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Christian Ulvert: A victory that sets a blueprint for success

Over the last 12 years, I’ve worked intimately on various legislative campaigns throughout Florida. Democrats have seen our share of wins and losses and often, many attribute those to different factors.

This week’s victory by state Senator-elect Annette Taddeo has many asking — what propelled her, and Florida Democrats to victory?

It comes down to one overarching narrative: disciplined coordination, where egos were checked at the door. Yes, there were many strategies and operatives that came together to deploy varying tactics that secured a big win for us, but in the end, it was disciplined coordination that allowed the best ideas to be executed.

I have now seen this play out in three pivotal races for Democrats, all in Miami-Dade. First, in 2014, we defeated an incumbent Republican county commissioner in Miami-Dade and elected a strong champion in County Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava. This race was a high mark for our side because the three ingredients to success were in full force: a strong candidate with the right message and coordinated resources.

The race nearly topped $1 million on the Levine Cava side and ally groups and a massive field operation was executed, propelling her to a 4-point victory, resulting in only the third time in county history where an incumbent commissioner was defeated.

Next up was Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez’s victory in 2016 where he defeated an incumbent state senator and was outspent by nearly $2 million. Again, at play for us was a strong candidate with the right message and coordinated resources being deployed.

This victory brought together a candidate and our team, with the Florida Democratic Party, Florida Democratic Senate Victory and Florida Strong (a coalition of progressive groups and labor organizations). The resources again were invested strategically and a flawless field effort was executed. On election night, Sen. Rodriguez’s 3-point victory was a bright spot in what was a tough night for many.

The biggest test came this past Tuesday night with the SD 40 special election and needless to say, Taddeo and the campaign team rose to the occasion. The stakes were high and the pressure was running deep; though again, the disciplined coordination rule was applied successfully.

Again, the Florida Democratic Party, Florida Democratic Senate Victory, Florida Strong, For Our Future and labor and community groups came together to implement a strong campaign.

Despite being outspent (a regular occurrence, unfortunately), our side notched a win.

In the SD 40 special election we saw the winning formula of a strong candidate with the right message and coordinated resources once again implemented, resulting in a 3.7-point win for Taddeo. The team delivered an effective message that focused on key local issues while tapping into the growing anxiety voters feel about the White House and President Trump’s divineness.

It’s important to note though that this race wasn’t about Trump — it was about a strong candidate who delivered a message directly to the voters and responded with force and passion to one of the worst attack pieces I’ve seen in the business.

Further, the coordinated team executed a truly massive, impressive and flawless field operation- the scale of which has never been used in past legislative campaigns.

In the end, elections are about winning and our side did so because we stayed focused and disciplined.

Many deserve the credit, starting with our candidate, Annette Taddeo, who remained steady and calm even when facing some of the worst attacks that caused her family to relive a painful time in their family history.

I was proud to see a true coordinated effort launched by Florida Democratic Party President Sally Boynton Brown, the Florida Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee Political Director Josh Weierbach and Field Director Brian Lacey, For Our Future Florida Executive Director Ashley Walker, Florida Alliance Executive Director Carlos Odio, and a number of ally groups and community organizations because in the end, that made the biggest difference in why we celebrate a victory!

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Christian Ulvert is president of EDGE Communications, a bilingual Florida-based Political & Public Affairs consulting firm and served as Taddeo’s political strategist.

 

Stephanie Murphy touts bill that she voted against

Democratic U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy of Winter Park proudly pushed through a bill amendment that ensured families in Puerto Rico are treated equally under the federal Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting program, and after the full bill passed the U.S. House of Representatives Tuesday, she touted it with a tweet, “House just passed my amdt.”

One complication: Murphy voted against the actual bill she heralded, House Resolution 2824, as did almost all Democrats.

Her strategy, according to her office: get the amendment into the House bill, and then get it from there into the Senate version during a conference committee meeting. The Senate bill, her office indicated, is an acceptable version to Democrats, while the House version is not.

When the House considered and adopted her proposed amendment, Murphy expressed victory in getting her amendment into the “Increasing Opportunity and Success for Children and Parents through Evidence-Based Home Visiting Act,” to right one of the inequities faced by Americans in Puerto Rico.

