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Steve Schale: Hurricane Maria, Puerto Rico and Florida politics

Since Maria, the question I’ve gotten more than any other is: “So if X number of Puerto Ricans move to Florida because of the hurricane, what does this mean?”

Honestly, I write this blog with some hesitation.

As I work on this piece, 80-90 percent of the population still lacks power and some 50 percent lack potable water, so politics is really the last thing anyone should be worried about. But given the likely ongoing interest in this question, and in part, because I use this medium to share my own research, I wanted to offer some thoughts.

Both POLITICO’s Marc Caputo (here) and The Washington Post’s James Hohmann (here) have written interesting pieces on the subject, but I wanted to try to give it more data context. So, in this blog, I’ll try to provide my thoughts based on analyzing census data, voter registration data, and presidential election trends.

For my Democratic friends, a word of warning about the latter — particularly regarding 2018, recent turnout in off-year cycles in Orange and Osceola County has been quite low. Comparing the 2012 and 2014 elections, Osceola saw turnout drop from 67 percent to 41.3 percent, the third largest drop-off in Florida, and Orange fell from 68.1 percent to 43.3 percent, the sixth highest drop-off. So, if you want to take advantage of anything I will write about from this point onward, don’t stop organizing.

One other word of warning, this blog only looks at the impacts in three counties: Orange, Osceola and Seminole, because the acute impact of Puerto Rican growth is likely to be most significantly felt here. However, as we saw in 2016, the political impacts of Puerto Ricans in these three counties were outweighed by the Trump surge among whites in the outlying Orlando media-market counties. Alex Leary at the Tampa Bay Times just wrote an excellent piece on this dynamic.

One last note: I wrote a piece called “Orlando Rising” about the demographic changes that were occurring in the region then if you are curious for comparison purposes.

So, here goes …

Like so many things, the answer to the Maria question lies in history.

For the sake of this exercise, let’s start the clock in 2000. The 2000 election was by far the closest in our state’s history, and thus provides a good, balanced starting point when looking at elections. We also have census data from 2000 to provide another benchmark.

In terms of voter registration, we can’t really analyze data before 2006, since most counties in Florida grouped “Hispanics” into their race: either Black or White. One quick note, as I do in all my pieces, I will use Black, not African-American, because Florida also has a large Caribbean-American population that gets categorized into the same data.

So, let’s start with census data.

Keep one thing in mind, the 2015 data are based on census projections based on their year-round survey work. While they are still fairly accurate, we won’t see exact numbers until sometime in 2021 when the 2020 census data are released.

So, with that caveat …

In 2000, the Orlando urban counties had 1,434,033 total residents. Of this population, 18.1 percent was Hispanic, and another 14.7 percent was Black. The area’s non-Hispanic White population was just over 62 percent.

So, let’s move ahead to 2015.

Population in the tri-county area had grown to 1,967.255, with Hispanics now making up 29.6 percent of the population, with Black residents also increasing, to 16.3 percent. Non-Hispanic Whites had dropped to 47 percent of the area’s population.

In fairness, the 2000 census had fewer categories of people, so that 62 percent number is probably high, but regardless, that is a significant change.

Looking at it another way, between 2000 and 2015, the area grew by 532,222 residents, of which roughly 325,000 are Hispanic, with the total Hispanic population growing from just under 260,000 to almost 585,000.

Often overlooked in the region, the area’s Black population also grew substantially, from 210,000 to 320,000. At the same time, the area’s non-Hispanic White population grew by just 32,000 — which is actually less than the Asian population, which grew by 45,000 over the same period. Again, it is important to note the non-Hispanic White count was likely artificially high in 2000.

But any way you look at it, the Hispanic population exploded, and the entire area got much more diverse.

So, what does that mean for the politics?

Let’s start with voter registration. I want to start with a caveat from census data: Hispanic is a self-reported data point on voter registration cards, and it typically underrepresents the real number, as some Hispanics will only self-report as White or Black. The census data above collects all Hispanics, regardless of their race. This is one reason why if you look at public polling or exit polling, the Hispanic share is often higher than the state’s voter registration numbers, especially in presidential years.

