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Melissa Nelson fundraiser set for Atlantic Beach

The fundraising continues apace for 4th Circuit State Attorney candidate Melissa Nelson.

A cluster of North Florida heavyweights is hosting a reception for Nelson in Atlantic Beach June 23 (and encouraging contributions of up to $1,000).

Acosta’s Gary Chartrand and his family, JAX Chamber chief Audrey Moran, and former U.S. Attorney Paul Perez are some of the boldfaced names on her host committee.

Nelson’s “First Coast Values” PAC brought in a six-figure haul in its first month of fundraising. However, incumbent State Attorney Angela Corey has more than $200,000 on hand.

A third candidate, Wes White, like Nelson a former State Attorney employee, has raised just over $31,000.

Meanwhile, there’s been a new wrinkle in the lawsuit over the race’s closed primary.

Circuit Judge has James Daniel stepped down from the case after accusations of bias.

Write-in candidate Kenny Leigh is also on the ballot. Leigh filed a motion last week asking Daniel to recuse himself for comments he made about Leigh’s candidacy. Senior Circuit Judge Richard Townsend will now decide on the lawsuit challenging the closed primary.

Leigh and the former campaign manager for Corey, Alexander Pantinakis (who has since resigned) have been sued over their roles in closing the election to everyone but registered Republicans in Duval, Clay and Nassau Counties. Leigh’s filing as a write-in closed the Aug. 30 primary to Democrats and independents.



Protestors to rally outside Michael Dunn appeal hearing in Tallahassee

Michael Dunn, the man convicted in 2014 in the shooting death of unarmed black teen Jordan Davis of Jacksonville, will draw yet another protest this week.

The group Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) says it will protest outside the First District Court of Appeal in Tallahassee at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday morning.

Dunn’s attorney is appealing the Brevard County man’s convictions for murder and attempted murder. The 48-year-old Dunn is serving a life sentence plus 90 years in Davis’ death.

Davis was shot and killed on Black Friday 2012 in Jacksonville when Dunn got into an argument with Davis and his friends at a gas station over the teens playing loud music. Controversially, it took two trials to convict Dunn.

“SDS is committed to the fight against racism. In Tallahassee we have rallied against the police murders of Corey Jones and Jeremy Lett. We stand against racist vigilantes like Michael Dunn, and we are demanding that his appeal be rejected by the court. We call on the people of Tallahassee to rally at the First District Court to reject Dunn’s appeal,” says a spokesperson for the “Justice for Jordan Davis Rally.”

Meanwhile, the lengthy appeal filed on Dunn’s behalf that will be heard by the appellate court argues his convictions should be thrown out, arguing that, among other things, Judge Russell Healey should have acquitted Dunn because the state attorney’s office didn’t sufficiently rebut Dunn’s self-defense claims.

Democrat Dena Grayson enters public phase of her CD 9 race as Zika threat looms

Democratic congressional candidate Dr. Dena Grayson is opening the public phase of her run in Florida’s 9th Congressional District at a time when her professional expertise may be characterized as a unique, critical national asset.

She’s also entering the limelight for the Aug. 30 Democratic primary, with perhaps the race’s biggest endorser at her side.

The most important issue facing Central Florida through the next two years?

“It is possible it is Zika.”

That was not Dena Grayson speaking. That was her newlywed husband, closest advisor and the current Democratic incumbent in CD 9, U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson. Himself a candidate for Florida’s U.S. Senate seat [thus opening his seat for her run], he is accompanying her on her first round of media interviews and public appearances late this week.

The couple married on Sunday. Thursday night they sat down with FloridaPolitics.com.

Dena Grayson is a biomedical researcher, with both a medical degree and a doctorate in microbiology, whose company MedExpert Consulting works on finding vaccines and cures for diseases, including some breakthrough research on Ebola.

She entered the race last July under the name Dena Minning, but remained virtually invisible to the public and press for 11 months. She focused on raising campaign money nationally chiefly through the medical and pharmaceutical industries and venture capitalists who back them. For nearly a year, she was the candidate no one in CD 9 ever saw or heard.

Meanwhile, her Democratic opponents have campaigned hard. State Sen. Darren Soto, a lawyer, and Susannah Randolph, a progressive activist and former aide to Rep. Grayson, have constantly battled for local support. They each have locked up dozens of endorsements ranging from sitting members of Congress to Central Florida union locals. Another candidate, businesswoman Valleri Crabtree, has driven many tens of thousands of miles crisscrossing the district, Osceola County, southern Orange County and eastern Polk County, to attend a half-dozen or more civic meetings a week for 16 months.

