Gwen Graham Archives - Page 6 of 30 - Florida Politics

Mitch Perry Report for 9.22.16 – The fire down below

In Charlotte last night, North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory called for a state of emergency a night after violence escalated as residents continued to protest the fatal shooting of a black man by a police officer a day prior.

While in Tulsa, the Dept. of Justice is investigating officer Betty Shelby’s use of force in the shooting death of  40-year-old unarmed black man Terence Crutcher on Friday night.

Meanwhile, what about the shooting death of that unarmed black man in our neck of the woods that caused more than a week’s worth of civic unrest?

To remind you, Hillsborough County SWAT Deputy Caleb Johnson shot and killed 22-year-old Levonia Riggins while helping serve a search warrant on his home. Johnson has said that he thought that Riggins was motioning towards his waistband when he was apprehended in his bedroom, and fearing that Riggins was reaching for a weapon, shot him dead.

Like a similar incident that occurred in Seminole Heights a couple of years ago with the Tampa Police Dept., a lot of people have been wondering why law enforcement would send in a SWAT team to apprehend a low-level drug dealer (Riggins had reportedly sold pot on two occasions to from undercover Hillsborough sheriff’s detectives).

Well, presumably we have our reason now, as the Tampa Bay Times Dan Sullivan reported earlier this week that when detectives drafted an application for a search warrant of Riggins’ home last month, they learned of a 2015 incident in which guns were found on Riggins property.

I still don’t get how that justified bringing a SWAT team in to bust a man who had twice sold undercover deputies marijuana. Obviously I’m missing something, because I don’t get that at all. Wondering if that happens in other parts of town where law enforcement is aware of someone selling pot?

Of course, when it comes to pot, Hillsborough County law enforcement seems to be behind the curve in addressing the issue. After months of criticism for not following in Tampa’s path when it comes to decriminalizing those arrested with marijuana , the Sheriffs Department announced last month that they’ve begun a year-long pilot program with other local agencies that will offer an alternative to arrest for first-time offenders caught with marijuana between the ages of 8 to 17.

Meanwhile, the Riggins shooting is being investigated by  Sarasota State Attorney Ed Brodsky.

In other news..

We’ve got specific dates when the “Cross-Bay Ferry” running from Tampa to St. Pete will begin their daily runs.

Kathy Castor signs on to bipartisan legislation calling for drug price transparency.

Gwen Graham wants to know when the Florida DEP began contacting local residents about that Mosaic toxic sinkhole spill last month.

And an environmental group is trying to tie Mosaic’s issues with Representative Dana Young, the Tampa Republican running for the state Senate District 18 seat this November.

Vern Buchanan’s bill to Florida orange farms contending with citrus greening has passed the House of Representatives. 

Gwen Graham wants to know why the DEP didn’t tell the public about Mosaic’s toxic sinkhole

Tallahassee U.S. Representative and potential gubernatorial candidate Gwen Graham is blasting the Florida Dept. of Environmental Protection, claiming it failed local citizens by failing to alert them of the massive leak of contaminated water that occurred through a sinkhole at Mosaic’s New Wales Facility in Polk County last month. 

The company did immediately inform the Florida Dept. of Environmental Protection and other agencies, but many members of the local community said they had no idea about it until they saw media reports about it last weekend.

The DEP issued its own press release on Tuesday, where they claimed that the Tampa Bay Times had failed to report that they had notified the nearest adjacent homeowners who may want their drinking water wells tested.

“This information was provided in writing to the Times, but the paper chose to omit this fact and mislead their readers,” the statement read.

In a letter sent to Florida Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Jonathan Steverson on Wednesday, Graham is criticizing the agency for failing to alert surrounding communities of a toxic sinkhole, and calling on the DEP to use all means available to protect Florida families and the environment from a potential health crisis.

“I was extremely disappointed to learn the Department of Environmental Protection had known about this toxic sinkhole for almost a month before taking measures to alert the public. The DEP should warn Florida families of potential contamination before they’re drinking toxic water, not after it’s been contaminated,”  Graham said. “Their excuse for inaction – that they weren’t legally required to do so – is appalling. It’s an excuse we should expect from a special interest group – not from a group whose only interest should be protecting Florida’s environment and citizens.”

