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Darryl Block gets backing of Victor Torres in HD 29 Democratic primary

Democratic state Sen. Victor Torres has endorsed attorney Darryl Block in the House District 29 race in Seminole County.

Torres’s endorsement could carry some weight in the August 28 primary, as Block, of Lake Mary, faces two other Democrats, both also attorneys, Tracey Kagan and Patrick Brandt, both of Longwood. The trio are battling for the chance to take on Republican incumbent state Rep. Scott Plakon in November for the HD 29 seat, which represents central Seminole County.

Torres represents Florida Senate District 15, which covers south Orange County and Osceola County a few miles to the south.

“During the past few months, I’ve seen Darryl’s commitment to our community as well as to Florida’s families. He will fight for sensible gun-safety laws that protect our children, a clean and sustainable environment, and healthcare that Floridians can afford,” Torres said in a statement issued by Block’s campaign. “

“Darryl also will advocate for Puerto Ricans who are now calling Florida home in the wake of Hurricane Maria. He believes that our Puerto Rican brothers and sisters must have the tools they need for success, including affordable housing, medical services, and job opportunities. Darryl also believes that we must continue to assist Puerto Ricans remaining on the island by helping them repair their infrastructure while increasing medical services,” Torres continued. “I have been greatly impressed by Darryl and Melanie‘s family-focused, positive campaign. Darryl recently qualified for the Florida ballot by petition, proving that grassroots organizing gets results.”

Gwen Graham set to hit TV in Orlando, Tampa Wednesday

Gwen Graham plans to go up with her first TV commercials Wednesday in the Orlando and Tampa markets.

Her campaign announced Monday morning it is spending more than $1 million on its initial TV buy in the two I-4 corridor markets.

Former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine has been blanketing television statewide since January. Winter Park entrepreneur Chris King began his TV advertising in mid- May. Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum does not yet have any official TV commercials out, but he’s been supported by a TV campaign from the Collective Super PAC.

And now Palm Beach billionaire real estate investor Jeff Greene has entered the field.

On the Republican side, Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam also has had commercials out for a couple of months, while U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis has had almost daily appearances on FOX News.

The Graham campaign did not give explicit details about the first ad, saying it would be revealed later this week.

“After 20 years of one-party Republican rule, Floridians are ready for new leadership,” Graham Campaign Manager Julia Woodward stated in a news release. “We’re excited to share our positive message with even more Democrats across the I-4 corridor.”

Graham raised more than any of her primary opponents in April and is beginning her paid communications strategy with more cash on hand than any other Democrat in the race, the campaign noted in the news release.

The race is on for Puerto Rican votes

Already-heightened efforts to attract Puerto Rican voters — whether the voters left the island long ago or are recent hurricane refugees — have shifted into higher gear amid a new death count from Hurricane Maria.

The Florida Democratic Party on Wednesday received a “first-of-its-kind” national party grant, worth $100,000, to “expand engagement efforts with Puerto Rican voters across the state.”

“With this grant, we’re making sure that Florida Democrats have the tools they need to identify and connect with new Puerto Rican voters, and provide them with the support they need as they settle in the Sunshine State,” Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez said.

Meanwhile, Republican Gov. Rick Scott embarked — in his official capacity, not as a U.S. Senate candidate — on his sixth trip to the territory since Hurricane Maria ravaged the island last September.

The Thursday trip to “offer guidance” regarding ongoing hurricane recovery, came at the invitation of Puerto Rican Gov. Ricardo Rossello, according to a news release from Scott’s office.

While critics have tried to highlight perceived indifference by President Donald Trump toward the island’s recovery, Scott’s office offered a bullet-pointed rundown of “actions taken by Governor Scott following Hurricane Maria.”

The latest Democratic and Republican efforts came on the heels of a report by a research team led by scientists at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health that concluded far more people might have died in Hurricane Maria than official totals indicate. Based on storm-experience comments from randomly surveyed households, the report said perhaps 4,645 people died who otherwise wouldn’t have perished if Puerto Rico hadn’t been ravaged by Maria.