“The MIECHV program invests in our children in a way that strengthens families, helps lift them out of poverty, and increases the chance that they will become productive and successful citizens. My amendment simply ensures that Puerto Rico gets its fair share of this important federal investment,” Murphy stated in a press release issued on Tuesday. “The unanimous passage of my amendment helps underscore Congress’ commitment to our brothers and sisters in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. We’re all part of one American family, and I’ll continue working across party lines to ensure that Puerto Rico receives this nation’s full and equal support.”

U.S. Reps. Jenniffer González-Colón, a Puerto Rico Republican, and Nydia Velázquez, a New York Democrat, cosponsored the amendment, which Murphy wrote.

Then later on Tuesday, a couple of hours after the entire bill was approved by the House, Murphy tweeted, “House just passed my amdt ensuring families in #PuertoRico receive equal support under a fed prgrm to help families.” Her tweet was greeted by congratulatory and thankful retweets from a number of people.

Yet she and 188 other Democrats had just found themselves on the losing side of the 214-209 vote that approved HR 2824. Only two Democrats, neither of which Murphy nor Velázquez, voted yes.

Democrats in Congress took opposition to the House bill because it would “slash funding for critical investments in home visiting,” according to a statement from Murphy’s office. The Senate bill, introduced by three Republicans and four Democrats, does not do that.

“Congresswoman Murphy saw an opportunity in the House bill to fix an unfair formula that has been hurting Puerto Ricans for years. She introduced her amendment, which passed unanimously, with the goal of getting it into the final conference version of the bill, which she hopes to support,” Murphy’s spokesman, Javier Hernandez, wrote.

Stephanie Murphy joins Climate Solutions Caucus

Winter Park’s U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy has joined the bipartisan Congressional Climate Solutions Caucus that was founded by and is led by Republican U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo of Kendall and Democratic U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch of Boca Raton.

Murphy is one of six new members added – three Democrats and three Republicans – to a caucus that now numbers 29 Republicans and 29 Democrats, and includes six of Florida’s 27 members of Congress.

The caucus’s stated goal is to push common-sense solutions that address the root causes of climate change and mitigate its threats.

“Climate change poses a threat to Florida’s economy and our way of life, but it also presents an opportunity for the state to step up and lead on this issue,” Murphy stated in a news release issued by her office. “Clean air and water shouldn’t be a partisan issue, which is why I’m proud to join the bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus. By working together across party lines, we’re leading the fight to reduce our carbon footprint, create well-paying clean energy jobs, and support research that addresses the threat to our communities. Florida must continue to lead the way in the development of alternative and renewable energies, and I’m working to ensure our beautiful state lives up to its full potential.”

From the start, the caucus has carefully walked the bipartisan line, bringing Republicans to a forum to acknowledge and address climate change, and Democrats to a forum where they can share the discourse with Republicans. In addition to Curbelo, the caucus includes Florida Republicans Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Miami and Brian Mast of Palm City. In addition to Deutch and Murphy, the caucus includes Florida Democrat Charlie Crist of St. Petersburg.

Deutch and Curbelo spoke out about the recent devastating hurricanes as evidence that climate change needs bipartisan attention.

“These new members are joining the caucus amid a devastating hurricane season, where major storms are gaining strength from the warmer waters in the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico,” Deutch stated in a news release from his office. “We are witnessing the serious impacts of climate change right in front of our eyes. More and more members of Congress believe we need to respond to climate change right now, and I’m thrilled that they turn to the Climate Solutions Caucus as a forum for open and constructive dialogue.”

Added Curbelo, “The real-world implications of sea level rise have been on display for all to see in Texas, Florida and the Caribbean following Hurricanes, Harvey, Irma and Maria. I’m grateful these members are willing to step up and turn their concern into action by joining the Climate Solutions Caucus. This growing bipartisan coalition will be critical to ensuring Congress makes finding solutions to this issue a priority.”

In addition to Murphy, the new members are Democratic U.S. Reps. John Larson of Connecticut and Nydia Velázquez of New York; and Republican U.S. Reps. Pat Tiberi of Ohio, Chris Collins  of New York, and Jack Bergman of Michigan.

Republicans flip registration in Polk, Volusia, continue statewide gains

Republicans are boasting they have taken voter-registration edges over Polk and Volusia County Democrats, continuing a trend of trimming a once sizable advantage for Democrats statewide.

With Polk and Volusia counting slightly more Republicans than Democrats in registration data recorded through August 31, the Republican Party of Florida says it’s flipped 12 counties to a Republican advantage in two years.

