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What they’re saying about Annette Taddeo’s victory in SD 40

After three attempts at elective office, Democrat Annette Taddeo finally won Tuesday’s special election to represent Miami-area Florida Senate District 40.

Taddeo, 50, defeated former state Rep. Jose Felix “Pepi” Diaz 51 to 47 percent to fill the seat of Republican Frank Artiles, who resigned in April after using the N-word in front of two black Senate colleagues. She has run for Congress twice and was running mate to Democrat Charlie Crist in his unsuccessful 2014 bid for Florida Governor against Republican incumbent Rick Scott.

For many, Taddeo’s come from behind win — where Republicans led early voting coming into Election Day — was a rebuke of the hate-filled, divisive politics in the Donald Trump era, both in Tallahassee and Washington.

Here are what some leading Democrats, nationally and in Florida, are saying about Taddeo’s victory:

Florida Democratic Party Chair Steven Bittel

“Congratulations to Annette Taddeo on this major victory for Miami-Dade and our entire state. This is a win for all of Florida. Democrats represent 16 of 40 state Senate seats. Annette will head to Tallahassee ready to fight for higher paying jobs, affordable health care and fully funded public schools. Democrats across the state are energized and mobilizing to flip Florida blue. After nearly 20 years of harmful GOP policies, voters are ready for a better deal.

The Florida Democratic Party joined progressive partners like the FDLCC, unions on a community engagement effort that sets a new standard for our Party. We actively engaged both the Latino and African-American communities of SD 40 in neighbor-to-neighbor conversations focused on the issues that matter most. This victory is the first of many, as we are poised to claim the governorship, we are prepared to re-elect Senator Bill Nelson, and we are within striking distance of reaching parity in the upper chamber of the state Legislature.

The FDP has made significant strides in building long-term political and grassroots infrastructure that will help Democrats win critical seats at the local, state and federal level. We are organizing year-round and we will be engaging in neighbor-to-neighbor conversations in every one of our 67 counties to turn Florida blue in 2018 and beyond.”

Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee Executive Director Jessica Post

“This crucial win tonight is a great representation of Democrats’ winning momentum and increased engagement in the Trump era. Annette reached Florida voters because they know that she will fight for them, defending school funding and protecting natural resources along with standing up for immigrant families and protecting access to health care. The DLCC worked with legislative leaders and our progressive allies to ensure Annette’s campaign had the resources and support needed to win. We are proud of the DLCC’s work to deliver this special election win and help put Democrats on track to challenge Florida’s Republican trifecta by taking back the state Senate in 2018.”

Senate Democratic Leader-Designate Jeff Clemens

“I am thrilled to congratulate Annette Taddeo on her great victory. The Florida Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee committed to righting a wrong in this district and electing a proven champion who will join our caucus to fight for an agenda that puts working families first.”

Florida House Democratic Leader Janet Cruz, a DLCC board member

“Senator-elect Taddeo’s win tonight is not only a step forward for Floridians, it is a step forward for Florida Democrats looking to bring progressive change to Tallahassee and prevent more harmful Republican gerrymandering in 2020.”

Former Congresswoman Gwen Graham, a Democratic candidate for Florida Governor

“Annette Taddeo ran and won on the values that unite us as Floridians — renewing public education, defending our clean land and water, and building an economy that works for every family. She will represent every member of Miami’s diverse community,” Graham said. “I look forward to working with her to build a brighter future for the state we love.”

Miami Beach commissioner and congressional candidate Kristen Rosen Gonzalez

“Frank Artiles’ resignation in April 2017, after making insulting racial remarks, set off a chain of events that ended last night. Annette Taddeo, after an often bruising campaign, made South Florida political history by turning a seat held by a bedrock Republican into a Democratic seat, beating State Representative Jose Felix Diaz.

“Annette will be taking not just the best wishes of South Florida voters to Tallahassee, but the hopes of Florida Democratic women, as well.

“We need more smart women in positions of power.

“Not just in Tallahassee, but in Washington, too.”

Annette Taddeo wins SD 40 special election

Democrat Annette Taddeo has won Tuesday’s state Senate District 40 special election, narrowly defeating Republican former state Rep. Jose Felix Diaz in the hotly contested and expensive race that was closely watched by both state and national parties.

SD 40 wound up being more of a nail-biter than anyone first expected, as Republicans entered Election Day with only a slim 500 early-vote lead. But Hurricane Irma and its after-effects helped the off-year race stay a low-turnout affair.

