Gwen Graham Archives - Page 4 of 46 - Florida Politics

Chris King raises $148K in September for governor’s race

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chris King raised $148,000 in September, giving his campaign a total of $2.6 million raised, his campaign reported.

King, a Winter Park-based developer of affordable housing and senior housing, raised $77,500 for his official campaign and $70,500 for his independent political committee Rise and Lead Florida, according to data posted by the Florida Division of Elections. Those totals included $47,000 he donated to his own campaign, and $25,000 donated to Rise and Lead by Serenity Towers On the St. Johns, one of the senior centers his company runs.

His campaign now has raised $1.67 million, most of it coming from his own contributions. Rise and Lead has raised $948,000. Together, the two committees ended the month with $1.7 million in hand, his campaign reported.

King faces former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham of Tallahassee and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum in his quest for the Democrat’s primary nomination in 2018. The leading Republicans are Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam of Bartow and state Sen. Jack Latvala of Clearwater.

“Despite being a newcomer to politics, Chris King continues to remain competitive with career politicians with deep institutional and establishment support,” King’s campaign spokesperson Hari Sevugan stated in a news release issued late Tuesday. “Whether it’s fundraising, grassroots activity online or what we’re seeing and hearing across the state, what’s clear is that Democrats are tired of losing statewide, and are looking for new ideas and a fresh approach to leadership to break one-party control in Tallahassee. This consistent fundraising has also demonstrated that Chris is positioned to be the clear alternative to Gwen Graham.”

Gwen Graham blasts Everglades oil permit renewal

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gwen Graham on Tuesday blasted a state decision to renew an oil exploration permit in the Big Cypress National Preserve in the Everglades.

Graham, a former congresswoman from Tallahassee, criticized the decision by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to renew the exploration permit for Burnett Oil Co. of Texas, and for doing so two weeks before the Oct. 24 deadline on the request.

“Protecting Big Cypress National Preserve is vital to preserving and restoring Florida’s Everglades. The state should be working to end oil drilling in the Everglades, not expand it,” Graham stated in a news release issued by her campaign. “As governor, I will fight to protect our clean land and water from oil drilling and fracking.”

The department responded by saying the activity was first approved by the U.S. National Park Service under President Barack Obama, and that position was upheld by a U.S. District Court decision in the Middle District of Florida earlier this year. Florida DEP Communication Director Lauren Engel said in a statement that the department “will take every step possible to protect Florida’s environment.”

Federal authorities have control over the lands, while the Florida department reviewed the permit to determine if it met all Florida requirements, she added.

Graham is battling with fellow Democrats Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum and Winter Park businessman Chris King for the party primary nomination to run for governor in 2018. The leading Republicans are Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam of Bartow and state Sen. Jack Latvala of Clearwater.

Her campaign noted that several environmental groups, including the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, the National Parks Conservation Association and the Center for Biological Diversity all asked the Florida Department of Environmental Protection not to renew Burnett Oil Co.’s exploration permit. The groups cited several potential violations, including killed or damaged trees, ruts in the soil and working without the supervision of National Park Service staff, Graham’s campaign stated.

“Conserving land and protecting the Everglades should not be a partisan issue, but under Rick Scott and Republican politicians in Tallahassee, the state has disregarded preservation in favor of profits. Under this administration, the DEP has become the Department of Environmental Pollution,” Graham said in the release. “This effort was started by a Republican governor. Legislation to protect the park was signed by a Republican president. Even George W. Bush and Jeb Bush wanted to stop oil drilling in the preserve. When the Bushes oppose drilling, you know it’s bad.”


Utility companies have contributed $800K, while funneling as much as $2.5M through committees, to Adam Putnam’s campaign

Florida’s private utility companies have donated nearly $800,000 to support Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam‘s political committee seeking to get him elected governor, and also have donated another $1.8 million that may have been re-directed to him through other political committees.

A review of campaign finance data available through the Florida Division of Elections shows that Florida Power & Light and Duke Energy have been major contributors to Putnam’s Florida Grown, the political committee supporting his Republican gubernatorial candidate. Gulf Power Co. and TECO, the natural gas company, also have contributed tens of thousands of dollars to Florida Grown.

All totaled, they’ve contributed $795,560 directly to Florida Grown since the start of 2015, when Gov. Rick Scott‘s second term began and the cycle for the 2018 gubernatorial race officially began.