The estimate would ratchet up the death count, which the officials who invited Scott to the island have held at 64 — 20 fewer than Florida recorded from Hurricane Irma.

With one state to go, Linda Stewart calls on Florida to pass ERA

Democratic state Sen. Linda Stewart said Friday there will be a big push in the next Legislative Session to pass a bill ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution now that Illinois has approved it, leaving just one more state needed for adoption.

“We only need one more state. There’s 13,” that have not ratified what could become the 28th Amendment, Stewart said Friday. “I want us to be the one that clinches it…. This is the year. This is it. It’s gotta get done.”

On Thursday the Illinois House of Representatives voted to approve a bill ratifying the amendment in that state, making Illinois the 37th state to approve it. Thirty-eight are needed to enshrine it in the U.S. Constitution.

Bills to ratify the ERA in Florida are introduced every year in the Florida Legislature, last year by state Sen. Audrey Gibson, the Jacksonville Democrat. That bill was never heard in a committee, like previous efforts.

Stewart said she and other ERA backers are counting on several factors: more women getting elected to the Florida Senate, increasing interest in the amendment because of the #MeToo movement [which was cited as a major factor in Illinois,] and that the next state to say yes gets to be the one that gets credit for enshrining it in the Constitution, if that happens.

“Our state can be the one to finally declare that in this nation, no matter where a woman lives or works, her rights under the law are fully protected,”  the Orlando Democrat stated in a news release.

The Equal Rights Amendment states simply that, “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.”  Congress approved it and it was sent to the states for consideration of ratification in 1972. There is some legal dispute over whether the amendment can now be considered adopted with 38 states, since a time limit expired.

The states that have not ratified it are Utah, Arizona and a block of 11 mostly southern states: Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, Missouri, and Oklahoma.

“Surely, with the dawn of the #MeToo movement and the reckoning many powerful men have been forced to confront, Florida can join the 21st century to finally ratify the ERA and stop sexual discrimination and harassment in American culture,” Stewart added. “For too many years, legislation has been filed, and it has yet to be heard. This is our year to put the ratification into Florida law and no longer be one of a handful of antiquated nay-sayers.”

Philip Levine out with schools and teachers commercial

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Philip Levine is turning his focus to schools and teachers in his new television commercial being launched statewide Friday.

The 30-second spot, “Class is In” includes Levine’s platform pledges of increasing teachers’ salaries by $10,000, increasing funding for schools, and stopping state tests. His campaign is putting $1 million behind airing the ad.

The commercial begins with Levine visiting a classroom and saying that there is nothing more than teaching that the teacher would rather do. “But Florida politicians care so little about her and other teachers, they’re now among the worst-paid in the nation, as our public schools are left begging for funds.

“I’m running for governor to stop the testing and start investing,” he adds.

Levine faces former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, and Winter Park entrepreneur Chris King in the August 28 Democratic primary for the governor’s race. The leading Republicans are Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis.

“Everywhere I go in our state, I hear from Floridians about how our public schools are underfunded, and our teachers are underpaid and under-appreciated,” Levine stated in a news release issued by his campaign. “If we want to build a 21st century economy in Florida, it starts by upping our game and rising to meet our responsibility to ensure that Florida’s public education system is the best in the nation. As Florida’s next governor, we’re going to stop testing and start investing, with pay raises for our educators and school personnel, more funding for public schools, and by giving every child a chance to succeed.”

Jon Meacham on divisiveness: We’ve been here before

Listening to historian Jon Meacham speak at the Forum Club of Palm Beaches Tuesday, you’d be forgiven for forgetting one of the biggest political rallying cries of the past few years: “This is not normal.”

Instead, Meacham says, we’ve been here before.

He would know. Meacham’s newest book, “The Soul of America: The Battle for Our Better Angels” covers past episodes where Americans overcame periods of seemingly intractable divisiveness.

