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Retired Cuba mission chief: Florida cities should “prepare themselves for the changes coming”

In the wake of President Barack Obama‘s historic visit to Cuba, the retired Floridian who once represented the U.S. in Havana says it’s time for Florida cities to wade into the travel and business opportunities now on the horizon.

While some Florida cities have rushed to do business in Cuba, others, particularly conservative Jacksonville, have hung back.

“It is curious to see this, but I understand both the political and emotional issues involved,” said John Caulfield, retired diplomat and former chief of the U.S. interests section in Havana. That office resumed its former role as a U.S. Embassy following the normalization of diplomatic relations between the two countries last year.

“What I would say is that the status quo is not going to remain in Cuba, and so the question is, do you prepare yourself for the changes coming? I think Jacksonville has a lot to gain as Cuba’s economy opens and changes. In Cuba it’s important that they open their economy for small business and especially, to allow overseas investment.”

Caulfield told WJCT that the president’s unprecedented questioning of Raul Castro broadcast on television and his address to the Cuban people will have extraordinary impact among the island’s population, and serve to counteract a steady diet of anti-American and Communist propaganda.

“In the eyes of Cubans, the regime’s justifications for having a messed-up economy and repressive measures are dramatically undercut when President Raul Castro welcomes Barack Obama to Cuba. And President Obama is very popular with the Cuban people.”

While respecting the vocal South Florida Cuban opposition to the normalization of relations and presidential visit, Caulfield says he agrees with Obama’s view that greater engagement with the US will improve the lives of Cubans because “we know the leadership there will be changing.”

“The real authority lies there in a small group who fought in Castro’s revolution. There are only about five ‘commandantes’ left in the government, and they’re all over 80. The next tier of leadership is thirty years younger. And they look at the world differently.”


Mark Ferrulo: Campaign trying to boost registration of people who rarely vote

There’s never been a more unpredictable, volatile election. Or one where the stakes are so high.

And, in Florida, where we have a history of extremely close elections, voters won’t only be selecting candidates for president and the U.S. Senate this year. They will also be deciding who sits on the U.S. Supreme Court for the next 20 years and choosing between two starkly different Americas.

Will we welcome diversity? Will we close opportunities? Will we listen to the scientists about climate change or bury our head in the sand? Will it be harder or easier to vote, get health care or a college education, and have an economy that works for all Floridians, not just the wealthy?

Will we be a nation that disparages the poor, unmarried women, immigrants and people of color, a country that works only for the powerful and politically connected?

Or can we register and turn out enough Florida voters who believe it’s time to reform the way we run elections and our government, close the gap between rich and poor, pay women the same as men working the same job, and ensure that every American can succeed?

This year, for the first time in our nation’s history, the majority of voters deciding America’s future will be the unmarried women, people of color and young voters who make up the New American Majority and the majority of eligible voters.

But only if they are registered and turn out to vote.

That’s why the nonprofit, nonpartisan Voter Participation Center (VPC) is mailing 626,000 voter registration applications into Florida this month. Unmarried women, Latinos, African-Americans and millennials make up a strong majority — 58 percent — of the eligible voters in the state. But 40 percent of them are not registered to vote. And the number of unregistered young voters is even higher: 54 percent of millennial Floridians are not registered to vote.

VPC and a coalition of civic engagement organizations are trying to close that gap. Since 2004, VPC has helped 2.7 million Americans register to vote — including 328,113 New American Majority members in Florida.

By mailing voter-registration applications to prospective voters, VPC enables eligible individuals to fill in, sign the applications and mail them straight to election registrars’ offices in pre-addressed envelopes to be certified by government officials.

The VPC also is providing prospective voters with the online address for the secretary of state’s website and phone numbers to their county supervisor of elections.

In a year when so much is on the line, when efforts to suppress the voices of voters continue across the nation, when the New American Majority — which makes up the majority of people who can vote in our state — could finally make up the majority of people who do vote, it has never been more imperative that Florida — a state that knows better than most how important every vote is — allows as many people as possible to register and vote.


Mark Ferrulo is executive director of Progress Florida.

Carlos Beruff says his business history is why he would be good for Senate

At a Thursday meeting of the NW Orange Republican Women Federated at the Errol Estate Golf & Country Club in Apopka, Senate hopeful Carlos Beruff outlined why he would be right for the job.

Given only three minutes before the group, Beruff used them to speak about his upbringing and business acumen. His family immigrated from Cuba to the U.S. in 1957, Beruff said, after a failed attack on the presidential palace in Havana.