Counting contributions from utility companies made to other business groups, which then cut checks to Florida Grown around the same time or shortly after, the amount of money passing from utilities to Florida Grown may be more than triple that amount, as much as $2.5 million.

Florida Jobs Political Action Committee, which represents the Florida Chamber of Commerce; the Associated Industries of Florida Political Action Committee; The Voice of Florida’s Business, which represents Associated Industries; and two similar organizations have written checks totaling $1.8 million to Florida Grown, on dates around or shortly after receiving hefty contributions from FP&L, Gulf Power or TECO.

The matter of the utilities’ contributions has become an issue in the governor’s race because Putnam’s rival for the Republican nomination, state Sen. Jack Latvala of Clearwater, last month swore off utilities contributions to his campaign.

Latvala did so in the face of the public’s growing criticism of the utilities’ hurricane recovery performances, following Hurricane Irma’s Sept. 10-11 roar through Florida.

“It’s time the utilities stop spending money on political candidates and instead protect the residents of this state,” Latvala said on Sept. 19.

Florida Politics received a spreadsheet of campaign contributions from an anonymous source. Florida Politics double-checked the numbers, and also ran additional data analysis, checking on contributions to Latvala and other candidates as well.

Neither Putnam’s campaign nor Latvala’s campaign responded to inquiries from Florida Politics about the data.

Latvala, too, has received sizable contributions over the past two and a half years from the utility companies, though not on the same scale as Putnam. His Florida Leadership political committee has taken in about $100,000 of utilities’ money directly, and perhaps as much as $116,000 in pass-through donations from business groups’ political committees.

He has not given any of it back.

Democrats running for governor, former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, and businessman Chris King of Winter Park, have received nothing directly from the utilities in their respective political committees, Our Florida, Florida Forward, and Rise and Lead.

The Democratic candidates all have been stronger critics of the longer-term course for Florida’s utilities, particularly as each of them has vowed to push solar energy in big ways.

The direct contributions to Putnam’s Florida Grown include $587,060 from FP&L, $110,000 from Duke, $75,000 from TECO, and $22,500 from Gulf Power.

Another $575,000 in contributions to Putnam’s Florida Grown from Voice of Florida Business Political Committee tracks closely to the timing of money FP&L and TECO had given to that Associated Industries of Florida-affiliated committee throughout the past two and a half years. Another $500,000 in contributions to Florida Grown from Florida Jobs tracks fairly closely to money FP&L and Gulf Power had given to that chamber-affiliated committee. The Associated Industries of Florida PAC made $350,000 in donations to Florida Grown around the times of money it received from FP&L. Floridians United For our Children’s Future gave Florida Grown a total of $275,000, after receiving money from FP&L; and growing Florida’s Future provided $100,000 to Florida Grown, around the times of receiving utilities money.

Around the same times, Latvala’s Florida Leadership Committee got $56,000 from Florida Jobs, $40,000 from Associated Industries of Florida, and $20,000 from Floridians United for Our Children’s Future.

All of those may be coincidences.

Each of those business-promoting political committees receives numerous large contributions from all sorts of businesses and business interests, and cuts millions of dollars all totaled in checks to all sorts of political campaigns and committees. Florida Jobs, for example, has made more than $3.5 million in political donations since the start of this gubernatorial cycle.

The Florida Jobs committee also has made additional contributions to Florida Grown that do not necessarily align with incoming money from the utilities, such as a $150,000 donation made on July 31.

And Putnam’s pro-business positions have made him a favorite to the Chamber and the Associated Industries of Florida regardless of what the utility companies may wish to support.

Still, after the utilities used direct and pass-through contributions to push a Constitutional Amendment 4 last year that would have given them more control over solar energy production had it passed, elections watchdog and consumer groups have grown wary.

“There are definitely dots connecting to that, and our elected officials don’t seem to take notice of rate increases, or the lack of solar growth, or the pursuance of solar growth or other renewable energy. They seem to be fairly quiet on that front, and so why is that?” said Pamela Goodman, president of the League of Women Voters of Florida, which campaigned against Amendment 4.


Gwen Graham raises $300K in third quarter

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gwen Graham raised more than $300,000 for her campaign and her independent political committee during the third quarter of 2017, her campaign announced Monday.

