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Victor Torres jumps on Gwen Graham bandwagon

Orlando’s Democratic state Sen. Victor Torres has thrown his support behind former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham for governor.

Torres is a first-term senator who spent two terms in the Florida House of Representatives.

“As someone who has lived a full life full of hard work, I can tell you nothing provides more insight into what Floridians need than real life experiences. Raising three children, volunteering in the PTA and working for her local school district, Gwen Graham has the knowledge and common sense solutions to renew Florida’s public schools,” Torres stated in a news release.

Torres’s daughter, state Rep. Amy Mercado, who succeeded him in his house seat, already has endorsed Graham.

“She’s fighting to make sure our children and grandchildren have more opportunities to succeed and that when they graduate — whether it’s from high school or college — they have good paying jobs available right here in Florida. Gwen understands how important education is to our community and to all Floridians,” Torres continued. “This is why I’m proud to enthusiastically endorse Gwen Graham for Florida’s next governor.”

Graham faces Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum and Winter Park affordable housing developer Chris King for the Democratic nomination for governor in the 2018 race.

“For too long Tallahassee politicians have had the wrong priorities for the wrong people. Too many Floridians in our growing state have been ignored. We must put an end to businesses as usual and extinguish the status quo,” Graham stated in the release. “When I’m elected governor, our state will support every community as we renew our promise to public education, expand health care and create good-paying jobs, right here in Florida.”

According to a recent report by the U.S. Census Bureau, Florida’s Hispanic population is growing fastest in Central Florida and the suburbs of Tampa.

“The I-4 Hispanic community is the fastest-growing population in the state. We’re making our voices heard — and Gwen is taking the time to listen,” Torres said. “She’s working on the issues we care about, from protecting public education to building an economy that works for all Floridians. As governor, she will work to raise the minimum wage and institute paid sick leave, invest in technical training and infrastructure, and diversify our economy.”

Another state lawmaker, Patrick Henry, backs Andrew Gillum

Democratic state Rep. Patrick Henry of Daytona Beach has thrown his support behind Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum in the 2018 governor’s race.

Henry is a first-term representative.

“Mayor Gillum will bring bold and needed leadership to our state’s most pressing issues including a stagnant economy that produces too many low-wage jobs, a health care system that leaves too many behind and a chronically underfunded education system,” Henry stated in a news release issued by Gillum’s campaign.

Gillum faces former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham of Tallahassee and Winter Park affordable housing developer Chris King for the Democratic nomination.

“Representative Henry’s support means the world to me,” Gillum stated in the release. “He has quickly made a name for himself in the legislature by serving the people of Volusia County with integrity and passion, and I’m proud to have his endorsement. Floridians are facing many imposing challenges, but with the help of leaders like Representative Henry, we can have the courage to finally lean in and address them.”

Four Republicans, one Democrat qualify to run in HD 44 special election

With the noon closing bell on ballot qualifying, House District 44 is left with four Republicans and one Democrat qualifying for a special election that could determine far more than who represents western Orange County in the Florida Legislature.

The Republican primary election will be Aug. 15. The general election will be Oct. 10.

This is an election Republicans want to win because the seat is an ideal launching pad for a bid to become speaker of the House of Representatives in the middle of the next decade.

And it’s an election Democrats want to win because they view the peculiarities of a special election as an opportunity for an upset, to grab a long-held Republican seat by turning out voters in what will otherwise likely be a sparse voter turnout.

“The thing is with a low turnout it doesn’t take a whole lot of effort to move the needle,” said Orange County Democratic Chairman Wes Hodge.

That would be an upset, given the Republicans’ 5 percent advantage in voter registration for the district, and Republicans higher reliability for voting in any election, particularly for special elections.

“It’s pretty red, especially for special elections. It’s a really safe district; we don’t anticipate any difficulties with it, honestly,” said Orange County Republican Chairman Lew Oliver.