America is certainly divided right now, at least politically. The Pew Research Center has measured political polarization since 1994, and their most recent numbers show the sharpest division ever between Republicans and Democrats.

“It’s not a great moment if you are measuring overall social happiness in the United States,” said Meacham Tuesday. “Tribalism is the great problem of the age.”

Though ultimately hopeful, Meacham says tribalism is something Americans need to try to get past in order to solve the biggest problems of the day.

“One of the things that worries me most is in some precincts it is impossible to say something positive about the president. And in other precincts it’s impossible to say anything critical of him.

“And that’s a paralyzing place for us to be. It is not a good place. If he gets something right, say so. If he gets something wrong, say so. That’s the nature of self-government. That’s what’s gotten us this far.”

However, Meacham’s outlook was ultimately positive, saying later in the speech, “I have nothing but confidence in the broad future of the country.”

That positivity comes at least in part from previous episodes highlighted by Meacham where Americans overcame, at least temporarily, some of the major issues concerning people today.

Meacham first pointed to the 1920s, where the Ku Klux Klan experienced a sort of rebirth, driven at least in part by anxiety about immigration.

“50,000 Klansmen marched down Pennsylvania Avenue in 1925 without their masks on. It was very much an open thing.” Many people likened last year’s rally in Charlottesville to these sorts of open displays of hatred.

But Meacham credits our major institutions for beating back the rise of the Klan. He says the press did its job uncovering the group’s atrocities, and noted the courts upheld laws designed to weaken the Klan’s influence.

“By 1927-28, [the KKK] had fallen apart.”

Then, the early 1950s saw the rise of McCarthyism in the fight against communism. Taking note of Senator Joseph McCarthy’s often wild and unprovable claims, Meacham said the press back then struggled with deciding “whether you simply reported what a person in power said, even if you had every reason to believe it was not true.”

Ultimately, the press turned a more critical eye toward McCarthy. Eventually he was discredited and censured by the Senate.

Meacham said there are similarities between McCarthy and President Donald Trump, who often says things later proven to be false, but says these comparisons aren’t driven by partisanship. “I would be saying exactly the same thing to you if a Democrat had been elected and a Democrat behaved the same way.”

He added, “I have voted for Republicans and I have voted for Democrats. I plan to continue to do so.”

This era of divisiveness isn’t isolated to debates about the president. Just last week, Florida saw widespread protests targeting Publix for donating to gubernatorial candidate Adam Putnam due to his support of the National Rifle Association.

Though Publix was not promoting the NRA directly, gun control activists were outraged about the company’s support of someone who did. That was enough for gun control activists, who have targeted the NRA for its resistance to certain gun control measures following the shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. Ultimately, Publix ceased all campaign donations.

Earlier in the month, the script was flipped when new NRA President Oliver North harshly criticized those activists, calling them “civil terrorists.”

Thought these types of flare-ups seem commonplace in 2018, Meacham says the defeat of the KKK and McCarthyism show that Americans can evolve past chaotic events and get back to periods of relative normalcy and working together. But he says it may take an effort from the population at large to make change.

“If we decide we want something different, then guess what? We’ll get something different.”

Publix: Where shopping for influence is no longer a pleasure

Publix’s decision, in the face of protests over its Adam Putnam donations, to suspend its political giving this year could mean more than $1 million that the company will not donate this year to various political campaigns and groups.

The company, whose slogan, “Where Shopping is a Pleasure” has graced Florida and other states it serves, announced Friday afternoon it would suspend its political giving, as protesters, called to action by Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting survivor and activist David Hogg and others, began protests in stores.

They were upset with the more than $670,000 the Polk County-based company had donated to the political committee of Republican gubernatorial candidate Adam Putnam, someone who has called himself an “NRA sellout.” Hogg and many other Stoneman Douglas survivors have emerged as national leaders of a campaign for gun control since a gunman murdered 17 people in their school Feb. 14.

The Republican state agriculture commissioner, also from Polk County, is not the only beneficiary of Publix’s political donations, and the company likely was far from finished in giving this year.