But it’s not just in those counties.

Democrats in August 2013 had more than 500,000 statewide registered voters over Republicans. With the latest count, the Democrats advantage was cut nearly in half to just 275,000.

Florida has grown, and so have the parties. There now are 12.8 million registered voters in Florida, compared with 11.8 million in August 2013. While both major parties have more registered voters than ever, Republicans’ growth has kept up with the state population, the Democrats’ has not.

Independent voters and third parties made up the difference, growing in proportion to the state population (faster than either major party), taking share away from Democrats statewide.

In August 2013 Democrats boasted 39.6 percent of all registered Florida voters, but just 37.5 percent in August 2017.

Republicans saw their share slip some from 2013 through 2015, and then grow back. But August numbers reflected the same proportion of Florida voters, 35.4 percent, as they had in August 2013.

That still means a 2.1 percent registered-voter advantage for Democrats. Yet it was twice that, 4.2 points, in 2013.

Republicans since January 2016 have taken voter registration leads in 12 counties: Baker, Bradford, Columbia, Gulf, Hardee, Holmes, Okeechobee, Pinellas, Polk, Suwannee, Volusia and Washington.

Republican Party of Florida State Chairman Blaise Ingoglia said several factors were leading to the advances, notably a return to training local executive committees and volunteers on voter registration, and emphasizing it. He said when counties tip, it creates momentum, and he predicted the party’s advantage in Polk and Volusia to grow like it has in other counties.

The Florida Democratic Party did not respond to an inquiry about the latest voter registration numbers.

“You’re going to see a lot more people register Republican than they were before, at a faster pace, because people are going to start realizing that Democrats can’t get elected in those counties, and the only primaries that will happen will be on the Republican side,” Ingoglia said.

Republicans now hold voter registration advantages in 40 of Florida’s 67 counties.

Yet Democrats have command of most of the big, urban counties, giving them the statewide advantage. Of the seven counties with more than a half million registered voters, Democrats are in control of six, and only behind Republicans in Pinellas, which flipped to GOP strength last year.

Republicans are dominant in voter registration in mid-size counties. Of 25 counties with between 100,000 and 500,000 registered voters, Republicans have an advantage in 21, including Polk and Volusia.

Florida Democrats in Congress call for Florida special session to replace statue

U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz now has gotten the other ten Florida Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives to join her call for a one-day Florida Legislature special session to replace Confederate General Edmund Kirby Smith‘s statue in the U.S. Capitol.

“We must denounce symbols of what supremacy and stand up for love and compassion – not just with words, but with our deeds,” state letters from the 11 Florida Democratic members of Congress to Gov. Rick Scott, Senate President Joe Negron, and House Speaker Richard Corcoran. “As the third largest state, and easily one of the most diverse in our nation, Florida has an opportunity to send a defining message.”

Wasserman Schultz first called for such a special session on her own, on Aug. 15.

The issue involves one of Florida’s two state representation statues in the U.S. Capitol. In 2016 the Florida Legislature voted to replace the Smith statute, but in 2017 was unable to agree on a replacement, so the statue remains.

The new congressional letter calls for Scott, Negron and Corcoran to act immediately, “in the shadow of Charlottesville,” to “stand at a crucial moment when leaders and institutions must confront hate and violence without ambiguity.”

A spokesman for Scott’s office expressed confidence that the legislature would take care of the matter as soon as possible. In January. When the regular 2018 Legislative Session convenes.

“In 2016, Governor Scott signed a bill that replaced this statue at the U.S. Capitol. A committee was quickly convened, public input was gathered and three names were submitted to the Legislature for consideration for a replacement. It is now up to the Legislature to decide how to resolve this issue and Governor Scott hopes they do so when they convene in January,” McKinley Lewis said in a statement.

The offices of Negron and Corcoran did not immediately respond to an inquiry about the letter.

When Wasserman Schultz first made her call two weeks ago, Corcoran responded by accusing her of being out of touch and grandstanding, noting that the Florida Legislature already had voted to replace Smith’s statue and was working on picking a replacement.

The latest letter was signed by the 11 Democrats Florida has elected to the U.S. House, Wasserman Schultz of Weston, Kathy Castor of Tampa, Charlie Crist of St. Petersburg, Ted Deutch of Boca Raton, Alcee Hastings of Miramar, Darren Soto of Orlando, Frederica Wilson Miami Gardens, Val Demings of Orlando, Al Lawson of Tallahassee, Lois Frankel of West Palm Beach, and Stephanie Murphy of Winter Park.