Graham’s campaign said it has  amassed more than $3.6 million dollars for the 2018 election campaign, and had more than $2.5 million cash on hand at the end of September. The new money included more than $165,000 for her campaign and over $135,000 for her Our Florida independent political committee.

Graham, a former congresswoman from Tallahassee, is in a battle for the 2018 Democratic nomination with Winter Park businessman Chris King and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum. Going into the third quarter, she led both in the money race, though trailed Republican candidates Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam of Bartow and state Sen. Jack Latvala of Clearwater by sizable margins.

Her campaign said she added 1,000 new donors in the quarter, bringing her total to 8,850 individual donors so far.

“This campaign is about more than winning back the governor’s office. This campaign is about undoing nearly 20 years of damaging one-party rule,” she stated in a news release. “When I’m elected governor, the decades of privatizing our education, paving over our environment and profiting off the backs of the middle class are going to end. I’m proud of the coalition we’re building — thousands of donors from every corner of the state — to turn Florida blue. Together, we will support our public schools, create good paying jobs, and prepare our state for the effects of climate change.”


Gwen Graham vows to enact clean power plan

With President Donald Trump‘s announcement Monday he would be ending the federal clean-power plan initiated by his predecessor, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gwen Graham vowed she would enact a “Florida clean power plan” to continue to seek carbon reductions and increase renewable energy.

Graham and her Democratic rivals, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum and Winter Park businessman Chris King all have previously vowed to resist attempts to role back carbon emissions plans, and to pursue clean energy in Florida, and in particular to support and promote expansion of solar power in the Sunshine State.

Now Graham says she’ll specifically stick to the goals former President Barack Obama had set with his federal order, to work toward a 32 percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2030, compared with what Florida was producing in 2005. That would require significant decreases in coal-fired power. She said that would save the average consumer $85 a year in power bills.

“Donald Trump and the politicians in Tallahassee have their heads in the sand. Our state is already feeling the effects of climate change and sea level rise — a single hurricane just destroyed countless homes, took dozens of lives and knocked out power across our entire state,” Graham stated in a news release issued by her campaign. “I was proud to support President Obama’s Clean Power Plan in Congress, and, as governor, I will fight for Florida to enact a clean power plan to meet those goals.”

Arguing that an aggressive and comprehensive renewable energy policy would combat climate change, protect clean air, create jobs, and lower energy prices, she added, “Florida can’t afford to wait for the federal government to act. As governor, I will implement a renewable energy standard, cut carbon emissions and create clean energy jobs.”

According to the Energy Information Administration, renewable energy accounts for less than 2.5 of Florida’s energy portfolio, the news release stated.

“As governor, I will work with Democrats and Republicans to cut the regulatory red tape that prevents homeowners from purchasing solar energy and I will appoint PSC commissioners who understand the threat of climate change and the need to support clean energy,” Graham said. “It’s not just crucial to combating climate change, it makes economic sense. We can protect our beaches from oil drilling, our water from fracking and make the Sunshine State the Solar State, all while creating good paying jobs.”

In Tampa, Andrew Gillum speaks frankly about race

No African-American has ever won statewide office in the Sunshine State.

In fact, one of the last candidates attempting to do so had to contend with a former president asking him late in the campaign to drop out of the race.

Kendrick Meek was a U.S. Representative from Miami-Dade who in 2010 became the Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate. He faced not only Republican Marco Rubio, but also independent Charlie Crist.

Trailing in the polls with just weeks before the election, Bill Clinton asked Meek to drop out of the race, so that the party could rally around Crist. Meek declined, saying he never seriously considered it. He finished third while Rubio advanced to Washington.

Seven years later and it’s now Andrew Gillum attempting to do the unprecedented as he runs for the Democratic nomination for Florida governor.

And while it’s not something he talks much about on the campaign trail, the Tallahassee mayor opened up about the reality he faces as a black man while addressing students in an appearance at the University of Tampa campus last week.

“There isn’t a day that doesn’t go by in my city where I’m not driving behind a truck on my way to work that has a big old Confederate flag,” he said.

“I know a lot of folks say you shouldn’t conflate the Confederacy with racism,” Gillum added. “Well, I don’t know another way to describe it. States’ rights? States’ rights to own slaves? … If I pause long enough to allow it to impact me, it would.