In the past 10 years Publix has donated nearly $10.9 million to politics, according to records at the Florida Division of Elections reviewed by FloridaPolitics. In the last two election years Publix donated $1.8 million in 2014 and $2 million in 2016. So far this year the company has donated just $620,000. That could mean the company still had plenty more ready to be distributed in 2018, though it could have placed most of its bets last year. Publix’s 2017 donations of $1.5 million was the most ever for the company in an off-year.

Publix has given to both Republicans and Democrats, though it prefers Republicans by a large ratio. Since Jan. 1, 2009, Publix has donated $615,519 to the Republican Party of Florida and has made another 541 contributions to individual Republicans running for office, providing $367,054 to their campaigns. Publix has donated $365,000 to the Florida Democratic Party and made donations to 151 individual Democrats, providing $90,521 to their campaigns during the same period.

Those contributions include money provided to 14 Democrats for this election cycle, including several who have aligned themselves closely with the Stoneman Douglas students movement for gun control.

Forty-nine Republicans have gotten contributions in this election cycle including Putnam and attorney general candidate state Rep. Frank White, who both have gotten the maximum candidate contributions of $1,000.

Otherwise, the big losers in Publix decision could be the Florida Chamber of Commerce, the Florida Retail Federation, and the National Association of Independent Businesses of Florida, which are used to getting big donations to their own political action committees from the grocery store company, and then spending it on their own political interests.

Since 2009 Publix has funneled $4.1 million into the chamber’s various PACs, and $3.0 million into the retail federation’s various PACs. Another $450,000 has gone to the NAIB-Florida’s PAC.

Publix also has donated more than $100,000 to the Florida Justice Reform Committee, the Committee for Florida Justice Reform, the Florida Prosperity Fund, and the Committee for Smarter Growth. Gov Rick Scott’s Let’s Get To Work PAC has garnered $50,000.

Bill Nelson, Democrats to canvass state through holiday

Amid the barbecues and other festivities this holiday weekend, Democrats will be knocking on doors in 23 of the state’s 67 counties and encouraging Floridians to register to vote.

Partnering with Florida U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, who will face a tough challenge from Republican Gov. Rick Scott in November, the Florida Democratic Party has dubbed the Memorial Day campaign an “‘I Will Vote’” weekend of action. The party will join a team supportive of Nelson, “Nelson’s Neighbors.”

During the weekend, the Democratic senator is scheduled to join volunteers in Orange County. Meanwhile, his wife, Grace Nelson, will be in Duval County also doing fieldwork.

In announcing the campaign, the party noted it’s less than 100 days from the Aug. 28 primary. The Democrats said the three-day weekend marks “a kick-off to a summer of activism,” which they hope will result in thousands of newly registered physical and mail-in voters.

In a news release, FDP Chair Terrie Rizzo expressed confidence in the party’s ability to capitalize on grassroots missions — such as what’s planned this weekend — in 2018. One supporting piece of evidence: Florida was the top state in the nation this week to have volunteers sign up for training with the Association of State Democratic Committees, according to FDP.

“The momentum we are seeing in our Democratic clubs and progressive groups across the state has been outstanding,” said Rizzo, “There is tremendous enthusiasm about our candidates, and it shows by the engagement we are seeing in this weekend of action, and beyond.”

Rizzo, who replaced ousted former Dem chief Stephen Bittel in December, said the party is focused on getting Democrats elected “up and down the ticket.”

Though, with the primary still months away, it makes sense that incumbent Nelson is the only named ‘partner’ in this weekend’s activities. He’s the only formidable Democrat running for his federal seat, whereas the Democratic gubernatorial race boasts four strong candidates in Philip Levine, Gwen Graham, Andrew Gillum and Chris King — meaning FDP will hold its tongue on that ticket until voters determine who makes the cut in August. 

And while Democrats have capitalized on the holiday, Republicans have been active in their Days of Action across Florida.

