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Andrew Gillum picks up Julian Castro’s endorsement in Governor’s race

Democrat Andrew Gillum has picked up the endorsement of former HUD Director Julian Castro in his quest for the Florida governor’s office in 2018.

Castro, from San Antonio, was U.S. secretary of Housing and Urban Development under former President Barack Obama.

He also will participate in a fundraising event in Miami early next month for Gillum, mayor of Tallahassee, Gillum’s campaign announced.

“Our nation is at its best when it matches hard work with real opportunity. That’s the essence of the American Dream,” Castro said in a news release issued by Gillum’s campaign. “I’m proud to support Andrew Gillum for Governor because Andrew, the son of a construction worker and a bus driver, has worked hard to achieve his own dreams — and he’s worked just as hard to ensure that Floridians from every walk of life can achieve theirs.”

Gillum faces former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham of Tallahassee and Winter Park affordable housing developer Chris King heading toward a Democratic primary. So far Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam has the Republican path pretty much to himself.

“When Andrew is Governor, he will fight so that every child in Florida has the opportunity to grow and succeed in the Sunshine State,” Castro continued. “He is the candidate Democrats can best trust to stand with the courage of conviction, even when it’s not politically convenient,” Castro continued.

Gillum called Castro’s endorsement an honor.

“As HUD Secretary and San Antonio’s Mayor, Julian has put children’s health, well-being and opportunity at the forefront of his work. He has worked to ensure all of our children — no matter if they grew up in a big city or rural town — have every chance to succeed,” Gillum said. “It is an honor to have his endorsement as we continue sharing our vision for a Florida that works for everyone.”

Universal support for Robert Mueller so far from Florida’s members of Congress

Across the aisles and across the Sunshine State Florida’s members of Congress are universally praising the announcement that former FBI Director Robert Mueller will lead a special investigation into Russian interference in American elections.

Some Democrats, while praising the appointment and Mueller’s integrity, still called for more, including the special commission that Democrats have been pushing for in a bill in the House of Representatives. They also almost universally expressed hope that Mueller will conduct a broad investigation that includes pursuing obstruction of justice allegations against President Donald Trump.

Fewer Florida Republicans than Democrats responded Wednesday evening and Thursday morning, but those who did expressed confidence that Mueller’s appointment is the right move, and that Mueller is the right man for the job.

Republican U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo of Kendall once again got out front of other Republican in expressing concerns over Russia, going on MSNBC Wednesday night and alluding to the prospect that the Russians had American insiders helping them with their election influence operation.

“Because we all want to get to the bottom of what the Russians did to influence this election, and we need to know if any U.S. persons collaborated or colluded with the Russians, this is something that will get us much closer to the truth,” Curbelo told Greta Van Susteren on the For The Record With Greta show. “And it’s something we should be very happy about.”

Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, who’d been among the first and most vocal of Republicans to raise concerns about Russian interference last fall, but who had remained fairly quiet as news bombs exploded earlier this week, applauded the Mueller appointment, while cautioning that he still wants the Senate to run its own investigation.

“Mr. Mueller is widely respected for his independence and professionalism. I have confidence that he will conduct a fair and thorough investigation,” Rubio said in a written statement. “For the sake of the country, all parties must fully cooperate with his efforts that are focused on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. This effort should in no way be allowed to impede the ability of the Senate Intelligence Committee to conduct and conclude its investigation into the same subject. It is my hope that these investigations will now move expeditiously.”

Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson offered the hope that Mueller will get everything he needs.

“Bob Mueller has the experience to conduct a thorough investigation. Now, the administration must provide him the resources and independent authority he needs to follow the facts wherever they lead,” Nelson said in his statement.

Republican U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan of Longboat Key called Mueller “a man of integrity and independence.”

“Bob Mueller is a great choice to lead the investigation as the newly appointed special counsel. A former FBI director, Mueller is a man of integrity and independence who can be expected to conduct a thorough inquiry into Russian involvement in the 2016 presidential election. Mr. Mueller will get to the truth and give the American people confidence in the outcome of the investigation.”

Republican U.S. Rep. Brian Mast of Palm City called for truth.

“We should never run or hide from the truth,” Mast stated in a release. “If we seek out truth and embrace it then Americans can know we all play by the same set of rules.  I hope Former FBI Director Robert Mueller can be looked at as unbiased and his finding respected by all involved.”

Republican U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Miami called Mueller “no-nonsense.”

“I applaud the appointment of no-nonsense Mueller to lead the investigation of the negative interference of Russia in our democratic process,” she tweeted.

Republican Mario Diaz-Balart of Miami said the matter deserves the attention.

“By appointing former FBI Director Mueller as special counsel, the Justice Department recognizes the attention this matter requires,” he wrote in a statement. I expect Mr. Mueller will conduct this in a professional and thorough manner, just as he led the FBI for 12 years through two presidencies.”

Democratic U.S. Rep. Val Demings of Orlando called the move “brilliant” but held out a demand that the commission House Democrats have been seeking still gets established.

“The American people deserve answers. The appointment of former FBI Director Robert Mueller is a brilliant choice. Based on my knowledge of him, he will be relentless in his pursuit of the facts. He is well up to the task,” she wrote in a statement. “Now, we need an independent commission to ensure we protect our democracy and send a strong message that we will not tolerate any  interference in our elections from anyone.”

