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David Jolly says Donald Trump should quit race after urging Muslim ban

Pinellas County U.S. Rep. and Florida Republican Senate candidate David Jolly is calling on Donald Trump to quit his presidential bid after the GOP front-runner said all Muslims should be banned from entering the U.S.

“While ISIS is beheading innocent people for their religious practices, Trump is betraying our freedoms,” Jolly said in a prepared statement issued early Tuesday “His brutal, bullying bigotry runs contrary to the very principles our forefathers fought so hard to defend. We are either a party of protecting the constitution and religious liberties or we’re not. America should insist on a security test but never a religious test.”

On Monday afternoon Trump called for the United States to bar all Muslims from entering the country until the nation’s leaders can “figure out what is going on” after the terrorist attacks in San Bernardino, California.

Saying that “hatred” among many Muslims for Americans is “beyond comprehension,” Trump said in a statement that the United States needed to confront “where this hatred comes from and why.” He then read aloud from the statement at a campaign rally in South Carolina on Monday night.

Other Republican presidential candidates also condemned Trump for his incendiary comments.

“Donald Trump is unhinged. His ‘policy’ proposals are not serious,” tweeted Jeb Bush.

“There are folks in this race who don’t care about what the law says because they’re used to being able to just fire people indiscriminately on television,” responded Chris Christie. “So, they don’t have to worry about what laws say or not say.”

“This is reprehensible, prejudiced and divisive. @realDonaldTrump, you don’t get it. This makes us less safe,” tweeted Hillary Clinton.

In his statement, Jolly again called on Congress to debate and pass an Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF) in the fight against the Islamic State.

“Our national security is the only lens through which we should make decisions regarding the destruction of terror,” he said. “But we can do so without fundamentally abandoning our most basic tenets of religious freedom. I am a born-again Christian who opposes any religious litmus test that defies everything we believe in.”

Jolly is running against Florida Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis and former CIA contractor Todd Wilcox in the race to become the GOP Senate nominee in 2016. He is calling on “all candidates from across the country to join him in demanding Trump’s withdrawal from the race.”

Mitch Perry Report for 12.8.15 – Remembering John Lennon

Props to St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, whose rebuke to Donald Trump via Twitter is a featured story on this morning’s Drudge Report.

I’m going to let the fallout from Trump’s comment that the U.S. government should ban all Muslims from entering the country marinate for at least another 24 hours, to think about something else.

It was 35 years tonight that John Lennon was assassinated in New York City.

For those of us around at the time, it’s a moment where we remember exactly where we were. In my case, like so many Americans, I was home on the West Coast watching Monday Night Football, when Howard Cosell told the nation that horrible news.

It’s mentioned in the recent Alex Gibney directed documentary on Steve Jobs that Jobs death four years ago affected people worldwide in a way that hadn’t been felt since Lennon’s shocking death at the age of 40, and that’s probably true.

In what sounds like a spectacular act, an all-start set of performers, including Steven Tyler, Willie Nelson, Tom Morello, John Fogerty, Sheryl Crow, Spoon, Brandon Flowers and others (including Yoko Ono) performed at a 75th Birthday Party for Lennon on Saturday night at the theater at Madison Square Garden (It will air on AMC on Dec. 19).

Something tells me that they’ll an even bigger celebration 25 years from now, when the world will commemorate his centennial — I mean, look at all the stops being pulled out for Frank Sinatra. Then again, Sinatra left us only 17 years ago, in 1998, when he was 82. In comparison, Lennon has been gone from this earth for twice as long, when he was less than half ol’ Blue Eyes’ age. The stunning way that Lennon died will always be part of his legacy moving forward.

Incidentally, his killer, Mark David Chapman, remains in prison.

In other news …

Do you know who Justin Grabelle is? He’s the only Republican running in the CD 11 race up in Hernando County. But that may change soon.

• • •

Former Pinellas County Democratic Party chairman Mark Hanisee has designs on taking over the Hillsborough County Democratic Party next month, but officials say that because he’s not an official member of the party, he can’t run for office. Meanwhile, Mike Newett became the first challenger to Hanisee in the race.

• • •

And on Saturday, hundreds came out to hear an organizer with the Bernie Sanders campaign tell them how they can “Feel the Bern” in a way that can help the campaign out — in South Carolina.