“This failure is just the latest example in an alarming pattern of the state placing polluting special interests ahead of the environment and communities they’re charged with protecting,” Graham added. “I hope they will quickly change course and use all resources available to remedy this immediate threat, and in the future work with greater transparency and respect for the public.”

Governor Scott weighed in later on the issue on Wednesday. Spokesperson Jackie Schutz said that Scott has directed the DEP to expedite their investigation “which began almost a month ago.”

“This includes directing DEP to expedite all water quality tests to ensure safe drinking water for residents,” Schutz said in a statement. “Governor Scott has also directed the Department of Health to partner with DEP in their investigation to ensure all drinking water in the area is safe.  We know Mosaic has taken responsibility, but our job is to ensure 100 percent safe drinking water in Florida and to protect our pristine environment.  We will continue to expedite this process until all questions are answered.  We encourage lawmakers and others to make decisions on this issue based on facts and not on their own political interests.”

In a statement issued on Tuesday, Steverson said that his agency is “absolutely committed to the safety of all Floridians and our shared environment, which is why we have worked closely with Mosaic since learning of this issue to ensure that proper actions are taken”

“In an abundance of caution, and above and beyond the requirements of law, DEP is working with Mosaic and through the company’s ongoing efforts to ensure families in the community who want testing for their drinking water wells are offered that service,” he said. “While there continues to be no evidence of offsite movement or threat to offsite groundwater supplies, DEP will continue to ensure Mosaic’s efforts properly resolve this issue. Once the issues surrounding this sinkhole are resolved, DEP will finalize its ongoing investigation to determine any necessary accountability measures to ensure this doesn’t happen again.”

Here is Graham’s letter in full:

Dear Secretary Steverson:

I was troubled to learn that the public was not immediately notified about possible groundwater contamination from more than 200 million gallons of industrial waste leaked into a sinkhole at a Mosaic phosphate plant in Polk County. Given the potential consequences, I urge you to conduct a full investigation into the circumstances surrounding the leak and to ensure the site is fully remediated to prevent long term environmental and public health risks.

Media has reported that the leak was discovered by plant personnel and reported to county, state and federal officials nearly a month ago. Yet, most of the general public did not become aware of the potential problem until it was reported by the press last Friday, September 16. Your office claims to have followed notification requirements prescribed by current law, but I believe the Department of Environmental Protection has a greater responsibility to the public. When public health is at risk, the state has a duty to notify nearby residents as soon as possible and before their wells are polluted so they can take appropriate action.

I urge you to exercise your full ability to investigate the causes of and response to the leak by public and private stakeholders. If this was purely an unforeseen natural event, we may still be able to take action to prevent future incidents. If this leak was inadvertently man-made, we need to know that so we can keep it from happening again. If there was mismanagement either before or after the fact, we need to hold the responsible parties accountable. Only a thorough and timely investigation can answer these questions.

Most importantly, we need to do everything we can to clean up the damage that has been done. The substances reported to have leaked from the site are potentially harmful to people and the environment. Given the enormous size of the leak, I expect this remediation to be a substantial undertaking, but it is essential. As we have learned from the contamination of Florida springs and pollution in the Everglades, the hydrology of Florida is uniquely connected. All Floridians are heavily invested in this clean up. Please use your authority to make sure it is done thoroughly and completely.

Thank you for your attention to this matter. Please let me know if I can be of any assistance to you.

Sincerely,

Gwen Graham

Angry Rick Scott wants Barack Obama declare Florida disaster after Hermine

No doubt there is bad blood between the Rick Scott and Barack Obama administrations.

It could be a reason why the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has rejected Scott’s request for federal assistance for a multitude of bad weather events — as well as requests for federal funds for handling the Zika virus and the Pulse nightclub shooting — over the past year.

But in a letter directed to the President on Tuesday, the governor lays out the case that it’s beyond time for the feds to help out the nation’s third-biggest state, following the damages incurred from Hurricane Hermine.

In his letter, the governor states there has been more than $36 million in damages due to the hurricane. A presidential disaster declaration would provide federal resources to support recovery efforts in Florida. This request is for both individual assistance for families and public assistance to help state agencies and local governments.