“The legislature’s inaction leaves in place of honor, a symbol that represents a painful and horrific period in American history for so many Floridians and Americans,” the letter states.

“No family visiting our nation’s Capital should have to explain to their child that the statue representing our state honors someone who fought for a philosophy built on hatred, inequality and oppression.

“We urge you to take immediate action by calling a one-day special session during the Florida House and Senate’s upcoming interim committee meetings that already are scheduled in Tallahassee and finish this important and historic work.”

Nine Florida Democrats urge Donald Trump to rescind transgender ban

Nine of Florida’s 11 Democratic members of Congress signed a letter Tuesday urging President Donald Trump to reconsider his recently announced ban on transgendered people in the military.

“There is no place for discrimination in our Armed Forces or indeed anywhere else in American society,” the letter signed by most Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives reads.

“Enforcing your ban could mean discharging active duty soldiers, sailors, Marines and members of the Air Force who serve honorably. It also would mean barring other patriotic Americans from serving in the future. Both actions are detrimental to our national security, ill-advised, and contrary to the values upon which our nation was built,” it continues.

The letter states there are thousands of active-duty transgender service members and refutes Trump’s contention that they have been a disruption or burden on the military, saying they serve with equal distinction, and are “equally deserving of our gratitude and respect.”

The letter also argues that the ban is likely unconstitutional.

The 143 signatories Tuesday afternoon included Democratic U.S. Reps. Kathy Castor of Tampa, Charlie Crist of St. Petersburg, Ted Deutch of Boca Raton, Lois Frankel of West Palm Beach, Alcee Hastings of Miramar, Al Lawson of Tallahassee, Stephanie Murphy of Winter Park, Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Weston, and Frederica Wilson of Miami Gardens.

Democratic U.S. Reps. Val Demings and Darren Soto, both of Orlando, had not signed the most recent copy sent to FloridaPolitics.com, but Soto’s office said he fully endorsed the letter and wanted to sign it but did not get the chance before the letter was closed.

Last month, after Trump signaled, in a Twitter post, his intention to ban transgendered people, Soto released a statement that included, “There are over 15,000 transgender military service men and women currently risking their lives every day protecting our country. Now, we must also protect them. I proudly stand with the transgender troops serving in the U.S military, you make us proud to be American! “

Demings office did not respond to an inquiry about why she had not signed the letter.

In a Facebook post Murphy, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, wrote, “All people who are willing and qualified to defend our nation and to protect those who fight alongside them should be free to serve.”

Democrat Dawn Antonis files to run for HD 44 in 2018

As  Democratic party officials await the chance to name a replacement candidate for the House District 44 special election in October, a candidate has filed to run for that seat when it’s up next year for a full term.

Dawn Marie Antonis, 51, of Winter Garden, filed late Wednesday as a Democrat to run in 2018 in the HD 44 election.

That seat is open now and awaiting a special election this fall to fill it for the last year of the current term. Unofficially, Democrats have apparently lost their candidate and party officials are eagerly and nervously waiting for Paul Chandler to file his paperwork to make his withdrawal official, so that they can name a replacement.

On the Republican side, former Winter Garden Commissioner Bobby Olszewski won the primary Aug. 15.

Orange County Democratic Chair Wes Hodge said at a luncheon forum Thursday that several potential candidates are interested, but the executive committee has not yet met to make any decisions on a replacement, while waiting for Chandler to formally leave the race.

Hodge said Antonis likely will be considered, but that she is not the only potential candidate.

“I’m sure when we have our meeting she’ll be asking us to consider her for nomination for the special election,” Hodge said.

Antonis said she would welcome the committee’s consideration.

She is the first vice president of the West Orange Democratic Women’s Club, and had been active on the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign in 2016.

She has some political experience, having once run for a city council seat in her native New Jersey, and she said she has attended some training this year, and that everything seems to have come together for her to run in HD 44.

Paul Chandler: I didn’t jump off HD 44 race, I was pushed

Ex-Democratic House District 44 candidate Paul Chandler said late Tuesday he had no intention of withdrawing from the race and was confident he could win both a legal challenge and the special election itself — until state party officials whom he said had never supported him threatened to sabotage his campaign if he didn’t quit.