• • •

That $305 billion transportation bill that Congress was able to come together on and pass last week will be bringing nearly a billion more than previous formulas to Florida, and our local transit agencies are excited about what they’ll able to do with that money.

• • •

Patrick Murphy was one of a minority of House Democrats who supported legislation regarding Syrian refugees last month. However, as the deadline for a new budget is ticking to this week, Murphy signed on to a letter directed to House Speaker Paul Ryan demanding that he not add the Syrian refugee issue to the omnibus spending bill.

Justin Grabelle about to be challenged in CD 11 race?

Once upon a time, Florida’s 11th Congressional District – which now encompasses Hernando, Citrus, Sumter and Marion counties – was held by a Democrat.

Her name was Karen Thurman. Thurman lost to Republican Ginny Brown-Waite in 2002, and since that time, the seat has remained safely in GOP control, and that scenario doesn’t appear to be changing anytime soon.

After GOP incumbent Rich Nugent announced last month that he would not run for re-election in 2016, Justin Grabelle, his 33-year-old chief-of-staff, immediately announced he would run to succeed his boss, and swiftly received Nugent’s endorsement.  The move appears to have frozen the rest of the Republican field, with a possible exception that we’ll discuss below.

The affable Grabelle, a resident of Ocala, says he doesn’t differentiate much from Nugent’s fairly conservative bent. In an interview conducted at the Silverthorn Country Club in Brooksville before a fundraising event last Thursday, Grabelle emphasizes that he doesn’t want to go to Washington to become a charter member of the Party of No, as House Republicans have sometimes been characterized, but instead wants to try to find common cause with Democrats on the issues that the two parties do agree on to get results for the voters of CD 11.

Like his take on guns. Speaking about 24 hours after the shocking massacre in San Bernadino,  Grabelle was frustratingly vague in talking about what he’d like to see happen, but more than quick to talk says what shouldn’t take place.

“I think it’s indicative of a larger problem that D.C has, which is both sides want to focus on the things that they disagree on, rather than the stuff that we do agree,” he said, a reference to how President Barack Obama and some Democrats said the issue was the easy availability of guns. “I think mental health is a place where there’s a common thread between almost all of these incidents.

“If we start focusing on the things that we do agree on instead of just focusing on things that we can’t agree on, the country would be in a much better position of we did that all the time. Not just on that issue, but on all issues.”

Whether it’s on focusing exclusively on border security when talking about immigration, or when discussing those immigrants who come to the U.S. via travel visas, Grabelle says there’s too much division and inaction going on in Washington, when there are ideas on the table that could be approved now.

Regarding guns, he says he holds a concealed gun permit in Florida, but backs away from giving his views about some proposals being debated in Tallahassee: an open carry law, and a law that would allow guns on college campuses.

“Look, running for a federal office, and I think it’s great to have states in control of that, I think we need to do more of that. We talked about the balance of powers, we also need to bring a balance back between the fed govt and the state goverment. That’s gotten totally out of whack. I mean the 10th Amendment is pretty clear, what’s not laid out in the Constitution is the priority of the states,” he said.

Grabelle is a big states rights proponent, and thinks that the executive branch has usurped too much power – not just during the Obama and George W. Bush presidencies, but over the course of the last century.

He says probably the biggest issue that the voters he speaks to are concerned about is the federal deficit, which is why he supports a balanced budget amendment.

One area where he will get specific is on who to combat the Islamic State. He supports sending ground troops to go after the group, but only in Iraq, not Syria.

“The unknowns are too great,” he says about trying to take down the Assad government. “You have a government fighting for its power. You have separatists groups fighting to gain power. You have ISIS. You have Turkey. You have Russia. You have all of these things going on here, you don’t know what to do there, but in Iraq I think it’s much simpler. We know we have an ally we can work with, the Iraqi government and also with the Kurds.”

Grabelle has time to get even more schooled on the issues , but it appears he’s about to challenged for the GOP nomination for CD 11 at this point.

Late Monday, Brown-Waite and state Sen. Wilton Simpson endorsed a candidate who isn’t even in the race yet, Kelly Rice, a Sumter County cattle rancher and Realtor. The Tampa Bay Times reported that Brown-Waite was critical of Grabelle, saying, “I actually demoted Justin. I was hoping he would grow into the job and it just wasn’t there … I know six years have elapsed, but I’m not sure six years is enough.”

