Darren Soto Archives - Florida Politics

Leadership opportunities emerging for Democrat members of Florida’s congressional delegation

The congressional private power dancing has begun.

Where will U.S. Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Darren Soto, Ted Deutch, Charlie Crist, Alcee Hastings, Stephanie Murphy, and Florida’s other Democrats wind up sitting now that their party is taking power?

Quietly, now and over the next few weeks, Florida’s Democratic congressional members are declaring and testing their ambitions under the Democratic-controlled 116th Congress. It’s already time to start seeking, angling for, and pursuing new committee assignments, and some of the jockeying has begun as Democrats haven’t seen since 2008.

In the 115th, the last under Republican control, Florida Republicans weren’t exactly power players. None chaired any full House committees, and only a handful were sprinkled into major committees such as Ways and Means, Rules, Budget, or Appropriations. And their moment has closed now.

That dearth of Florida power in Congress might not change too much with the Democrats, as only one Florida member is the ranking members on any of the 21 U.S. House Committees, and not a powerful committee either.

But a handful of Florida Democrats are on powerful and high-profile committees, notably Wasserman Schultz on both the Appropriations and Budget committees, and Crist on the Financial Services Committee, and now they’ll have far more opportunity to press their wills.

Committee appointments won’t come until January, after the Democrats sort out who their House Speaker will be, whether that’s Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi or some still-unidentified champion of the insurgency against her. Naturally, she’ll have her say. Officially, the appointments will be recommended by a Democratic Caucus steering committee and voted on by the full caucus.

So now’s the time members start making their interests known, lobbying each other, and cutting deals with Pelosi and others, often quietly. There is a bit of inner-state coordination, so that Florida’s delegation is trying to help shape opportunities for its members, to better the chances that Florida gets representation wherever is best for the state. Some of the moves are being discussed.

For example, Soto of Kissimmee, with deep enviornmental interests, reportedly is looking at the Energy and Commerce Committee; and Murphy of Winter Park, who has been outspoken about House reform, is being talked about as a possible candidate for the powerful Ways and Means Committee.

Only a handful are sure things or close to it.

Deutch of Boca Raton is ranking member of the House Ethics Committee. So the chair is if he wants it.

Hastings of Miramar is the senior Democrat on the House Rules Committee, though technically he’s not the ranking member. If he wants, Hastings could put up a compelling case to chair that committee instead of Ranking Member James McGovern of Massachusetts.

Then there are subcommittees.

Deutch also is ranking member on the Middle East and North Africa Subcommittee of the Foreign Affairs Committee; U.S. Rep. Al Lawson of Tallahassee is ranking member of the Small Business Committee’s Health and Technology Subcommittee; Murphy is ranking member of the Small Business Committee’s Contracting and Workforce Subcommittee; and Hastings is ranking member of the Rules Committee’s Legislative and Budget Process Subcommittee.

But those subcommittees are at high risk of being totally reorganized, discarded, replaced, or a least redefined. And the new appointments of members pick their chairs from among themselves. So ranking membership is no assurance to a promotion.

Not only is it a complex campaign to win the big seats, it’s also sometimes a tough personal choice.

The Ways and Means Committee is an exclusive committee. So if Murphy were to get a seat there, that would mean she’d have to give up her cherished seats on the Armed Services and Small Business committees. It’s a tough choice, but it’s a big step up.

The Energy and Commerce Committee also is an exclusive committee. So if Soto were to get that appointment, he’d have to leave the Agriculture and Natural Resources committees he sits on now. It also means losing his seat on the Naural Resources’ Indian, Insular and Alaska Native Affairs Subcommittee, which provides him oversight of the federal government’s role in Puerto Rico, a big deal back in Florida’s 9th Congressional District.

Among other current key committee assignments for Democrats, where they can expect at least to have power over legislation before them:

U.S. Rep. Val Demings of Orlando, the city’s former police chief, already has natural fits on the House Judiciary and Homeland Security committees. She may be advised to build her natural power there.

Crist also is on the Financial Services Committee’s Oversight and Investigation Subcommittee, which could give him a ringside seat if that committee launches an investigation into the White House’s and President Donald Trump‘s potential involvements in the Russia elections meddling scandal.

Crist also is the only Democrat who is a member of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, and its Space Subcommittee, key seats in addressing federal policy and financial support for Kennedy Space Center. There are three Florida Republicans on that committee, U.S. Reps. Neal Dunn of Panama City, Bill Posey of Rockledge and Dan Webster of Clermont, but probably not for long. So Florida’s delegation may be due for sending another Democrat to oversee space policy.