Dena Grayson, now having a name recognizable to many in the district who twice elected her husband, said her time has come.

She said her policy views mostly are similar to those of Randolph, representing the progressive wing of the Democratic Party. Like Randolph, she sees Soto’s more moderate views as a vulnerability. And like Randolph and Soto, she likely will ignore Crabtree, whose shoe leather campaign has been low-profile.

But then there is Zika, an issue the Graysons envision as a unique situation, setting her apart.

Zika is the mosquito-borne virus that, when pregnant women are infected, can cause horrific brain birth defects in babies. The virus has rapidly spread across Latin America and the Caribbean, including Puerto Rico, and public health experts fear it will be on its way to Florida soon.

“The CDC is predicting that by the end of the year, 25 percent of the people in Puerto Rico will be infected. Obviously, we have a lot of folks traveling back and forth to Puerto Rico,” Dena Grayson said. “And we have the mosquitos here. So what do you think is going to happen?

“Now all of the cases have been from people traveling here. But it’s sexually transmitted for up to two months by men who are infected. And we have the mosquitos here,” she added. “So it’s not a question of when we have what’s called an endemic case, meaning a mosquito transmitting Zika from a human to a human. It’s going to happen.”

And when it does, both Graysons said, Florida’s bread-and-butter economy, tourism, may be at grave risk if people are afraid to come to Florida because of Zika.

“There’s a huge public health issue here, but also,” she said, shaking her head and pausing.

“If we have an endemic case here in the state of Florida, it doesn’t matter if it’s Miami or Orlando, that would be absolutely devastating to tourism in the state of Florida,” she said.

Partisan political fighting has killed several attempts this spring for Congress to fund a major anti-Zika program. President Barack Obama sought $1.9 billion for research, mosquito control, and medical treatment, a bill urgently backed by both of Florida’s U.S. senators, Democrat Bill Nelson and Republican Marco Rubio. It failed in favor of a $1.1 billion plan. That died when the House of Representatives refused to consider it. House Republicans pushed an even lesser plan, which also failed.

Here’s the Graysons’ pitch: almost no one in Congress knows enough about curing diseases to know what’s involved. Congress, the Dena Grayson campaign has advocated in its pitches to doctors and pharmaceutical researchers nationwide, needs at least one doctor/biomedical researcher in-house.

But “So, now,” Alan Grayson chimed in, “it happens that the gentlelady to my left has been published twice in Nature magazine — which is the most prestigious journal in the entire world for this — the second time, for a cure for a dreaded virus called Ebola. So in terms of where people are on the issues, and where they contribute locally, is it going to be the career politician? Is it going to be the career political operative? Or is it gong to be the person who has spent her entire life looking for cures for diseases like Zika?”

Dan Tonsmeire: Historic Florida, Georgia water war decisions will impact entire nation

Dan Tonsmeire

A vital piece of Florida’s economy and livelihoods are hinging on historic actions this year by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Supreme Court of the United States. It’s a continuation of the Florida-Georgia water war — one that’s been going on for decades.

But this year matters more than any other; the Supreme Court and the Corps will set precedent over national policy that could provide clear guidance regarding how historically longstanding and costly decisions between states (e.g., Delaware and Colorado River Basins) over water can be resolved on an equitable basis. These decisions affect people, communities and governments across this country battling for fairness in water use, allocation, and management across state borders. The opportunity to guide how to share water equitably between competing interests like big agriculture, big development, independent fishermen, and ecotourism on a socially just and equitable basis exists.

Here’s the deal: In 2012 the Apalachicola Bay collapsed, a well-documented event the Corps hasn’t recognized and for which Georgia denies any responsibility. Periods of natural drought were exacerbated by limited water flow used up by upstream Georgia, aided by the Corps’ policies that hold water back. These policies restricted downstream flow so Georgia could benefit from freshwater in reservoirs while sending Apalachicola the very minimum flows for four endangered mussels and a sturgeon.

Now, four years later, the river and bay are just beginning a meager recovery. But unfortunately, the Corps has proposed revising its policies in its latest Water Control Manual and Environmental Impact Statement in a way that will create even more, prolonged drought periods in the Apalachicola River and Bay. This time, though, the river and bay are unlikely to recover and Florida — and the whole country — stands to lose a lot more than just Apalachicola’s world-famous oysters.

Georgia and the Corps must change their course to prevent devastating economic loss in Florida. More than 54,000 jobs and $5.6 billion in sales revenues are realized in west Florida alone from the recreational fishing and seafood industry in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico. These depend on flows and nutrients from Apalachicola River and Bay. Because of this, numerous national and statewide conservation organizations, the State of Florida, and federal agencies have requested that the Corps reconsider its methods and rewrite its proposed policies to place equal importance on the conservation of the fish and wildlife that support these jobs and livelihoods. I am hoping these pleas haven’t fallen on deaf ears.

