Republican, Jose Felix Diaz.

Re-electing Mayor Rick Kriseman was a significant victory for Florida Democrats. The Democratic mayor faced a tough challenge from a popular, former two-term Republican mayor—Rick Baker.

Throughout the campaign, Florida Democrats from across the state made thousands of calls and knocked on thousands of doors in St. Pete, encouraging progressives to get out and vote.

The Florida Democratic Party made a significant investment in Kriseman’s re-election campaign, putting considerable resources towards on-the-ground organizers and tools to mobilize voters and boost turnout.

“Democrats just keep winning—grassroots enthusiasm is surging across the state, and Florida Democrats are ready to compete in all 67 counties,” said Florida Democratic Party Chair Stephen Bittel. “When Democrats run on their values, they win. The Florida Democratic Party is ready to flip Florida blue in 2018, and we are committed to winning seats at every level of government—from school board to the United States Senate.”

Here is a compilation of other Democrats reaction to Kriseman’s victory:

Former governor Charlie Crist, via Twitter:

“The people are the boss and they’ve told us they want a vibrant, inclusive, and progressive Sunshine City. Congratulations, Mayor @Kriseman!!!

Gubernatorial candidate and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum:

“Congrats @Kriseman & St. Pete! The politics of division will not fool us again. Florida Democrats have so much to be excited about in 2018.”

Gubernatorial candidate Gwen Graham:

“The people have voted to keep moving St. Pete forward! Mayor Rick Kriseman’s work to tackle big problems with big solutions earned him re-election tonight. I look forward to working with him as a partner in restoring our promise to public schools, defending our clean land and water, and building an economy that works for every Floridian.”

Gubernatorial candidate Phil Levine:

“Congrats to my friend and fellow Mayor on his hard-fought victory tonight. With the election behind him now, Mayor Kriseman can continue his important work on climate change and making sure St. Petersburg’s vision for being a resilient city comes to fruition.”

U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, via Twitter:

Mayor Rick @Kriseman re-elected tonight by #StPetersburg🌞, a community that values everyone & knows their leader does too!

Charlie Crist confident Obamacare will remain intact

Facing a diminished marketing budget, officials responsible for getting people signed up for the Affordable Care Act in the Tampa Bay area received another boost from Congressman Charlie Crist.

“It’s urgent that we get the word out,”  the St. Petersburg Democrat said at a news conference Monday morning in front of the Johnnie Ruth Clarke Community Health Center in South St. Pete.

As Crist (and others in attendance) reiterated, the time to sign up for the ACA this fall was cut in half, from 90 to 45 days, making every day count for health care officials hoping to get the word out.

In addition to a much more constrained time schedule, the Trump administration cut its advertising budget for the programs by 90 percent this year and eliminated 40 percent of federal grant money to enrollment assistance groups.

“We are spending this year re-educating people, making sure people know about the open enrollment period is coming up, but also reminding them that they need to review their plans,” said Jodi Ray, program director for Florida Covering Kids & Families at USF.

As an example, Ray cited her work this past weekend with a client enrolled in a new plan that didn’t include any of her local providers. After working with the woman, she selected a different plan that had all of her providers.

“People still want coverage,” echoed Melanie Hall, executive director of the Family Healthcare Foundation.

Over 66,000 residents in Pinellas County signed up for the ACA last year, with more than 42,000 of those 66,000 receiving financial assistance. Hall said that even though health care premiums on the ACA have gone up across the board, so have the tax credits that can absorb those increases.

Such an enrollment period was never supposed to happen after Donald Trump was elected President a year ago this week. With a GOP Congress, the ACA (aka “Obamacare”) was destined to become history once the Republicans came up with a plan to replace the often criticized health care program passed by Barack Obama and congressional Democrats seven years ago.

But twice the Republicans have struck out in attempting to repeal and replace the ACA, and Crist said he’s fairly confident that the law will still be in place a year from now when the 2018 midterm congressional elections are held.

“The opposition tried to get rid of it twice already and failed so, so I think that it’s in good shape,” Crist said. He added that the law could be changed somewhat over the course of the next year, but he believes the foundation will stay in place.

“Make no mistake, there is a fight in Washington D.C. about the future of health care,” said St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman.

The mayor, facing a reelection election tomorrow that is too close to call, used the opportunity to tout his Healthy St. Pete initiative, which has been led by Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin.

