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Amol Jethwani, Anna Eskamani named ‘champions’ by progressive group

Democratic Florida House candidate Anna Eskamani is one of 70 candidates nationwide named as “champions” by the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, identifying candidates around the country deemed as fighting for progressive priorities, her campaign announced Thursday.

Also named a champion in Florida was Democrat Amol Jethwani of Gainesville, who is running for Florida House District 21. Eskamani, of Orlando, is running in Florida House District 47.

“The candidates on our champions list are running great campaigns powered by the grassroots, not corporate interests,” the political action committee stated on its webpage.

Progressive Change Campaign Committee, was founded in 2009, and is described as having been closely allied with U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, the Massachusetts Democrat. It raises money and provides it to the campaigns it is supporting.

Eskamani is seeking to succeed state Rep. Mike Miller of Winter Park, who is not seeking re-election. Also vying for the seat are Republicans Winter Park businessman Stockton Reeves VI and Orlando lawyer Mikaela Nix.

Jethwani is seeking to take on incumbent Republican state Rep. Charles Clemons of Newbury. So is Democrat Jason Haeseler of Gainesville.

Eskamani and Jethwani were the only candidates selected in Florida.

“Our 2018 Champions across the country are committed to solving big problems affecting their communities,” said Marissa Barrow, a spokesperson for the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, stated in a news release issued by Eskamani’s campaign. “Selected for their bold vision, these candidates are highly capable leaders ready to make change.”

“Our campaign to take back Florida State House District 47 is more than just a moment; this is a movement, powered by the people of Florida,” Eskamani stated in the release. “For the past ten years, I have committed my life’s work to holding politicians accountable while empowering my community and protecting our rights. Our election will be historic, and it feels good knowing that we have PCCC members by my side.”

Republicans spotlight Dinesh D’Souza invite, Andrew Gillum calls it ‘low point’

The Republican Party of Florida is highlighting its decision to have Dinesh D’Souza, the firebrand commentator who mocked Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting survivors in February, as a featured speaker at the upcoming Sunshine Summit.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum immediately responded with fire of his own, calling the invite a new low.

The Republicans announced Monday afternoon that D’Souza, a conservative author and film-maker known for his fiery comments, is one of the first three major speakers confirmed for the Sunshine Summit, the party’s big election-year conference set for Orlando June 28 and 29. The others are Dan Bongino and Kayleigh McEnany.

D’Souza was sharply criticized in February when he posted several tweets mocking the Douglas High students who had appeared at the Florida Legislature, and who watched the body vote down a motion they wanted.

Among D’Souza’s tweets, one declared, “Worst news since their parents told them to get summer jobs.”

Another one declared, “Adults 1, kids 0.”

And a third: “Genuine grief I can empathize with. But grief organized for the cameras—politically orchestrated grief—strikes me as phony & inauthentic.”

He later noted that the backlash had led him to recognize the insensitivity of his remarks, and tweeted, “I’m truly sorry.”

Yet by then he had attracted widespread outrage, becoming a symbol for those mocking Douglas High students and the motives for their activism after a gunman murdered 17 people in their school on Feb. 14.

In announcing D’Souza’s speaking engagement Monday, RPOF Chairman Blaise Ingoglia declared, “The RPOF is happy to have already confirmed three of the leading and highly influential conservative voices. Dinesh D’Souza, Dan Bongino and Kayleigh McEnany have become household names, and we are incredibly lucky to have them kick off our powerful lineup of speakers for the Sunshine Summit. We look forward to hearing their message of liberty, opportunity and limited government.”

In the same release D’Souza said he looked forward to delivering a “message of hope and action that will inspire conservatism throughout the Sunshine State.”

Gillum, the Tallahassee mayor, responded to the RPOF announcement by declaring D’Souza to be “deeply offensive” and calling for the party to un-invite him.

“Today’s announcement … is just the latest low point for the Party of [Donald] Trump. I often have strong disagreements with Florida’s Republicans, but I know that many of them are decent, hardworking people. I hope they join me in demanding the Florida GOP un-invite this bitterly divisive selection.”