In the end, Diaz took just 47.2 percent of the vote; Taddeo received almost 51 percent. Christian “He-Man” Schlaerth, with no party affiliation, received just under 2 percent.

“This is a victory for the residents of Senate District 40. The voters wanted a champion in Tallahassee who will fight for higher paying jobs, affordable healthcare and fully funded public schools and I am honored and humbled that they have placed their faith and trust in me,” Taddeo said in an election night statement.

“I pledge to work everyday for the families of my community and not the special interests. I would like to thank my opponent for running in a hard-fought race. Our campaign saw a strong coalition come together … who unified behind a winning plan. I’m beyond thankful for all the work and their efforts and the the thousands of volunteers who committed their time, energy and resources.

“This was a community, grassroots driven effort and I am ready to continue the work in our state capitol.”

Turnout was expected to be much lower than the pre-Irma estimates of 45,000-55,000. Later, working models predicted the number to be around 32-39,000, with larger Election Day turnout seemingly favoring Taddeo. Nevertheless, preliminary turnout numbers put the final number at 47,500 or 14 percent.

The Senate seat was vacated five months ago by former Sen. Frank Artiles, a Cuban-American Republican who resigned in the midst of this spring’s Legislative Session after a profanity-laced and racially charged outburst at a private club near the Capitol.

Diaz, who resigned his state House seat to run for the Senate and is known almost universally as “Pepi,” spent much of Saturday outside an early voting site in Southwest Miami with Cuban-born retired Major League Baseball pitcher Camilo Pascual. Taddeo joined black pastors and churchgoers Sunday for a “Souls to the Polls” barbecue as a DJ blared tunes at near-deafening levels in the background.

The competitive matchup in Senate District 40, which voted overwhelmingly for Democrat Hillary Clinton in last year’s presidential race but also elected the Republican Artiles, is viewed by many as a harbinger of how Democrats might fare in upcoming elections.

It’s also seen as a litmus test for President Donald Trump, who is lauded by many of the district’s Cuban-American voters for chilling his predecessor’s accord with Cuba but is denounced by other Hispanics for his hard-line stance on immigration, especially policies involving undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children, known as “Dreamers.”

But Hurricane Irma, which made landfall in the Keys and Southwest Florida little more than two weeks ago, threw a monkey-wrench into the contest, temporarily putting campaign activities on hold after the massive storm knocked out power, internet, cable and mail delivery to much of the district.

Florida Democrats asked Gov. Rick Scott to postpone the election for two weeks. He refused, saying the Miami-Dade elections supervisor had decided the election should take place as scheduled.

Hispanics make up 69 percent of the district’s voting-age population, whites another 20 percent and blacks make up about 7 percent, according to the latest Census data. The swing district, redrawn as a result of a redistricting process that took effect with last year’s election, is almost evenly split between Republicans, Democrats and independents, with Democrats having a slight voter-registration edge.

The race for the open seat has a whopping tab estimated at $2 million, including spending by the candidates and political committees affiliated with the Senate hopefuls.

Democrats had viewed the seat as an opportunity bolster their limited numbers in the state Legislature. The Party registration is about 36 percent Democrat, 35 percent are Republican, and 29 percent are independents or third-party voters. The district is 68 percent Hispanic, 18 percent non-Hispanic white and 8 percent black.

Material from the News Service of Florida was used in this report.

SD 40 race could be Donald Trump test for Democrats

Florida Democrats are facing a test to see whether anti-President Donald Trump politics will give them a boost ahead of a critical election year and perhaps signal a turnaround after two decades of Republican dominance in the Legislature.

They’ve made Trump a focal point in a special election set for Tuesday to replace a Miami-area Republican state senator who resigned after using racial slurs in front of black colleagues. The Republican in the race, state Rep. Jose Felix “Pepi” Diaz, was a contestant on Trump’s reality show “The Apprentice,” helping to make that connection easier.

“Trump’s apprentice just got the GOP nomination,” said a Democratic fundraising email when Diaz won the primary in July. “Contribute now to fire Trump’s apprentice.”

If Democrat Annette Taddeo wins with less money against the stronger organization of the Republican Party, it could be a sign of better times for Democrats. It would also test an anti-Trump strategy ahead of a 2018 election when the governor’s seat and all three Cabinet positions are open and Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson is up for re-election.

“It’s an interesting test. Does the Trump thing translate down the ballot in a nontypical election?” said Democratic political strategist Steve Schale. “If Democrats talk about getting back to a majority, you have to win races like this at some point.”

On paper, the district southwest of Miami leans Democratic. Democrat Hillary Clinton beat Trump last year, but Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio also carried the district.