So, going back to 2006, at the time the book closed on the 2006 General Election, there were just over 941,000 registered voters in the area, of which 17.5 percent, or 165,000 were Hispanic. Another 12.3 percent were Black, with non-Hispanic Whites making up 62 percent, roughly the same as the census proportions.

Two other data points: In 2006, Hispanics broke 43 percent Dem — 21 percent R, and 36 percent NPA, while non-Hispanic Whites broke 48 percent Rep, 30 percent Dem and 22 percent NPA — which may seem high, but isn’t for this part of the state, given the region’s GOP tradition.

Fast forward to the 2016 book closing. There are now 1,264,778 voters in the area, and Hispanics have grown from 165,008 to 312,323 voters, which equates to 24.7 percent of the electorate. Black voters are up to 14.2 percent, and non-Hispanic white is down to 51.2 percent, a number that I believe, even before any possible Hurricane Maria impact, will be below 50 percent in 2020.

Those other comparative data points from 2006: Hispanics are now 54 percent Dem, 14 percent Rep and 32 percent NPA. In fact, among Whites and Blacks, both political parties lost share of registrants to NPA (non-Hispanic White is now 46R-27D-27NPA). In fact, the only place where partisans increased their share of the electorate was Democrats with Hispanics.

Look at it another way, and the dynamic is even more remarkable. Since 2006, the area’s voter registration grew by about 323,000 voters. Of that, 45 percent was Hispanic, while 21 percent was non-Hispanic White, and about 19 percent of the growth was among Black voters. The raw numbers are even starker: Hispanic Democrats in the decade leading up to 2016 grew by 99,000 voters, while Republicans growth was just under 9,000.

So how did that play out in elections?

In 2000, in the Orlando metro area (again, Orange, Osceola and Seminole counties): George W. Bush beat Al Gore by just under 9,000 votes — a margin he actually grew to 33,000 votes in 2004. When you think about the urban Central Florida core today, it is hard to think that just 12 years ago, Republican presidential candidates actually won the region. Again, this was a pretty Republican area prior to the recent demographic shifts.

But not anymore. In 2016, Hillary Clinton won those same three counties by over 165,000 votes. In fact, in just Orange County (Orlando proper), where John Kerry beat George Bush by 1,000 votes in 2004, Hillary Clinton beat Donald Trump by 134.000 votes just 12 years later.

Another way of looking at it, the two-party candidate margin shifted almost nearly 175,000 from Bush 2000 (almost 200K from 2004). And this wasn’t just the “Obama coalition” or “Obama turnout” — Clinton’s 2016 margin was about 65,000 votes larger than either Obama election. In a word, this is demographics.

Another metric: In 2000, Democrats had no locally elected Members of Congress. A Democratic seat from Jacksonville meandered down to Orlando, but that was it. In 2016, the region has three local Democratic Members of Congress, which reflect the growing diversity of the area: a Puerto-Rican, an African-American and a Vietnamese American.

So let’s talk Hurricane Maria.

First, it is important to keep in mind just how much has changed in the last 15 years in these three counties for Puerto Ricans. In 2000, the community was emerging, as was the community’s social and political infrastructure. I used to say to reporters in those days who were writing about the early Puerto Rican political dynamic, one of the big differences between Miami and Orlando is you could figure out who the opinion leaders were in Miami, but it wasn’t as easy in those days in Orlando.

Today is quite different. Puerto Ricans who come to Orlando now will find a ready-made community, with a social structure solidly in place, a growing job market, and in many cases, friends and family already here. In other words, while moving is never easy, migrating to Orlando following Maria will be a far easier adjustment than it was 15 or 20 years ago.

And far more than a Hispanic immigrant, the Puerto Rican impact on the politics is acute. As long as a Puerto Rican migrates and takes up residence in Florida more than 30 days before a given election, they can vote. As we’ve seen since 2000, the immediate impact in these three counties has been to the significant benefit of Democrats.

So, what does it all potentially mean?