House

David Richardson picks up Darren Soto’s endorsement in CD 27 race

Democratic congressional candidate state Rep. David Richardson has received the endorsement of Orlando’s Democratic U.S. Rep. Darren Soto in the Florida’s 27th Congressional District race.

The endorsement is the first by a sitting member of Florida’s Congressional delegation in the wildly contentious contest as Richardson, five other Democrats, eight Republicans, and an independent seek to succeed retiring Republican U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen in the Miami-based district.

”David Richardson is a fighter for the progressive cause. During his years as a State Legislator he fought for social rights and civil liberties for DACA recipients, LGBTQ Americans, and incarcerated Floridians,” Soto stated in a news release issued by Richardson’s campaign. ”His campaign for Congress has continued this trend with his support for Medicare-for-all, his calls for immediate aid to Puerto Rico, and his demands for gun reform nationwide. As such, I am proud to endorse his campaign for Congress, and look forward to serving with a progressive voice like David’s in Washington, D.C.”

The other Democrats in the race include Donna Shalala, Matthew Haggman, Mary Barzee Flores, Kristen Rosen Gonzalez and Michael Hepburn.

“I’m deeply honored to receive the support of Congressman Darren Soto,” Richardson stated in the release. “Darren since his days as a state legislator  has become a national leader on progressive issues and has fought tirelessly for the people of Florida. I’m happy to have his support as we approach the Democratic primary election on August 28th.”

Philip Levine

Philip Levine opens Kissimmee office, grabs Jose Alvarez’s endorsement

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Philip Levine opened a Central Florida office in Kissimmee and announced the backing of Kissimmee Mayor Jose Alvarez, who helped open the campaign center on Saturday.

“Florida needs leaders who have a bold vision for our future, who lead with compassion, and have a track record of getting things done. Philip Levine embodies all of these qualities, and I know that he will represent the needs of our community and create better opportunity for Florida’s families here in Kissimmee and throughout Florida,” Alvarez stated in a news release issued by Levine’s campaign Monday.

Levine also announced the endorsement of Osceola County School Board Member Kelvin Soto.

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

The new Levine campaign office, at 104 Church St. in Kissimmee, is the campaign’s third, following its headquarters in Miami and Tampa Bay office in St. Petersburg.

“Our campaign is excited to open our second regional office, here in Osceola County, the second-fastest growing county in our state. I am humbled by the early support from so many, including School Board Member Soto and Mayor Alvarez. Together, we will build a state and an economy that leaves no family behind, whether they came here from Puerto Rico or from anywhere else – a Florida where we truly all rise together,” Levine stated in the release.

Henry Parrish

Henry Parrish has second big fundraising month in HD 51 race

The House District 51 open seat race in Brevard County is heating up as Cocoa Mayor Henry Parrish posted his second big month of fundraising since entering the race in February.

Parrish, a Republican, raised $12,012 in March, following up the $21,100 brought in during his debut month; he said it’s reflecting the revival the city of Cocoa is experiencing.

“I’m just getting started. I’m very lucky; I have a lot of supporters,” Parrish said.

With Parrish’s entry, the campaign of Republican Tyler Sirois is finding new energy, too. The $11,140 raised in March is his biggest monthly haul his campaign has brought in since its debut a year ago. Sirois now has raised about $71,000 and has about $55,000 in the bank, while Parrish’s campaign headed into April with about $32,500.

They’re striving to succeed term-limited Republican state Rep. Tom Goodson of Rockledge in the north coast Brevard County district.

Also in that contest, Republican Jeffrey Ramsey of Merritt Island had no campaign finance activity in March, and had raised about $15,000, with about $7,800 in the bank; Republican Thomas O’Neill of Rockledge had no campaign finance activity in March, and has raised $2,290, and had about $800 in the bank; Democrat Michael Blake of Cocoa raised $666 in March, giving him $766 total raised, and about $80 in the bank; and newcomer independent Shain Allen Honkonen has not yet filed any reports.

