Darren Soto – Florida Politics

Social Security Group endorses Darren Soto in for re-election

On Thursday, the National Committee to Preserve Social Security & Medicare endorsed Democratic U.S. Rep. Darren Soto for re-election in Florida’s 9th Congressional District.

“You are a key ally in the effort to serve the needs of seniors and their families. You appreciate that Social Security benefits are modest, on average only $15,456 annually and even lower for women who most often have their working careers interrupted for family caregiving,” committee president Max Richtman said in an endorsement letter.

Richtman later wrote: “There is no membership in the nation more aware or active politically than the men and women who proudly are associated with the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare. National Committee members know they can continue to count on you in the United States House of Representatives!”

Soto is currently in his first term representing CD 9, which covers south-central Orange, Osceola and eastern Polk counties. He faces former U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson in what’s shaping up to be a contentious Democratic primary.

From day one, Soto had to fend off attacks from the “congressman with guts,” who is attempting to paint him as an “entirely ineffective” lawmaker while touting himself as a “progressive warrior” and an effective legislator during his three terms in Congress.

Soto has castigated Grayson as a “bully” for his brash and often acerbic style — Grayson, after all, is the Congressman who made a name for himself by saying the Republican health care plan was “Don’t get sick,” and if you do, “die quickly.”

Many groups, including the Human Rights Campaign and Planned Parenthood, have opted to back Soto over Grayson in the primary race, though Grayson this week landed an endorsement from Our Revolution Orlando, a local chapter of Our Revolution, a national group that traces its roots to Democratic U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign operation.

Grayson and Soto have agreed to two debates, the first on Aug. 2 and the second on Aug. 8. The primary election is Aug. 28.

Darren Soto, Alan Grayson set for two CD 9 debates

Democratic U.S. Rep. Darren Soto and former U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, Soto’s predecessor and challenger this year, have agreed on two debates and two joint forums in the weeks leading to the Aug. 28 Democratic primary.

Soto’s campaign announced Tuesday it was committing to a Tiger Bay Club of Central Florida Aug. 2 debate and a Spectrum News 13 Aug. 8 debate. The Tiger Bay forum, open only to members of the club, is a noon event. The Spectrum forum is set for 7 p.m. and would broadcast on that cable TV company’s 24-hour news channel.

Also, Soto’s campaign said he would be participating in the upcoming July 16 Polk County Progressive Democratic Caucus candidate forum, and a July 31 forum arranged by several organizations including the League of Women Voters of Florida.

Grayson already has committed to those. Last week he accused Soto of ducking the debates and forums, while Soto’s campaign said, essentially, hold on. The pair also previously both participated in a Polk County Democratic Executive Committee forum in June.

Grayson’s campaign noted Tuesday that Soto did not refer to another potential debate to which Grayson committed, offered by WDBO radio/Cox Media Group.

Soto and Grayson are competing to represent CD 9, which covers south Orange, all of Osceola, and eastern Polk counties. Grayson served the district from 2013-17. Soto succeeded him when Grayson chose to run for the U.S. Senate in 2016. Soto beat his wife Dena Grayson and two others in the Democratic primary before beating Republican Wayne Liebnitzky in the general election.

Liebnitzky again is the Republican candidate this year.

Alan Grayson puts up ‘Dump Trump’ billboard for CD 9 race

If there is any doubt that progressive Democrats are ready to campaign against Trump, Alan Grayson already is doing so — as a primary campaign issue.

The former Democratic congressman seeking to win his seat back in Florida’s 9th Congressional District is putting up billboard’s declaring, in huge writing, “DUMP TRUMP,” as a campaign slogan.

At least one has appeared, on U.S. Highway 27 in Polk County, featuring Grayson’s picture and the message: “VOTE FOR ALAN GRAYSON AUG. 28 PRIMARY.”

Grayson declined to provide any details on the billboard campaign.

It could attract angry Democratic voters in a primary election who might otherwise not be doing much to compare Grayson with his August 28 Democratic primary opponent, incumbent U.S. Rep. Darren Soto.

Soto has been critical of Trump. But Grayson always has been one to weaponize criticism. And he’s been firing at Trump a long time. Last year, back when he was still mulling a run this year, Grayson launched an organization and a website, Lock Him Up Now, dedicated to collecting evidence for a Trump impeachment.

The winner of the Democratic primary goes up against Republican Wayne Liebnitzky, who has been supportive of Trump.

Alan Grayson accuses Darren Soto of ducking debates; Soto says he’ll do them

Saying that several potential debates are under discussion for the two Democrats running in Florida’s 9th Congressional District, former U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson is accusing incumbent U.S. Rep. Darren Soto of ducking them Tuesday.