“My mother was the only woman conspirator in that pack,” he said. “She ran an exile to Miami, where I was born in 1958. I got the lottery ticket to be an American citizen that day. My brother and sister were both born in Havana. Two years we went back to Cuba, thinking Fidel Castro was gonna be a great guy. That didn’t work out too well.”

From there, they returned to the U.S. in 1961, where they stayed ever since. Beruff announced his Senate run late February in Miami.

His personal history was what recently led him to criticize President Barack Obama‘s policy on negotiating with Cuba. If Obama visits Cuba, Beruff said earlier this week, he should stay there.”

“We should negotiate better deals,” he added. “He didn’t negotiate a very good deal. Castro shouldn’t jail dissidents. And we got nothing for opening up Cuba for all our money, which is a lot.”

Beruff said his record of creating businesses and jobs as a homebuilder in Manatee County convinced him he could do the same on a larger scale in the Senate.

“I’ve created jobs, I’ve stimulated the economy, and I’ve built a business,” he said. “I can do that for the nation.”

Beruff pointed to his record of serving on the Southwest Florida Water Management District, the State College of Florida and the Manatee-Sarasota Airport Authority to why he’d be good in a leadership position.

He said one of the biggest challenges of being in the Senate would be trying to sway a large amount people over to his opinion, something he isn’t used to doing as a private business owner. The largest he’s ever had to sway is 13 people, he said.

But he’s also got a plan.

“I think when you make factual presentations to people, when the math is 2+2=4, and they ignore it,” he said. “Then they look stupid. I don’t think people like looking stupid. You can spin it all you want, but when the facts are clear and concise, you should be able to convince people to do the right thing.”

When asked about how concerned he was about preserving the environment, as someone who builds homes, Beruff said it wasn’t something he troubled himself with – there were enough laws in place to protect the environment as is.

“It benefits us to preserve the environment because we make more money off it,” he said. “The environment attracts many people to Florida.”

On Sen. Marco Rubio, who recently dropped out of the race for president, Beruff said he thought it would have been wiser for Rubio to wait longer before running for president.

“Senator Rubio is a very talented young man,” Beruff said. “But I really believe he should stay the course of whatever he elected to do until it’s complete. I think too often people don’t finish the job they start and nothing gets done in this country, at the federal, state or local level. Whatever you signed up for, finish it, and then go on and do something else when you’re finished with that.”

Donald Trump: Is he the quintessential Florida Man?

Donald Trump drew thousands to his rallies around the Sunshine State, basking in their adoration, his face glowing like a Florida orange as he anticipated victory.

“Florida loves Trump, and I love Florida, so I think I’m going to win Florida,” he repeated.

Trump did win Florida on Tuesday, claiming victory with the bravado of someone who survived a particularly hellish South Florida commute.

The only actual Floridian in the race — Marco Rubio, a Cuban-American born in South Florida who earned all his degrees from Florida universities — failed to make his case, and Trump had already squashed the hopes of the GOP’s other Florida candidates like so many palmetto bugs.

Former Gov. Jeb Bush, who was supposed to have this thing locked up before the Southern primaries, flamed out shortly after he finally tried to find Trump’s jugular by labeling him “the chaos candidate.” Ben Carson, who lives in a West Palm Beach mansion, finally quit, too, and endorsed Trump.

Somehow, it’s Trump who captured Republican hearts in what some consider America’s strangest state. Trump made his name in New York City, displaying “New York values” with a brash, fast-talking, larger-than-life persona. But really, when you think about it, Donald Trump is the quintessential Florida Man.

“He embodies the Florida dream: the idea of a better life,” says historian Gary Mormino.

All the things people fantasize about in the frigid North — a beachfront mansion and endless riches to spend on endless rounds of golf — Trump has it and more, right here in Florida.

And he doesn’t just live the Florida lifestyle — he’s a Sunshine State soul mate.

“Trump is more casual, more flippant, less buttoned-up, just like Floridians,” says Paul George, a history professor at Miami-Dade College.

But what about Rubio, the actual Floridian who dropped out of the race after Tuesday night’s crushing loss? Rubio seems youthful and has a vision for America, but “comes off as restrained,” George says, “much more buttoned-up, which is ironic, since he’s from Florida.”