“I’m sure the Democrats are going to try to make it a referendum on Trump, but they’re going to have to spend a lot of money to do it,” said David Johnson, a Republican political consultant. “If Pepi wins, it will be credited largely to superior resources and organization.”

Taddeo, 50, has a television ad that begins with her clicking off a television showing a clip of Trump “attacking” professional wrestling icon Vince McMahon. And in a speech to supporters two months ago, she said, “We have a president that we need to stand up [to] and not stand on the sidelines. We need to fight him every step of the way.”

She has run for Congress twice, losing both times. She was also Democratic gubernatorial nominee Charlie Crist‘s running mate in 2014 in a race barely lost to Republican Gov. Rick Scott.

She said Diaz, 37, wasn’t shy about using his ties to Trump during the primary.

“When the president was insulting to Hispanics, instead of coming out and defending us, Representative Diaz actually joined his national Hispanic advisory council,” she said.

Diaz dismissed the attacks from Taddeo and Democrats over Trump and said that being on “The Apprentice” in 2006 was a life-changing experience — even if he was one of the first contestants to get fired.

“Having a camera on 24 hours a day changed me. It made me really think about just how important it is to make the right the decision at all times,” he said.

And while he said the race isn’t about Trump, some voters still see it that way.

“I support Diaz because I support President Trump,” said Republican Raul Musibay, 75.

Abel Lopez, a 65-year-old Democrat, agreed that the Trump factor was key.

“Anything I can do to help those against Trump,” Lopez said, “I will do it.”

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.


Matt Gaetz on NFL protests: ‘Change the channel’—then donate

U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz is using NFL players’ protests during the National Anthem to raise funds for his re-election next year.

Gaetz, a Fort Walton Beach Republican who represents the state’s 1st Congressional District, sent an email to supporters Monday titled, “Stand Up For The Flag,” with a “Donate” button at the bottom.

“The American Flag is under attack, and this time, it’s not from enemies abroad, but by players in the NFL,” he wrote.

President Donald Trump‘s criticism of players who protest during the national anthem sparked a mass increase in such activism this weekend, with more than 200 NFL players sitting or kneeling, others raising their fists and whole teams standing with locked arms to display unity.

Gaetz, a freshman congressman who has allied himself with Trump, called it “divisive and outrageous.” The heavily conservative district, home to five military installations and a large population of veterans, has gone Republican since 1994.

“While players certainly have a right to protest, NFL owners have the right to fire players for inappropriate conduct at work,” Gaetz wrote. “And we as viewers have a right to change the channel and not support institutions that disrespect our men and women in the military and law enforcement.

“As your Congressman, I will do everything in my power to stand up for Old Glory and defend the values she represents,” he added. “Three people have already announced their intentions to run against me in 2018, but with your help I will continue to provide Florida’s 1st Congressional District with bold, conservative leadership to protect our American values.

“I’m proud to live in Northwest Florida, where we respect the flag and stand for the National Anthem.”

Material from The Associated Press was used in this post. 

Breaking with Lenny Curry, Shad Khan ‘appalled’ by Donald Trump

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry may assert that National Anthem protests are “stupid,” but Jaguars owner Shad Khan — a key political ally of Curry’s — feels differently.

Curry, who the Florida Times-Union reports flew to London with the Jacksonville Jaguars, had a bird’s eye view of that team protesting the National Anthem … and Shad Khan’s role in that protest.

Sports Illustrated offered the most comprehensive read yet into Khan’s thoughts Sunday, as numerous Jaguars kneeled during the anthem … with Khan supporting them all the way.

Khan offered support before the protest, said defender Telvin Smith: “It was [a] sigh of relief when the owner comes in and says: ‘We’re with you. Whatever you want to do, let’s do it.”

After the protest, Khan told Smith that he was “going to remember this for the rest of my life.”

Khan, who dropped $1 million on President Donald Trump‘s Inauguration, has clearly become more comfortable with the concept of buyer’s remorse of late.

“I supported him in the campaign because I loved his economic policies and I thought, you know, politicians do a lot of stuff to get elected,” Khan said.

Khan — like many reporters — expected a pivot “to the middle.” No dice.

“But I was appalled, right after his inauguration, how things started out,” Khan said, “being more divisive and really being more polarizing on religion and immigration.”

Khan, a Muslim of Pakistani origin, chose not to kneel — but rejects attempts to censure that behavior, he told SI.

“There shouldn’t be any way to punish, ostracize, or in any way make them feel bad,” Khan said.