“We must do everything we can to ensure that Florida families and businesses can get back on their feet following Hurricane Hermine,” Scott said in a statement issued out Tuesday afternoon. “I have traveled across the state to meet Floridians who have been personally impacted by the storm, and communities are working hard to recover from flooding and damage. The resources and financial assistance from the federal government would support our communities and help them rebuild. We look forward to President Obama immediately issuing a declaration in support of all Florida families and businesses affected by the hurricane.”

Florida was rocked significantly by weather events in August and September this year. In his letter to the president, Scott lists the amount of rainfall to specific counties, with Pinellas leading the way with more than 22 inches.

Thirty-eight different counties in the state declared local state emergencies, 39 opened up their emergency operations centers and 34 opened up shelters.

“During the preceding 12 months, the state of Florida experienced repeated emergencies that required the development of significant state resources,” Scott writes. “Individually these incidents may not have overwhelmed the ability of the State of Florida to respond. Cumulatively, however, these emergencies significantly impacted the state’s capability to provide financial support following Hurricane Hermine.”

Scott then indicates how the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), under the guidance of former Floridian Craig Fugate, has refused to provide any funding from severe flooding from Aug. 1-9 of 2015, nor from the fallout of excessive El Nino-led rainstorms in January and February of 2016, nor from tornadoes that affected several Florida counties, nor to June’s Tropical Storm Colin.

Scott also cites the lack of any federal help after the Pulse nightclub shooting in June in Orlando, which led to the deaths of 49 people, the deadliest single-gunman massacre in U.S. history. Nor from the toxic algae bloom that emanated near Lake Okeechobee earlier this summer.

Three weeks ago the White House rejected Scott’s last request for a federal disaster declaration for Tampa Bay’s August flooding, prompting Scott communications director Jackie Schultz to say, “It’s disappointing that the Obama administration denied our request for federal assistance for those impacted by recent floods in the Tampa and west-central Florida areas.”

Before he ran for governor in 2010, Scott led a movement to try to bring down what would become the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare). He’s also sued the Obama administration regarding veterans programs and federal hospital funding, while Attorney General Pam Bondi has joined up with other Republican attorneys general to sue the president over some issues, including his executive orders in late 2014 to shield several million undocumented immigrants from being deported.

In the immediate aftermath of the Hurricane Hermine, Tallahassee-based Democratic Representative Gwen Graham sent a letter to Obama requesting federal assistance. She said today she supported Scott’s missive to the White House.

“Hurricane Hermine was the greatest natural disaster our region has faced in a generation,” Graham said. “I fully support Governor Rick Scott’s request for federal assistance and renew my call on President Obama to quickly approve all available and applicable help for North Florida,” Representative Graham said. “North Florida families are as strong as they come, and we will recover from this storm. I’m hopeful the state and federal government will work together, as neighbors worked together after the storm, to best serve the constituents we represent.”

 

Mitch Perry Report for 9.16.16 —What will become of Edward Snowden?

Oliver Stone’s “Snowden” arrives in theaters today, and with it comes a campaign to have the former NSA contractor receive a pardon from the commander in chief.

At a press conference Wednesday, representatives from the ACLU, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International spoke out in support of getting President Barack Obama to pardon Snowden.

“Cases like Edward Snowden’s are precisely why the presidential pardon power exists,” said Anthony Romero, the ACLU’s executive director, who referred specifically to cases when mitigating circumstances merit forgiveness for a crime.

But comments by the current occupant of the White House and the two people competing to replace him don’t indicate any newfound desire to grant him that pardon. Hillary Clinton has said Snowden shouldn’t be brought home “without facing the music,” while Donald Trump has said, “I think he’s a total traitor and I would deal with him harshly.”

In an op-ed published in the New York Times Thursday, Kenneth Roth of Human Rights Watch and Salil Shetty with Amnesty International wrote, “The enormous value of Mr. Snowden’s revelations is clear. What was their harm? Scant evidence has been provided for many officials’ ominous statements. Some officials have warned that the terrorism-related activity of certain groups has become harder to monitor, but the most dangerous adversaries have always taken precautions against surveillance, with at least one independent study showing little impact from the Snowden revelations.”