Democratic U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy of Winter Park agreed, on social media posts.

“The appointment of Robert Mueller as special counsel for the Russia investigation is a positive step toward uncovering the truth. We must follow the facts,” she wrote. “However, we still need an independent commission on Russia’s interference and hacking in our 2016 elections to inform the public and to determine how we can prevent future attacks on our democracy. “

Democratic U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist of St. Petersburg expressed his confidence in Mueller.

“This is a very significant step and a win for our democracy and the American people,” he declared in a written statement. “Robert Mueller has broad respect across party lines and is the right person to lead such an important and sensitive investigation. We must get to the bottom of the Russia question, letting facts guide us to the truth.”

Democratic U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor of Tampa urged everyone, including Trump, to fully cooperate with Mueller.

“The appointment of a Special Counsel to investigate potential wrongdoing between Russia and President Trump is an important and overdue step to fully uncover the extent of Russian meddling in our political system and potential obstruction of justice,” she wrote. “A fully independent investigation outside of the partisan politics of Congress is required to restore public trust. This is a tall order and I hope the Special Counsel is up to this task. The appointment comes on the heels of intransigence by Congressional Republicans who as late as this afternoon refused to bring to the House floor a bipartisan bill I have co-sponsored to establish a bipartisan, independent commission to investigate the malign Russian influence on our democratic system, the Trump campaign, and his administration. I urge President Trump, all of his associates and all who love this country to be forthright and do everything they can to cooperate and aid the investigation. The American people deserve no less.”

Democratic U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Weston insisted the investigation must be as broad as possible.

“I’m encouraged by the Justice Department’s decision to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate the Trump-Russia connection, and I have a deep respect for former FBI Director Mueller. Assuming he is given true independence, this appointment will remove some of the clouds that have hung over our system of justice during this deeply troubling situation. It’s certainly overdue,” she said in a written statement. “However, the investigation must include Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election, the Kremlin’s possible ties to the Trump campaign, and the President’s alleged interference in the Michael Flynn investigation. This is a positive step, but more still needs to be done to ensure that we provide the whole truth to the American people.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch of Boca Raton said something similar in a tweet:

“Important step in Russia investigation. But any investigation must include possible obstruction of justice by POTUS,” he tweeted.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel of West Palm Beach called for vigilance.

“Thanks to public outcry, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein names a special counsel in Russia probe. Americans must stay vigilant,” she tweeted.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson of Miami Gardens specifically cited Trump’s presidential campaign as a target.

“The appointment of Robert Mueller to investigate possible ties between President Trump’s campaign and the Russian government is a long-awaited step in the right direction,” she said in a written statement. “After a week of constant controversy, Americans’ faith in government may begin to be restored. I applaud Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein for having the courage to name a special counselor, a decision that Mr. Trump has denounced as a ‘witch hunt.’ My view is that if there is no connection between the president or his campaign and Russia, he should have nothing to worry about. Mr. Mueller is widely viewed as a man of the highest integrity who can be counted on to maintain that standard. I hope he will have all of the authority and resources necessary to conduct a thorough investigation, no matter where it may lead him.”

Democratic U.S. Rep. Al Lawson of Tallahassee called the appointment a step in the right direction, but insisted on the independent commission.

“Appointing former FBI Director Robert Mueller as a special counsel is a step in the right direction for continuing the investigation into Russia’s possible involvement in our democracy, but we still need an independent commission in order to ensure a thorough investigation,” Lawson said in a written statement. “The American people deserve to know the full truth.”

 

Partly in disbelief, Florida’s members of Congress denounce Donald Trump’s revelations to Russians

A lot of Florida’s Democratic members of Congress are responding with stunned disbelief to news reports — and President Donald Trump‘s Tuesday morning tweet — that he shared classified, highly sensitive ISIS information with Russian diplomats last week, calling the prospect inexcusable and demanding details.

Republican U.S. Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Miami and Mario Diaz-Balart also denounced the events, while most other Republican members from Florida have yet to react Tuesday morning to Monday evenings’ news, and Trump’s tweet essentially acknowledging the information exchange.

On the other hand, Republican U.S. Rep. Bill Posey of Rockledge argued that if the concerns are real and serious, the sources who brought the story forward need to be taking their concerns to Congress, not offering unnamed source tips to the media.

“The President has the authority to make decisions regarding our national security and work with other nations to combat international terrorism,” Posey stated. “It’s time for these unnamed sources to come forward and inform Congress and the public of any specific allegations.”

After reports first in The Washington Post and then other major media outlets, Trump responded Tuesday morning with two tweets stating, “As President I wanted to share with Russia (at an openly scheduled W.H. meeting) which I have the absolute right to do, facts pertaining …” and “… to terrorism and airline flight safety. Humanitarian reasons, plus I want Russia to greatly step up their fight against ISIS & terrorism.”

Essentially The Washington Post and others had reported that Trump told the Russian officials about intelligence it had gathered on ISIS in Syria, from third-party sources that presumably would not want that information shared with the Russians, who are not aligned with the United States in the multisided Syrian conflicts.