There is no way to know how many people could migrate to Central Florida. Pretty much every estimate out there is a dart thrown against a wall.

But we do know this. Over the last 10 years, 67 percent of the Hispanic voter registration growth accrued to the Democrats, while only 6 percent went to the GOP, so any growth from Maria, which is over and above the growth which is already happening in Orlando, will only exacerbate the local political trends.

Let me close with one note of caution: Florida is a big complicated state, and there is not, nor will there ever be, a single silver bullet that “turns” Florida one way or another. Florida is five or six really big states in one. The North Florida media markets alone are the voting power of Iowa, and just Miami-Dade County has roughly the same voting power as Nevada.

Despite Florida’s razor close margins — with only 18,000 votes separating Republicans and Democrats out of the 50,000,000 ballots cast for President since 1992, and with the last two presidentials and two governor’s races each being decided by a point, Florida is historically close because of the sum of these diverse parts, not because of any one thing in any one spot. You win Florida by managing the margins. So, while these trends help the Democratic balance sheet, a win in 2018 and 2020 also means reducing the Trump and Scott margins in other counties.

To the latter point, Florida also has this interesting ability to find equilibrium — when it looked like the high migration to Florida from around the mainland would shift Florida forever into the GOP column in the early 2000s, large Hispanic and Caribbean growth balanced it out. Of late, the demographic gains that Democrats have made have been balanced out with increasing support among Whites for Republican candidates. And I expect this balance to continue going forward, at least through the next few presidential cycles. With that being said, I do think over time, Republicans will reach a ceiling with Whites (and Trump could well be the ceiling), meaning if the GOP can’t find a way to improve its vote share with Hispanic voters, their math will get harder and harder. But Democrats, remember, none of that is a sure thing.

So while a significant migration from Maria will absolutely impact Central Florida politics, and those impacts will help Democrats statewide — it won’t “tip” the state any more than any other population shift that could occur, because well, Florida is gonna Florida.

In a world where the Jaguars crush the Steelers, and lead their division after 5 games, literally anything can happen!

May God Bless our fellow Americans in Puerto Rico.

Bill Nelson sponsors bill to ban bump stocks for assault weapons

Saying, “they are for killing,” Florida’s Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson sponsored a bill Wednesday to ban so-called “bump stocks” like the ones Las Vegas police say Stephen Paddock used in his deadly slaughter Sunday night in Las Vegas.

“I’m a hunter and have owned guns my whole life,” Nelson stated in a news release. “But these automatic weapons are not for hunting, they are for killing. And this common-sense bill would, at the very least, make it harder for someone to convert a semi-automatic rifle into what is essentially a fully-automatic machine gun.”

The move was one of many gun law reform efforts renewed by Democrats in the wake of Paddock’s massacre Sunday night of 58 concert goers with a fast, steady flow of long-range bullets that also wounded more than 500.

On Monday gubernatorial candidate Chris King vowed to push for gun reforms. In Orlando, state Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith announced he had filed a state bill banning the sale of assault weapons and high-caliber magazines, a companion bill to the one state Sen. Linda Stewart, also of Orlando, filed more than a month ago. U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel of West Palm Beach called a press conference for Friday where she intends to introduce a federal bill outlawing those items and bump stocks.

Nelson’s bill also was sponsored by Democratic U.S. Sen. Diane Feinstein of California, with 25 co-sponsors, including Democratic U.S. Sens. Chuck Schumer of New York, Chris Murphy of Connecticut, Cory Booker of New Jersey, Kamala Harris of California, and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, plus independent U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont.

The legislation would ban the sale, transfer, importation, manufacture or possession of bump stocks, trigger cranks and similar accessories that accelerate a semi-automatic rifle’s rate of fire.

While a typical semi-automatic rifle can fire at a rate of between 45 and 60 rounds per minute, a fully-automatic weapon can fire at a rate of 400 to 800 rounds per minute, Nelson’s office stated in the release.

The bill makes clear that its intent is to target only those accessories that increase a semi-automatic rifle’s rate of fire. Legitimate accessories used by hunters would be exempt. The bill also contains exceptions for lawful possession of these devices by law enforcement and the government.