U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor of Tampa is on the Energy and Commerce Committee, an exclusive and desirable committee.

U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel of West Palm Beach is on the Foreign Affairs Committee with Murphy, as well as the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, which has the potential to rain dollars back home.

Deutch also is on the Judiciary and Foreign Affairs committees, two plum assignments.

Wasserman Schultz of Weston is nowhere near a ranking member on either the Budget or Appropriations committees, but she’s got clout, especially with a close philosophical relationship with Pelosi. So could expect to be a power on both of those boards.

U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson of Miami Gardens is on the Education and Workforce Committee and the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, also two enviable seats.

Florida’s two new Democratic congresswomen, Debbie Mucarsel-Powell and Donna Shalala, will have to wait until all the returning Democrats finish their games of musical seats before they’ll be offered their committee assignments.

Stephanie Murphy and Darren Soto demand Nancy Pelosi support reform package

Democratic U.S. Reps. Stephanie Murphy and Darren Soto didn’t waste any time flexing muscles of their centrist sides, signing a letter Tuesday to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi outlining a number of demands for House rules changes if Pelosi wants their votes for House Speaker.

The two Central Florida lawmakers, members of the bipartisan “Problem Solvers” caucus, joined seven other Democrats in sending a letter to Pelosi stating that they could not support any candidate for House Speaker who does not support the “Break the Gridlock” package the caucus proposed over the summer. They asked Pelosi for written commitments by Friday.

“We believe so strongly in these principals that many of us, this summer, publicly committed only to vote for a candidate for Speaker who embraces the spirit, direction, and specific language of these proposals,” the letter reminds Pelosi.

“Given our rapidly approaching caucus meeting after Thanksgiving, and your familiarity with our proposal, we are eager to have your public commitment to the package of reforms by Friday, Nov. 16,” the letter states.

The 116th Congress convening in January will see the Democrats controlling the House of Representatives. Pelosi is in line to take over as Speaker, provided insurgencies do not derail her bid.

Soto, of Celebration, and Murphy, of Winter Park, are the only Florida members of Congress to sign the letter.

The Break the Gridlock package was first drafted and published in June, includes five goals and 12 specific proposals that would reduce the powers of the Speaker and committee chairs to allow for more power for rank-and-file members of Congress from either party. Hialeah’s Republican U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo also signed, but he lost last week and won’t be returning.

The Problem Solvers’ caucus and its Break the Gridlock package probably aren’t Peloisi’s biggest concern in her campaign to be brought back as House Speaker, according to a Washington Post story Tuesday, which  points out she faces a much bigger insurgency among new Democratic lawmakers. On the other hand, neither group is a real issue at the moment, as no other Democratic House member has yet announced a candidacy for Speaker. Pelosi is unopposed for the moment.

Murphy was upfront about her commitment to the Break the Gridlock package during her re-election campaign. When pressed at a debate in October if she would support Pelosi, she replied, no, not unless Pelosi formally backs the package.

The Break the Gridlock package also has been pursued by an affiliated bipartisan political action committeeNo Labels, which spent $153,000 in October to back Murphy’s re-election campaign.

Darren Soto coasts to easy re-election in CD 9

Democratic U.S. Rep. Darren Soto won himself a second term as the only Puerto Rican member of Congress from Florida, representing Florida’s most Puerto-Rican district.

Soto, of Celebration defeated Republican businessman Wayne Liebnitzky Tuesday in a rematch of the election that sent Soto to Congress in 2018.This time Soto won 58 percent to 42 percent, running up big vote totals in Orange and Osceola counties, while Liebnitzky won by a slight margin in Polk County.

Soto represents a district that sprawls across all of Osceola County and much of south Orange and east Polk counties, taking in a number of communities that have been rapidly growing, and particularly growing with Puerto Rican migrants in the two years since he first took office.

Liebnitzky largely campaigned on issues tied to support of President Donald Trump and his economic policies, particularly of tax cuts and free enterprise. However, Soto pushed a mixture of moderate Democratic positions on economic issues with calls for vigorous environmental protection policies and a strong stand on gun law reforms.