Last week, the Florida Supreme Court certified a new congressional map in Florida, and one of the direct casualties is District 10 U.S. Rep. Daniel Webster. The newly drawn up CD 10 makes it extremely hard for a Republican to compete, leading to speculation that if he wanted to continue his political career, he can attempt to run in CD 11 with Nugent’s departure.

Last month in a statement, Webster said, “During my time in public service, I have represented various parts of Central Florida, and am exploring all possibilities for future service.”

The Grabelle campaign doesn’t sound too concerned about a possible Webster run, at least now now.

“Justin thinks that the community deserves a representative who has been around the community for a long time and understands its needs, and is a part of it,” said Nick Catroppo, Grabelle’s campaign manager.

Patrick Murphy joins call for Paul Ryan to cut Syrian issue from spending bill

South Florida U.S. Rep. and U.S. Senate candidate Patrick Murphy has signed a letter with 86 other House Democrats urging House Speaker Paul D. Ryan to not cut off money to the U.S. refugee resettlement program.

“We respectfully urge you to reject attempts to use critical year-end spending legislation to block the acceptance of refugees, including attempts to defund critical accounts or efforts to make it harder for refugees of a certain religion to seek sanctuary in the United States,” the letter reads, which was originated by Colorado Democrat Jared Polis. “Rather, we believe that funds available for the vetting and placement of refugees should be increased to ensure a thorough and expeditious process.”

The deadline to reach agreement on a bill to keep the government functioning is due to expire at midnight  Friday.

The letter comes less than three weeks after Murphy joined 46 other House Democrats to OK a GOP-sponsored bill to suspend the program that allows Syrian and Iraqi refugees into the U.S. until key national security agencies certify they don’t pose a security risk. That vote was heavily criticized by Alan Grayson, his chief challenger for the Democratic nomination for Senate. There were also rank-and-file Democrats who were very unhappy with the Jupiter congressman. Murphy said those Democrats  misunderstood what the bill actually does, countering claims that his vote would “close our doors to refugees.”

“Nothing could be further from the truth. The bill I voted for did only two things,” Murphy wrote on his Facebook page on Nov. 24. “Audit our refugee vetting procedures and require regular reports on our refugee program to Congress, including to the Intelligence Committee, of which I am a member. 2. Strengthen the already-strong vetting of refugees by requiring the heads of the overseeing agencies to certify that refugees are not a threat to our security before granting them refugee status.”

The letter sent Friday to Speaker Ryan says that inserting “wholesale changes to refugee admission policies into a year-end spending bill — where they cannot be properly debated or amended — is not the appropriate way to consider these issues.”

Politico was the first to report the letter this weekend. However, officials close to Murphy reject the premise of that story, “Some House Dems reconsider measure to restrict refugees.”

An official with the Murphy campaign who wished not to be identified said that Murphy stands by his original vote on the Syrian refugee issue, and says that the reason he signed on to the new letter was his passionate belief that such additional legislation of any sort shouldn’t be attached to budget bills.

Murphy was part of a group of 160 Democrats who signed a letter to Ryan and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi on Nov. 19 calling on them to reject “divisive policy riders in the FY 2016 Omnibus and to bring a clean spending bill to the floor.”

“Congressman Murphy has continually called for clean bills to keep the government funded,” said Erin Hale, Murphy’s communications director. She then sent along prior statements that Murphy hashed over the years where he made similar arguments, going back to the October of 2013 government shutdown and the recent fight over Planned Parenthood.

Ted Cruz takes lead in Iowa in new Monmouth University poll

For the first time this year, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz leads in Iowa among Republican caucusgoers, according to a new Monmouth University poll released Monday.

The Texas Senator gets 24 percent among Iowans likely to participate in that state’s Iowa caucus scheduled for February. That’s a 5-point leader over Donald Trump, in second place with 19 percent, followed closely by Marco Rubio with 17 percent. Ben Carson is fourth with 13 percent, followed by Jeb Bush at 6 percent. Rand Paul is at 4 percent, while Carly Fiorina and John Kasich earn 3 percent each. None of the other six candidates tested in the poll draws more than 2 percent support.