Parrish’s and Sirois’ March campaign contribution totals were among the largest among Florida House of Representatives’ campaigns in the Central Florida area, not including that of House District 47 Democrat Anna Eskamani of Orlando, who has made a habit of topping House in campaign contributions in the region in most months. Earlier this week, her campaign reported bringing in another $19,234 for March, pushing her total contributions over $203,000 and her cash holdings to $152,000.

Also in the HD 47 race, Republican Mikaela Nix of Orlando raised $8,037 and lent her campaign $2,500. That brings her total haul to about $31,500, leaving her with just under $29,000 in the bank by the start of April. Stockton Reeves of Winter Park brought in $2,950 and lent his campaign another $4,700. That gives him $118,000 raised, including $94,000 he put in, and about $105,000 left in the bank going into April.

HD 47 is likely to be an open seat in north-central Orange County as Republican state Rep. Mike Miller of Winter Park is running for Congress.

Republican David Smith of Winter Springs again led all Seminole County house candidates as he reported raising $11,494 in March for his run in House District 28 in northeast Seminole. Including $85,000 he has put into his own campaign, Smith has gathered about $189,000 and has about $149,000 left. Democrat Lee Mangold of Casselberry raised just $941 in March. With $10,000 he lent his campaign, he has raised $25,400 and ended March with about $13,200 left.

They’re eying for the seat being vacated by Republican state Rep. Jason Brodeur of Sanford.

In another race heating up, Republican state Rep. Bobby Olszewski reported raising $6,000 in March, giving him $43,300 raised and about $35,500 in the bank. Democrat Eddy Dominguez of Orlando reported raising only $1,000, but he also reported receiving $11,000 in in-kind contributions, including staff time. He has reported more than $20,000 in such in-kind support in two months, though his campaign has raised only $3,525 overall, and finished March with only about $1,500 in the bank. Democrat Matthew Matin of Winter Garden reported raising $2,000 in donations. With $1,070 loaned to his campaign, Matin raised $12,200 and had about $9,600 left.

That southwest Orange County race is likely to change now with the entry this month of former state Sen. Geraldine Thompson of Orlando. She has not filed any campaign finance reports.

In three other Florida House of Representatives contests in Central Florida, Democratic challengers sent significant fundraising challenges toward their Republican incumbent opponents, who had been barred from fundraising during the first 11 days of the month due to the Legislative Session.

In the central Brevard County House District 52 race, Democrat Ann Fuller of Melbourne reported raising $8,157, her second $8,000 month since she entered the race in early February against Republican state Rep. Thad Altman of Indialantic. Fuller now has raised $16,677 and ended March with $15,582 in the bank, while Altman did not raise any money in March, and finished the month with a total raised of $25,050, and only $18,803 in the bank.

In the House District 30 race, covering south-central Seminole County and parts of north-central Orange County, Democratic Maitland City Commissioner Joy Goff-Marcil reported raising $7,340. In less than two months she has raised $14,890 and entered April with about $11,560 left. Republican state Rep. Bob Cortes raised $5,760 in March. Yet Cortes already had a comfortably-sizable campaign fund, and now has raised $94,675, with about $77,440 left in the bank. Democrat Clark Anderson of Winter Park reported raising $1,275. With the $10,000 he had previously lent his campaign, he finished March with $12,525 raised and $11,666 in the bank.

In east and south Osceola County’s House District 42, Democrat Barbara Cady of Kissimmee reported raising $5,380 in March. That gives her $26,754 so far, and $16,831 left heading into April. Republican state Rep. Mike La Rosa of St. Cloud raised just $60 in March, though, like Cortes, he already had a hefty campaign fund. He has raised $112,467 overall and entered April with $61,282 in the bank.

In four other contested house races in Central Florida, Democratic challengers raised modest or small amounts of campaign money for campaign fund totals still under $10,000, while House District 29 Republican State Rep. Scott Plakon of Altamonte Springs; Republican House District 31 state Rep. Jennifer Sullivan of Mount Dora; Republican House District 50 state Rep. Rene Plasencia of Orlando; and Republican House District 53 state Rep. Randy Fine of Palm Bay also raised little money in March, most of them held comfortably-large campaign fund balances.