Like each winter’s snowbirds and two-thirds of state residents, Trump is from outside Florida. But he plays and does business here. In 2010, he launched a multilevel marketing company that sold vitamins to an adoring crowd of thousands in Miami. Earlier this month, after 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney declared that “a business genius he is not,” Trump summoned the media to his Trump National Golf Course in Jupiter.

“He’s an empire builder, and Floridians, especially South Floridians, are empire builders,” George says. “Or they dream of building an empire.”

While his Trump Tower penthouse in New York imitates the Palace of Versailles, his most famous home has been Mar-a-Lago. In 1985, he paid $10 million for the 58-bedroom Mediterranean revival mansion with a 20-acre oceanfront estate straddling Palm Beach Island.

Trump and his third wife, Slovenian model Melania Knauss, held their wedding reception at Mar-a-Lago, which Trump had turned into a high-end club, much to the consternation of his traditional Palm Beach neighbors. “Trump’s Palm Beach Club Roils the Old Social Order” was the headline on The Wall Street Journal story.

That’s another Florida Man attribute: roiling the social order. Trump’s been doing it for years.

Mormino, a professor emeritus at the University of South Florida-St. Petersburg, points out Trump bought into Palm Beach when national ads by the tourism bureau proclaimed: “Florida. The rules are different here.”

That could almost be Trump’s campaign slogan, no?

Take his four corporate bankruptcies: No big deal in Florida, which trails only California in bankruptcy filings. Or his marriages: 7 percent of Florida’s men have married three or more times, like Trump. The national average is 5 percent, according to the Pew Research Center. Or the fact he has made and lost fortunes in real estate. Floridians still gamble on slices of sunshine, despite the last housing bust.

“Trump’s got the Florida values and Florida lifestyle down,” George says.

Trump’s brand was nicked by a failed condo project in Tampa, but that, too, was classic Florida. Trump boasted in 2005 the 52-story Trump Tower Tampa would be “a signature landmark property so spectacular that it will redefine both Tampa’s skyline and the market’s expectations of luxurious condominium living.”

Two years later, Trump sued for $1 million in unpaid licensing fees, the developer went bankrupt, and buyers who put 20 percent down on a tower that was never built were out tens of thousands of dollars.

“Trump was like the Pied Piper who led us all into it, trusting him that he wouldn’t put his name on something bad,” said Mary Ann Stiles, a Tampa attorney who lost $100,000 on the deal.

Ah, but no one wants to dwell on the bad here. They’d rather play — preferably under the cool shade of a palm tree — like golfers and presidents John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon did when they set up their Winter White Houses in Florida.

Trump has three world-class golf courses in Florida — Doral, Palm Beach and Jupiter. He invested hundreds of millions into Doral after rescuing it from bankruptcy, and the course has been a popular PGA Tour stop since 1962. But golf-watchers say this run is threatened by Trump’s remarks: the PGA canceled its Grand Slam of Golf at Trump’s course in Los Angeles after his comments disparaging Mexican immigrants, and Doral could be next.

Trump-haters may seek solace in this tidbit that Mormino pointed out: No Florida man has ever been elected president.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press

In Florida, professor predicts “hate election”

If it comes down to a Trump vs. Clinton matchup, how will Florida vote?

As usual, it’s a tossup.

Even though Donald Trump is alienating Florida’s growing Hispanic population, and Hillary Clinton has high unfavorables of her own, the state is poised to swing once again in November, with voters mobilized to cast a ballot against a candidate rather than for one.

“A lot of anger, even hate, will motivate this election,” said Michael McDonald, associate professor of political science at the University of Florida.

“Republicans are largely dissatisfied with their candidates. None get typically over 50 percent. And on the GOP side, the #NeverTrump movement is trying to prevent Trump from getting the nomination. Within the Republican Party, Trump is a very polarizing figure, and we have indications that in a general election the Democrats will be energized to vote against Trump,” McDonald told WJCT.

“However, with Hillary Clinton, who at this point looks to be solidly in the lead on the Democratic side for the nomination, Republicans have been primed for years to feel antagonistic towards the Clintons. So many Republicans will also be motivated, even the #NeverTrump ones, to find him more palatable than a Hillary Clinton presidency.”

McDonald says despite the intense, negative emotions this cycle, at least voter participation should be robust.

“We could see very high turnout in Florida, as people see very stark differences between the candidates and people go to the polls to make a choice that’s meaningful to them.”