According to the Grayson campaign, multiple media outlets — including Spectrum cable’s Channel 13 News13 and WDBO-FM News Talk Radio — have inquired, with a wide array of times and places, about getting the two Democrats face-to-face. Grayson’s campaign is dubbing Soto “No-Show Soto” for not accepting.

Soto’s campaign denies any ducking and said debates would happen.

“Congressman Soto will do debates and forums,” Harry Kruglik, Soto’s campaign spokesperson, said Tuesday in a written statement. “We’ll be finalizing and releasing the debate and forum schedule next week.”

Grayson held the CD 9 seat for two terms before running for the U.S. Senate in 2016, rather than seeking another term that year. Soto, a former state senator, won in 2016, first defeating Grayson’s wife Dena Grayson and Grayson’s former aide Susannah Randolph in a primary, before dispatching Republican Wayne Liebnitzky in the general election.

Liebnitzky is lined up this year to meet the winner of the August 28 Democratic primary between Soto and Alan Grayson.

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

“It comes as no surprise that ‘No-Show Soto’ is unable to defend his endorsement by the NRA, his two votes against impeachment, his vote to prosecute abortions as murder, or his ‘open-mindedness”’on eliminating Social Security,” Grayson said in a written statement issued by his campaign on Tuesday. “He’s an elephant in donkey’s clothing.”

Grayson has been attacking his Democratic successor, with such references to votes against the interests of progressive Democrats.

Soto has disputed Grayson’s spins on the bills in question, and contended that some date back a decade anyway. Soto was endorsed by the NRA in 2010 when he was in the Florida House of Representatives, and received an “A” grade from the organization, though he has since disavowed any support from the group while pushing for gun control as a congressman.

Grayson once got a “B” from the NRA, Soto’s campaign countered. Grayson also has disavowed the NRA calling it “ruthless” and noting it had run ads against him in a campaign.

Soto also is running up an impressive list of endorsements by progressive groups that had become wary of Grayson, including endorsements from the Human Rights Campaign, Planned Parenthood and Florida Young Democrats, groups that would take issue with the positions Grayson’s campaign cited for Soto.

On Tuesday Soto also rolled out another, the endorsement of the League of Conservation Voters Action Fund, which works to elect candidates who will support sound environmental policies.

Darren Soto picks up Human Rights Campaign endorsement in CD 9 race

The national Human Rights Campaign, the nations’ largest LGBTQ civil rights organization, has endorsed the re-election bid of Democratic U.S. Rep. Darren Soto in Florida’s 9th Congressional District.

The endorsement is part of Soto’s efforts to shore up the progressive wing of the Democratic Party as he prepares for the August 28 Democratic primary showdown with his predecessor in the CD 9 seat, former U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson.

The winner faces Saint Cloud Republican Wayne Liebnitzky. CD 9 covers southern Orange, Osceola and eastern Polk counties.

JoDee Winterhof, senior vice president of policy and political affairs for the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement:

“HRC is proud to endorse Darren Soto for re-election to Congress. Darren has been a strong ally to the LGBTQ community throughout his career, including standing up to the Trump administration’s hateful anti-LGBTQ policies and pushing for progress to expand civil rights and protections under law.

“In Central Florida, he brought community leaders together when the Trump administration rescinded protections from transgender students. He has fought for workforce and housing protections, and he supports legislation to make sure our elders get the care and services they need.

“We need Darren Soto in Washington, and we encourage Central Floridians who support LGBTQ rights to support him.”

Val Demings leads call to end transfers of customs agents from Orlando, Port Canaveral

A trio of Orlando-area Democratic members of Congress, joined by Florida’s two U.S. Senators, is calling on the United States Customs and Border Protection agency to suspend proposed transfers of safety officers out of Port Canaveral and Orlando International Airport.

Democratic U.S. Reps. Val Demings, Darren Soto and Stephanie Murphy, along with Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson and Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio are opposing to a Customs and Border Patrol initiative to rotate customs inspections officers from airports and other ports to serve temporary shifts along the United States-Mexico border. The transferred officers are not replaced on the lines in their home ports, leaving the staffing there short-handed for periods of time.

The group sent a letter Wednesday to newly confirmed U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan, arguing that the airport and seaport customs inspectors were critical to public safety. They cited numerous incidents when inspectors have averted potential terrorist actions and seized countless amounts of illegal drugs and other contraband.

“The treats at our nation’s ports of entry are real, and, if carried out, could have permanent devastating effects on our nation and cities like Orlando,” they wrote. “Therefore we encourage your agency to prioritize and fulfill the scientifically based CFP officer working model for our nation’s ports of entry.”

Demings, Soto and Murphy first decried the program in January after Orlando International Airport officials called for help with overburdened customs stations at the airport’s international gates. In February Demings and Murphy co-sponsored a bill that would increase customs staffing levels at airports, including Orlando. House Resolution 4940, the Border and Port Security Act got three committee referrals, including the House Homeland Security Committee, but has not yet been heard anywhere.