Chandler, announced Tuesday morning he would withdraw from the HD 44 special election contest due to outside circumstances. Among those circumstances is the prospect that the Democrats wanting to pick another candidate in time to be on all the ballots for the Oct. 10 contest.

Orange County Democratic Chairman Wes Hodge insisted he did not push Chandler out, or threaten his campaign if he did not quit. Ryan Ray, with the state Party’s Victory Fund, said the party spoke to him “about how best to move forward.”

Republicans nominated Winter Garden businessman Bobby Olszewski on Aug. 15, and he’s heavily favored, with money, party backing, experience and name identification.

Chandler, who founded and runs a medical records company, has largely funded his own campaign, but has been visibly campaigning for weeks, particularly on social media.

Two weeks ago a Republican in the district, Chris Hart, filed a lawsuit in Leon County charging that Chandler was ineligible to run for the Florida House of Representatives this year because he voted in Missouri last year. The Florida Constitution says you have to have resided in Florida for two years before being eligible to go into the Florida Legislature.

If a judge agrees with Hart’s charge that Chandler is ineligible to run, he would be thrown off the ballot. If that happens in court, Florida law says, no one could replace him.

Yet if Chandler quits, Florida law allows the Orange County Democratic Executive Committee to replace him on the ballot. The timetable window is closing for that quickly.

Chandler called the lawsuit charges frivolous, arguing that he could still meet the requirement of “having resided” in Florida for two years prior to taking office, regardless of his voting history. He accused the Republicans of using a “bogus lawsuit” to try to win the election outside the ballot box, and accused the Democratic Party of caving.

On Monday afternoon Chandler said he received ultimatums from a state Democratic Party official: quit now or the party will make sure no loyal donor will take your call, and no loyal grassroots volunteer will offer to help.

“They said they would do what it takes to make sure I would not win,” Chandler said.

In a written statement, Ray said House Victory met and some with Chandler when he became a candidate, and told him it would support him in the general election. “When it became clear his candidacy faced legal issues, just days after a fractious Republican primary, we spoke with Paul and his campaign about how best to move forward,” Ray added. “Any loyal Democrat understands the urgency of fielding a competitive candidate against today’s Donald Trump-led Republican party at all levels.

“The course of action we and Paul are taking ensures that,” he added.

Hodge, the Orange County democratic leader, said he had a different type of conversation with Chandler.

“I had the conversation with him that this lawsuit does not look good… and we have to look at what’s best for the party versus what’s best for the individual. And [I asked] would you be willing to step aside? At no point in time did I make any threats.”

Hodge said they have plenty of candidate options to consider, and time to mount a serious campaign.

Republicans have owned HD 44 for a long time. Still, the gap between Republican and Democratic registered voters is not huge – 36 percent to 32 percent – and Hillary Clinton actually carried the district last November. The seat became open when Republican incumbent state Rep. Eric Eisnaugle resigned this spring to take a judicial appointment.

Chandler argued there was no better time to flip the district than during a special election with no incumbent, and he charged that the Democratic party leaders showed no interest in the district or his campaign until now, “and they just threw it all away.”

Technically, Chandler is still in the running. That’s because he hasn’t filed his exit paperwork with the Florida Secretary of State’s Office yet. That’s pushing the timetable for Democrats to file their own paperwork in Tallahassee and with the Orange County Supervisor of Elections Office, to nominate a new candidate to replace him, and then to get the name on the military absentee ballots Orange County, which will be going out soon.

“I will turn in my resignation to the secretary of state when I turn it in,” he said.

Congressional aide probe includes workers in six Florida Democrats’ offices

Arrested Democratic congressional staffer Imran Awan or his relatives — all reportedly under federal criminal investigation — also worked for five other Democratic Florida members of Congress besides U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who is on the hot seat.

U.S. Reps. Stephanie Murphy of Winter Park, Darren Soto of Orlando, Frederica Wilson of Miami Gardens, and Lois Frankel of West Palm Beach, and former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham of Tallahassee, now a gubernatorial candidate, also employed Awan or one of his family members, wife Hina Alvi, and brothers Jamal Awan and Abid Awan, as part-time, shared, information technology employees in their offices.

However, unlike Wasserman Schultz, of Weston, who kept Imran Awan on her payroll through months of publicly-reported federal investigations into potential theft and misuse of congressional equipment and data, the other five members of Florida’s delegation all cut their ties with the Awan family member employees early.