“But I psych myself out on a pretty regular basis that they’re not talking about me. That they don’t mean me, and I’m the mayor of this city, and all the other things that you tell yourself to be unpenetrated by the kind of inequality that you get to see and experience every single day that you live and breath.”

Big things have been expected from Gillum ever since 2003 when he became the youngest member of the Tallahassee City Commission at the age of 23.

His profile grew larger after he had an opportunity to speak last summer at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. Now he’s trying to buck the odds in a state that has never elected a black person statewide (though some Democrats count Barack Obama‘s two victories in Florida in 2008 and 2012).

At UT, Gillum said it’s pertinent as an elected official to note and try to do something about the structural forms of racism and inequality. He referred to a row he had last month with Jim Cooke, Tallahassee’s treasurer-clerk, revolving around the fact that while three minority based firms do bond work for the city of Tallahassee, they generally are recommended only for some of the city’s smaller contracts.

“So I had to ask the question: ‘Why does it seem in the city of Tallahassee minority firms always seem to get the smallest piece?’ ” Gillum said, replying to his own question by saying that he wasn’t certain, and speculating that perhaps Cooke (who he never mentioned by name) had a “predisposition to ‘big’ ” explicitly mentioning Bank of America and other larger institutions.

Cooke later told Florida Politics that he did not want to comment.

Gillum said there is definitely structural bias within the criminal justice system, citing studies that show that penalties for blacks are much stricter than for whites who commit the same crimes. Gillum also said that didn’t mean that judges were racist, but speculated that “a lot of it might be unconscious bias.”

“We should have, moreover, conversations about race, racism, sexism, all the other -isms, because if it sits unconscious, we’ll allow it to continue to perpetuate,” he said.

He then launched into a discussion about his Longest Table program which he initiated in 2015 to spur conversation and strengthen relations between people from all walks of life in Tallahassee. The project won a Knight Cities Challenge grant earlier this year.

“I don’t want to be Pollyanna-ish about it,” he explained. “I know that’s not the cure all, end all, be all, but if we can start to have some deliberate conversations where we put people in places and try to encourage curiosity over judgment, it’d be interesting to see what happens.”

While he can’t mandate people of different walks of life to get together, Gillum said he can try to set an example.

“I think it would be much better to have a governor that encourages that conversation rather than the ‘other-izing’ of each other because Latinos are here and you don’t have a job, or black people are shiftless and on welfare, or all white people are racists, or Black Lives Matter people are unpatriotic,” he said.

“Those are simple platitudes, and they mean nothing, and they get us nowhere.”

Gillum has had a bumpy ride at times during this campaign season. An FBI investigation into Community Redevelopment Agency deals in Tallahassee has put a cloud over his campaign, though Gillum told reporters in August that a federal prosecutor informed him he wasn’t a target of the investigation.

The race is poised to get more competitive, as John Morgan and Phillip Levine contemplate entering the race to join Gwen Graham, Chris King and himself, all vying to become the state party’s standard-bearer next year.

Gillum is the choice among the progressive wing of the party. Whether that is enough in Florida will play out over the next year.

Editor’s Note — An earlier version of this story said Kendrick Meek was the last African-American political candidate to run for statewide office in Florida. In fact, Thaddeus Hamilton ran unsuccessfully for agriculture commissioner in 2014.

Andrew Gillum: GOP will go ‘overboard’ on guns

While some Republicans are criticizing Democrats for “exploiting” the Las Vegas shooting, Tallahassee Mayor and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum says he worries it might only embolden state Republicans to come up with their own pro-gun legislation when they convene in January.

“Without a doubt, somebody is going to propose a bill that says we got to have guns everywhere,” Gillum told about two dozen University of Tampa students who gathered to hear him make the latest round of his tour of state universities. “It happened last session. It’s the answer that the NRA and their friends go back to at every single recourse.”

Gillum then segued into recounting his own experience dealing with gun violence shortly after becoming elected mayor in November 2014, when a former student shot at three victims inside Florida State University’s packed library before he was killed by campus police (one of the victims remains paralyzed from the waist down).

It gave him the opportunity to bash GOP efforts in the state legislature the past few two sessions where a bit that would allow college and university students on campuses was debated but ultimately died in committee.

“Can you imagine if every student in that library had a gun? And law enforcement showed up on the scene had to figure out and discern at a moment’s notice what was good, what was bad, what was the threat and who was being self-defending?” he asked, disputing that the law would make students safer.