In May, Rubio called for an additional 500 customs officers to help address staffing shortages at many of Florida’s airports and seaports.

“Orlando International Airport is one of the nation’s best ports of entry, and Orlando is the number one visitor destination in the U.S. As we continue to grow, it’s vital that we maintain safety staffing to meet increased passenger volume,” Demings stated in a news release issued Thursday by her office. “I urge Customs and Border Protection to once again reverse this ill-considered move and ensure that Central Florida continues to have the level of staffing necessary to ensure speedy travel and necessary security for all passengers.”

Airport officials have contended that, even without the rotations of agents and inspectors to the southwest border, the Orlando airport already was suffering from under-staffing by Customs and Border Patrol. They reported that from 2009 to 2016, the number of international passengers arriving at Orlando International Airport grew by 89 percent, from 1.49 million to 2.83 million.

However, over the same period, Customs and Border Protection Officer staffing levels have remained flat, the GOAA officials in a letter sent to area lawmakers, urging their help.

The lawmakers’ letter noted that Port Canaveral also is being squeezed.

In 2017, the seaport, which mostly handles cruise traffic, welcomed 4.5 million passengers, a 7 percent jump from the previous year, while customs inspectors staffing decreased, “resulting in significant bottlenecks.”

“Representatives Demings, Soto, and I have consistently told CBP that transferring officers from Orlando International Airport to the Southwest border is a mistake,” Murphy said in the release. “These officers are needed at the airport to keep the public safe and the economy moving. As Orlando’s representatives in Congress, we will continue to do everything possible to ensure Orlando International is fully staffed given that the airport is the busiest in the state and about to enter peak travel season.”

Murphy first got involved early on, after GOAA officials declared the program would “seriously diminish security” at the airport.

“We’ve seen overwhelming support for the CBP officers at OIA from our community, including repeated pleas from the Central Florida congressional delegation to at-minimum halt transfers,” Soto stated in the release. Each and every member of the CBP team is valued and desperately needed for the increasing demands of our area’s busy ports of entry. Their work is critical for passenger safety and smooth-running operations. We look forward to working with Commissioner McAleenan and continue supporting our CBP officers.”

Bells toll in Orlando

Grieving anew as a community in the wake of another horrific gun tragedy, Orlandoans bowed their heads Tuesday afternoon as bells tolled and names were called in remembrance of the 49 people murdered at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando two years earlier.

Others, including survivors and families of victims of the Pulse massacre, joined a solemn crowd from the Orlando community at the First United Methodist Church of Orlando for a 10-minute ceremony in which family members and Robin Maynard-Harris of the onePulse Foundation read the names of those killed, and the church bell tolled their loss.

Also on everyone’s mind was the horrific event a few miles to the south, where, on Monday night a deranged man with a history of domestic violence apparently shot and killed his two children and his girlfriend’s two children during a hostage siege. The scene began with Gary Wayne Lindsey Jr., 35, also shooting and critically wounding an Orlando police officer, and ended with him killing himself, according to Orlando police.

The Pulse service already had enough tragedy to handle.

“It’s such a beautiful thing to know that your loved ones will never be forgotten, not here in Orlando, not in Florida, not in the United States, not just in Puerto Rico, everywhere, all over the world,” said Maynard-Harris of the onePulse Foundation.

Among those attending were U.S. Rep. Val Demings and her husband Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings, who is also running for Orange County mayor; Rob Panepinto, who is running against Jerry Demings; U.S. Rep. Darren Soto; and state Reps. Mike Miller and Carlos Guillermo Smith.

Earlier a private, 10 a.m., remembrance ceremony was held in at the Pulse interim memorial, reserved just for survivors and families, plus appearances by Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer and Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs.

And at 7:30 a.m. Gov. Rick Scott made an unannounced visit to the Pulse interim memorial, according to his calendar.

Alan Grayson launches new TV ad in CD 9 race

Former U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson has launched a second television commercial in his battle for the Democratic primary nomination to return to Congress again in Florida’s 9th Congressional District.

The new 30-second spot starts with a quick visit to Grayson’s roots, as he talks about “growing up in the tenements in the Bronx, surrounded by people who are different from me, and each other.”

“I’m proud to be one of the leading champions for equality of all kinds: social, political, economic and personal. This ad explains why,” Grayson said in a statement released by his campaign.

As images flow past of Bronx tenements, multiracial children playing, and then Grayson as an adult, he says that upbringing helped establish his appreciation of diversity and his beliefs in equality, respect and justice.

Grayson is trying to win back his old seat representing CD 9 and faces his successor, U.S. Rep. Darren Soto, in the August 28 Democratic primary. The winner would face Republican businessman Wayne Liebnitzky in November.