They went on to write that, “what has changed is that since the staggering extent of government surveillance became known, the public has sought greater privacy, and corporations have begun to provide it on widely used platforms. No doubt, among the millions of users of encrypted technologies there are a few who hide criminal activity. But the rest of us just want our privacy back.”

Members of our military, however, say Snowden gave away a lot. In 2014, then-Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Martin Dempsey said that “the vast majority of the documents … had nothing to do with exposing government oversight of domestic activities,” but “were related to our military capabilities, operations, tactics, techniques, and procedures.”

I loved Oliver Stone’s films from the ’80s like “Salvador,” “Wall Street,” and “Platoon.” Can he still come up with the goods? It’s got a high bar to cross: Laura Poitras’ electrifying documentary on Snowden, “Citizenfour,” won the 2015 Oscar for Best Documentary.

In an interview with USA Today, Stone says the U.S. is doing far more than people know when it comes to cyber-warfare, which makes sense, actually.

“They see the surface of the news — the Russians are attacking us, the Chinese are hacking us — but they never hear we’re hacking them first,” he says. “But when you do this kind of warfare, it comes back to haunt you.”

In other news …

The Tampa City Council has approved red-light cameras in the city for at least another two years.

Councilman Charlie Miranda went off an epic rant about taxpayer support for major league sports franchise stadiums, and other things yesterday.

Patrick Murphy joined nearly all of his House Democratic colleagues (sans Gwen Graham) in opposing a GOP bill preventing any more transfers of prisoners from Guantanamo Bay.

Rick Scott requesting more CDC support personnel to help with Zika testing

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is sending seven people to Florida support Zika testing and lab functions.

But Gov. Rick Scott wants more.

On Wednesday, Scott requested more support personnel from the CDC. The governor made the request in order to ensure pregnant women get test results faster, according to the governor’s office.

“While these additional personnel will help to expedite Zika testing, we know that there is an increasing demand for testing throughout our state and we must be prepared to respond,” said Scott in a statement. “That is why today I am requesting the CDC to provide Florida with additional lab support personnel to aid in our testing efforts. I am hopeful the CDC will quickly fulfill this request as our state continues to do everything possible to protect pregnant women.”

Scott is in Washington, D.C., this week to meet with lawmakers about the need for Zika funding. The Naples Republican was scheduled to meet with several members of the Florida delegation Wednesday, including Republican Reps. David Jolly, Gus Bilirakis, and Mario Diaz-Balart; and Democratic Reps. Gwen Graham and Frederica Wilson.

Scott is expected to meet with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Sen. Marco Rubio Wednesday afternoon.

“I will continue to meet with congressional leaders to discuss the need for immediate funding for Zika preparedness,” said Scott in a statement. “I expect Congress and the president to address this national health issue by taking action now.”

Mitch Perry Report for 9.2.16 — Tampa City Council approves $251 million to improve stormwater system

They did it last night.

After nearly four hours of discussion, the Tampa City Council voted 4-2 to support the biggest infusion of taxpayer dollars ever to attempt to improve the city’s stormwater infrastructure, which for decades has been a major problem in the city.

Mike SuarezLisa MontelioneHarry Cohen and swing vote Guido Maniscalco opted to support Mayor Bob Buckhorn‘s proposal, nearly a year after they rejected a similar one. Councilmembers Charlie Miranda and Frank Reddick dissented, while Yolie Capin was not at the meeting.

The improvements will be paid for through a fee on Tampa property owners. Assessments will be based on the amount of hard surface a property as. Hard surface area cannot absorb stormwater, so fees will be higher for people with more of it.

Critics blasted the proposal, which exempts property owners in New Tampa and Harbor Island, where developers have already paid for drainage systems that do not discharge water to the city’s storm sewers. Others complained that the only “discount,” if you didn’t live in those areas, was a 10 percent reduction.

Although there were people who opposed the project, there were more in the audience at City Hall who spoke out in support of the proposal, with the phrase, “we’ve got to stop kicking the can down the road,” being repeated throughout the evening.

Maniscalco seemed to be wavering in which way he would go and said at one point that the thought the vote should be delayed because many members of the public had stayed away, after hearing reports for days that Thursday night the city would get the worst brunt of a tropical storm.

In fact, the weather wasn’t that bad at all Thursday night, not compared to the evening before or another major storm that occurred early Friday morning.