The FBI and U.S. Capitol Police arrested Imran Awan at Washington’s Dulles International Airport on July 24, as he reportedly was trying to leave the country. He was charged with bank fraud, and other charges may be pending. Last week he and Alvi were indicted on bank fraud and other charges.

Neither of Imran Awan’s brothers have been arrested or accused of anything, though media reports dating to early February indicated that the FBI was investigating all four members of the Awan family.

They all worked for numerous Democratic members of the U.S. House, some for more than a decade, as IT specialists. House members chose independently to hire or fire them, and they were paid from office staff payroll budgets.

In early February, U.S. House of Representatives leaders informed members of Congress that the Awans were under investigation. News of that broke in Washington a couple of days later. Murphy, Soto, Frankel, and Wilson all terminated the Awans in their offices on Feb. 2 or Feb. 3, according to House of Representatives office budget disbursement documents. Graham already had terminated Jamal Awan on Jan. 2.

Still, some published reports, notably in The Daily Caller, which has broken much of the Awan story, have suggested the Awans had legal and financial troubles long before February, dating to 2009, which some have argued should have sent up red flags to Democratic members employing them.

Wasserman Schultz, who fired Imran Awan on July 25, has said she had serious questions about how and why the investigation was being pursued, and did not want to dismiss him unless she saw evidence of wrongdoing.

Other Democratic members took a different approach. Response from Soto’s spokesman was typical:

“Abid Awan served as an IT system administrator in Congressman Darren Soto’s office for one month. He was immediately fired upon learning he was under investigation, lost access to the House system and could no longer perform his job duties,” Oriana Pina said in a statement to FloridaPolitics.com. “Abid was hired based on the recommendation of several other House offices for whom he worked.”

Records show Soto paid the least amount to Abid Awan, $103 this year.

“Mr. Abid Awan was hired by a number of other offices and at the suggestion of other offices,” Murphy’s spokesman Javier Hernandez said. “He was terminated as soon as we were informed of the allegations.”

Murphy had paid Abid Awan $1,033 this year.

“We were one of 20-plus member offices that were using the services of Abid Awan to provide technical support for our computing technology,” Frankel’s spokeswoman Rachel Huxley-Cohen said in a statement. “Our contract with him has been terminated.”

Frankel paid Abid Awan $1,833 in 2017.

“Imran Awan, our former IT administrator, was a shared employee who began working for the congresswoman at the start of her first term. He was terminated as soon as we learned about the allegations of wrongdoing,” Wilson’s spokeswoman Joyce Jones said in a statement. “His official termination date was February 2, 2017. We cannot discuss the details of an ongoing investigation.”

Wilson paid Imran Awan $1,778 this year.

Graham’s spokesman, Matt Harringer, said Jamal Awan’s services were used only to close out Graham’s congressional computer accounts in the first two days of January as she prepared to leave Congress at the end of her tenure. The Awan investigation was not revealed until about a month later.

Graham paid Jamal Awan $111 this year.

Wasserman Schultz has remained defensive of Imran Awan. House records only are available through March 31. Through then, Wasserman Schultz had paid Imran Awan $1,605 this year. She also had employed Nina Alvi, but only through March 7, according to the first quarter House disbursement records. Alvi was paid $3,394.

Wasserman Schultz first employed Imran Awan in her office in 2005. Last week she issued a lengthy statement defending her decision to keep him on until the arrest:

“As a mother, a Jew, and a member of Congress, if there is one thing I know for sure, it’s this: my commitment to doing what’s right and just — even if it isn’t what’s easy and simple — is unyielding.

“Whether that meant standing in opposition to the Terri Schiavo bill, combating prejudice by encouraging my colleagues to bring Muslim-American constituents to the State of the Union, or questioning whether an employee has been afforded due process before terminating him, I have never been afraid to stand alone when justice demands it.

“Undoubtedly, the easier path would have been to terminate Mr. Awan, despite the fact that I had not received any evidence of his alleged wrongdoing; but that is not the woman my constituents elected, and that is not the mother my children know me to be.