Stephanie Murphy calls Donald Trump’s North Korea rhetoric ‘reckless,’ calls on him to stop it

U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy, a chair of the Democratic Caucus’ National Security Task Force, called President Donald Trump’s North Korea rhetoric “reckless” Wednesday. She and other task force leaders sent him a letter urging him to knock it off.

Murphy, of Winter Park, and the other two task force chairs made it clear they recognize that North Korea’s “dangerous and destabilizing actions are the root cause of tensions between North Korea and the international community,” yet also declared that they believe Trump’s “reckless rhetoric and muddled messages to allies have made the problem worse.”

Those comments were made in a press release the caucus issued Wednesday, and Murphy repeated them in a Facebook post later.

In the letter itself, Murphy and her fellow chairs U.S. Reps. Seth Moulton of Massachusetts, and Jimmy Panetta of California informed Trump they believe he’s making matters worse. The letter also spells out what they believe he should be doing with regards to North Korea, insisting on diplomatic negotiations, while increasing and actually enforcing economic sanctions.

“Nevertheless, we believe your rhetoric in response has been counterproductive, escalating an already dangerous situation.”

The letter also told Trump they believe he is mismanaging U.S. alliances with East Asian countries including South Korea, and is failing to fill key staff offices in the U.S. State Department that deal with the Koreas and other East Asian countries, calling the matters “self-inflicted wounds.”

The Democratic National Security Task Force chairs’ letter advised Trump they believe can chart a course that avoids both “capitulation to or catastrophic war with North Korea.”

“Rather than using reckless rhetoric and sending muddled messages to our allies, the U.S. should pursue a comprehensive strategy toward North Korea that consists of economic pressure, strong and steady diplomacy, and credible deterrence and defense,” it states.

The Democrats called on Trump to increase and enforce economic sanctions, and enhance diplomatic negotiations, citing, as a role model, President Ronald Reagan‘s efforts to deal with the Soviet Union.

They also urged him to establish crisis-management channels with North Korea to clarify intentions and minimize the risks of misunderstandings that could lead to war.

“Responsibility for addressing the serious threat from North Korea lies squarely with the Trump administration,” Murphy, a former Defense Department intelligence analyst, stated in the news release. “I am concerned by the President’s approach to date, which has been characterized more by tough talk than by strong, smart, and steady actions that make our country and our allies safer. U.S. policy toward North Korea should consist of economic pressure, strong and steady diplomacy, and credible deterrence and defense.”

Slow early-voter turnout for HD 44 special election favors Republicans

With very little early-voter turnout during the first weekend heading towards the Oct. 10 special election to fill the vacant seat in Orange County‘s House District 44, Republican Bobby Olszewski appears to have a clear advantage over his Democratic rival Eddy Dominguez, a late-addition replacement candidate.

Just 443 votes were cast Saturday and Sunday in the first weekend of early voting, less than a half-percent of the total registered voter base in the district, which covers southwest Orange County including parts or all of the cities and towns of Winter Garden, Ocoee, and Windermere, and the large unincorporated communities of Dr. Phillips and Hunters Creek.

Another 4,488 mail-in ballots had been received by the end of Sunday, according to the Orange County Property Appraiser’s Office. That brings the  votes to just under 4 percent of the electorate.

On Friday, Orange County Supervisor of Elections Bill Cowles said he was expecting somewhere between 11 and 14 percent voter turnout in the race to replace Republican former state Rep. Eric Eisnaugle of Windermere, who resigned last spring to take a judicial appointment.

Cowles’ office released the party breakdown of the early voters, and it shows a commanding advantage for Republicans, though the raw numbers were small. Of those people who came to one of the three early-voting centers on Saturday or Sunday, 251 were Republicans —that’s 57 percent of the early-voting turn-out. Just 133 Democrats came early, plus 59 independent voters.

In recent years, Democrats usually had early-voter advantages over Republicans, while Republicans held advantages among mail-in voters.

With the voter registration book closing, HD 44’s voter base was 36 percent Republican, 32 percent Democrat, and 32 percent independent or other-party voters.