Demings Soto Carlson

Kristen Carlson gets backup from Val Demings, Darren Soto

Democratic members of Congress and a national women’s political group began a heavy push toward Election Day for Lakeland attorney Kristen Carlson in her campaign for Florida’s 15th Congressional District.

U.S. Reps. Val Demings, and Darren Soto and Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez a Democrat from New York and the first Puerto Rican woman to be elected to Congress, were at Carlson headquarters in Lakeland on Saturday to speak with an army of volunteers prior to door to door canvassing.

“They are graciously helping fire up the volunteers,” Carlson said. “We’ve been canvassing all weekend and plan to go Sunday as well.“

The main theme for the volunteers as for much of the Democratic campaign across the nation are the three issues they believe will be threatened by Republicans in the new Congress to be seated in January: Medicare Social Security and Health care expansion.

Volunteers fanned out in Polk, Hillsborough and Lake counties within the district to spread the word and push for their candidate.

“This race is a nail biter. As a former prosecutor and general counsel for the Florida Citrus Commission she is a unifier at a time when it is crucial,” Soto said. “We are all concerned with the GOP’s plans to cut Medicare and Social Security after the passage of the tax cut this year.”

Demmings, who like Soto, represents a portion of Orange County, said Carlson is “needed for more fight for the people’s causes.”

Also on Saturday, EMILY’S List, an organization dedicated to elected more women to office, which recruited and endorsed Carlson, slammed Republican candidate for the post, Ross Spano of Dover, after a Tampa Bay Times article reported he had failed to file a financial disclosure form when entering the race, as required by federal election law.

The race for Congressional District 15, which has been represented by a Republican member of Congress for decades, has been ruled as a “toss up” by the Cook Political Report and FiveThirtyEight.

Latina actresses joining R. Jai Gillum for Kissimmee rally Sunday

Eva Longoria Bastón and America Ferrera will be among celebrity Latinas and others supporting the Andrew Gillum‘s Democratic gubernatorial campaign at a rally with R. Jai Gillum in Kissimmee Sunday morning.

The Latino Victory Fund, a national political committee funded by George Soros, announced it is arranging an early-vote rally at the 65th Infantry Veterans Park, in the heavily-Puerto Rican Buenaventura Lakes community in north Kissimmee. The park is named for the famed U.S. Army regiment from Puerto Rico known as “The Borinqueneers”.

Gillum’s wife R. Jai Gillum will headline, joined on stage by the actresses Longoria, Ferrara, Rosario DawsonGina Rodriguez, and Zoe Saldaña, and actor Frankie Negrón, and celebrity archetect Henry R. Muñoz III, who co-founded Latino Victory Fund.

Also joining them will be Democratic U.S. Rep. Darren Soto of Celebration and Democratic U.S. Rep. Nydia Velazquez of New York.

The rally comes two days before election day, when Gillum faces Republican gubernatorial nominee Ron DeSantis and Soto faces Republican congressional nominee Wayne Liebnitzky in Florida’s 9th Congressional District, which represents Kissimmee.

Members of the public wishing to attend have to RSVP here to attend the “Fiesta y Vota” event, which is set to start at 9:30 a.m. and run through noon Sunday.

Latino Victory Fund spent more than $500,000 to campaign for Soto this summer and autumn.

Jesse Jackson, Florida lawmakers support ‘crime victims’ bill of rights’

A new round of Florida lawmakers gave their endorsement for Amendment 6 on Tuesday, off the heels of civil-rights legend Jesse Jackson Sr. stating his support for the measure.

The amendment aims to increase rights for crime victims in the state of Florida. It was modeled after “Marsy’s Law.”

Advocates say Amendment 6 will help victims be more informed of the progression of the legal case against the defendant. For instance, victims would be able to give an impact statement during a trial, or would receive notification that an attacker was released from prison.

Critics where it is already law counter that the measure has “increased government costs beyond what they had expected, and police complained it had inhibited their ability to investigate crimes.”

Marsy’s Law for Florida, a group advocating for the amendment’s passage, announced a group of former and current representatives who are voicing their support. They are:

— Republican U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis of Florida’s 12th Congressional District

— Republican U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo of Florida’s 26th

— Democratic U.S. Rep. Al Lawson of Florida’s 5th

— Republican U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney of Florida’s 17th

— Republican U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida’s 27th

— Republican U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross of Florida’s 15th

— Democratic U.S. Rep. Darren Soto of Florida’s 9th

— Republican U.S. Rep. Ted Yoho of Florida’s 3rd

— Former U.S. Rep. and Republican gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis

The list of lawmakers join previous officials who have advocated for the amendment’s approval, including state Sens. Lauren Book of Plantation and Darryl Rouson of St. Petersburg, both Democrats, and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum, the current mayor of Tallahassee.