The Republicans who qualified are former Winter Garden Commissioner Bobby Olszewski, who ran in a similar region last year in an unsuccessful, but close, bid for Orange County commissioner; John Newstreet, president and chief executive officer of the Kissimmmee/Osceola County Chamber of Commerce; businessman Bruno Portigliatti, and urgent care physician Dr. Usha Jain.

Businessman Paul Chandler is the Democrats’ candidate.

Republicans may be looking ahead from this election. If a Republican wins, it’ll give that person a year’s head-start on campaigning, fundraising, and collecting IOUs for the prospect of becoming speaker of the house for the freshmen class of representatives who’ll new voted into office in 2018. None of the candidates likes to talk about that prospect now, but Oliver said the seat is ripe for it.

“Plus, if they are successful in this election, they probably won’t have to watch their back, because it’s a really safe seat, and that’s the formula. It helps especially if you’re coming from a safe seat. You have the luxury of being able to travel around the state to help out others,” Oliver said.

This seat is open because Republican former state Rep. Eric Eisnaugle resigned to accept a gubernatorial appointment to Florida’s 5th District Court of Appeals.

Name recognition may be a stronger advantage than usual for the GOP primary because there are just eight weeks for the Republicans to introduce themselves and their messages to voters. For that Olszewski stands with the advantage, having run twice for Winter Garden commission, and last year for Orange County commission, for which he survived a four-person runoff, and then lost the general election, drawing 46 percent of the vote.

His challengers sound unconcerned about that. Newstreet raised $30,000 in in 11 days after announcing his candidacy in late May. It is unclear what other candidates have raised, because the first filing deadline for the race is not until next month. Newstreet volunteered his number. Olszewski had raised about $20,000 prior to May.

Newstreet believes he can convince voters that his background with the chamber gives him economic chops, his background with the U.S. Coast Guard gives him military service, and his background leading the American Legion in Florida adds to that. “We’re going to hit every eligible voter that has a history of voting. That’s a huge universe in a small timeframe,” he said.

Portigliatti intends to offer his successful business executive experience with several companies in Central Florida including Excellence Senior Living, a developer of luxury assisted living facilities for seniors, and Florida Christian University. What sets me apart the most is my real world business world experience… I’m not your typical politician. I’m not the status quote. I’m not a political insider.”

Democrats intend to rally behind Chandler, seeking an opportunity to sneak him in, in a district that has large Republican, Democratic and independent voters.

“The nice thing for us is it’s the only thing going on in Orange County. There are a lot of people willing to get involved to make sure everyone’s voice is heard, and who are interested to be a part of it,” Hodge said.

The Democrats also might make Eisnaugle a campaign issue. Democrats charged cronyism when Gov. Rick Scott selected him, over several sitting judges, for the opening on the Appeals Court, when Eisnaugle had very little courtroom or appellate law experience compared with other candidates.

“It’s sending a message. We can ask our voters: why are we even having this special election? Do we want to continue to send representatives up that participate in this or send a message that we don’t tolerate that here,” Hodge said.

Fourth Republican, Bruno Portigliatti, qualifies for HD 44 special election

Orlando businessman Bruno Portigliatti qualified for the ballot Monday for the upcoming special election in Florida’s House District 44, giving the Republicans four qualified candidates for the Aug. 15 primary.

Portigliatti,  of Orlando, is chief executive officer of Excellence Senior Living, a developer of luxury assisted living facilities for seniors, and executive vice president of Florida Christian University, a global online university. He also helps manage real estate enterprises for his family’s Portigliatti Group LLC.

He joins Kissimmee chamber of commerce chief John Newstreet, former Winter Garden Commissioner Bobby Olszewski, and emergency and urgent care physician Dr. Usha Jain as having qualified for the Republican primary ballot. The other three qualified by petition earlier this month.

Qualification closes at noon Tuesday for the special election, set to replace former state Rep. Eric Eisnaugle, who resigned to take a judicial appointment.