In D.C., Congress has been unable to break the logjam with a powerful Georgia delegation blocking legislation that would equitably manage the water. Former presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio and Sen. Bill Nelson have expressed the gravitas of the Corps’ proposed policies. “The bottom line is that the status quo is only working for one state,” Rubio said on the Senate floor in April.

These two pending decisions are the last chance to reverse 60 years of water depletion and put the Apalachicola on a track toward recovery. Continuing Georgia’s unfettered water use and Corps management that ignores impacts to the river will result in lost livelihoods and the demise of this last great bay in the Northern Hemisphere. Its loss will be felt all across the nation.


Dan Tonsmeire has served as the Apalachicola Riverkeeper since February 2004. He is passionately committed to saving not only the Apalachicola River but to protecting and restoring the Apalachicola Bay, one of the last great estuaries left in America.

Voting rights activists to petition this weekend at Jacksonville Jazz Fest

Music fans who flock to the Jacksonville Jazz Festival this weekend can expect to be asked to sign a petition supported by voting rights activists around Florida.

The Florida Voting Rights Restoration for Felons Initiative was an initiated constitutional amendment that fell short of the required signatures needed to make it onto the Florida ballot this November.

The measure would have restored the right to vote for most state residents with past felony convictions. Rights would be restored upon completion of their sentences (excepting those convicted of murder or a felony sexual offense).

“Of the approximately 6 million disfranchised citizens in the United States, one-quarter are Floridians,” says Desmond Meade, the president of FRRC. The group is mobilizing with petition drives statewide, pointing out that the state’s disfranchisement rate is the highest in the country, with more than 10 percent of the state’s voting age population, and 23 percent of Florida African-Americans unable to cast a ballot.

The initiative must collect a minimum of 683,149 valid signaturesand is close, with about 8,000 more names needed to reach the threshold.

Florida’s shrinking middle class

A new study from the Pew Research Center finds the phenomenon of a shrinking middle class is a reality across Florida.

According to Pew, the percentage of families earning middle class incomes has fallen in nearly nine out of 10 major cities nationwide over the last several years.

That includes most population centers in Florida. Four metros in the Sunshine State make the list – Punta Gorda, Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford, Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, and Jacksonville.

Though the data varies from city to city, the study notes that in some areas, a decline in middle class incomes can sometimes correspond with an rise in upper class incomes (but not always). For example, in Punta Gorda, the middle class fell and the upper class rose, while in Orlando and Tampa, middle incomes are down as more people have tumbled into the lower class.

Meanwhile, in Jacksonville, middle incomes have declined. While more people in North Florida are making lower incomes, at the same time, there’s been an increase in top earners in the region.

So how is middle class defined? Roughly, the study considers “middle class” to be an income of $42,000 to $125,000 a year for a family of three (with cost-of-living adjustments for more expensive areas).

The widespread phenomenon, driven by rising income inequality, wage stagnation, and the loss of manufacturing jobs, is seen by some pundits as at least one contributing factor behind the rise of Donald Trump‘s presidential campaign (and, one could argue, Bernie Sanders‘ as well).

A voter referendum for Uber/Lyft in Jacksonville?

At least one Jacksonville official says the 904 should follow the lead of Austin, Texas when it comes to how to regulate ride-hailing companies like Uber and Lyft.

City Councilman John Crescimbeni said all he’s calling for is a level playing field.

“Either everybody plays by the rules, or we just get rid of the rules altogether,” Crescimbeni told WJCT. “And just let the citizens, the riders, worry about how safe the vehicles are.”

Voters in Austin last week upheld stricter regulations on app-based vehicles for hire, causing Uber and Lyft to pause operations in that city.

Crescimbeni, who has received campaign support from traditional taxi companies in the past, expressed frustration with the relative lack of progress on the issue in Jacksonville, despite the fact that a council Vehicles for Hire Special Committee has been meeting for months.

“Do we regulate this industry at all? Maybe we don’t. And if we do regulate, are we compelled to make the rules apply for everybody?” he said.

A ballot initiative on the ride-hailing issue would require a change to the city’s charter.


Brad Pitt, immigration, Mayo Clinic, and ‘Dr. Q’

It’s the remarkable tale of a poor Mexican boy who beat long odds to become a renowned brain surgeon. His mission — to eradicate brain tumors.