“We all need to send a thank you card to President Trump,” he added. “He’s united us all in a very powerful way.”

In recent years, Jacksonville taxpayers have authorized $88 million of city-funded capital improvements to the Jaguars’ stadium: $43 million for the world’s biggest scoreboard, and half of a $90 million buy in that secured a new amphitheater, a covered practice field, and club seat improvements.

Khan has been a frequent supporter of Curry, beginning months after the Mayor’s election.

In July, Curry flew with Khan on a three-city tour, investigating economic development ideas in three cities’ stadium districts. Curry’s political committee, Build Something That Lasts, paid for that trip.

It remains to be seen whether this anthem schism will affect that dynamic in any meaningful way.

Jack Latvala says he sides with Donald Trump’s criticism of NFL players

After Tampa Bay Bucs wide receiver Mike Evans opted not to stand for the national anthem in protest of Donald Trump’s election, Pinellas state Sen. Jack Latvala said he would personally boycott Bucs games until Evans apologized or was cut from the team.

He is maintaining that stance after Evans and fellow Bucs wide receiver DeSean Jackson joined many of their NFL brethren on Sunday by kneeling during the playing of the national anthem. The protests were in response to Trump’s comments made Friday night that NFL owners who have players “disrespecting the flag” should “get that son of a bitch off the field right now, he’s fired.”

“A year ago, long before I became a candidate for Governor I called out the Bucs receiver who knelt for the national anthem,” Latvala wrote on his Facebook page Sunday night. “This is not a new issue for me and my attitude has not changed.”

Two NFL teams – the Seattle Seahawks and the Tennessee Titans – chose to protest by not even leaving their locker rooms while the national anthem was played in Nashville. The Pittsburgh Steelers did the same thing before their game in Chicago, with the exception of one player, offensive tackle Alejandro Villanueva.

Latvala says he’s a fan of Villanueva.

“Thankfully we still have players like Alejandro Villanueva who stood up for our country on the battlefield and stood up for our flag today!” Latvala wrote.

The Clearwater Republican announced his candidacy for Florida governor last month, joining Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam in the race.

Putnam tweeted Sunday that he also agreed with the president comments about NFL players who refuse to stand for the anthem.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran, who is strongly considering running for governor, tweeted a photo of Villanueva showing his support for standing for the anthem. “This is what a hero looks like,” Corcoran wrote.

After Latvala criticized Evans last year, the receiver backed down, saying that he would no longer sit during the anthem. Evans was criticized by fans not only for refusing to stand for the anthem in protest of Trump’s election but for also admitting that he didn’t actually vote in the presidential contest.

However, this time, the Bucs receiver sounds like he won’t back down.

“When the president has singled out athletes, or African-American athletes, myself and my other colleagues that took a knee just have different beliefs than him,” Evans told the Tampa Bay Times Sunday. “It was very childish on his part. It seems like he’s trying to divide us. I think this is an opportunity for me to do what I can. A lot of guys around the league did it and I understand why.”

“People are going to misconstrue and turn it to make it depict a different picture than it really is,” Evans continued. “I love the military. Like I said last year when I sat, it’s nothing against the military at all. The anthem is different for other people. People say it’s unpatriotic. But it’s unpatriotic for the president not to respect our rights.”

As was the case last year, Latvala is attracting plenty of comments on his Facebook page for his stance on the issue — pro and con.

“I don’t appreciate or support the Bucs’ stance on this issue,” wrote Cherie Anne Gaynor. “I’m finished with them and probably all NFL teams and will try not to buy any of their sponsors’ products.”

“I appreciate people who stand by their beliefs,” wrote Adam Miguel Harvey. “You’re not getting my vote but thank you for it being vocal about the argument.”

Jags kneel for anthem, and Shad Khan slams President Trump

The Jacksonville Jaguars had one of the most impressive wins in team history Sunday, but the real headlines were before the game.

As expected, a number of Jacksonville Jaguars kneeled for the American National Anthem; a protest against President Donald Trump‘s provocative comments about protesting players.

Trump said at a rally: “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a b***h off the field right now… he is fired’.”

Jaguars’ owner Shad Khan spent a million dollars supporting Trump’s inaugural, but Trump’s tempest was too much for him to support during the NFL season.

” I met with our team captains prior to the game to express my support for them, all NFL players and the league following the divisive and contentious remarks made by President Trump, and was honored to be arm in arm with them, their teammates and our coaches during our anthem,” Khan, who stood with players and locked arms with them during the anthem, told Adam Schefter.