“If the story is true,” began a statement from Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson.

“If these allegations are true,” opened Democratic U.S. Rep. Val Demings of Orlando.

“If reports are accurate,” surmised Democratic U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch of Boca Raton

“If true,” started Democratic U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Weston.

“Putin and the Russian regime are dangerous players in the global arena,” Diaz-Balart stated. “They are not our allies and cannot be trusted with sensitive, classified information.”

Ros-Lehtinen spoke on CBS Miami, and then passed along her essential position in a tweet Tuesday morning: “No one should share classified information with nations like #Russia that have interests adverse to ours.”

Democrats were no less direct, including those who caveated their statements in initial disbelief, calling for damage assessments and more.

And with later reports on Tuesday that the intelligence may have come from Israel, Deutch really let loose.

“It is shocking that President Trump shared classified information reportedly obtained by Israel with the Russians. Not only does this endanger Israel’s intelligence network, but it puts highly sensitive information into the hands of Russia — a partner of Israel’s enemies Syria, Iran, and its proxy Hezbollah,” Deutch said. “Intelligence cooperation between the United States and Israel has always been a cornerstone of our relationship, and to jeopardize this while boasting to the Russians puts America’s national security and Israel’s security at serious risk.”

“When you betray the trust of our allies and national security partners, it jeopardizes our safety and future intelligence sharing. As the former vice chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, I can’t stress enough how serious of a blunder this is,” declared U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings of Miramar. “It is imperative that Congress is given a full briefing on the extent of the damage that President Donald John Trump has caused in compromising highly classified code-word intelligence to the Russians.”

“If the story is true, this is a serious breach of security and will have lasting and dangerous consequences for the U.S.,” Nelson said.

“Trump betrays our country & allies when he leaks classified info to Russia,” tweeted U.S. Rep. Darren Soto of Orlando.

“The news that the president gave highly classified information to the Russian foreign minister and Russian ambassador in the Oval Office is deeply, deeply disturbing. His actions are indefensible,” declared U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist of St. Petersburg. “They delivered a self-inflicted wound to our national security, imperiling secret, sensitive operations overseas battling ISIS, putting the lives of our operatives in grave danger. Congress must exercise its oversight responsibilities immediately. The repercussions of the disclosure, and measures to prevent the President from repeating such a serious error, must be weighed.”

“If these allegations are true, they are inexcusable and deserve immediate action from Congress. In leaking this kind of intelligence, the President would be putting lives in danger. Our allies need to know that they can trust us,” Demings offered.

“As president, Trump has the right to declassify anything he wants, but that doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do,” offered U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson of Miami Gardens. “Russia is not our friend, and the sooner he realizes that, the better off our country will be.”

“If true, news reports indicate that President Trump compromised America’s intelligence gathering operations and security, and possibly harmed a relationship with a key ally and put lives at risk,” stated Wasserman Schultz. “His disclosure would be a gravely dangerous compromise of classified information with an adversary. Congress needs an immediate and full briefing on what damage has been done.”

“If reports are accurate, President Trump revealed vital and highly classified information in the Oval Office to Putin’s top officials. This reckless move jeopardizes our intelligence sources, exposes extremely sensitive information, and seriously calls into question our president’s judgment,” Deutch declared in his original statement, before the Israel report. “This dangerous behavior threatens our global alliances in the fight against terrorism and actually makes America less safe.”

U.S. Rep. Al Lawson of Tallahassee posted on Facebook, “Reports of President Trump sharing highly sensitive information with Russian officials is extremely concerning. This underscores the need for a Special Prosecutor to investigate this administration’s ties to Russia.”

At a news conference Tuesday morning, U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor of Tampa said: “If it’s true that President Trump shared classified information with one of our adversaries while they were invited into the Oval Office, it’s simply outrageous and it undermines the ability of the United States of America to cooperate with our allies across the world, gathering intelligence. It undermines the effectiveness of the brave men and women in our intelligence agencies.”

U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy of Winter Park, also sent out a tweet, stating, “If other nations can’t trust us to keep shared classified info secret, then they will stop sharing it with us — making us less safe.”

Murphy’s campaign side had a lot more to say on the subject late Tuesday, in a fundraising email, demanding that transcripts of Trump’s meeting with the Russians be sent to Congress for review:

“These leaks could put American lives in danger and no one — not even the President — should be given a free pass for this kind of reckless behavior. Nothing is more important than the safety and security of American citizens. Trump’s leaks to the Russians put our national security at risk and endanger our relationships with key allies.

“In fact, The Associated Press is reporting that other countries may stop sharing intelligence that could prevent future terrorist attacks. As a former National Security specialist with one of the nation’s top security clearances, Stephanie knows the importance of keeping classified information within the intelligence community.

“That’s why she’s taking Trump’s leaks VERY seriously and calling for the immediate release of the meeting transcripts for Congressional review.

“Congress should at least have the same information the Russians now have in their possession. If our President put our nation in danger — we deserve to know.”

The email then directs people to click on a link to send a message to Trump, but the link first sends visitors to a fundraising page for Murphy’s 2018 re-election.