The poll indicates that as Cruz is surges, Carson’s support in Iowa has been cratering. Carson led the Monmouth Iowa poll two months ago, but he’s dropped 19 percentage points since October.

Cruz, on the other hand, has jumped by 14 points in the past two months. Rubio is also rising, garnering 7 percent. Jeb Bush’s 6 percent is similar to what he polled there two months ago.

“This marks the first time Ted Cruz has held a lead in any of the crucial early states. As Ben Carson’s stock has fallen, Cruz has been able to corral most of those voters,” said Patrick Murray, director of the independent Monmouth University Polling Institute in West Long Branch, New Jersey. “Congressman (Steve) King’s endorsement may not be the primary reason for this swing, but it certainly put a stamp on the Cruz surge in Iowa.”

About 1-in-7 voters in the poll sample are non-GOP voters who say they are likely to caucus as Republicans in February. Trump holds 30 percent of this group’s support, compared to 21 support for Cruz, 15 percent for Carson, and 10 percent for Rubio. About 7-in-10 voters in the sample, though, regularly cast GOP primary ballots. Among this more probable group of voters, Cruz (25 percent) and Rubio (21 percent) garner greater support than Trump (16 percent) and Carson (13 percent).

“Trump will need a huge organizational effort to get independent voters to show up in a contest where they have historically participated in small numbers. Without this dynamic, the underlying fundamentals appear to favor Cruz and Rubio,” Murray said.

FAST Act means more money for Florida transit agencies’ buses

(UPDATED)

Last week President Obama signed into law the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act or FAST Act, a $305 billion transportation bill that will provide the state of Florida with $890 million more than it would have gotten under current funding formulas — and about $12 billion overall.

“What will be most relevant for us in this bill is it will give us the ability to replace our buses more frequently,” said Hillsborough Area Regional Transit (HART) CEO Katharine Eagan on Monday. She said that currently the transit agency replaces their buses every 15 years or so. The new money that HART will get will reduce that turnover to a dozen years, she said.

Eagan added that it will also give HART the opportunity to add additional facilities, but the funds are for infrastructure, and not service. Thus, the agency won’t be adding more bus routes.

PSTA CEO Brad Miller said in addition to allowing his agency to purchase more buses, Congress doubled the amount of money available for bus grants, which says will help PSTA as they apply for a grant program for electric buses for a pilot project in St. Petersburg. And the bill increases funding for capital projects like BRT lines.

PSTA held a news conference on Monday to announce they have received state funding for a BRT line connecting downtown St. Pete to the beaches via First Avenues North and South.

Overall, transit agencies will receive a total of $3.7 billion over five years in bus funding — a 75 percent increase over funding levels they currently receive. The bill also provides more funding for transportation alternative programs, such as pedestrian walkways, including a new grant program to ensure cyclist and pedestrian safety — critical for Tampa Bay, which is ranked as one of America’s least pedestrian-friendly areas.

Tampa Bay area Democratic Congresswoman Kathy Castor said the measure is the greatest increase for federal road, bridge and transit programs since the stimulus act was passed in 2009.

“We need construction jobs, investments and a transportation system worthy of our growing and dynamic community. The FAST Act provides a surface transportation authorization with the greatest funding increase for federal road, bridge and transit programs since the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009,” Castor said in a statement issued on Friday.

The FAST Act will also strengthen “Buy America” requirements, raising the domestic content threshold of transit buses and rail cars from 60 to 70 percent to maximize American job creation.

Eagan also said at HART’s monthly board meeting that there has been a “softening or ridership” of late, which is significant in that both HART and PSTA have been issuing statements seemingly every month over the past couple of years boasting of record ridership.

Eagan cautioned that HART is not the only agency to see an attrition in riders.

“I was on the phone with the CEO in Charlotte last week to talk about their experience. It is something beyond gas prices, but a lot of us are figuring this out. It’s Pinellas, it’s Jacksonville. It’s everywhere. It really is looking like we made just of had an extremely strong 2014. We’re still ahead of where we were in 2012 and 2013.”

Similar reports of a reduction in ridership have been reported in Orange County, California, New York City and Philadelphia.