And McDonald says in Florida, what will tell the tale is which voting bloc is most motivated to cast a “hate” vote: energized Latinos in the I-4 corridor, for example, who don’t want Trump, or disaffected white voters who haven’t typically been politically engaged.

Florida winners Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump opposites – not just by party

Florida Republicans and Democrats went in opposite directions in picking Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton as their choices to be on November’s presidential ballot.

Republicans went with a brash casino owner who has never run for office and is blowing up conventional political wisdom. Democrats went with a woman who represents a political dynasty and has been in the nation’s capital as first lady, senator, presidential candidate and secretary of state for much of the last 24 years.

In doing so, Florida gave each victor the biggest prize in Tuesday’s primary states. Republicans awarded all 99 Florida delegates to Trump, while Clinton was set to receive a large chunk of the 214 Democratic delegates that were being awarded proportionally.

The differences between Trump and Clinton could be seen through the eyes of some that voted for them.

“I’m uneducated like most of the voters in this country,” said Clay Burke, 27, a medical salesman from St. Petersburg who voted for Trump.

“I just want to see this go on all the way to November. The show. The Trump show. He says it like it is, he’s off the cuff, he’s not like a typical politician.”

Many people like James Hahn voted for Clinton because of her experience.

“She’s the most qualified. She was secretary of state and traveled around the world, I mean, c’mon,” said Hahn, 70, of Gainesville.

Hahn said he seriously considered Bernie Sanders but didn’t think the Vermont senator had the power to get anything done in Washington, saying electing Sanders “would just shut government down again.”

Even the victory speeches were different.

Trump’s speech clearly wasn’t well rehearsed. He boasted about polls, criticized the media and talked about taking hits from millions of dollars spent on negative ads. While telling a story about golfer Adam Scott, he said he might “piss a lot of you folks off.”

“If you get to the end, you can handle a lot of things including pressure, that I can tell you,” Trump said. “Lies, deceit, viciousness, disgusting reporters.”

Clinton was much more polished and rehearsed.

“This may be one of the most consequential campaigns of our lifetimes,” Clinton said at a Florida victory party. “Our next president has to be ready to face three big tests. First, can you make positive differences in people’s lives. Second, can you keep us safe. Third, can you bring our country together again.”

Trump’s victory was shocking because two Republican giants from Florida were also in the once-crowded primary, though former Gov. Jeb Bush dropped out last month. Like Clinton, he has a big name in politics, being the brother of a president and the son of another. But Republicans aren’t about establishment candidates this year, and his campaign fizzled.

Sen. Marco Rubio at least made it through his home state’s primary, only to place second to Trump. With nearly all the vote counted, Trump had 45.7 percent and Rubio had 27 percent.

Clinton was even more dominant in her primary, with 64.5 percent of the vote to Sanders’ 33.2 percent.

Like the primary, Florida will also be the biggest prize in the November election. It is the largest of the swing states and will award 29 delegates. President Barack Obama carried Florida twice, as did George W. Bush, though some Democrats still say Bush would have lost in 2000 if a five-week recount wasn’t stopped by the U.S. Supreme Court with Bush ahead by 537 votes.

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

Marco Rubio suspends presidential campaign after bruising Florida defeat

Marco Rubio ended his campaign Tuesday after being trounced in his own state by New York businessman Donald Trump.

Rubio is expected to come in a distant second behind Republican front runner Trump. According to the Florida Division of Elections, Trump leads the pack with 45 percent of the vote. Rubio trails Trump with 27 percent, followed by Ted Cruz with 17 percent. John Kasich is in fourth with 7 percent.

“After tonight it is clear that while we are on the right side, this year we will not be on the winning side. I take great comfort in the ancient words which teaches us that in their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps,” said Rubio before announcing he was suspending his campaign. “And so yet, while this may not have been the year for a hopeful and optimistic message about our future, I still remain hopeful and optimistic about America.”

The vote results came as a blow to the Florida Republican’s campaign. He long said he would win his home state, and spent the past week barnstorming Florida to drum up support. Florida’s junior U.S. senator failed to gain traction, though, and several recent polls showed Trump handily beating Rubio.

Unofficial county-by-county election results show Trump beat Rubio in most of Florida’s 67 counties. In Miami-Dade, though, where Rubio lives, he received 108,300 votes compared with Trump’s 38,786 votes. In nearby Broward County, Trump received more than 39,600 votes compared with Rubio’s more than 22,900 votes.