Governor’s race candidates drawing big checks

Three Democrats and one Republican running so far for the 2018 Florida governor’s race are starting out with war chests built with big checks, from such sources as August A. Busch, George Soros, David King and Wayne Hogan, mainly cut to their independent political committees that have no limits.

Republican Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam leads the pack — by far — but had an enormous head start on the others. Putnam’s Florida Grown PC opened in March 0f 2015, followed by Democratic Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum‘s Florida Forward PC in March of 2016, and former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham‘s Our Florida PC, and Winter Park businessman Chris King‘s Rise and Lead, Florida PC, earlier this year.

Still, with just 2017 figures tallied, Putnam’s Florida Grown has pulled in 120 checks of $10,000 or more; while Gillum’s Forward Florida has 21; Graham’s Our Florida, 19; and King’s Rise and Lead, five.

All the numbers reported here are through the end of April, posted Thursday on the Florida Division of Elections’ website.

King, who built wealth through a company developing affordable housing, has the biggest check so far, $1 million to his official campaign committee, from himself. Only he and Gillum have been officially in the race long enough to report official campaign committee donations, which normally are limited to $3,000 checks, except from the candidate. Gillum’s biggest official campaign committee check is just that, $3,000.

King raised $1.38 million in his official campaign committee, including another check from himself for $62,000, and $422,000 in his Rise and Lead independent committee. His father, attorney David King, also has contributed $166,000, and Winter Park accountant Thomas Beck, $47,000, to Rise and Lead.

But the independent committees are where the bulk of the candidates’ early money sits.

Putnam, who officially filed to run last week, had raised $11.4 million in his Florida Grown committee over the past 26 months, with $9.8 million of that coming in checks of at least $10,000. This year that committee has raised $3,96 million on checks of at least $10,000 to Florida Grown, which has raised a grand total of $4.58 million, on a total of 1,118 individual contributions this year.

The 2017 checks to Florida Grown are topped by FP&L’s $250,000 in January, and the Florida Chamber of Commerce’s political action committee Florida Jobs PAC’s $150,000 in February. The Florida Chamber of Commerce PAC also cut two $100,000 checks, in February and April.

Another 15 individuals, companies and PACs have donated $100,000 apiece, including Disney Worldwide Services, the Associated Industries of Florida’s AIF PAC, Anheuser-Busch Breweries heir August A. Busch of St. Louis, and several agriculture interests including U.S. Sugar Corp. of Clewiston, Vero Beach citrus magnate William Becker, Myakka City industrial farmer John Falkner, and Peace River Citrus Products of Arcadia.

Gillum, who entered the race in early March, has the most-active official campaign fund, with more than 5,439 donations totaling $413,000, and consequently the greatest number of small donations. So far, he’s received 4,609 donations of less than $100 in that fund, compared with 233 for King, and 1,354 in Putnam’s Florida Grown PC.

Gillum’s Florida Forward PC, which he opened a year before, has taken only seven checks under $100. That committee has received 21 checks of at least $10,000, totaling $495,000 of the $665,000 Florida Forward has raised.

Tops among Gillum’s big donors are New York billionaire liberal-cause rainmaker George Soros, who donated $100,000 at the end of March; his son Alex Soros of New York, who donated $50,000 the same day; and Hollywood TV and movie producer Norman Lear, who donated $50,000, also on March 31.

Graham, who also officially filed last week, had raised $679,000 since early February in her Our Florida PC. Nineteen checks of at least $10,000 accounted for much of that, $645,000.

Those checks are topped by $250,000 she transferred into that committee from her congressional campaign committee in February. After that, airport construction magnate James Finch of Lynn Haven, health care software entrepreneur Michael Singer of Alachua, and attorney Wayne Hogan of Jacksonville, a former congressional candidate, each contributed $50,000.

As for the states of origin for the money, Gillum has shown the most ability to raise money outside of Florida, particularly in California and New York. His official campaign has drawn 282 checks from California totaling $39,000, and 213 from New York, also totaling about $39,000. He also has 104 checks from Georgia, totaling about $10,000.

Gillum has 3,815 checks from Floridians, good for $268,000.

His Florida Forward committee shows a similar pattern, though dominated by those big Soros and Lear checks. Four checks from New York brought in $165,000, and seven checks from California brought in $121,000. From Florida, Forward Florida has received 46 checks for about $287,000. The committee also has gotten $41,000 out of Massachusetts, and $37,000 out of Georgia.

Relative to what he’s drawn from the Sunshine State, Putnam has done very little out of state fundraising, with at least 3,055 checks from Floridians, totaling more than $10,800,000, in his Florida Grown PC. He has gotten $157,000 out of Missouri, including that big Busch donation, on eight checks; and more than $50,000 from Georgia, Pennsylvania, New York, and New Jersey, on a handful of checks.

Likewise, King and Graham have drawn relatively little from out-of-state.

Graham’s Our Florida PC has gotten 27 of 32 checks from Florida, tallying $623,000 of her $679,000. Another check came in from Washington D.C. for $20,000; two came in from Rhode Island totaling $20,000, and one from Utah for $10,000.