He told students that, as legislative committees begin meeting next week, they need to be attentive to what gets proposed, claiming that some legislators heading into an election may try to go “overboard” in displaying their conservative bona fides to the NRA.

Sarasota Republican Senator Greg Steube sponsored 10 such pro-gun bills leading into the 2017 session, including separate proposals that would legally allow for guns on college campuses, airports, religious schools and career centers — all of which failed.

Gillum was originally scheduled to speak at UT back during the first full week in September, but the visit was cancelled as Hurricane Irma began moving closer to Florida.

He gave his traditional stump speech to the students, including a brief mention of what he has described as “taking on” the NRA.

That’s when he and his colleagues on the Tallahassee City Commission (which he served on before becoming mayor) were sued in 2014 by gun rights groups Florida Carry and Second Amendment Foundation because they didn’t repeal an ordinance that bans the shooting of guns in public parks. The NRA was not part of that original lawsuit, but later joined.

“Radical,” he said with a mocking tone. “Can’t shoot guns in city parks where kids play and families picnic.”

Gillum also told the students that he welcomes what could be a large influx of Puerto Ricans to his city, as residents relocate to Florida to resume their lives following the devastation that occurred on the island since Hurricane Maria pounded it two weeks ago.

He said he wanted to have “seamless integration” in the K-12 system in the city’s schools, and said every benefit given to a Floridian ought to be made available for those relocating from the island, which he said should include waiving the one-year requirement of living in Florida before qualifying for in-state tuition to the state’s colleges and universities.

“There’s already enough disruption in the lives of those individuals. We’ve got to figure out how to reduce that level of disruption,” he said.

Gillum is one of three Democrats who are officially running for governor, along with Winter Park businessman Chris King and former Congresswoman Gwen Graham, also of Tallahassee. Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine and Orlando attorney/entrepreneur John Morgan also are considering a run.

Andrew Gillum hires new finance director to ramp up fundraising

Andrew Gillum added a new finance director this week, as the Democrat gubernatorial candidate looks to spark fundraising after losing ground to opponents Gwen Graham and Chris King.

Akilah Ensley heads to the Gillum camp from Invictus Strategy Group, a political and nonprofit fundraising consulting shop she founded. Her past experience also includes a stint as deputy director of major gifts at the Truman National Security Project.

“Our campaign is thrilled to add Akilah R. Ensley, a nationally-recognized leader in Democratic politics and nonprofit causes, as our new finance director,” said Gillum communication director Geoff Burgan.

“She brings a wealth of knowledge to the Gillum campaign, including numerous statewide campaigns in the Southeast. With the Democratic primary under a year away, her addition comes at a critical time, and we’re thrilled that she’ll be leading the charge as we run a strong people-powered campaign to take back Florida.”

Ensley does arrive at a crucial time.

While the Tallahassee mayor got off to a strong start on the fundraising trail, recent contributions — both to his campaign and his committee, “Forward Florida” — have slowed somewhat.

In March, his first month in the race, he brought in $241,000 for his campaign and another $428,000 through his committee.

After the initial excitement wore off, numbers dipped, but by the three-month mark, Gillum had raised $1.2 million. However, after the specter of an FBI investigation into the City of Tallahassee’s Community Redevelopment Agency, fundraising began to slow.

Gillum is not a target of the investigation, but his proximity to the case may have had a chilling effect on fundraising. An earlier investigation over the mayor’s use of city email software for campaign messages — although cleared of any wrongdoing — also hasn’t helped.

The campaign’s lowest point came in July after two weak fundraising months, which led to the loss of several high-level campaign staffers. Momentum slipped even further from Sept. 1 through Sept. 26 when the committee raised just $6,000, according to the Forward Florida website,

By August, the most recent month with full data available, contributions dropped to $75,000 combined, while spending came in at more than $125,000. Heading into September, Gillium had about $600,000 on hand, compared to about $2.5 million in the bank for Graham’s campaign and committee, $1.5 million on hand for King’s two accounts.

Joining relief effort, Gwen Graham blasts Donald Trump’s Puerto Rico response as ‘appalling’

While joining a relief effort in Orlando that included U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy and several Florida lawmakers and local leaders, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gwen Graham blasted President Donald Trump‘s response to Puerto Rico as “appalling” Saturday.