Two Democrats have filed to run, but through the end of business Monday, neither had been listed as qualified for the ballot yet by Florida Division of Elections. They are Paul Chandler, a Lake Buena Vista businessman; and Nuren Durre Haider, vice chair of the Orange County Democratic Executive Committee.

And neither party’s primary race may be closed yet; rumors of additional interested potential candidates have leaders in both parties watching and holding their breaths.

The general election will be Oct. 10. The winner gets to serve one year, and would run again in 2018 if wishing to remain in office.

Gwen Graham picks up Nan Rich’s endorsement

As Florida Democrats gather for their Leadership Blue conference, gubernatorial candidate Gwen Graham has grabbed the endorsement of the former Democratic Senate minority leader who for many appeared to be the heart of the party during her failed 2014 run for governor.

Nan Rich, now a Broward County commissioner, has extended her endorsement to Graham, who faces Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum and Winter Park affordable housing developer Chris King for the Democratic nomination in 2018.

“Gwen Graham has the integrity and ideas, the leadership qualities and real-life experiences to end the Republicans’ nearly two-decade hold on the governor’s office and put Florida on a progressive path forward,” Rich stated in a news release issued by Graham’s campaign.

“Gwen is the only Democrat for governor who has run against a Republican and won. Gwen is the only candidate for governor who has worked on the front lines of our public school system. She has been an advocate for women and children — and while in Congress she returned more than $2.5 million to seniors, veterans and families. Gwen is the only candidate for governor with a vision and actual plans to protect our environment and build an economy that works for everyone,” Rich added. “I’m thankful Gwen is carrying on her family’s tradition of public service, and like her parents, she truly cares about Florida and doing the right thing for Floridians.”

Rich served four years in the Florida House and eight years in the state Senate. Her 2014 bid for the Democrats’ nomination never gained traction against former Republican Gov. Charlie Crist who had switched parties, yet she hung in through the primary, intent on pushing Democratic policies.

“Nan Rich has spent her career in public service fighting for our shared progressive values and for Florida families,” Graham stated in the release. “I’m honored to have her support, and, as governor, I look forward to working work with Senator Rich to reverse the damage nearly two decades of one-party rule in Tallahassee has done to our state.”

John Newstreet qualifies by petition, second Democrat enters HD 44 race

Businessman and Kissimmee chamber of commerce executive John Newstreet has qualified by petition as a Republican candidate running in the special election to fill the Florida House District 44 opening for west Orange County.

And in the same district, a second Democratic candidate now has filed, Nuren Durre Haider of Orlando, who is vice chair of the Orange County Democratic Executive Committee. Haider ran unsuccessfully last year for a seat on the Orange County Commission.

Newstreet collected 350 valid petition signatures, 54 more than needed, to become the third Republican candidate to qualify in the race, which now officially is on for a Republican primary on Aug. 15.

Fellow Republican Winter Garden businessman Bobby Olszewski qualified by petition last week, and fellow Republican Dr. Usha Jain qualified earlier this week. Businessman Bruno Portigliotti, also a Republican, has filed his intents to run, as has Democratic businessman Paul Chandler.

Neither Chandler nor Haider has filed any signatures yet, nor has Portigliotti. Once Chandler and Haider qualify, that would also force an Aug. 15 Democratic primary. The general election is set for Oct. 10 to fill the seat, vacated when former state Rep. Eric Eisnaugle resigned to take a judicial appointment.

Newstreet only filed less than a month ago.

“The support we are receiving from the voters in District 44 has been overwhelming and unexpected this early in the campaign,” Newstreet stated in a news release issued by his campaign. “They understand we need a conservative in Tallahassee, someone who has a lifetime of service to veterans and the community with a track record of creating jobs.”

Rick Scott signs HB 7069, shifting education from ‘traditional public schools’

Surrounded by House Speaker Richard Corcoran and many of his members in a small, Orlando Catholic school dedicated to special needs students, Gov. Rick Scott signed House Bill 7069 into law, initiating major shifts in how Florida provides education.