King’s official campaign committee has received 403 of its 480 checks from Floridians, worth $1.31 million of that committee’s $1.38 million total. He’s gotten seven checks each from Colorado and North Carolina, totaling $18,000 and $11,000 respectively. His Rise and Lead PC has received no out-of-state checks.

Florida’s Democrats, Carlos Curbelo call for investigation after James Comey firing

Florida’s Democratic members of Congress are expressing outrage over Tuesday evening’s firing of FBI Director James Comey and saying it solidifies their demands for an independent investigation into ties between President Donald Trump and Russia.

In statements released last night, Democrats were using words like “disgusting,” “disturbing” and “preposterous,” even as many acknowledged that they were unhappy with Comey dating to his announced findings about Hillary Clinton‘s email scandal on the even of the 2016 election.

At least two Florida Republicans weighed in, as U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo of Kendall expressed concern about the questions the Trump’s firing of Comey raises and called for a special investigation by Congress, while U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis of Ponte Vedra Beach called it “the right decision.”

Typical of many of the Democrats was U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Weston, who called Tuesday,  “a dark day for justice in America,” and then went on to criticize Comey for his past actions.

“The conduct of FBI Director James Comey before the 2016 Election was certainly disturbing, and undoubtedly deserved criticism and scrutiny,” Wasserman Schultz declared. “But the reasoning and timing behind this firing is absolutely preposterous and unbelievable. It smacks of a Nixon-esque cover up of President Trump’s Kremlin ties. And with this egregious political power play, there is now no question that a special prosecutor is needed, because Americans absolutely deserve an open, independent investigation into Trump’s Russian connections.”

Some were more measured. U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy of Winter Park said the firing, “gives rise to many questions, which I have no doubt will be examined in the coming days.

“However,” Murphy continued. “the President’s action makes one thing crystal clear: there needs to be a swift, independent and non-partisan investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. Congress and the American people deserve to know all the facts, especially if we are to prevent further foreign interferences in our democracy. We should follow the evidence wherever it leads—regardless of whom it may implicate. The American people deserve an inquiry that is above partisan politics and is solely devoted to uncovering the truth.”

On the Republican side, Curbelo called the firing “an extraordinary decision that “raises many questions all of which must be answered.

“Congress and the American people need a transparent explanation as to how this decision was reached and why it was executed at this time,” Curbelo continued. “It is critical that the FBI can continue all of its pending work with independence and integrity – especially the investigation into the Russian government’s efforts to influence our last election and undermine American democracy. Today I reiterate the need for Congress to establish a Select Committee with full investigatory powers to thoroughly examine this matter.”

DeSantis stressed that the firing should rightfully remove the concerns about politics in the FBI.

“President Trump made the right decision to relieve FBI Director James Comey of his duties,” DeSantis stated. “I look forward to the President nominating a strong director who will keep the FBI focused on its core mission and out of the political thicket.”

Among other Democrats weighing in:

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson:

“Now it is more clear than ever that we need an independent commission to get to the truth of Russia’s interference with our election.”

U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor of Tampa:

“President Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey is a blatant attempt to stall the FBI’s ongoing investigation of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. It is also part of a disturbing trend — first, former acting Attorney General Sally Yates is fired by Trump after informing the White House of deep concerns about Trump’s national security adviser, Michael Flynn, and his activities with Russia. Now, Comey is fired by Trump a week after testifying that the FBI is conducting its investigation.

“Trump may well be trying to distract the American people from the very troubling conflicts of interest, and those connections between Trump’s former national security adviser and Russia that were known about for some 18 days before Trump reluctantly fired Flynn. It is past time for an independent, bipartisan investigation. Trump may want to bury the investigation, but his presidency will continue under a cloud unless a special prosecutor or independent commission is established and the facts are fully presented to the American people.”

U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist of St. Petersburg:

“I don’t disagree with the decision to remove Director Comey from his post given his actions over the past year. But the timing is extremely suspect given the FBI recently announced they are investigating the Trump administration for alleged ties to Russia.

“Now President Trump gets to nominate the head of the agency leading that investigation. We need a special prosecutor to take over the Russia investigation, and the Senate must drill down to a degree like never before on whoever is nominated to replace Director Comey. The integrity of our top law enforcement agency – and our democracy – is at stake!”

U.S. Rep. Val Demings of Orlando:

“The circumstances surrounding the firing of FBI Director James Comey, from the timing, to the justification, to the individuals involved, are very concerning.

“We need to restore the American people’s faith in the ability of the FBI to conduct a fair and non-partisan investigation. That starts with the investigation into the Russian interference of the 2016 election, and the Trump campaign’s collusion with Russia.

“It’s time for all of us to put partisanship aside, and do what’s best for the future of our democracy.”

U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch of Boca Raton:

“Not since President Nixon have we seen such a disgraceful abuse of power and attack on the integrity of our system of justice. During one of the most important national security investigations of our time, Director Comey’s firing is a blatant attack on the independence of the Justice Department. This behavior – firing the person who is investigating you – may pass in [Vladimir] Putin’s Russia, but it is disgracefully below the office of the President of the United States.

“This is only the latest in a string of alarming moves by the White House: first they fired acting-Attorney General Yates for calling attention to their compromised National Security Advisor, then Preet Bharara, and now Director Comey.