“People of different races, different languages, different religions, and I learned from that, that our differences are not something to overcome, but something to cherish,” Grayson says in the commercial. “And with so much in common as human beings, we all deserve equality, dignity and respect.” He concludes the commercial by declaring it to be a message of “justice, equality and peace.”

The ad is Grayson’s second TV commercial, following Progressive Warrior,” which kicked off his campaign last month, showing national progressive leaders extolling his first three terms in Congress, from 2009-’10 representing Florida’s 8th Congressional District, and from 2013-’16 representing CD 9.

Soto’s campaign has not yet launched any television advertising.

Sean Shaw

Florida Young Dems endorse Sean Shaw, Jeremy Ring, 11 congressional candidates

Sean Shaw and Jeremy Ring have gotten the backing of the Florida Young Democrats in their quests for the Florida attorney general and chief financial officer posts, as have 11 candidates in their congressional races.

The YoungDems did not endorse in the governor’s race, the agriculture commissioner’s race, or 16 other congressional races, including several in which incumbent Democrats are seeking re-election, notably U.S. Reps. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, Al Lawson, and Stephanie Murphy.

Shaw, the state representative from Tampa, faces attorney Ryan Torrens in the August 28 Democratic primary. The winner would face one of several possible Republican nominees, state Rep. Jay Fant of Jacksonville, state Rep. Frank White of Pensacola, and former Circuit Judge Ashley Moody of Tampa.

Ring, the former state senator, is unopposed among Democrats heading toward a November showdown with incumbent Florida CFO Jimmy Patronis.

The Florida Young Democrats’ board recommends endorsements, and the candidates were voted on at the annual young Democrats convention, May 18-20 in Miami, by the organization membership.

The organization said it did not endorse if there were two or more Democrats and the vote was close and the candidates were all considered strong progressives, or if the candidates did not meet the organization’s vision on issues. The organization’s bylaws require two-thirds vote backings from both the executive board and the voting membership.

The congressional endorsements went to former U.S. Ambassador Nancy Soderberg in Florida’s 6th Congressional District; Sanjay Patel in Florida’s 8th Congressional District; U.S. Rep. Darren Soto in Florida’s 9th Congressional District; U.S. Rep. Val Demings in Florida’s 10th Congressional District; U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist in Florida’s 13th Congressional District; Andrew Learned in Florida’s 15th Congressional District; David Shapiro in Florida’s 16th Congressional District; U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch in Florida’s 22nd Congressional District; U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson in Florida’s 24th Congressional District; Mary Barzee Flores in Florida’s 25th Congressional District; and Debbie Mucarsel-Powell in Florida’s 26th Congressional District.

“Our priorities in races were trying to support young people and trying to support candidates who had messages that support young people,” said Florida Young Dems President Jake Sanders.

“We’re endorsing our own; that means we’re endorsing some young people against people who are favorites,” he added. “We want to make sure that people who speak to youth issues get recognized for it.”

In the governor’s race, which features two Young Dems, Chris King and Andrew Gillum, along with Philip Levine, Gwen Graham and newly-filed candidate Jeff Greene, “We have people on our executive board for every single candidate,” Sanders said, adding, “Except no one for Jeff Greene.”

In one race – Florida’s 18th Congressional District – the Florida Young Dems decided not to endorse because Sanders has been involved in the campaign of Lauren Baer, who faces Pam Keith in the primary.

Darren Soto picks up nods from fire fighters, police unions

Democratic U.S. Rep. Darren Soto has received the endorsements of two first-responders unions, for firefighters and law-enforcement officers, his campaign announced Tuesday.

The Orlando Professional Fire Fighters International Association of Fire Fighters Local 1365 and the Central Florida Police Benevolent Association have each endorsed Congressman Darren Soto for re-election in Florida’s 9th Congressional District.

Soto faces a tough primary battle against his predecessor, former U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, who’s seeking to take back the seat he held from 2013-’16. They face off in the August 28 Democratic primary, with the winner going on to face Saint Cloud businessman Wayne Liebnitzky in the November election.

The district covers south Orange County, Osceola County, and east  Polk County.

“Law enforcement officers in Central Florida have no better friend than Darren,” Central Florida PBA Political Director Ron Beardslee stated in a news release issued by Soto’s re-election campaign. “He understands what it takes to protect and serve the people, and he fights to get us what we need. Whether it’s getting us funding for our officers and staff, equipment to do the job, or keeping guns away from dangerous people, Soto has our back. And we’ll have his. The Central Florida PBA is proud to endorse Congressman Darren Soto for re-election.”

In the same release, Fire Fighters Local 1365 President Ronald Glass called Soto, “an experienced public servant with a clear vision for the needs of Firefighters and the citizens of Orlando alike.” In Tallahassee, Soto advocated for the families of fallen firefighters, passing legislation to provide a death benefit and health insurance to those families when their loved one died in a training exercise.

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