Last week, Tampa Democratic Rep. Kathy Castor held her own news conference with local health care officials touting the beginning of the enrollment period.

There currently is a bill in the Senate that has been proposed by Republican Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Democrat Patty Murray of Washington state to restore subsidies, expand outreach efforts for the health insurance marketplaces, and give states more flexibility to implement their health care goals while continuing to protect Americans with pre-existing conditions.

Tampa attorney argues against proposed voter restoration amendment

A proposed constitutional amendment that seeks to automatically restore some felons’ voting rights appears more likely than ever to come before Florida voters next year.

But ballot access is only one step toward becoming law.

The amendment must pass with 60 percent of voters next November — no sure thing since it will likely face a well-financed opposition campaign.

Offering a flavor of that counter-argument is Richard Harrison, executive director of Floridians for a Sensible Voting Rights Policy, a nonprofit formed to defeat the constitutional amendment.

The proposal would not apply to murderers or sexual felons, Harrison explained at Cafe Con Tampa the Oxford Exchange in Tampa Friday morning. He noted that it leaves far too many other violent felons eligible to get voting rights back.

“It doesn’t make sense in our view to treat the entire spectrum of felonies as though they are all the same,” the Tampa attorney told an audience of dozens of mostly supporters of the proposed amendment.

Florida is one of three states that permanently revoke civil rights of anyone convicted of a felony, a system that has disenfranchised an estimated 1.6 million people. Even after felons complete their sentences, pay their fines and serve probation, they must wait at least five years to ask the state to restore their rights, which can take a decade or more.

During his tenure as governor between 2007-2011, Charlie Crist made it easier for former felons to regain their rights, restoring the ability to vote to more than 155,000 felons. But in 2011, Rick Scott reversed that change, mandating a waiting period before felons could even apply for clemency. Fewer than 3,000 people have regained voting rights since Scott took office.

Harrison mocked supporters who cite petty crimes that qualify as felonies in Florida as an argument to change the current law. He said those advocates don’t want to talk about ex-felons who abuse their wives or shoot store clerks.

“These are serious, serious crimes, and they are not the same as mylar balloons or lobster traps,” he said. “What’s wrong with this amendment is that it makes no distinction.”

For years, proponents have argued that the restoration of voting rights offers a second chance to a man or woman who previously erred but paid their debt to society.

That’s not good enough for Harrison, who says if it’s only about second chances, the amendment should be limited to first-time offenders, which isn’t in the language of the proposed amendment.

Harrison did concede there should be a faster track for nonviolent first offenders. He also said restoration of voting rights should be more difficult for repeat violent offenders.

With the vast majority of the country granting ex-felons the automatic right to vote after they have completed their sentences, South Tampa resident Jen McDonald offered to Harrison the example of the state of Vermont, which along with Maine, is on the complete opposite side of the argument as they allow prisoners to cast a ballot.

Harrison replied that with a population that he said was 98 percent white, he was “confident” that the Green Mountain State was not representative of Florida or much of the rest of the nation.

It was the first time race entered into this conversation, but it was always a part of a larger dialogue on the issue.

The perception has always been that the majority of ex-felons are black, and thus more likely to vote Democratic at the polls. However, the Brennan Center for Justice puts the number of ex-felons in Florida who are black at approximately 20 percent of the population.

“What problem are you solving by resisting this change?” asked Democratic Hillsborough County Commission candidate Kimberly Overman.

Harrison immediately responded by citing the law was written in the 19th century (“it wasn’t my idea”) and that the 1968 Constitutional Revision Commission failed to change it when they had the chance.

“I don’t think felons oughta be allowed to vote, the same way I don’t think felons ought to be able to own a gun or become lawyers or handle your money or give you investment advice,” he said, earning more catcalls from the audience, compelling moderator Del Acosta to remind the crowd that “he’s giving his opinion.”

East Tampa businesswoman and activist Dianne Hart disputed Harrison’s contention that first-time offenders don’t go directly to prison. She said she knows people who have been out of prison for decades and still don’t have their rights restored.

“There’s something wrong with this system,” Hart said, eliciting applause.

A few audience members preferred giving statements rather than posing questions.

“I’m here to say to you very politely, I believe in a fair fight, but you’re not going to win it,” declared Donna Davis, a Black Lives Matter activist.

The discussion comes during a time when advocates for the amendment are confident that the measure will get a million signatures by the end of the year.