Graham said that the world was witnessing “a failure of planning” for a deadly hurricane that was seen coming at Puerto Rico almost a week out.

“Puerto Ricans are Americans and they deserve the same attention and response that the people of Texas has seen and what the people of Florida have seen. It’s appalling what this administration has done,” Graham said.

Graham, a former U.S. Congresswoman from Tallahassee, also said, “I don’t even have words for his tweets this morning,” referring to Trump’s tweets blasting San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz and charging that Puerto Rican workers were not helping with the relief effort, and that all was going well, despite what “fake news” media were reporting.

“We need leadership. We need people are willing to have a moral high ground and do what’s right for every American, and he has not shown that leadership,” she continued.

Graham also criticized efforts by Gov. Rick Scott to offer assistance, saying “I haven’t seen anything.”

Graham, has been outspoken about the need for more help for Puerto Rico since Hurricane Maria devastated the island almost two weeks ago. She stepped up her criticism Saturday while joining the relief effort led by CASA at the Acacia Florida Puerto Rican Center in Orlando.

Her comments were not alone. On Friday both of her fellow Democratic gubernatorial candidates, Winter Park developer Chris King and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, also blasted the federal response. King accused the administration of letting “self-importance and arrogance” get in the way of help. Gillum accused Trump of showing disregard for the lives and property of people in Puerto Rico.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Adam Putnam, Florida’s agriculture commissioner, also has been outspoken about the need for more relief help for Puerto Rico. He urged such help to the Florida Chamber of Commerce at a conference earlier in the week.

On Saturday Graham joined in on a relief effort that is filling a parking lot at Acacia in east Orange County with water, nonperishable foods, and supplies bound for Puerto Rico, in a largely private, volunteer effort organized by CASA, or Coordinadora de Apoyo, Solidaridad y Ayuda [coordinated support of solidarity and help], and other community groups.

Democratic state Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith helped organize an additional effort there Saturday through Orlando United, a Pulse support organization,  to draw volunteers from among the families, friends, and survivors, and first responders, of the 2016 Pulse nightclub massacre.

They also were joined by Graham, Murphy, the Winter Park Democrat, and a number of other mostly Democratic political leaders, including state Sen. Victor Torres of Orlando, state Reps. Amy Mercado of Orlando, John Cortes of Kissimmee, and Orange County Commissioner Emily Bonilla. Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer also had planned to stop by. Republican elected official and leaders also have contributed time, supplies, and visibility to the CASA efforts at Acacia and elsewhere, though this day was largely a time for the Democrats.

Murphy declined to comment, saying she wanted the day to be about helping Puerto Rico. And then, in an Orlando United/Pulse T-shirt, she went into a relief supplies tent and helped sort donated items, as a long line of cars backed up onto Econlockhatchee Road, full of goods coming in for delivery.

“This is a great event. There were over 600 people who said they are going, on Facebook, over 3,000 people who said they were interested. This is a movement of people in Orlando who want to show their solidarity for the people in Puerto Rico,” Smith said.

“The idea for this event was to bring together a group of Pulse moms, survivors and first responders together, to be there for Puerto Rico in the same way they were with us last year. The Puerto Rican community, they grieved together with us last year, and they were disproportionately affected by the tragedy at Pulse,” Smith added. “This is our community’s way of paying it back to Puerto Rico and sending a message that we are still there for them.”

While King and Gillum were not part of the event, they released statements demanding more federal attention and aid for Puerto Rico.

“The people on the ground in Puerto Rico are reporting grave conditions and lack of food and water. Relief organizations are appealing to the public to donate and help with relief efforts because the need is that urgent,” King’s statement read.

“Meanwhile, President Trump and his DHS Secretary are claiming the U.S. government’s support in Puerto Rico has been ‘great,’ praising their own ability to address the Island’s urgent needs. The Trump Administration’s claims are undermining the relief organizations’ efforts to rally the public to donate and provide support for hurricane victims. We cannot let this administration‘s self-importance and arrogance thwart efforts of relief organizations and workers on the ground in Puerto Rico.”