Although stormwater improvements in South Tampa are among the first projects that will be built with the new funds, Montelione, in particular, emphasized that the problems when major rains come to Tampa are by no means limited to that region of the city, showing a map of areas in her North Tampa district that get flooded out.

Suarez said the same thing, adding that it seemed that the media only liked to cover major flooding in South Tampa.

In other news …

Darryl Rouson leads Ed Narain by 75 votes in the SD 19 race as the official recount in takes place this morning in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties.

Gwen Graham says she gets why Donald Trump has emerged in American politics, and says his unlikely success should be understood by all lawmakers.

Uber is targeting two PTC members to oppose proposed new rules which they don’t like, but are they targeting the right members?

And Charlie Crist‘s campaign manager says essentially the race between his candidate and David Jolly is a mere formality in a memo distributed to the media. Naturally, Team Jolly disagrees.

Gwen Graham says she gets part of Donald Trump’s appeal

Gwen Graham cut short her trip to Tampa Thursday, returning to Tallahassee to contend with Tropical Storm Hermine, which is expected to make landfall as a hurricane by early Friday in North Florida.

The Tallahassee-based Democratic representative, already considered a leading candidate to run for governor in 2018, has been hobnobbing around the state this week. She appeared at a campaign phone bank with New Port Richey state Rep. Amanda Murphy on Wednesday before attending a house party for Hillary Clinton supporters at a private residence in Tampa. She had been scheduled to visit MacDill Air Force Base on Thursday with Kathy Castor, as well as meet up with Rod Smith in Gainesville. Both of those events were canceled, however, with the storm approaching.

Ideologically speaking, Graham is considered a centrist, and she definitely made a statement shortly after she was elected to serve in Washington in early 2015 when Graham voted against Nancy Pelosi’s election as House Minority Leader, a promise she made while campaigning against Republican Steve Southerland. Graham paints that vote as less a statement against Pelosi, and more for a change of leadership Washington.

“I believe — and this has been confirmed — that we need new leadership in the House of Representatives for Democrats and Republicans,” Graham said on Wednesday.

“The Republicans have brought in Paul Ryan, and I think it would be a very positive effect, not only on the Democrats in Congress but also in encouraging other people to want to enter into elected office, to have new, fresh leadership for the House of Representatives,” Graham said, adding that she never intended it to be criticism of the San Francisco Democrat, who she praised for becoming the first female Speaker of the House.

And while Graham’s an ardent Democrat supporting Clinton for president, she says she understands part of the appeal of Donald Trump, who remains extremely competitive in Florida, despite the fact that he has had only one campaign office in the entire state (and despite reports that he would soon open up two dozen offices, which has yet to happen).

“Mr. Trump has been able to tap into a frustration and disappointment in some areas in the way that our government is functioning, and in that respect, I don’t disagree with him,” she says. “He is a symptom of what I see at times, which is that people don’t put those that you’re elected to serve first, and when you allow partisanship to stand in the way of getting things done, then people have a rightful reason and a rightful frustration about government. I hope this is a wake-up call to those who take more of an ideological position when they’re making decisions that it’s time to get back to really governing again.”

Graham’s Democratic Party bonafides are most prominent when talking about the environment, as she rains down criticism on Rick Scott’s leadership — or lack thereof. She says if she ran the state government, she would add scientists and conservationists to water management boards around the state, and not political appointees.

On Monday, Scott announced he had selected Miami attorney and Bacardi Family Foundation board member Federico Fernandez to fill a space on the Southwest Florida Water Management District. Fernandez would replace Sandy Batchelor, a Charlie Crist appointee in 2010 who was reappointed by Scott to a four-year term in 2012. Batchelor has a master’s degree in forest conservation, and was coincidentally the lone board member this year to oppose tax cuts advocated by Scott.

“I don’t think that’s someone who actually has the expertise to be making water quality decisions,” Graham, said, adding that she agrees with recent comments by Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam that water was Florida’s most important element of its economy, but didn’t believe that his, nor Governor’s Scott’s, actual water policies indicate that’s really the case.