The Florida Division of Elections website currently shows that the “The Voting Restoration Amendment,” has 301,064 verified signatures.

This week, Desmond Meade, president of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, told Florida Politics that his group has hundreds of thousands more signatures waiting to be verified, and more than 750,000 signatures in hand.

Initiatives need 766,200 valid signatures by February 1, 2018, for ballot placement.

Voting restoration amendment has 750,000 signatures

The main backer of a proposed constitutional amendment that would automatically restore some felons’ voting rights after they complete their sentences says his group now has collected over 750,000 signatures.

Desmond Meade, president of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, also said on Wednesday that he’s confident the amendment will have a million signatures by year’s end.

“The needle is moving,” he said in a phone interview.

The Florida Division of Elections website showed as of the end of Wednesday that the citizen ballot initiative, known as “The Voting Restoration Amendment,” has 301,064 verified signatures.

Initiatives need 766,200 valid signatures for ballot placement. Signatures must be spread across Florida’s 27 congressional districts, with the total number due pegged to voter turnout in the most recent presidential election.

According to the ballot summary, “This amendment restores the voting rights of Floridians with felony convictions after they complete all terms of their sentence including parole or probation.

“The amendment would not apply to those convicted of murder or sexual offenses, who would continue to be permanently barred from voting unless the Governor and Cabinet vote to restore their voting rights on a case by case basis.”

Former state Senate Democratic Leaders Arthenia Joyner of Tampa and Chris Smith of Fort Lauderdale separately filed the proposal with the Constitution Revision Commission, which has the power to put it directly on the ballot.

During his term as Florida governor, then-Republican Charlie Crist worked with Cabinet members Alex Sink and Charles Bronson to push through restoration of rights for more than 150,000 non-violent felons. That process was quickly halted by Gov. Rick Scott when he took office in 2011.

Current law requires Florida convicts to wait years after they complete their sentences to apply for rights restoration through the Board of Executive Clemency, made up of Scott and members of the Cabinet.

• Additional reporting by Peter Schorsch •


Pasco Superintendent Kurt Browning supporting Ardian Zika in HD 37

Pasco Schools Superintendent Kurt Browning is the latest leading county Republican name to back Ardian Zika‘s candidacy for the House District 37 seat next year.

“Ardian Zika will fight for Florida students in Tallahassee,” Browning said Monday in a statement from the Zika campaign. “With five young children, Ardian knows and understands firsthand the importance of providing a high-quality education for each and every child.”

Browning, who served as Florida secretary of state under Gov. Charlie Crist, also referenced Zika’s service on the Pasco Education Foundation board of directors and Pasco-Hernando State College board of trustees as factors giving him a “deep understanding” of the needs and opportunities in the state’s education system.

The 37-year-old Zika is far and away the GOP establishment’s pick to succeed Richard Corcoran in the Pasco-area House seat next year when the speaker of the House’s term ends due to term limits.

“I am humbled to have received Pasco Schools Superintendent Kurt Browning’s endorsement,” said Zika. “Superintendent Browning’s commitment to ensuring a high-quality education for each and every Pasco student is evident. His commitment to helping Pasco residents achieve their full potential by embracing workforce and vocational education is vital to ensuring economic opportunity for each Pasco family.”

“I am grateful for Superintendent Browning’s service to our community and deeply appreciate his endorsement and support.”

Julian Castro ‘absolutely not’ closing the door on 2020 plans

 A little more than a year after he didn’t become Hillary Clinton‘s running mate, Julian Castro remains a hot political entity.

The former San Antonio Mayor and Barack Obama‘s Housing and Urban Development Secretary told reporters in South St. Petersburg Friday that his only immediate political plans are helping out as many good Democrats as possible for the 2018 midterm elections.

Castro is getting a head start, though, coming to town to help St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman‘s re-election bid.

“It’s not too often that you have a mayor who has gotten as many things done as Mayor Kriseman has and created greater opportunities for the city,” Castro said. “So, when they called I was glad to come out and help.”

“They” would be the Democratic National Committee.

DNC Chair Tom Perez said Friday that the national party cares very much about Kriseman’s battle with former two-term Mayor Rick Baker, a Republican.

“The new DNC is about electing Democrats from the school board to the Oval Office, so we are doubling-down on our commitment to re-elect Mayor Rick Kriseman and electing Democrats up and down the ticket,” Perez said.