“Attorney General [Jeff] Sessions has lost any remaining credibility by getting involved in an investigation from which he promised to recuse himself. Given the actions of the White House, the American people unfortunately must now question whether anyone affiliated with this Administration can investigate this case of Russian influence honestly, thoroughly, and independently. We need a special prosecutor and an independent commission to continue this investigation without the whiff of political oversight or interference.”

U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings of Miramar:

“The FBI Director’s firing cries out for a Special Prosecutor. Up until the moment of his dismissal, Director Comey was actively investigating President Donald John Trumps’ connection to Russian interference in the 2016 election. The American people deserve to know why Director Comey was fired without reason and Donald Trump needs to explain himself immediately.”

U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson of Miami Gardens:

“Like many, I was stunned to learn that President Trump has fired FBI director James Comey. This dismissal came as Comey was leading an investigation into whether individuals connected to the president coordinated with Russia to impact the 2016 presidential election.

“This abrupt action raises many serious questions and is further proof that an independent prosecutor should be named to head the Russia investigation. It also could make the possibility of such an appointment more likely. The president may think that firing Comey will help his case, but no matter who conducts the investigation, Comey will now likely be called to testify under oath and his words could do the administration far more harm than good.”

U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel of West Palm Beach:

“I am no fan of Director Comey, but I’m deeply disturbed by President Trump’s decision to fire the man who is investigating him. This just goes to show that it’s now more important than ever to appoint an independent prosecutor to investigate Russian interference in our presidential election, and possible Russian coordination with the Trump campaign.”

U.S. Rep. Darren Soto of Orlando tweeted this on Twitter:

“Trump fires Comey while under investigation about Russia-Watergate all over again! #Sayfie @FlaDems @HispanicCaucus”

U.S. Rep. Al Lawson of Tallahassee posted this on Facebook:

“The American people deserve to know the truth about the full Russia investigation and we need an independent special prosecutor to oversee it. #ComeyFiring”

Gwen Graham’s politics molded by father, Florida life

One thing distinguishes Gwen Graham from other candidates (and possible candidates) for Governor — she is a hugger.

Prepare to be hugged, Florida.

Graham, 54, the one-term former Democratic congresswoman from Tallahassee, has little professional political experience, having run for only one election. She won that one by barely a percentage point, taking Florida’s 2nd Congressional District away from Republican U.S. Rep. Steve Southerland, only to give it up when redistricting painted her district red.

Now Graham is entering a race that already has two major Democratic candidates, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum and Winter Park businessman Chris King, and appears wide-open for more, all seeking a shot at something her party hasn’t won in nearly a generation, the governor’s office.

Yet Graham is a woman who grew up in politics, daughter of legendary Democrat Bob Graham who served as governor when she was in junior high and high school, and as U.S. Senator through much of her adulthood.

It’s as close to Florida gets to a Democratic royal family: Her grandfather was a state senator; her uncle, publisher of The Washington Post. The Grahams have been established in South Florida for generations, though she has spent most of her life in Tallahassee.

From her father, she shares moderate positions on many economic issues and her deeply-held liberal viewpoints on Florida’s environment and justice, and a strong alliance with organized labor.

The National Journal rated her the most independent member of the Florida delegation.

Her voting record in Congress showed that mix of moderate economic and foreign affairs politics. And she cast some votes progressive Democrats hold against her, supporting new leadership against U.S. House Speaker. Nancy Pelosi, and for the Keystone XL Pipeline, keeping the military prison open at Guantánamo Bay, and for an attempt to suspend debt relief to Iran.

But on other issues such as her efforts to help restore Apalachicola Bay and the Everglades, to support veterans seeking jobs, women’s rights, children’s issues, she’s been reliable for Democrats.

Consequently, only a handful of the strongest right-wing or left-wing groups scored her exceptionally well or horribly bad on their respective political agendas, while others often crossed over to give her at least a little, but restrained love.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, typically reserving high marks for Republicans, scored her a 75, as did the Associated General Contractors of America. She received only a 39 from progressive Common Cause and just 64 from the American Civil Liberties Union.

Nevertheless, Defenders of Wildlife gave her an 83; the Human Rights Campaign, 100; Club For Growth, 7; and Freedom Works 16.

One issue she’s carved out clearly is support for women and women’s health. Planned Parenthood gave her 100, while National Right to Life, a 0. And last time she ran, Emily’s List backed her.

Gwen Graham also has inherited much of her father’s image and connections and is someone able to bring in a Bill Clinton or a Joe Biden to campaign for her, and able to attract some of the top mainstream Democratic political operatives to work with her.

While in office, she also picked up on her father’s “workday” events, regularly spending a day working someone else’s job in Florida, in a hotel, a textile factory and elsewhere.

But while her father’s calling card was his handshake, Gwen Graham’s is the hug. A self-professed serial hugger, Graham fashions a matronly image to governing.

Graham is twice-married, currently to Steve Hurm, general counsel to the Leon County Sheriff’s Office. She has three young-adult children, Sarah, Graham, and Mark, from her previous marriage, and spent several years as a stay-at-home mother before going to work at Leon County Public Schools as a chief labor negotiator. Previously she had briefly practiced law in both Tallahassee and Washington D.C.