“I don’t think you can say in one breath that you believe that water is most important for the economy in Florida, and then support something that does the complete opposite,” she said, referring specifically to the state’s Environmental Regulation Commission vote to approve a proposal by state regulators that would impose new standards on 39 chemicals not currently regulated by the state, and change the regulations on 43 other chemicals.

In July, Graham called on Scott to hold a special session to deal with the toxic algae bloom that had just then begun to engulf South Florida. In that letter, she said that in her discussions with local stakeholders, she learned the problem was the nutrient-rich stormwater runoff that flows from central Florida into Lake Okeechobee.

Scott will be coming to Washington next week, and Graham says she wants to work with him in addressing water quality in Florida as well as the growing issues with the Zika virus.

“I look forward to working hand-in-hand from a federal perspective, in building the bridges and relationships with those in the federal government that would allow us to hopefully move forward and get additional funding” for Zika.

Darryl E. Owens: For grandma’s sake, Florida lawmakers need to get tough on elder abuse

darryl owensTwo pictures of the elderly in America dominate.

One pictures seniors as convivial grandparents, spoiling grandchildren with toys and taffy, enjoying priceless moments of conspiratorial mirth.

The other dog-eared snapshot isn’t a proud Kodak moment. It pictures silver-headed senior citizens beaten black-and-blue. Or neglected to the point of bedsores. Or sobbing over the realization someone bamboozled her out of her nest egg.

Seniors like the 83-year-old father of Jeffery Frank Watkins.

Fort Walton Beach Police last month charged his son with felony neglect of an elderly person after an emergency room visit where his poppa’s pacemaker bulged from his chest from malnourishment — even as bedbugs heartily feasted on the octogenarian.

We tend to dismiss this kind of nauseating neglect as anomaly — atrocities perpetrated by the Darwinian misfits who populate “The Jerry Springer Show.” However, among Florida’s many secret shames, the Sunshine State’s fondness for slapping around grandmas and fleecing them ranks near the top of an ungodly heap.

Worse, seniors will remain clay pigeons until lawmakers make smart moves such as clarifying definitions of “vulnerable” and using the reduced standard of “diminished capacity” to allow watchdog agencies to help seniors sooner.

Florida Rep. Gwen Graham, during a June Workday assisting the elderly, outed the state.

“Florida has a reputation as the best place in America to retire. Unfortunately, that reputation is under threat by an increase in elder abuse and fraud targeting seniors,” she said.

The Orlando Sentinel recently reported substantiated elder abuse and neglect cases since 2011 skyrocketed 74 percent. Statewide, cases last year numbered 2,525. And those numbers likely don’t tell the whole story.

Seniors are convenient punching bags and easy marks. A recent University of Kentucky study — for the National Center on Elder Abuse — found that home is where the hell is for nearly 90 percent of abused elders. More chilling, one in three suffered abuse at their children’s hands.

Elder abuse victims “tend to be socially isolated, physically weakened and struggling to maintain their independence,” according to a piece last year in Stateline, a state policy publication of The Pew Charitable Trusts. “They are reliant on family, friends or caregivers who violate their trust.”

In Florida, better than 800 people over the past half-decade faced elder abuse and neglect charges, according to the Office of State Courts Administrator. Just less than half were convicted or sentenced.

“It breaks my heart, but it’s more prevalent than any of us would like,” Graham said.

That’s because of a national plague of erratic reporting and sparse resources, most glaringly, for Adult Protective Services (APS) agencies. Florida and other states rely on APS to safeguard vulnerable adults from abuse, neglect and exploitation.

Graham, for her part, is introducing federal legislation to stem the carnage. Her measure would task the Department of Justice with creating a model public, searchable registry listing creeps convicted or found by a state investigation (with an appeals process) to have abused, neglected, mistreated or bilked someone over age 65. States like Florida without a comparable registry could replicate the model.

It could provide a long overdue tool that could protect vulnerable Florida seniors … eventually.

Right now, swindles threaten one in 25 Florida seniors, says Bonnie Conrad, project director for elder rights with the Area Agency on Aging/Your Aging & Disability Resource Center in West Palm Beach.

“The legislative policy has not kept up with the growing sophistication of the criminal class,” she says. “Because seniors in Florida have more wealth collectively, and are more likely to live far from family, they are a target.”

Worse, wallets are often a gateway to wallopings.