Raising little money in March were unopposed Democratic state Reps. John Cortes of Kissimmee in House District 43; Kamia Brown of Ocoee in House District 45; Bruce Antone of Orlando in House District 46; Amy Mercado of Orlando in House District 48; and Carlos Guillermo Smith of Orlando in House District 49. Each entered April with modest campaign funds of less than $50,000 apiece.

Electoral map scrambles race for Senate presidency

For the first time this decade, a race to one day lead the Florida Senate is not confined to an intra-party scrum among Republican lawmakers.

And while Naples Republican Kathleen Passidomo is now the slight front-runner to hold the gavel beginning in 2022, she and her GOP colleagues must first navigate two election cycles in which control of the Senate could be at stake.

Passidomo is emerging as the leading candidate to succeed Senate President-designate Bill Galvano and Majority Leader Wilton Simpson after Tampa Republican Dana Young declared that she would not pursue the Senate presidency. That left Passidomo and St. Augustine Republican Travis Hutson as the two contenders for the position.

Based on not-for-attribution conversations with at least four members of the 2016 class of the Florida Senate, other Senators, and key staff and lobbyists close to Passidomo, Hutson, Galvano, and Simpson, it appears that Passidomo holds a one-  or two-vote lead over Hutson within the nine-member class of Republicans.

In addition to Passidomo, Hutson, and Young, the other Republican members of the 2016 class are Dennis Baxley, Doug Broxson, George Gainer, Debbie Mayfield, Keith Perry and Greg Steube.

Steube is exiting the Senate to run for Congress, so he’s not part of the math here.

Almost all of those tracking the race peg the vote at 5 to 3 for Passidomo with Baxley, Broxson, Gainer and Young behind her. Hutson can count on the support of Perry and Mayfield.

The consensus that Passidomo is leading the race gelled last week when Senate leaders and elite-level lobbyists raised money for the Florida Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee at a series of events in Nashville. According to an itinerary obtained by Florida Politics, lawmakers were treated to a private concert by Phil Vassar at the Loveless Barn and a songwriters luncheon at the famous Bluebird Cafe.

With the twang of country music in the background, a handful of Senators and other Adams Street players talked openly about two factors driving the race in Passidomo’s direction.

The first is Young bowing out of the race and squarely backing Passidomo. Sources close to both Passidomo and Young say that the Tampa Republican has, indeed, signed a pledge card for Passidomo.

The second factor has a tinge of post hoc ergo propter hoc, specifically that since Hutson was not able to win his own class, he could not win the race at large.

“If you can’t even win your own class, your butt has no business being up there [in the president’s rostrum],” said one member aligned with Passidomo, who asked to speak without attribution so as to provide clearer insight into the workings of the Senate.

Hutson has told a handful of Republican lobbyists and donors that he expects the contest between him and Passidomo to be a “long slog” and may involve the votes of members from the incoming class of Senators.

However, Hutson’s position runs counter to what President-designate Galvano and Leader Simpson have reportedly told other members. Fearing a repeat of the kind of race between President Joe Negron and Jack Latvala, which divided the chamber for years, the incoming leaders want the matter settled before the November elections.

This said, Galvano and Simpson are both said to want to be careful about not interfering in the Passidomo vs. Hutson contest. They, like other Senators, prefer not to openly discuss leadership races other than to note that the Senate conducts its business differently than the Florida House, which has endured back-to-back internal conflicts about who will lead the chamber after Jose Oliva.

Yet what is really concerning Galvano, Simpson, and other GOP members is not which Republican will follow them, but whether it will even be a Republican.

With Lantana Democrat Lori Berman‘s unsurprising win Tuesday night in a special election for a seat in the Florida Senate, the chamber is now divided 23 to 16 between Republicans and Democrats.