Jackson gave a shout-out to Gillum on Twitter for his work on the subject: “Crime victims and their families deserve equal rights,” Jackson wrote.

“If you believe in equal rights, join Mayor Gillum and support Amendment 6 in November!”

“We appreciate the support of these Florida Congressional members who are standing with the people of their districts who have had their lives forever altered by crime,” said Greg Ungru, state director for Marsy’s Law for Florida.

“With their advocacy, we further strengthen our efforts to communicate to voters why Florida needs clear, enforceable rights in our state’s most powerful legal document.”

The group held an early voting rally on Monday featuring state Book and former Miami Heat player Shane Battier to convince voters to support the amendment.

Darren Soto coasts into October with $122,000 in the bank

Fresh off a bruising Democratic primary victory in his re-election campaign, U.S. Rep. Darren Soto entered the homestretch of the general election campaign with just $122,000 left in his campaign coffers, less than most Florida House incumbents have for their state-district campaigns.

Soto’s campaign cash balance on Oct. 1 is the result of a high-spending primary fight to stop his predecessor former U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson‘s challenge for the Florida’s 9th Congressional District seat, and a lack-luster fundraising effort since the Aug. 8 pre-primary reports were posted with the Federal Election Commission.

His opponent, Republican St. Cloud businessman Wayne Liebnitzky, has never been very adept at campaign fundraising, yet Liebnitzky’s $44,000 campaign cash-on-hand balance was within striking distance of Soto’s at the end of the third quarter of 2018.

CD 9 covers Osceola County, much of south Orange County, and much of east Polk County.

Soto’s campaign raised $245,000 in August in September, with almost two-thirds of that coming from political action contributions to his campaign. It also spent $374,000 during the same seven-week period. Overall, the campaign had raised about $1.4 million and spent about $1.3 million.

Liebnitzky meanwhile raised about $27,000 for his campaign during the period ending Sept. 30 and spent about $11,000. Overall, he’s raised about $63,000 in his rematch of the 2016 election, and spent about $19,000.

Soto’s Democratic primary campaign was aided in large part by more than $1.2 million in outside advertising from groups wanting to see him stop Grayson. So far, they’ve provided little for his general election. So far, the only outside spending in the race has been from Boricua Vota, a dark-money political action committee that has spent $10,000 on Spanish-language radio advertising supporting Soto in October.

New CD 9 poll: Darren Soto holds eight-point lead over Wayne Liebnitzky

Democratic incumbent U.S. Rep. Darren Soto may be in a tighter race than many expect with Republican challenger Wayne Liebnitzky in Florida’s 9th Congressional District.

A new SurveyUSA poll of 535 likely voters in the district, commissioned by Orlando cable outlet Spectrum News 13gives Soto 48 percent and Liebnitzky 40 percent in their rematch. In 2016, Soto won by a much larger margin.

According to the polling memo, there were stark divisions by gender and race. Soto leads among women by 30 points and Liebnitzky among men by 19 points. Liebnitzky also has a narrow lead among white voters, but Soto leads by 21 points among Hispanics and by 29 points among African-Americans.

Soto also has a strong advantage among independents, Survey USA notes.

CD 9 covers Osceola, parts of east Polk and south Orange counties.

Conducted Oct. 2 through Sunday, the poll used a mix of robotic and live interviewer calls to 831 respondents, which was then narrowed down to likely voters. The margin of error is +/- 6.4 percent.

Liebnitzky, who has maintained that he has been within striking distance of the incumbent even though he has very little campaign money compared to Soto. With the poll, he said, the cat is out of the bag.

“Darren went to Washington and is not working for the people in his district; the polls show that,” Liebnitzky said.

Soto indicated it makes little difference to him.

“We take every race seriously regardless of the polls,” Soto said in a statement from his campaign. “Our campaign is knocking on thousands of doors and making thousands of phone calls to get out the vote. And we will keep up the fight through Election Day!”

Soto won the 2016 election with 57.5 percent to Liebnitzky’s 42.5 percent.

Florida congressional delegation seeks state of emergency

Florida’s U.S. Sens. Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio and 13 members of Florida’s congressional delegation have formally asked the White House to declare a pre-landfall state of emergency for Florida as Hurricane Michael looms.