“Over time, the investigation raised troubling concerns for me about fair treatment, due process, and potential ethnic and religious profiling. As the representative of Florida’s 23rd Congressional District, one of the most vibrant and diverse districts in the nation, I may not always be the darling of the conservative media, but I will always protect the democratic and pluralistic values that we South Floridians hold so dear, and I will always live up to the oath I took when my constituents first sent me to Washington: to support and defend the Constitution.

“At the end of the day, there are times in our lives when we must do what may be hard but right, even when there is a cost. This was one of those times for me, and I would make the same decision again.”

Democratic candidates vow to back anti-discrimination law

Three Democratic candidates for governor pledged Saturday to support legislation that would prohibit discrimination in jobs and housing based on sexual orientation.

Despite support from the business community, the legislation, known as the “Competitive Workforce Act,” has stalled in the Legislature in recent years. Also, a call for Gov. Rick Scott to use his executive power to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation in state agencies has gone unheeded.

“If you elect me governor, you won’t have to wait any longer,” Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum told the LGBTA Democratic Caucus, which represents the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

“Florida is too big, too proud, too diverse a state for our politics to reflect an error of yesteryear, yesterdecade, yestercentury,” Gillum said during a caucus conference in Tallahassee.

Candidate Chris King, a Winter Park businessman, said passing the anti-discrimination law is both morally and economically right for the state.

“I want to make sure everyone is comfortable here, everyone is safe here, everyone is protected here,” King said.

Former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham of Tallahassee said she would work to “stop discrimination in its tracks.”

“We’re going to protect every Floridian, no matter what color their skin is, where they come from, or who they love,” Graham said in a prepared text of her speech Saturday night to the caucus.

All three candidates said, if elected in November 2018, they would sign an executive order banning discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in state agencies.

Two candidates talked about how ending discrimination was personal for them.

King talked about the discrimination faced by his older brother, David, growing up as a gay man in the South. He said his brother, who moved to California, took his own life at age 30 after battling depression and mental illness.

King said his brother’s experience has compelled him to make anti-discrimination initiatives a centerpiece of his campaign and underscored the importance of speaking “with moral clarity on these issues.”

“I promise you I will,” King told the caucus. “I will give it my best shot.”

Gillum said his older brother, Terrance, faced similar discrimination as a young gay man in Gainesville, moving to California as soon as he could “so that he could live and be himself.”

Gillum said throughout his 15-year public career he has spoken out for LGBT issues.

“Not only because it’s the right thing to do but it was my little way of showing my big brother that I saw him,” he said.

Graham recounted her support for marriage equality during her successful 2014 campaign for Congress in a North Florida district that covered some of the most conservative regions in the state. She said it was one of the first questions a reporter asked her in a Panama City stop.

“I proudly told him if one of my sons or daughter were gay, if one of your children were gay, I would want them to be happy, and that means supporting them no matter who they want to marry,” Graham said.

King, who is an affordable-housing developer, said he will also stress an economic message in his campaign.

“I don’t believe a Democratic candidate is going to win in 2018 if we don’t win the economic debate, if we don’t convince folks that this party has a vision and has a plan to lift up people and make this a more fair, homegrown economy,” King said.

He said he would work to improve affordable housing, expand health-care coverage and support public schools.

Gillum said Democrats need a “bold” message on issues like discrimination, climate change and health care and need to advocate it statewide.

“We have to give voters a reason to choose us. It’s not going to be by capitulating. It’s not going to be by Republican-lite,” Gillum said. “We have to offer a different, bolder vision.”

However, Gillum acknowledged that his campaign has been hindered by an ongoing FBI investigation into Tallahassee city government, although he said he has been assured he is not a target of the investigation and is fully cooperating with federal investigators.

“I’m 1,000 percent confident that when the facts are all the way known I will be removed from under this cloud,” Gillum said.

Graham said she has proven her political viability by winning election to a North Florida congressional seat, while not wavering on traditional Democratic issues. Graham did not run for a second term in Washington after the district was redrawn and became a Republican stronghold.

“I stood up for my values on marriage equality, for a woman’s right to choose, for protecting the environment — and you know what, not everyone agreed with me, but they knew I said what I believed and believed what I said,” Graham said.

She also said she followed through on her campaign promises once in office. “Folks aren’t used to public servants actually doing what they say,” she said.

Terry Fleming, president of the LGBTA Democratic Caucus, said the group has not endorsed a candidate but will consider it after the candidates formally qualify next year.

Other potential Democratic candidates include Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine and Orlando trial lawyer John Morgan.

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