While the education omnibus bill offers changes for all kinds of schools in Florida, from requiring recess to reducing mandatory testing, it accelerates state tax dollar funding for-profit and nonprofit charter and private schools, expands parents’ abilities to chose schools, and tightens Tallahassee’s controls over what local school boards can and cannot do.

Democrats almost universally opposed HB 7069, to the point of declaring it to be sabotage of Florida’s public school system. Joined by public school teachers, parents, PTAs, administrators and many school board members, they had urged for weeks that Scott veto the bill.

“What this legislation does today is it helps all students, which is important,” Scott declared, a few moments before signing HB 7069, ending weeks of speculation of whether he would sign or veto the controversial measure since Corcoran and his team pushed through a dramatic rewrite on the last day of the Legislation Session.

For Scott and Corcoran, the architect, the bill declares a major shift from continuing reliance on what Republican state Rep. Michael Bileca of Miami described as continuously-failing “traditional public schools.” If Corcoran is the architect of HB 7069, he credited Bileca and Republican state Rep. Manny Diaz Jr. of Hialeah for being the engineers, finding the ways to make it work.

The supporters of traditional public education put up an almost universal opposition.

House Democratic Leader Janet Cruz of Tampa called the bill “an assault on public schools.” State Rep. Shevrin Jones of West Park called it “politics over people.” Democratic state Sen. Linda Stewart of Orlando called it “an unwise experiment in education policy opposed by our state’s teachers, parents, professional administrators and superintendents.” Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gwen Graham declared it to be a “massive step toward turning Florida’s public school system into a public school industry designed to benefit corporations and powerful interests.”

But Scott, Corcoran and others called the bill Florida’s best hope.

“It is the greatest pro-family, pro-parent, pro-teacher session that we have had in the history of the state of Florida,” Corcoran said. All those things that we had listened to and heard, whether it is too much testing, whether we’re testing too much, whether it’s recess for kids in K-5, whether its pay raises for our highly-effective and effective teachers, whether it’s taking care of children with disabilities and giving them those funds to make those decisions themselves.

“We finally went in and said, ‘Hey, we’re the third-largest state, in the richest country in the world, and we have 195 failure factories, 340 if you just count a single year, the year we’re in right now, those are kids who are being robbed of dignity and hope, and a chance at a world-class education and a future in this world,” Corcoran said. “We go in there, and we address it, and we allow those kids an opportunity to come in go to a school, regardless of ZIP code, regardless of where they fall on the wealth scale.”

Little was said of the critics who say the bill will drain more away from the traditional public schools, including control. But Scott and the others have heard the criticism for weeks, since Corcoran unveiled the massive HB 7069 on May 9.

“If we didn’t have any critics, if we didn’t have people fighting back against us, we weren’t doing anything. This really does something to change the status quo,” Diaz said.

 

Chris King campaigning for Jon Ossoff for Georgia race

Democratic Florida gubernatorial candidate Chris King is crossing a line – a state line – to help out a fellow Democrat in the hottest race in the country.

The King campaign announced Wednesday he is cosponsoring a phone bank in Miami on Thursday to raise money and support for Jon Ossoff, who is running for the open U.S. House of Representatives seat in Georgia’s 6th Congressional District.

King, of Winter Park, is joining the Miami Downtown Dems for the Ossoff phone bank, at the office of the Service Employees International Union in Miami, an effort which could win him some supporters in South Florida.

King is in a Democratic battle for the nomination to run for governor in 2018 with Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum and former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham of Tallahassee.

Ossoff is in a battle with Republican Karen Handel for a longtime Republican seat in the Atlanta suburbs that polls show is airtight heading toward next Tuesday’s special election. They’re seeking to replace Republican former U.S. Rep. Tom Price, whom President Donald Trump appointed to be U.S. Health and Human Services secretary.

 

Did Republican state and national leaders mail in their Pulse appearances?

In one of the more biting moments in the 1997 film “Good Will Hunting,” mathematician Gerald Lambeau, played by Stellan Skarsgård, apologizes to his old friend, psychologist Sean Maguire, played by Robin Williams, for having missed the funeral of Sean’s wife.