“St. Petersburg deserves the proven leadership of Mayor Kriseman, who will continue to tackle the big challenges facing Floridians and who has worked to reduce poverty and provide [an] opportunity to every citizen of St. Pete,” Perez continued. “Unlike Rick Baker, there’s no one Mayor Kriseman won’t stand up to — including Rick Scott and Donald Trump.

Democrats in Texas had recruited him to consider a run against Ted Cruz in the Senate or Greg Abbott for governor, but Castro said he turned those opportunities down. Instead, he is focusing on writing a book and teaching at the University of Texas LBJ School of Public Affairs.

“I’m going to be out there basically helping great candidates and leaders in different parts of the country, and then we’ll see after that,” Castro said, adding that he is definitely considering a 2020 White House run.

“I’ve said very clearly I’m not going to take that off the table,” he said.

With Latinos becoming a larger portion of the U.S. population, the Mexican-American Castro emerged as a serious vice presidential possibility in 2016; he also could be a contender for either side of a Democratic ticket in 2020.

Castro and Kriseman (joined by Florida Democratic Party Chair Stephen Bittel) visited the offices of the Pinellas Ex-offender Re-entry Coalition (PERC) 16th Street South, part of the Southside CRA. Afterward, he joined Congressman Charlie Crist for a private fundraiser for Kriseman.

On Saturday, Castro will appear in Orlando as the lunchtime speaker at the Florida Democratic Party statewide conference.

(Photo by Kim DeFalco).

Kathy Castor optimistic about bipartisan health care proposal

A potential breakthrough in health care legislation broke out this week with the announcement of a bipartisan deal in the Senate proposed by Tennessee Republican Lamar Alexander and Washington Democrat Patty Murray.

The deal would include funding through 2019 for the Affordable Care Act’s cost-sharing program, which President Donald Trump cut last week. It would allow states to use existing Obamacare waivers to approve insurance plans with “comparable affordability” to Obamacare plans. And it would not allow states to duck the law’s minimum requirements for what a health insurance plan must cover.

The House of Representatives are not in Washington this week. Tampa Democrat Kathy Castor says that it would behoove her colleagues on both sides of the aisle to speak with the public on what they think of the proposal.

“I think it would be fair to allow people to go through it and understand what it means,” she said Wednesday in Tampa. “I also think it’s important to hear from folks at home, doctors, hospitals, a lot of our neighbors. I’m going to check in with our state insurance commissioner, because here we are and open enrollment is going to start quite soon and people need to know is it going to be affordable for me and my family.”

Open enrollment for the Affordable Care Act is scheduled to start November 1 and run through December 15. Those “navigators” will attempt to sign up as many people as they can, despite the fact that the Trump administration is reducing their funding, some by as much as 90 percent.

The Alexander-Murray proposal comes a week after Trump finally followed through with his months long threat to yank the funding for subsidies to insurance companies as part of the ACA. Those subsides reduced deductibles and co-payments for low-income Obamacare enrollees. Analysts say the move did not have that significant an impact since many insurers already raised their rates in anticipation of the move. Regulators in several states that didn’t price in the funding loss announced rate hikes soon after the president’s announcement last week. Insurers must continue to offer the cost-sharing subsidies since they are required by law.

Castor says it’s important to let the public “digest the details.”

“We should be cheering on a bipartisan effort to help fix things for families,” she said. “If this bill will really lower costs and provide affordable care to our neighbors, then we need to pass it and the leadership needs to allow a vote.”

Meanwhile on the other side of Tampa Bay, Pinellas County Democratic Representative Charlie Crist is calling on his constituents to sign a petition calling on congressional leaders to demand a vote on the Alexander/Murray proposal.

Charlie Crist

Charlie Crist adds $353K during Q3 to re-election fund

Democrat Charlie Crist raised $353,473 during the third quarter of 2017, giving him more than $1.4 million cash on hand for his re-election campaign.

While still impressive, the pace is slowing down for one of Florida’s most prodigious fundraisers. The former governor raised a whopping $720,000 during the first quarter of the year, and followed up with more than $550,000 in the second quarter.

With more than a year before the 2018 midterm elections, Crist has yet to face an announced challenger in 2018.

Republican David Jolly could be that challenger.

Jolly has said that he will announce early next year if he will run again against Crist, who defeated him 52 to 48 percent last November.

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