As previously reported on Florida Politics, state Democrats are systematically laying out a plan to recapture the upper chamber. They hope to win at least four of seven battleground seats on the ballot in 2018.

To that end, Rep. Janet Cruz has entered the race for SD 18, where she will try to pick off Young and trial lawyer Carrie Pilon has filed to challenge incumbent Jeff Brandes in SD 24. The party likes its chances with the campaigns of Kayser Enneking and Bob Doyel, two first-time candidates challenging Republican incumbents Keith Perry and Kelli Stargel, respectively.

It is also recruiting former state Rep. Amanda Murphy to run for the open seat in Senate District 16, once held by Clearwater Republican Jack Latvala and Alex Penelas, the former mayor of Miami-Dade County, to run for SD 36, where Republican Rene Garcia is term-limited.

On Wednesday, Democrats were relieved to learn that Jose Javier Rodriguez will remain in SD 37, giving the party a better shot of funding those campaigns.

Even if Democrats fall short of winning control of the Florida Senate, the results in these competitive seats could impact Passidomo vs. Hutson (assuming Passidomo doesn’t have the race locked-up by November. If Perry loses his re-election bid, Passidomo would have a hammer-lock on the contest, but her chances could be hurt if Young were to lose.

All the more reason for Passidomo to conclude her business by the summer.

Democratic gubernatorial candidates debate set for WTVT in Tampa

All four leading Democratic candidates for governor will be appearing in a debate hosted and broadcast by WTVT in Tampa next week, the station confirmed Tuesday.

WTVT, part of the FOX Television Stations network, will host the half-hour forum at 6:30 p.m. on April 18 featuring  Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, former Congresswoman Gwen Graham, former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, and businessman Chris King, the station’s general Manager Jeff Maloney announced in a news release Tuesday. The candidates themselves revealed their commitments to the debate last month, though details were yet to be worked out.

The four Democrats will be asked to cover topics important to the Tampa community, such as school safety, crime, mental health services, and hurricane preparedness, according to a release from the station.

Maloney stated, “This debate will be an opportunity for voters to see and hear the candidates in an unfiltered environment, on the station that has been a leader in political coverage in Florida.”

Audrey Gibson pans Rick Scott Senate launch, lauds ‘moderate’ Bill Nelson

Senate Minority Leader-Designate Audrey Gibson, a Jacksonville Democrat, excoriated Gov. Rick Scott upon his U.S. Senate campaign launch Monday.

“Rick Scott cannot erase seven years of leaving behind my constituents and others throughout this state and now try to take his same show to Washington. His jobs incentive programs have not provided real jobs to the average Floridian because he counts failed potential job creation as a Florida job,” Gibson said.

“A real job is not an alternative fact. His latest slush fund scheme (the Florida Job Growth Fund) of doling out money has fallen short of long-term job creation with little to no reach deep into communities where unemployment and community development remains an issue,” Gibson added.

Gibson went on to note that Scott’s record of job creation wouldn’t have happened without “stimulus money” from President Barack Obama.

“Rick Scott backtracked on his promise and refused to expand Medicaid, hurting millions of Floridians and financially strapping the hospitals who take care of them in emergency rooms at a much higher cost. But what does he care,” Gibson said. “He made his money in a hospital scam and refused to testify about the details.”

“Scott has refused to consider raising wages so that families can survive in a very service industry state and supported policies that grossly undermine public education including cutting education funding and touting a .47 cent increase in base student allocation as an historic increase,” Gibson added.

“And lest we forget Scott hid from responsibility for the lives of seniors lost in South Florida and the over a year of not providing information to FEMA to collect millions in Hurricane Matthew funds even after Hurricane Irma hit. Floridians cannot afford Rick Scott anymore,” Gibson added. “Our families and our quality of life deserve better.”

Much of Gibson’s press availability was dedicated to criticism of Scott, in keeping with Democratic events like this in major metros throughout the state today.

“There really wasn’t a message delivered by Gov. Scott in Orlando,” Gibson said, finding it ironic that Scott was introduced by the Lt. Gov of Puerto Rico since Florida was “very slow” in lending the territory help after Irma.