In Tampa, Bernie Sanders campaign asks Florida supporters to help effort in South Carolina

The Bernie Sanders candidacy has been built to be fueled by momentum. In September, top campaign strategists Jeff Weaver and Ted Devine acknowledged that the Vermont independent senator probably must win Iowa or New Hampshire to have any chance at knocking off Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination for president.

What happens after that? Well, then it’s on to South Carolina, a place where the Sanders campaign faces a formidable deficit in the polls against the former first lady and secretary of state (Polls shows Clinton leading Sanders there by an average of nearly 50 percentage points).

Sanders campaign coordinator Corbin Trent told about 250 people at the Letter Carriers Union Hall in Tampa on Saturday afternoon that volunteers’ job will be to call South Democratic voters and persuade them to vote for Bernie in that state’s primary election Feb. 27.

“What we’re asking Floridians is to create a virtual campaign headquarters at their home,” he said, and by the end of the day, 36 people had agreed to host a phone-banking event at their home.

Tampa was the fourth of five stops that Trent made in Florida last week to channel the people power fueling the Sanders campaign. His final stop was in Jacksonville on Sunday.

Nearly 15,000 people have offered to volunteer for Sanders in Florida, and Trent said that he was hoping to get about 2,000 to begin calling South Carolina Democrats. “If we win in Iowa and New Hampshire,” he said, “We’re going to get a lot of momentum. We’ll see more establishment people move in our direction, more super delegates. That’s our primary focus right now.”

That focus is not on Florida, though, which doesn’t vote until March 15. That’s after about 20 other states will already have cast votes. Trent said before the meeting that he had no idea if and when the campaign would send the campaign down to Florida.

Shortly after the meeting began, Trent asked the audience to take a couple of minutes to talk to a stranger sitting near them and explain why they had attended and what Bernie Sanders meant to them. Then he asked a few to speak to the entire crowd about why they were there.

“To me, Bernie Sanders gives me something to live for,” said one unidentified woman who said she was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer in 2014. She said Sanders’ integrity attracted her to his campaign. “When I was going through the chemo and radiation it was tough, but I bounced back and one reason why I believe what contributed to the cancer I got was stress, because I was working a ton of hours, and so I see what he’s doing in terms of wanting to raise the minimum wage, and getting single payer health care.”

Several people in attendance told this reporter why they like Sanders.

“He’s really representing the average American, and the reason why people are hurting financially he’s got it down pat,” said Longboat Key resident Doreen Duponti. She said she does “honk and waves” for Sanders outside of events in Sarasota. “Which is that the people are crooked at the top and they have the laws rigged in their favor, and nobody else is talking about it like he is.”

Tampa resident Jim Shirk said Sanders is talking about how the country has been turned into a “oligarchy,” and it needs a political revolution.

“The bulk of the Democratic Party is entrenched in the current paradigm of pay your money and get your rewards, and as long as money speaks louder than people do, we’re not going to become the democracy that we should be,” he said, adding that he’s giving $25 a month to the Sanders campaign as long as it lasts.

Sanders is being fueled by small dollar contributors such as Shirk.

For the third quarter of this year, almost three-quarters of the $26 million he’s raised came from contributions donors giving $200 or less. In comparison, only about 17 percent of Clinton’s was from small donors.

“He’s the best candidate running right now,” said St. Pete architect Gregory Glenn, who says he thinks Sanders has a solid chance to knock off Clinton. “There’s people that see her as part of the establishment, obviously, and the mood in the country right now is anti-establishment, he’s got that going for him. He’s at the right time and the right place.”

Glenn notes that Clinton has moved to the left on certain issues because of Sanders (and Elizabeth Warren‘s) popularity with the base, and says “she’s prone to pandering to wherever the wind blows.”

A Puerto Rican native and current Ybor City resident who only wanted to be identified as Frank said he considers himself “more left leaning than the Democratic Party,” and said that was one reason why Sanders is a “great figure to look up to.”

He said he thought it will be hard for him to capture the nomination. “I think he made a great push at it this year, and I would really like to see him run in the future if he doesn’t get this one, but he is an older man,” he said. Sanders is 74.

Local activist Mike Fox referred to Clinton’s fundraiser last week at Alex Sink‘s home, and challenged the audience to try to match those contributions.

Acting somewhat like a crazed announcer at an auction, the audience was ready to be asked to contribute.