Trump received nearly twice as many votes as Rubio in Republican stronghold Collier County. Unofficial election results from Collier County show Trump received more than 30,000 votes compared with the more than 15,500 Rubio received.

Rubio announced he was running for president in April 2015. The 44-year-old Republican faced criticism from some Floridians for his decision to run as a competitor to one-time GOP presidential hopeful Jeb Bush.

Bush, who bowed out of the presidential race after the South Carolina primary last month, received about 2 percent of the vote in Florida, according to unofficial election results.

In a 15-minute speech to supporters Tuesday evening, Rubio thanked supporters for their hard work and dedication over the past year.

“I’m so grateful for all the help that you guys have given us. I just want you to know that there is nothing more that you could have done,” Rubio said. “You worked as hard as anyone could have worked. I want you to know, we worked as hard as we ever could.”

The former Florida legislator said he “endeavored over the last 11 months to bridge this divide within our party and within our country.” He also said he tried to build a campaign “that would love all of the American people, even the ones that don’t love you back.”

“I know firsthand ours is a special nation because where you come from here doesn’t decide where you go.”

Bill Nelson hails Barack Obama’s ban of Atlantic oil drilling

President Barack Obama reversed direction Tuesday and banned oil and gas drilling in the Atlantic Ocean through 2022, leading Florida’s U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson to hail the move as good news for people who live along the coast.

“We are grateful that they did that, for the reasons that we have fought for years to keep drilling off the coast of Florida,” Nelson said in a speech on the floor of the U.S. Senate Tuesday afternoon.

In the morning, Obama’s Department of the Interior withdrew offers of oil and gas leases for the five-year period of 2018-2022 for areas off the coast of Georgia, the Carolinas and Virginia. Last summer the department announced it would not offer leases off Florida’s Atlantic coast.

Nelson has been a staunch opponent of offshore drilling, either in the Atlantic or the Gulf of Mexico. In his floor speech Tuesday he urged his colleagues to ban oil and gas drilling there so that “we don’t have to keep fighting this every five years” as the administration decides where to provide leases.

“Just this morning the administration has walked back the offering of those leases off the eastern seaboard of the United States,” he said. “It’s certainly good news … it’s good news for the Atlantic Coast residents who fought so hard to keep the drilling off their coast.”

Florida Petroleum Council Executive Director David Mica said he was not surprised by Nelson’s reaction, given his record on energy issues, which he said was one of the worst ever in Congress.

“Senator Nelson is a good friend, but he is consistently voted against American energy,” Mica said. “He’s opposed American energy in the form of the Keystone Pipeline, he’s opposed American energy in the Gulf of Mexico, he’s opposed funding from oil and gas revenues for conservation and revenue sharing to states, and he’s opposed now to oil and gas exploration America on the Atlantic Coast, and he’s opposed oil and gas exploration in Florida on shore. And he’s opposed many other worthwhile American energy projects of the oil and gas industry.”

Dream Defenders launch #SquaDD2016

The Florida-based activist group Dream Defenders is debuting a “presidential Cabinet,” dubbed #SquaDD2016, with the goal of “speaking truth to power by elevating the voices of young Black and Brown people.”

According to the organization, “We organized #SquaDD2016 with the intention of conveying the message that we demand more from the presidential candidates, particularly those who benefit most from and claim to represent the voices of Black and Brown youth and communities, Hillary and Bernie. #SquaDD2016 used political theater as a means to educate folks about the power of our vote through providing political education about where each of the candidates stand on issues facing our communities through their platforms and past actions.”

The Cabinet is made up of members from across Florida and will focus on a range of issues, such as education, the economy, trade, foreign policy, immigration, and mass incarceration.

Meanwhile, members of the group were reportedly blocked from entering a Donald Trump rally in Palm Beach on Sunday.

Secretary of state: No major problems as Florida polls open

Secretary of State Ken Detzner says he wants to show the country that Florida knows how to run elections. And early indications are there have been no major problems.

Detzner told reporters Tuesday that all 5,810 precincts are open and “by all accounts” early voting went smoothly with no reported incidents.

Not that there weren’t minor glitches but none stopped voters from casting ballots.

In Duval County, there was an issue with electronic poll books. Election workers switched over to paper books, which Detzner says is the standard backup. There were no reported delays and issue was expected to be resolved by noon.

Florida – ridiculed worldwide after election problems during the 2000 presidential recount – will award 99 winner-take-all Republican delegates and 214 Democratic delegates distributed proportionally.

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

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