“Most physical abuse starts with exploitation,” Conrad says, “so this must be addressed to keep harm from progressing.”

Some municipalities are standing in the gap. Palm Beach County, for example, recently began requiring background checks for senior caregivers. That helps police remove abusive/exploitive aides.

State-wise, Conrad lauds recently tweaked definitions in the state exploitation statute and guardianship protections. Those moves, however, fail to dam the flood of new crime targeting seniors, she warns.

Current definitions classify many endangered seniors as competent. Tweaking language that solves jurisdictional roadblocks, clarifies that exploiters need not be caregivers, and swaps “competent” for “diminished capacity” as the threshold for APS intervention would be prudent next steps.

In the race to protect Florida seniors, legislators are playing the tortoise. In taking reforms slow and steady, shamefully battered and broke seniors are losing more than a race.

__

Award-winning former Orlando Sentinel columnist Darryl E. Owens now serves as director of communication at Beacon College in Leesburg, the first higher education institution accredited to award bachelor’s degrees exclusively to students with learning disabilities, ADHD and other learning differences. Views expressed are his own.

U.S. House district in Florida Panhandle likely to flip to GOP

Recent redistricting makes the U.S. House seat from the eastern part of Florida’s Panhandle one of the few nationally that are likely to flip from Democrat to Republican this year.

Democratic incumbent Gwen Graham cited the redrawn 2nd Congressional District’s heavy Republican presence in saying she won’t seek a second term. A physician, a former government lawyer and a former prosecutor are vying for the GOP nomination in the Aug. 30 primary.

The Democratic primary is between former Florida assistant Attorney General Walt Dartland and Steve Crapps, a former supervisor at the Department of Children and Family Services.

Four seats nationwide could flip from Republican to Democrat, but the 2nd District is the only one considered a safe Republican takeover, said Kyle Kondik, a political analyst at the University of Virginia Center for Politics. Overall in Florida, Democrats are likely to pick up a few seats in the state’s heavily Republican delegation following district revamping that has unleashed one of Florida’s most vibrant campaigns in several seasons.

The three Republican candidates — Dr. Neal Dunn, Mary Thomas and Ken Sukhia — all agree on the main issues of combating terrorism, strengthening law enforcement, immigration reform and improving health care. They’ve taken turns attacking each other for not being conservative or Republican enough.

One ad by Dunn tried to link Thomas, a former general counsel at a state agency, to former Gov. Charlie Crist, who switched parties and is now running for Congress as a Democrat.

Thomas has tried to assert that Dunn, a physician, is a supporter of President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul because the group that represents doctors in the state-backed Medicaid expansion.

Dunn, 63, has the most cash on hand according to recent filings to the Federal Election Commission. Former two-term congressman Steve Southerland, who lost to Graham in 2014, has endorsed Dunn.

“The non-politician is in favor,” Dunn said. “We have made advances in health care, but there are more obstacles in the way for patients.”

Thomas, 38, is trying to become the first Indian-American woman elected to Congress. During Thomas’ five years in Gov. Rick Scott‘s administration, she was the state’s chief negotiator on many cases, including the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

Her key endorsement has come from the House Freedom Caucus, a group of 39 conservative congressmen.

“The federal government is not taking actions on environmental, veterans and immigration issues. This district needs someone who understands all those issues and has the ability to get people on both sides together,” Thomas said.

Sukhia, 63, is a former federal prosecutor with experience in immigration and drug trafficking cases. He also was an adviser to Florida’s attorney general in challenging the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act.

Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, who is Donald Trump‘s key adviser on immigration, has endorsed Sukhia.

“I’m the only candidate that has fought on the current issues and been on the front lines,” Sukhia said.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

The story from a primary election day in the not-too-distant future

TALLAHASSEE — Two years after Hillary Clinton became the nation’s first female president, former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham has become the second woman to win a major party’s nomination for Florida governor.

Graham, an attorney and daughter of former U.S. Sen. Bob Graham, held off her two Democratic rivals in a spirited primary election.

Graham now faces former state House Speaker Will Weatherford in November. The Wesley Chapel Republican edged out Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, the GOP establishment favorite, in a free-wheeling, wide-open Republican primary.