Hurm, a career law enforcement officer, has been battling Stage 4 prostate cancer, and Graham, who first declared a strong interest in running for governor last summer, put off a final decision until he was able to progress through treatment.

House forms first-ever Legislative Progressive Caucus

More than a dozen Democratic Florida House members have formed the Progressive Legislative Caucus, with firebrand state Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith of Orlando elected as its first chair.

The caucus held its organization meeting last week with Smith becoming chair, state Rep. Amy Mercado of Orlando vice chair, and state Rep. Joseph Abruzzo of Boca Raton as clerk.

“As we enter the final weeks of the 2017 legislative session, the Legislative Progressive Caucus will adopt caucus positions on key legislation to underscore our values and priorities,” Smith stated in a news release.

Other charter members included state Reps. Robert Asencio of Miami, Lori Berman of Lantana, Daisy Baez of Coral Gables, John Cortes of Kissimmee, Nicholas Duran of Miami, Joseph Gellar of Aventura, Evan Jenne of Dania Beach, Barrington Russell of Lauderdale Lakes, Sean Shaw of Tampa, Emily Slosberg of Boca Raton, Richard Stark of Weston, and Clovis Watson of Alachua.

The caucus put out a release stating that its members were inspired by the Congressional Progressive Caucus and aim to unite the progressive wing of the Democratic Caucus as a collective block to influence key legislation and advocate for progressive policy solutions that benefit all Floridians.

The caucus is committed to advocating for social and economic justice and security for all Floridians, protecting civil rights, civil liberties and advancing environmental protection and sustainability in the Sunshine State, according to the release.

 

How Frank Artiles colleagues should respond to his defiance

A great deal has already been said about the yes-he-really-said-it Frank Artiles saga.

And there seems to be near-universal agreement on these points:

— Artiles is a world-class jerk.

— What he said goes far beyond the limits of acceptable.

— This was not his first foray into the unacceptable.

— Artiles needs professional help.

— The Senate President needs to either send him home for the session (so presumably he can get some much-needed help), encourage (also read as “force”) him to resign, or use whatever power is afforded him to have him removed from office. Something!

But there is another element and let me be among the first to write it.

Hey, senators not named Frank Artiles, now it’s your turn — and, unfortunately, there is a burden that probably falls to the black members and then the Democrats, in that order.

This is uncomfortable, and a little unfair, but the calls for an apology or sanction are not enough.

The members of the Black Caucus, in particular, know American history all too well — heck, they are living embodiments of what peaceful civil protest can yield. And they know, perhaps better than their colleagues, the power that sitting, standing, staying or leaving can have.

So here goes: If Artiles shows up to a committee or on the Senate floor, they should quietly stand up and leave. The Black Caucus members need to lead on this and, as a show of solidarity, their fellow Democrats should leave as well. I can easily take this to its natural conclusion and say ALL members should rise and quietly leave.

Why?

Not for themselves. Not for the press. Not to force the hand of the Senate President. They should walk out because their voters will genuinely appreciate that they would not sit (literally) for such utter nonsense. Members of the Black Caucus need to express zero tolerance for Artiles’ comments and his behavior.

Artiles, by merely being in the room, degrades the legitimacy of the body. Likewise, sharing the dais or the floor with him adds an element of complicity to those who tolerate his presence.

Sorry, senators. I don’t mean to make you the target, but not taking more serious action is almost tantamount to acquiescence.

Darryl Paulson: The Era of Bad Feelings

The Era of Good Feelings is the term used to describe the aftermath of the War of 1812 where the American nation sought to establish national unity during a period of one-party dominance. The Federalist Party, representing the urban and aristocratic citizens, disappeared after the disastrous Hartford Convention in 1814, leaving only the Jeffersonian Republicans as the sole political party. The Jeffersonian Republicans so dominated the political landscape that President James Monroe ran unopposed in 1820 and would have won a unanimous vote in the electoral college except for the vote of a few rouge electors.

With the death of the Federalist Party, Monroe went on a national goodwill tour in 1817. While in Boston, the former Federalist stronghold, the term Era of Good Feeling was first used in a local paper.

I am coining a new term to describe the current state of affairs of American politics: the Era of Bad Feelings.

We have two political parties and each one hates the other. While political parties, by nature, are competitive, they have had a history of working together until the 1980s. After about a half-century of Democratic Party dominance in Congress from the 1930s to the 1980s, the Republican Party decided to stop working with the Democrats and, instead, oppose them on virtually every issue. Compromise was replaced by conflict.

The end of compromise led to the collapse of ideological diversity in both political parties. Entering the 1980s, both the Republican and Democratic Parties had a mix of moderates, liberals and conservatives. Today, the Republicans have a few moderates among the mostly conservative ranks, and the Democrats have a few moderates among its liberal base. The political center is gone and the political extremes dominate both parties.

Political hatred of the other party has grown so strong, that it affects what we read, what we watch, where we live and even who we marry. A Pew Research study of 10,000 Americans found that partisans prefer living in communities of like-minded individuals. Fifty percent of conservatives and 35 percent of liberals think it is “important to live in a place where people share my political views.”