The letter to President Donald Trump declares their “full support” for the emergency declaration sought by Gov. Rick Scott, stressing the need for early preparations. Such a declaration would authorize mobilization of federal resources immediately.

“We write in full support of Florida’s request for a pre-landfall emergency declaration in anticipation of Hurricane Michael. Based on the current forecast, this hurricane has the potential to severely impact communities across northern Florida and down the coast. We urge you to immediately approve this request to ensure that all federal resources are made available,” the letter declares.

In addition to Democrat Nelson and Republican Rubio the letter was signed by Republican U.S. Reps. Vern Buchanan, Carlos Curbelo, Neal Dunn, Matt GaetzIleana Ros-Lehtinen, and Dennis Ross, and by Democratic U.S. Reps. Kathy Castor, Val Demings, Ted Deutch, Alcee Hastings, Al Lawson, Stephanie Murphy, and Darren Soto.

“Since 2016, Florida has been hit by Hurricanes Hermine, Matthew, Irma, and Nate. While Floridians are still in the process of recovering from previous storms, federal resources are crucial to ensuring a successful response to Hurricane Michael,” the letter states. “Preparation has been shown to be key in reducing the potential for loss of life and destruction of property. As such, we strongly urge you to consider all of the circumstances referenced in our Governor’s request, and approve this pre-landfall emergency declaration that will provide the assistance necessary to ensure the safety of Floridians.”

Little outside interest yet in Central Florida congressional races

Outside money is barely trickling into Central Florida’s congressional races, and national parties aren’t showing any inclination to help state Rep. Mike Miller’s bid to unseat Democratic U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy — or to help her keep it.

Four other contests are also seeing no signs of national party interest.

The Florida 7th Congressional District race was one of the most hotly contested in the country for the national parties and their political action committee surrogates in the last election. They poured nearly $8 million into the 2016 contest when Murphy stunned 12-term Republican U.S. Rep. John Mica in the district Republicans once considered safe for them.

This year Miller vowed to take it back, but so far, at least through Oct. 1 in Federal Election Commission reports on independent expenditures from outside groups, he’s going it pretty much alone. And now the district has a slight Democratic lean in voter registration, so it’s no longer easy for Republicans.

If independent expenditure investments from outside groups, particularly the parties’ congressional committee political action committees, indicate which seats the national parties fear they might lose or think they might steal in the Nov. 6 election, then none in Central Florida are qualifying.

A group supporting Miller called Central Florida Solutions last week bought $20,000 worth of digital advertising. Meanwhile, the bipartisan moderate politics group No Labels Action has spent $113,000 on digital and mail advertising for Murphy. Democratic groups don’t yet see any reason to spend in CD 7, and national Republican groups haven’t done so either. No national party money has shown up in the race.

Through this time in 2016, national Democratic groups already had poured their first $1 million into the CD 7 race. By the time it was over, Democratic groups such as the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee had spent more than $6 million to aid Murphy, and Republican groups such as the National Republican Congressional Committee had spent nearly $2 million to help Mica.

Yet that contest is at least drawing a little outside money from groups that believe they could have some impact.

In Florida’s 8th Congressional District, where Republican U.S. Rep. Bill Posey faces a Democrat, Sanjay Patel; in Florida’s 9th Congressional District, where Democratic U.S. Rep. Darren Soto is facing Republican Wayne Liebnitzky; and in Florida’s 11th Congressional District, where Republican U.S. Rep. Dan Webster faces Democrat Dana Cottrell, no outside groups have spent a dime through Oct. 1.

The most interest might yet come in Florida’s 6th Congressional District, where Democrat Nancy Soderberg and Republican Michael Waltz are battling for the open seat that Republican Ron DeSantis left to run for Governor. It’s a district Republicans have dominated and where they still have a four-point lead in voter registration. But Soderberg is putting up a strong effort to flip it. Some outside money has begun to trickle in to help Waltz.

As with Murphy’s benefactor, Waltz’s supporter is a bipartisan group, the With Honor Fund, which backs veterans of either party seeking office. In late September that group spent $143,000 on digital advertising to support Waltz, the retired U.S. Army Green Beret lieutenant colonel who served several tours in Afghanistan. Earlier, With Honor Fund spent more than $700,000 to help Waltz win the highly contested primary against two other Republicans.

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