Gillum’s statement read: “The president’s disregard for the lives and property of our fellow Americans in Puerto Rico is outrageous. This storm turned into a man-made disaster through the inaction and incompetence of this administration. These Americans need immediate relief from anyone and anywhere — and to date, our federal government hasn’t allowed that to happen. It’s past time for Trump to step up and allow the federal government, our military, and humanitarians provide all the relief possible.”

John Morgan brings his “talking tour” to St. Pete

Saying it was good to be back in “Charlie Crist country,” Orlando attorney/entrepreneur/celebrity John Morgan made an entertaining appearance at the Suncoast Tiger Bay Club in St. Petersburg on Wednesday.

There, he discussed what he says is the very real possibility that he will pull the trigger next year and run for the Democratic nomination for governor.

As salty as ever, Morgan said he was absolutely not on a “listening tour,” as some candidates describe the early months of a potential candidacy, deriding that concept as “so much BS.”

“I’m on a talking tour,” he told the audience who assembled at the St. Pete Yacht Club. “I’m going to tell you everything I think. I may say two or things today that disqualify me, and that’s OK.”

The 61-year-old Lexington, Kentucky native has said previously that he won’t make a final decision on his political future until next spring, and with his high name recognition thanks to the ubiquitous “Morgan and Morgan” television ads that constantly air across the state of Florida and a personal banking fortune estimated at more than $100 million, it certainly makes sense.

Rick Scott, after all, didn’t get into the gubernatorial race in 2010 until the spring, and the rest is Florida political history.

A Florida Chamber of Commerce poll released Wednesday shows Morgan currently to be the most popular Democrat in the field, leading former Congresswoman Gwen Graham by eight percentage points, 23 percent-15 percent.

However, 44 percent have yet to make up their mind for the Democratic primary, which won’t take place until slightly less than 11 months from now.

Referring to the tragedy at the North Hollywood assisted living facility which lost air conditioning during Hurricane Irma, causing 10 seniors to perish due to excessive heat, Morgan blasted “tort reform” efforts by the state Legislature, where lawsuits at such facilities are capped at $250,000.

Morgan—the father of 2016’s medical marijuana constitutional amendment—said it’s inevitable that recreational pot will become legal from sea to shining sea in the future. The latest policy proposal that he’s working to get on the 2020 ballot would be a $14 hourly ‘living wage’ in Florida.

He’s also passionate about getting the right of nonviolent ex-felons to get their rights restored. When asked by a woman during the Q&A portion of the meeting why not even those who commit violent felonies pay their debt to society, Morgan said politics was about the art of compromise, and extending that proposal to include violent offenders will never pass in Florida.

He maintained that pragmatic stance when talking about guns, an incendiary issue between gun control advocates and most of the GOP-led Legislature in Florida, which continues to press for more unfettered access to guns, including on college campuses and airports (though to no avail in recent years).

“I’m not a gun guy,” he declared. “I don’t care about guns. Just don’t let crazy people have them.”

As part of his platform for criminal justice reform he derides private prisons, saying that their business model requires that they be filled up, so the companies that own them can make money.

He called public school teachers “heroes,” and blasted what he said was the Legislature’s war on public education. Morgan said the results from the charter school experiment were “terrible” and that it allowed the rich to prosper at the public’s expense.

Speaking of the rich, Morgan called himself the “ultimate capitalist” but also a “compassionate capitalist.” He said he believed in a separation of church and state, but said he didn’t believe that people could separate themselves from their beliefs.

“I believe that the God that I pray to lives not up there but in you and in you and in you. I believe that when I see somebody’s hungry, or begging, or without shelter, I’m not looking at a deadbeat, I’m looking at God, and that’s the only way that I can live and love God, to love people and love God.”

Morgan mused about some of the other candidates who have already declared their candidacies for governor. He joked that he needed Clearwater state Senator Jack Latvala in the race. “I need someone bigger than me,” he said of the Clearwater Republican. “I can’t be the fat guy in the race.”

Morgan is off to his home state of Kentucky, where he’s been hired by Attorney General Andy Beshear to sue the manufacturers of opioids, an option that Florida lawmakers have yet to publicly consider.

Many political observers say that Donald Trump’s electoral victory in Florida and in the Electoral College last November is a blueprint that the politically incorrect Morgan could follow to the Governor’s Mansion. He addressed the comparison only once during his speech.

“Some people say ‘if Trump can do it, you can do it!’ ” he said, pausing dramatically. “I don’t take that as a compliment.”

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