Liberals watch MSNBC and read American Prospect, the Progressive and the Daily Kos. Conservatives have Fox News and Rush Limbaugh to listen to, and they read the Drudge Report, Weekly Standard, National Review and Breitbart.

As Americans increasingly live in communities of like-minded individuals and limit their viewing and reading only to sources that support their political views, it has led to a hardening of the political arteries. They constantly have their own political views reinforced instead of challenged.

Political hatred is becoming so ingrained in Americans that parents increasingly object to their children marrying outside their faith. I’m not talking about religious faith, but their political faith. A half-century ago, only 5 percent of Americans objected if their child married a member of the opposite party. Today, that number has increased to 40 percent.

As part of the growing intolerance of those who hold opposing political views, we increasingly engage in stereotyping to justify our hatred. Instead of dealing with individuals, it is easier to ascribe negative traits to everyone who belongs to the “wrong party.”

Republicans stereotype Democrats as socialists intent on destroying the free enterprise system and encouraging individuals to go on welfare rather than work. Remember Mitt Romney‘s statement to Republican donors that he could not win the vote of 47 percent of the American voters because they were dependent on government handouts?

Democrats attack Republicans as homophobic Neanderthals who hate women and minorities, and they have no compassion for the less fortunate in society.

Stereotyping is the lazy person’s way to stop dealing with people as individuals and instead lump everyone together as a bad person. It is so much easier to dismiss the ideas of an entire group, than it is to sit down and talk about an issue and how to resolve it.

The most recent manifestation of the Era of Bad Feelings is the 2016 presidential election. Many Republicans hated Hillary Clinton. They would argue that they disliked her because of her policies, but most could not envision any circumstance under which they could support her.

Democrats hated Donald Trump because they viewed him as a racist and a womanizer, and they also believed he was unprepared to be president. To many Democrats, the billionaire Trump could never understand the burdens of poor Americans.

Sixty-three million Americans voted for Trump and, yet, somehow Democrats are convinced all of them were crazy. Clinton received 3 million more votes than Trump, but Republicans saw this as a sign of Democratic insanity.

If we spent a fraction of the time trying to understand and empathize with members of the other party, we may actually find that most of them are decent, honest people who have the same concerns that we have. We might even discover that they may have a better idea than we have.

We cannot expect more of politicians than we expect of ourselves. It is time to end the irrational hatred that is counter to our real values and is impeding our ability to solve the problems that desperately need to be solved.

___

Darryl Paulson is Emeritus Professor of Government at USF St. Petersburg specializing in Florida politics, political parties and elections.

Joe Henderson: Concern for the environment really depends on which party is in charge

The words “green space” can have a different meaning depending on the person involved.

Democrats generally believe green space to mean protected grasslands, pristine parks, waterways, and regulations to keep companies from belching pollutants into the atmosphere.

Republicans generally appear to believe green space is a metaphor for money that can be made by paving over any empty spot of land they see.

I know that’s a generalization. There are plenty of conservatives who will argue strongly for environmental protection. I put my old friend and former Tampa Tribune editorial chief Joe Guidry at the top of that list.

It is true, though, that Republican administrations often roll back environmental regulations in the name of cutting red tape that they say strangles business.

We saw it in Florida when Gov. Rick Scott gutted many environmental protections (remember the Great Algae Bloom of 2016). The GOP-controlled Legislature scoffed when voters approved a constitutional amendment in 2014 requiring the state set aside millions of acres for conservation.

We’re seeing it again in what Democratic U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor from Tampa called “President Trump’s attack on the environment and U.S. economy through his executive order” that eliminated many of the Obama-era environment rules.

“By signing the latest in a line of dangerous executive orders, Trump is trying to dismantle America’s commitment to avert climate catastrophe and to stifle America’s clean energy future,” Castor said in a statement.

Trump’s executive order will cost Floridians a lot.  Unless we can slow the damage caused by climate change, Floridians will pay more for property insurance, flood insurance, beach re-nourishment and local taxes as the costs of water infrastructure and coastal resource protection rise.”

Castor, in her sixth term in Congress, is the vice ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. She has a long track record of supporting environmental causes, including the introduction of the Florida Coastal Protection Act that established a 235-mile drilling ban in the Gulf of Mexico off Florida’s west coast.

So yeah, this is personal.

It’s also expected.

You don’t hear many Democrats scoff about the science of climate change. And you haven’t heard many Republicans question Trump’s attempt to jump-start coal mining in the name of job creation.

The problem it, all someone needs is a long memory or access to a computer to see what environmental disregard can do to cities in this country. Have we really forgotten what happened in Cleveland when the Cuyahoga River caught fire from all the pollution?

Have we forgotten how urban smog was threatening the nation’s health? It’s still not great, but it’s better than it was.

When I was a kid growing up in southern Ohio, I remember the Armco steel mill in Middletown turning the night sky orange when workers fired up the coke plant.

We were breathing that stuff. Residents there used to apologize for the foul-tasting sulfur water that smelled like rotten eggs. These things changed because Congress decided things had to change or we were all going down the tubes.

Those laws aren’t designed to strangle business. They’re designed to protect us. People like Kathy Castor still believe that. President Trump apparently does not.

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