“I got your card,” Sean snapped, not at all disguising his anger.

Did we just see state and national Republicans mail in [or tweet in] their condolences and best wishes for Orlando’s one-year observation of the Pulse mass-murder that killed 49 and tore out the heart of a community?

Orlando is increasingly becoming a Democratic stronghold, but plenty of Republicans still thrive in Central Florida, and plenty get elected, and the area is worth fighting for. The local GOP contingent was well represented, by Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs, several county and city commissioners, several state lawmakers and others. But, except for Democrats U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, and U.S. Reps. Stephanie Murphy, Val Demings and Darren Soto, who all spoke at one event or another event, none of the state and national political leaders made much of an appearance at Orlando’s Pulse activities.

There’s a real chance state and national Republican leaders weren’t asked to come, discouraged to come, or just knew that their appearances would be, at best, awkward. There has been widespread criticism that too many of them just never fully acknowledged the pain in Orlando was both about a terrorist attack and about the biggest hate crime against gays in American history.

And Monday’s commemorations all were intimate, mostly involving only those public figures who had been there with Orlando throughout.

Some Republicans tried to do something.

Gov. Rick Scott was the lone state or national leader who came to Orlando, but it was a stealth appearance, not announced in advance, and apparently without any remarks. He stopped for a private breakfast at the Orlando Police Department headquarters, and then for an unannounced brief visit to the Pulse nightclub Monday morning, essentially a photo-op. He did not attend any of the major events, and he did not let anyone know he was stopping by Pulse, not even Pulse owner Barbara Poma.

Marco Rubio took to the floor of the Senate Monday evening and made an emotional Pulse speech, full of very personal observations, and acknowledgment that, whatever else the tragedy was, it also was an attack on Orlando’s gay community.

“Obviously the attack was personal for the 49 families with stories of their own and of course the countless others who were injured. I know it was personal to the LGBT community in Central Florida,” Rubio said on the Senate floor. “As I said Pulse was a well-known cornerstone of the community, particularly for younger people. And as I said earlier This was deeply personal for Floridians and the people of central Florida, and I’ll get to that in a moment because I’m extraordinarily proud of that community.”

And he and Nelson introduced a resolution Monday in the Senate to commemorate Pulse.

Murphy, Demings, and Soto also introduced a Pulse remembrance resolution in the House of Representatives, and also spoke on the floor Monday. And all three found time to speak in Orlando, to Orlandoans, first.

Unlike Nelson, Murphy, Soto or Demings, Rubio was nowhere to be seen in Orlando during the observations that began at 1 a.m. and ended at midnight Monday.

Others in state and national GOP mailed or tweeted it in, and continued to miss the point that Orlando sees the tragedy both as a terrorist attack AND a hate crime against gays.

President Donald Trump did not come, nor did he send any White House or Cabinet delegates or surrogates to Orlando. He did not make any proclamations, though he did tweet, including a picture montage of the 49 murder victims.

“We will NEVER FORGET the victims who lost their lives one year ago today in the horrific #PulseNightClub shooting. #OrlandoUnitedDay.” Trump announced on Twitter Monday.

Rubio also sent his tweets — three of them.

“One year later, we honor 49 of our fellow Americans of @pulseorlando and continue to pray for their families.” Rubio tweeted, and “The #PulseNightClub tragedy was rooted in a hateful ideology that has no place in our world. #OrlandoStrong,” and The #PulseShooting was an attack on the LGBT community, Florida, America, and our very way of life. #OrlandoUnitedDay”

U.S. Reps. Ron DeSantis, Bill Posey and Daniel Webster, who each have districts that are not quite Orlando but close enough to include Orlando suburbs and many who were deeply affected by Pulse, did not make any Orlando appearances.

DeSantis put out a statement, and Webster mentioned Pulse in a Facebook post. Both focused on terrorism, a true angle to the tragedy, but one that continues to divide along partisan lines, as neither made any mention of the attack being on Orlando gays.