To date this cycle, the GOP has knocked on 290,000 doors. Per the Republican National Committee, there are more Florida field workers for the 2018 midterms working for the party than there have been for any other cycle before.

“In Florida, this year alone we’ve put almost 1,400 people through our intensive Republican Leadership Institute program,” said Taryn Fenske, RNC Spokesperson. “Seventy paid ground staffers are busy training the party’s volunteer army as quickly as they can. Those graduates form the core of neighborhood-based teams then add layers and grow as the cycle progresses. When crunch time arrives this fall, RPOF and RNC will have thousands of trained volunteers ready to knock on doors in their own neighborhoods to defeat Bill Nelson.”

Darren Soto, Hispanic caucus renew push against Census citizenship question

Orlando’s Democratic U.S. Rep. Darren Soto and 20 other Hispanic Democrats in Congress have renewed their plea that the U.S. Census abandon its plans to ask people if they are American citizens during the 2020 headcount.

Soto was one of the lead signatories on a letter sent earlier this week to U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross contending that if the citizenship question is asked it will lead noncitizens not to participate, jeopardizing the accuracy of the count, especially in states such as Florida with high Hispanic populations. And that could potentially take “billions of dollars in federal funds and accurate congressional representation from communities across the country. “

In addition to Soto, the letter was fronted by U.S. Rep. Lou Correa, a California Democrat. Correa is chair of the all-Democrat Congressional Hispanic Caucus, and Soto is the chairman of the caucus’s Civil Rights and voting rights task force. Nineteen other members of the task force signed the letter.

“The census questionnaire is vital to ensure accurate representation and allocation of resources in our communities for the next decade,” the Members wrote.

They continued: “Census data is used to reapportion seats in the House of Representatives, to realign congressional districts, and is a factor in the formulas that are used to distribute hundreds of billions of dollars in federal funds each year to state and local communities. Additionally, businesses and organizations base their financial decisions on census data.”

Alan Grayson up with TV ad featuring Martin Sheen, Michael Moore

In his two tenures as a progressive bulldog in the U.S. House of Representatives Alan Grayson made a few high-profile friends and now he’s featuring them in a new TV commercial, the first in the Democratic primary battle for Florida’s 9th Congressional District.

The new ad “Progressive Warrior,” which begins airing Wednesday in the Orlando TV market, features actor Martin Sheen, documentary movie maker Michael Moore, and political commentators Chris Hayes and Ed Schultz, among others, extolling Grayson for courage, leadership, and effectiveness in Congress.

“Alan Grayson is undoubtedly, the progressive warrior,” Schultz declares from some past broadcast of his MSNBC show, as pictures of Grayson and short clips of video roll out.

Grayson is battling with Democratic incumbent U.S. Rep. Darren Soto of Orlando, who took the CD 9 seat in 2016, defeating Grayson’s wife Dena Grayson in the Democratic primary as Alan Grayson was losing the Democratic primary for Florida’s U.S. Senate seat held by Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio. This year’s August 28 Democratic primary winner takes on Republican Wayne Liebnitzky of Saint Cloud in November.

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

The Grayson campaign did not provide details for how much it is spending or how long or how often the spot will air. Early filings with the Federal Communication Commission show that the campaign has paid $1,334 to reserve 39 spots on WESH TV Channel 4 in Orlando through the end of May. Wednesday morning there were not yet any contracts posted on the FCC site involving other TV stations.

“People have told me, over and over again, that I’m saying what they’re thinking but nobody else is saying,” the Grayson says at one point in the commercial.

That’s followed by Sheen, the liberal activist actor who played the president in the “West Wing” series in the 2000s, saying, “We need that kid of courage and leadership.”

Moore, the liberal activist film producer, then offers, “Stands up for what he believes in, stands up for the rest of us, isn’t afraid to speak his mind.”

Grayson also makes, in the 30-second spot, his frequent statement that he has passed more legislation, largely through amendments, than any other member of Congress. A news release announcing the commercial states he passed 121 pieces of legislation in four years, under Republican leadership.

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