“Our team and the National Football League reflects our nation, with diversity coming in many forms – race, faith, our views and our goals. We have a lot of work to do, and we can do it, but the comments by the President make it harder,” Khan added.

Khan has broken with Trump before, most notably on his proposal early in his administration to ban travel from seven majority-Muslim countries.

“The bedrock of this country are immigration and really a great separation between church and state,” Khan told the New York Times, describing the ban as “not good” and “sobering” for him personally.

Meanwhile, Steve Zona — head of the local police union — took to Twitter Sunday to suggest cessation of police escorts of teams to NFL games:

“Is the NFL special? Fans make it there fine without escorts. Let’s stop this dangerous practice.”

We reached out to Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry and City Council President Anna Brosche, who are both in London, for comment regarding whether they support the players and the Jags’ owner or the President on this matter.

“As a Navy brat and a Navy wife, whose father and husband have defended our country,” Brosche said from London Sunday afternoon, “my pride for the American flag and all it represents runs deep.

“I appreciate those who stood for the flag and chose to show unity through locking arms, and  while I personally would never sit or kneel during the playing of our anthem,” Brosche added, “I also believe in the right of free speech protected by our Constitution, for which our American flag also stands.”

On Monday, Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry broke his silence on the decision of numerous Jacksonville Jaguars to kneel during the National Anthem Sunday.

A brief statement from his office contended that, while not honoring the pledge is “stupid,” it’s also protected by the United States Constitution.

“I stand and cover my heart for the pledge and the anthem. I think it’s stupid to do otherwise. The US Constitution protects the right for a lot of people to do a lot of stupid things,” Curry said.

“I am a Constitutional Conservative, so I respect the wisdom of our Founders. However,” Curry added, “I am focused on storm recovery, public safety and making Jacksonville a great city.”

Report: Pro-Trump Florida ‘flash mobs’ were Russian fronts

Some aspects of the hyperbolic version of pro-Trump nationalism that popped up during the 2016 campaign were Russian agitprop, per The Daily Beast Wednesday.

The online report focuses on a specific substratum: Aug. 20, 2016 “Florida Goes Trump!” events staged by the “Being Patriotic” page, events which, per The Daily Beast, were billed as a “patriotic state-wide flash mob … to gather patriots on the streets of Floridian towns and cities and march to unite America and support Donald Trump.”

Trump’s Florida campaign manager, Susie Wiles, disclaimed responsibility for these events in comments to The Daily Beast.

“There are groups such as this across the state—and maybe other places, too. Groups of people get together and establish a presence such as this but it is unaffiliated with the campaign, per se,” Wiles, a Jacksonville native and powerbroker, noted.

Wiles had no role in these mobs — however, one man with some notoriety had an advertised connection to the Jacksonville event, as alert reader James Boyle let us know.

Activist Gary Snow, whose travels brought him to Jacksonville as the drama of the 2016 campaign became more pitched, was involved in organization for one of these so-called flash mobs in August of that year — according to a screen grab of the event Facebook page.

Snow, in a conversation Tuesday, categorically denied any personal Russian connection, rejecting the Daily Beast thesis at length.

“You think people in Russia are asking people in Florida to hold rallies? I don’t have any calls to Russia,” Snow said.

Snow noted that lots of groups had rallies throughout the campaign, with “sign waving” and other demonstrations, and that all he was doing was showing up to events and protesting in the manner the left wing was.

Snow didn’t know who was behind the “Being Patriotic” event, but he did assert vigorously that no Russians contacted him, and that he is a “moderate” Trump supporter who has proven willing to take on white supremacists and progressives with equal vigor.

However, this is yet another data point in Snow’s notable stint as a Jacksonville counter-protester to the activist left.

Snow was best known in Jacksonville: as Sheriff Mike Williams put it, “catalyzing” a riot at an otherwise peaceful protest at Jacksonville’s Hemming Park. Snow vigorously rejects that proposition, noting that State Attorney Melissa Nelson didn’t bring charges … which Snow sees as vindication.

Williams noted that Snow’s M.O. in previous stops was to “come to communities like he did in Chicago and try to befriend [police officers], try to do that type of thing,”

After that Hemming Park protest, Snow’s Facebook page said the following.

“They said I was a ‘lone Trump supporter’ at the beginning. …. They said that my support for our President was irrelevant. …. They said I would never matter. …….. SEEMS I GOT THEIR ATTENTION NOW!!!!!!”

Snow, despite everything, will continue to demonstrate on behalf of President Trump.

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