Dr. Alfredo Quiñones-Hinojosa first came to this country as an illegal immigrant. Jumping a border fence on the day before his 19th birthday in 1987, he had no English and no money, so he took jobs picking cotton, painting, and welding to pay for tuition at San Joaquin Delta Community College in Stockton, California.

Quiñones-Hinojosa would eventually learn English (and become a U.S. citizen), going on to Harvard and then serving as head of brain tumor surgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital.

And now, the brilliant doctor has landed in Florida. Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville has hired Dr. Q, as he’s called, as its William J. and Charles H. Mayo Professor and chairman of neurologic surgery. He’s slated to start at Mayo this fall.

Meanwhile, his story is also getting the Hollywood treatment. Disney and Brad Pitt’s Plan B production company are developing “Dr. Q”, a biopic based on the surgeon’s life. The film will reportedly be based on the physician’s 2012 memoir, Becoming Dr. Q: My Journey from Migrant Farm Worker to Brain Surgeon. 

“Just think,” said WJCT commentator Jay Solomon, “if we had built border walls years ago, we could have kept out Dr. Q. But perhaps it’s not too late to block others who have aspirations that won’t wait.”

More from Solomon here.

Mosquito season brings no urgency for money to fight Zika

The White House and Democrats are pressuring congressional Republicans to act on President Barack Obama‘s demands for money to combat Zika, but even the onset of mosquito season that probably will spread the virus has failed to create a sense of urgency.

Republicans from states at greatest risk, such as Florida, Texas, Louisiana and Georgia, have been slow to endorse Obama’s more than 2-month-old request for $1.9 billion to battle the virus, which causes grave birth defects. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention currently reports more than 470 cases in the continental U.S., all so far associated with travel to Zika-affected areas.

Polls show that the public isn’t anywhere nearly as scared of Zika as it was about the Ebola outbreak in West Africa and the handful of cases in the U.S. in 2014. Aides to GOP lawmakers, even those representing Southern areas most vulnerable to Zika, say they’ve yet to hear from many anxious constituents, though they said this could change. “Very few calls/letters,” emailed a spokeswoman for Rep. Ander Crenshaw, R-Fla.

The congressional response to Zika contrasts sharply with the rush last year to pass legislation to curb the admission of Syrian refugees, which passed the House less than a week after terrorist attacks in Paris. Syrian refugees were erroneously linked to the attack.

“Any time there’s a public health issue, bordering on crisis, there’s obviously some urgency,” said Rep. David Jolly, R-Fla., who’s running to replace Republican Sen. Marco Rubio. Jolly added, however, that “I don’t know that it has become a political issue in Florida as much as it has inside the Beltway.”

One voice for immediate action, however, is Rubio, who’s leaving the Senate after his unsuccessful presidential bid.

“It is just a matter of days, weeks, hours before you open up a newspaper or turn on the news, and it will say that someone in the continental United States was bitten by a mosquito and they contracted Zika,” Rubio said in an April 28 floor speech. “When that happens, everyone is going to be freaked out ….This is going to happen.”

Rubio also has appealed for congressional action to aid debt-ridden Puerto Rico, another unresolved issue as lawmakers return to Washington on Monday for a brief, three-week May congressional session. The House may act on legislation to combat opioid abuse and perhaps belatedly pass a budget while the Senate struggles to make headway on the annual spending bills after a dispute over last year’s Iran nuclear deal enveloped a popular energy and water projects measure.

Thus far, Rubio’s urgency on Zika is not widely shared, though Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, the No. 2 Republican, drew attention when he told reporters in Houston last month that “the risk of underreacting is really too high to take any chances.”

“Sometimes the wheels of Congress move very slowly,” Cornyn said. “But we want to make sure we’re not writing blank checks.”

One reason for the slow pace may be Ebola, which affected far fewer people but created more public fear than Zika has. The Ebola panic proved to be unjustified and was contained to just a handful of U.S. cases

A poll in March by the Kaiser Family Foundation found by a more than 2-to-1 margin that respondents said the government is doing enough to fight Zika. But an October 2014 Kaiser poll on Ebola found that only about half of respondents thought the government was doing enough.

Just 34 percent of those polled on Zika were worried that someone in their family would be affected by the virus, versus 65 percent who were not worried; the comparable figures on Ebola showed 45 percent worried someone in their family would get sick from Ebola, versus 54 percent who were not worried.

In addition, Congress approved $5 billion to battle Ebola in 2014 and perhaps half of that money is unspent, though the administration has designs to use it to help other lesser developed countries build up their health care systems. The threat of Ebola has not been wholly snuffed out.