“The massacre at the Pulse nightclub represented the face of evil in the modern world. Fueled by a putrid ideology, the terrorist indiscriminately killed dozens of innocent people, forever devastating their families and loved ones. Orlando rallied in response to the attack in a remarkable fashion. It is incumbent on our society to root out radical Islamic terrorism from within our midst,” DeSantis wrote.

“Today, we remember the 49 innocent lives tragically lost due to a horrific act of terror in Orlando one year ago. Our prayers continue to be with the surviving victims, loved ones and all those affected,” Webster wrote on Facebook.

Scott also signed a proclamation on Friday, declaring Monday as Pulse Remembrance Day, surprising some in Orlando with his clear acknowledgment — lacking in some previous statements — that Orlando’s LGBTQ community had suffered mightily and needed acceptance.

Other Republicans followed the same pattern of DeSantis and Webster, ignoring the LGBTQ hate crime angle.

Attorney General Pam Bondi tweeted, but did not come to Orlando.

“Today we honor those lost in the #Pulse attack & the citizens & first responders who ran toward danger to save lives.” Bondi tweeted.

Agricultural Commissioner and gubernatorial candidate Adam Putnam both put out a statement, and tweeted, but did not come to Orlando.

“On the anniversary of the Pulse attack, we pause to remember the 49 victims who were suddenly and senselessly taken, their loved ones who continue to mourn and heal, and the first responders who put themselves in harm’s way for their fellow Floridians without hesitation,” Putnam wrote. “We also remember how Orlando, the Central Florida community and the entire state came together amidst such tragedy. People stood in lines for hours to donate blood, generously gave their time and money to total strangers and worked together to meet the needs of all those impacted. This anniversary is not just a solemn milestone to remember those we tragically lost, but it’s also a reminder of the strength, courage and compassion of the people of Florida.

“My prayers to all family, friends & loved ones of the 49 victims who were suddenly and senselessly taken one year ago today,” Putnam tweeted. And then, “And to the 1st responders in Orlando who put their own lives in danger to help others in need, TY for your strength, courage & compassion.”

Jose Javier Rodriguez: We’re being called back to bless backroom deal

Democrats staked out their contempt for the stated purpose of the Legislature’s Special Session today with state Sen. Jose Javier Rodriquez saying lawmakers are being called in to bless a backroom deal to give the governor a slush fund.

Rodriguez, of Miami, and state Rep. Shevrin Jones of West Park decried what they described as a cynical process for Gov. Rick Scott and Republican legislative leaders to get what they want in exchange for $2015 million in education funding that already had been stripped away from public schools and routed to charter schools in House Bill 7069.

The special session begins this afternoon and is scheduled to run through Friday. Scott called the session to also establish the Florida Job Growth Fund to promote public infrastructure and individual job training and fund it at $85 million, the same amount he requested for incentive programs for Enterprise Florida; and pass legislation that sets aside $76 million for VISIT Florida and includes comprehensive transparency and accountability measures for the organization.

Rodriguez called the Florida Job Growth Fund a “slush fund” for the governor.

“We’re coming up here basically because we’re being asked to bless a deal that has been cut,” Rodriguez charged.

“One of the things being done with respect to our economic development program is creating this job growth program, which looks more like a slush fund than anything else, $85 million, that is not subject to scrutiny that we are going to be increasing on Enterprise Florida,” Rodriguez added. “It basically is the governor’s pot of money to do with what he will.”

Jones took aim at the education funding and HB 7069, which was passed on the last day of the Legislative Session and awaits transmittal to the governor’s office. That bill, he charged, was created without transparency “at its worst.”

He and Rodriguez characterized the Special Session as a waste of time and money and not good for Florida residents. But Rodriguez acknowledged that could change if medical marijuana is scheduled, as FloridaPolitics.com reported earlier Wednesday will happen.

“If we are being called up here to enact the will of the voters, yeah, sure, that’s a reason to have a Special Session,” he said.

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