“The first thing the Governor said this morning was that he was not going to ‘fit in’ to Washington,” Gibson said, noting that he may not fit in given his advocacy of term limits for Congress on Monday.

Scott’s relationship with President Donald Trump, Gibson asserted, is something voters should “definitely” consider, given Trump’s lack of “decorum” and “predictability.”

Besides, Gibson joked, Trump may not be President for very much longer.

As well, Gibson doubted Scott’s ability to be a “consensus builder,” which “moderate” Bill Nelson has been for years.

“He may not necessarily characterize himself that way,” Gibson said of Nelson as a moderate, but lauded his ability to “build a bridge” and bring “balance to his position as a Senator.”

Additionally, Scott is as much a “career politician” as Nelson, Gibson said, given that he’s running for one office from another.

Carlos Smith endorses Andrew Gillum in Governor’s race

Orlando Democratic state Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, chairman of the Florida Legislative Progressive Caucus and the lion of the state’s progressive Democrats, has thrown his support behind Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum in the Governor’s race.

“In 2018 Florida Democrats have a choice: do we settle yet again for moderate candidates reading a script written by party consultants, or do we want authentic leaders with bold ideas and a plan to achieve them? I’m proud to endorse Andrew Gillum for governor because he has lived and governed with our progressive values and stood up for issues that matter to our state: equality, healthcare and gun safety,” Smith stated in a news release issued by Gillum’s campaign Friday morning.

“Andrew’s proving you don’t have to be from a famous family or be ultra-wealthy to run for governor in our state, and he’s going to win in August and November,” he added.

Smith is finishing his freshman term representing Florida House District 49, covering northeast Orange County, and is seeking re-election so far without opposition. His first term established him as an unabashed and highly vocal leader in promoting progressive politics.

The endorsement also is a bid for Orlando’s Democratic base.

Gillum’s Democratic gubernatorial primary opposition includes two candidates who’ve established headquarters in Orlando, former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, who moved much of her operations to Orlando from Tallahassee, and Winter Park businessman Chris King. Former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine also is fighting for Orlando’s Democratic base, now with billboards.

“I am ecstatic to have Representative Carlos Guillermo Smith’s endorsement in this race for Governor. Carlos has redefined what it means to fight for your constituents – from his relentless advocacy on gun violence after Pulse, to the Puerto Rican community after last year’s hurricanes — he has fought tirelessly for the people and issues we care most about. It’s truly an honor to have his support in this race,” Gillum stated in the release.

Philip Levine match helps boost his campaign by another $1 million in March

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Philip Levine‘s campaign and political committee took in just over $1 million in March, including about $535,000 from contributors and $470,000 he put in himself as a match, his campaign announced Thursday.

The million-dollar month keeps the Levine campaign pacing ahead of other Democrats who don’t have the luxury of self-funding their campaigns, as former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham’s campaign announced it collected about $600,000 in March, and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum’s reported $336,000. The campaign of the fourth major Democrat, Chris King, has not yet announced March fundraising numbers.

There also has been no word yet on the March campaign finance activity of the two leading Republicans, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis.

The seven-figure month for Levine, the former Miami Beach mayor, also feeds a hungry campaign that had spent more than $4 million on television advertising this winter while the other candidates have bided time.

There was no word on how much the campaign and the political committee had left in the bank at the end of March. Official reports for March have not yet been posted by the Florida Division of Elections.

In March Levine’s official campaign took in $235,000 from contributors and Levine added $470,000 from his own pocket. His independent political committee All About Florida drew about $300,000 in donations.

“This month, our campaign’s momentum continues to build, now leading our competitors in both polling and fundraising, because Floridians are ready for a new, exciting progressive vision for our future,” Christian Ulvert, senior advisor to the campaign, stated in a news release. “As Mayor Levine tours the state of Florida, meeting directly with voters in every county, our campaign is raising the resources necessary to take his message for Florida’s future on airwaves, on the ground, and to the living rooms of Florida’s families.”

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