In April, the administration bowed to pressure from Republicans and diverted almost $600 million in previously approved funds, including more than $500 million in remaining Ebola money, toward fighting Zika. That has bought time for Republicans to seek greater details and potentially respond to Obama’s request by including Zika funds in an upcoming spending bill that could be delivered to the president before Congress recesses in mid-July for seven weeks. One option is adding the money to a popular measure funding politically sacrosanct veterans programs.

“We are still waiting for answers from the administration to basic questions, such as what is needed right now, over the next five months to fight Zika,” Crenshaw said.

Just one other GOP lawmaker, Florida Rep. Vern Buchanan, has endorsed Obama’s $1.9 billion request. “Instead of working together to protect Americans, Washington has descended into another partisan fight,” Buchanan said.

Still, it’s clear the White House won’t get anything approaching its $1.9 billion request for emergency money to battle Zika. Senate Republicans privately floated a $1.1 billion Zika-fighting measure, but House Republicans are likely to press for a lesser amount — and require offsetting spending cuts elsewhere in the budget, an idea that the administration has not ruled out.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Bill Nelson says Puerto Rico faces Zika emergency

Florida’s U.S. Senator Bill Nelson said Friday that Puerto Rico faces a Zika virus public health emergency and he believes the $1.9 billion emergency fund he sponsored will get through the Senate.

The Democrat from Orlando also said he is working side-by-side with Florida’s Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio to convince Congress that the mosquito-borne disease that causes devastating birth defects must be addressed now, with an imminent public health crisis in Puerto Rico — and Florida possibly next.

So far that bill is stalled.

“This is an emergency,” Nelson said Friday, meeting in his Orlando office with a group of Puerto Ricans including former U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Antonia Novello, Orlando City Commissioner Tony Ortiz and Osceola County Commission Chairwoman Viviana Janer. “It is being ravaged by the Zika virus. “I hope when we get back into session on Monday that there will be a changed attitude.”

Nelson said he believes he has convinced U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch, a Utah Republican who chairs the key Senate Finance Committee, that the bill carrying the Zika response money proposed by President Barack Obama, should go through. Nelson said Hatch has a few ideas he wants in it, such as an oversight board,  and understands the crisis, particularly in Puerto Rico.

“Puerto Rico is in a world of hurt right now,” Nelson said. “There is an estimate by some of the health agencies that up to 20 percent of Puerto Rico’s 3.5 million population could be infected” by the end of this year.

And with that prospect, Novella said, there is the risk that 6,000 babies could be born in the next year with a small-brain defect called microcephaly, as well as other severe fetal brain defects.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control reports that there have been at least 631 cases of Zika, all but two contracted on the island.

And Puerto Rico already is suffering from an economic crisis that is close to crashing the public health system, Novello and others told Nelson. Unable to get paid in Puerto Rico, hundreds, perhaps over a thousand, doctors have left the island in recent years. Janer said there is only one children’s hospital still open in Puerto Rico. Some specialists are so hard to find Puerto Ricans are flying to Florida for treatment.

The two crises could spiral against each other. Fearful of Zika, Major League Baseball is considering canceling plans to hold some regular season games there this year. If that type of fear takes hold in the broader tourism market, it could wreck the island’s big tourism industry, hurting the economy further, Nelson said.

But Nelson also expressed concerns about Zika in Florida, with a similar climate, plenty of mosquitos, and and tens of thousands of Puerto Ricans moving here every year to get away from the commonwealth’s economy. Zika also can be transmitted through sexual contact.

Florida has had at least 103 cases of Zika reported, including some pregnant women, though none of them appeared to have caught the disease in Florida.

To prevent that, Florida’s political leadership is tearing down partisan bounds. Both Rubio and Republican Gov. Rick Scott have called on Washington to do something. Rubio supports getting Nelson’s bill  passed, while Scott called on the Obama administration and Republican leaders to work together toward “executing a robust plan to prevent and combat the spread of Zika in America.”

“It is likely a matter of time before someone in Florida or elsewhere in the continental United States contracts Zika from the bite of a mosquito. This has already happened many times in American territories, most notably in Puerto Rico, where just last week Zika tragically claimed its first American life,” Rubio said Friday in a news release.

He spelled out several concerns, including the risk to unborn children, and the fact that the virus will be difficult to combat.

“For these reasons and more, I believe the federal government must act immediately to combat the Zika virus before it becomes a major public-health crisis,” Rubio said. “President Obama has requested $1.9 billion in funding to help confront the problem. I support that request, as I believe it is crucial to stopping the spread of the virus.”

Scott is going to Washington D.C. next week to try to get a bipartisan initiative rolling.


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