The man Graham and Weatherford hope to replace, Rick Scott, easily won the Republican nomination in Florida’s U.S. Senate race. He’ll face three-term Democratic incumbent Bill Nelson in the fall.

Spending only $9 million out of his personal fortune, it was the least amount Scott has spent to win an election. Instead, the still-powerful governor raised more than $30 million for his Senate campaign from the political allies who have long supported him. The Florida Chamber of Commerce and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce donated heavily to “Let’s Get to Work America,” the super PAC backing Scott.

It was Scott’s nonstop fundraising after winning re-election in 2014 — especially as it became clear he would be back on the ballot in 2018 — that became one of the launching points for Graham’s gubernatorial bid. Her promise to “clean up the Governor’s Mansion” became a rallying cry for her and supporters on the campaign trail.

Graham captured 38 percent of the Democratic vote, while Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn finished second with 30 percent and Miami Beach Mayor Phil Levine, despite spending more than $50 million of his own money, ended in third place with 28 percent. A handful of also-rans and gadfly candidates rounded out the results.

The clear difference for Graham was her strength with African-American voters, who were reminded in television commercial after television commercial of Tampa’s controversial “biking while black” ticketing scandal.

While Graham rarely brought up the topic, an anti-Buckhorn super PAC never let the issue drop, dogging Buckhorn press conferences with paid protestors who would buzz the events by circling around on bicycles. The video of Buckhorn jumping down from a stage to confront one of the young protestors went viral.

Levine entered the race with considerable fanfare, distributing virtual reality players to donors and reporters so they could watch the short film he had produced about his tenure as mayor.

And while the “Miami Beach Miracle” movie was the first use of VR on a campaign trail, Levine did not deliver at the box office. Polls indicated he never connected with either the conservative north Florida Democrats loyal to Graham or the voters of the I-4 corridor which Buckhorn hoped would be enough of a base to beat Graham.

The Tampa Bay area was ground zero for the GOP primary, with at least five candidates having staked some sort of claim to the state’s largest media market. Weatherford is from Wesley Chapel, Putnam from Bartow, Carlos Beruff from Parrish, Richard Corcoran from Land O’ Lakes, and Jack Latvala from Clearwater.

Beruff never stopped running for statewide office after losing to Marco Rubio in the 2016 U.S. Senate race. Although his consulting team was busy with Scott’s race, the prospect of Beruff writing another eight-figure check for his campaign kept the nucleus of his team together.

The Manatee County homebuilder parted with another $14 million in his bid to become governor, making it nearly $25 million Beruff has spent in the last two years for two losing campaigns.

Corcoran and Latvala, the two legislative powerhouses who brought the Capitol to a standstill earlier this year over Corcoran’s resistance to commit any taxpayer dollars to Latvala’s plan to build a new stadium for the Tampa Bay Rays, really only flirted with running for governor.

Corcoran was in the race for about a month, Latvala less than that. But after the so-called “Waffle House Summit” at which Corcoran and Latvala agreed to drop their bids for governor and instead run for attorney general and chief financial officer, while backing Weatherford over Putnam, the governor’s race became a two-man affair.

Corcoran will square off against Palm Beach State Attorney Dave Aronberg in the attorney general’s race, while Latvala will face Democrat Jeremy Ring. Former House Speaker Steve Crisafulli faces nominal Democratic opposition in the race for agriculture commissioner.

For much of the race, Putnam held every advantage — in fundraising, endorsements, and name recognition. But Weatherford doggedly traveled the state, damning Putnam with faint praise.

“Adam has been a good politician for more than 20 years,” Weatherford would say, “And he would make a good governor. But what Florida needs now is a transformational governor.”

The charge of Putnam being a career politician began to stick as Weatherford won straw polls at county party meetings and the endorsements of national movement conservatives. To many observers, the Weatherford vs. Putnam race played out like the Marco Rubio vs. Charlie Crist race of 2010.

By the time Goliath noticed David, it was too late.

Weatherford heads into November knowing that Florida Republicans typically outperform Democrats in non-presidential years.

But Graham is anything but a typical politician. With her father campaigning by her side and a legion of volunteers behind her, Graham may be the Democrats’ best chance to take back the Governor’s Mansion since the days of Lawton Chiles.

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