Olszewski, a businessman and former Winter Garden city commissioner, won a bruising Republican primary election on Aug. 15. He’s campaigned since March.

Dominguez was named less than two weeks ago as the Democrats’ replacement candidate after Paul Chandler withdrew. Dominguez is not on the ballots, but any votes for Chandler are being counted for him.

Early voting runs through Saturday, Oct. 7.

Long-distance romance: Karen and Pete Sessions calling Dallas, not Winter Park, home

Ever since former Winter Park City Commissioner Karen Diebel married Texas’ U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions in 2012, questions swirled about whether Winter Park was unofficially gaining a member of Congress or losing a fixture in Central Florida politics, most recently with renewed questions about whether the congressman was living in Texas or Florida; but both Sessions insist it’s Winter Park’s loss, not gain.

Karen Sessions and Congressman Sessions’ press secretary both said late last week that it’s Karen Sessions who is commuting regularly from Texas to Florida, not him. Their Dallas home has officially become her home, even though she’s staying in Florida as much as she can until her last son graduates from high school.

The issue emerged again last week, from Democrats, when Republican state Rep. Mike Miller of Winter Park set fundraisers in Winter Park and Washington for his congressional campaign in Florida’s 7th Congressional District. Karen and Pete Session, both Republicans, were listed as hosts, though neither actually attended either fundraiser.

Democrats, following a suspicion first raised by Congressman Sessions’ Republican critics three years ago, are charging that he’s not in Dallas, at least not much. The Democrats are targeting Sessions in the 2018 election, partly because his district went for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election, suggesting a partisan evolution.

“It makes sense that Congressman Pete Sessions is hosting a fundraiser in Florida, where his family has called home since 2012; what’s weird is the fact that Pete Sessions is still running for office in Texas. He’ll have some explaining to do to people back in Dallas, but first he’ll have to introduce himself – from what I hear they haven’t seen him in a while,” said Cole Leiter, spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Pete Sessions has served in Congress since 1997 and now is the powerful chairman of the House Rules Committee. With two sons of his own from a previous marriage, he’s kept a Dallas home and maintained a Texas homestead exemption on that house. Karen Sessions is now listed on that homestead exemption as well.

Karen Sessions, who ran for Congress herself in 2010, has kept her home in downtown Winter Park, raising her three sons there since her first husband was killed in a tragic accident. She maintained her Florida homestead exemption, making the Winter Park home her official residence, until recently. She said she has withdrawn her exemption now. She also changed her voter registration to Texas last year.

It is a complicated family situation, but the congressman has not left his district, she said.

“I do commute from Winter Park to Dallas. I commute from Dallas to Winter Park, so we can get all my sons out of high school and into college,” said Karen Sessions, a telecommunications consultant. “Pete doesn’t come to Winter Park. He’s based in the district, doing his work, and in Washington, doing his work. It’s always been like that, and it hasn’t ever changed.”

“He’s in Dallas right now. He has a home in Uptown,” Pete Sessions’ communications director Caroline Boothe said on Friday, the day after the Miller Winter Park fundraiser. Uptown is an upscale neighborhood north of downtown. “Their home is in Dallas.”

Suspicions to the contrary first were publicly raised in 2014 by Republicans. Pete Sessions’ Republican primary challenger, Tea Party activist Katrina Pierson [who went on to be a spokeswoman for Donald Trump’s presidential campaign], charged that Sessions was no longer living in Dallas at that time.

Democrats raised it again last week after the Sessionses were listed on Miller’s fundraisers.

Karen Sessions’ Winter Park homestead exemption still is listed online by the Orange County Property Appraiser’s Office. The office of Orange County Property Appraiser Rick Singh said the office has not yet received her request to withdraw it.


Christian Ulvert: A victory that sets a blueprint for success

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


Stephanie Murphy touts bill that she voted against

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stephanie Murphy joins Climate Solutions Caucus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Republicans flip registration in Polk, Volusia, continue statewide gains

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

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

But it’s not just in those counties.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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