“There’s $20,” Fox barked, before turning to the other side of the crowd. “How much! That’s $50. That’s what I’m talking about. $100. Who else? $20. There’s a $100 right there. Thank you, brother!” By the end of the session, organizers say over $3,000 was collected for the campaign.

In speeches over the weekend, Sanders said that the powers that be are using ISIS to distract voters away from America’s systemic problems.

“‘We don’t have to worry about old people not having enough to eat. We don’t have to worry about having more people in jail than any other country. We don’t have to worry about the disappearing middle class. We don’t have to worry about economic and wealth inequality … we don’t have to worry about institutional racism, or a broken criminal justice. We don’t have to worry about that. All we should focus on now, 24/7, is ISIS,” Sanders said in New Hampshire, according to a BuzzFeed report. “Here’s what I say. I say that ISIS must be destroyed and I say that we have got to build a coalition which destroys ISIS. But I say that we are a great enough country and a smart enough country that we can destroy ISIS at the same time as rebuild a disappearing middle class. We can do both.”

(Photo courtesy of Kim DeFalco).

Mitch Perry Report for 12.7.15 – Obama speaks on threat of Islamic State, GOP reacts

There’s a lot of angst in the country and political world about how we are dealing with domestic terrorism, five days after San Bernardino.

Well, that’s what the media tells us.

I’m not so sure. There were a lot of big football games over the weekend with sellout crowds. Restaurants and bars seemed to pretty full in parts of Tampa that I observed and/or visited this past weekend, but hey, we’re all “on edge.”

President Barack Obama tried to deal with that by giving a prime-time speech to the nation Sunday night.

“In Iraq and Syria, airstrikes are taking out ISIL leaders,” he said. “In both countries, we’re deploying special operations forces who can accelerate that offensive. We’ve stepped up our effort since the attacks in Paris.”

He also called on Muslim leaders here and around the globe to reject the hateful ideology that groups like ISIL and al-Qaida promote, “to speak out against not just acts of violence, but also those interpretations of Islam that are incompatible with the values of religious tolerance, mutual respect, and human dignity.”

That was new, but his discussion of his strategy in fighting ISIS/ISIL didn’t appear to be. And that’s a problem, say his critics.

“I think not only did the president not make things better tonight, I fear he may have made things worse in the minds of many Americans,” snarled Marco Rubio, who took exception to the fact that the president mentioned the fact that it shouldn’t be so easy for criminals/American terrorists to get guns, and said specifically that no one on a no- fly list is able to buy a gun.

“This is not a time for ideological silliness, this is a time for serious action because the future security of our country is at stake.”

“This is the war of our time,” Jeb Bush said. “It should not be business as usual. We need a wartime commander-in-chief who is ready to lead this country and the free world to victory.”

“President Obama’s speech tonight demonstrates one troubling reality: the Islamic State specifically, and the global jihad generally, will continue to be on the march until we inaugurate a new commander-in-chief,” U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis said. “The president’s strategy has failed and the American people will remain at risk as a result of his failure.”

Most alarming is a report by Kimberly Dozier in Monday’s Daily Beast that says that a new U.S. intelligence report on ISIS, commissioned by the White House, “predicts that the self-proclaimed Islamic State will spread worldwide and grow in numbers, unless it suffers a significant loss of territory on the battlefield in Iraq and Syria.”

There will be more raids in Iraq and Syria. Dozier, though, reports that alone won’t solve the problem, “but may damage ISIS enough to make the group less popular and buy time for other necessary steps like the political deal-making underway to try to get Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down. “

In other news …

The Hillsborough County Legislative Delegation meets Tuesday at the Amalie Arena, where there will be a host of “local” bills related to the county’s Public Transportation Commission. Victor Crist and Jeff Brandes will be on hand.

• • •

And three Hillsborough County residents have filed ethics complaints against County Commissioners Ken Hagan and Sandy Murman. It’s the latest fallout from the Go Hillsborough transportation saga.

Tensions about Hillsborough PTC build as legislative delegation meeting approaches

Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission (PTC) Chairman Victor Crist says that Jeff Brandes’ recent inquiry on whether the PTC should be allowed to hire lobbyists was simply a ploy “to try to stir the pot” in advance of next week’s Hillsborough County Legislative Delegation meeting.

“This is a publicity stunt by Sen. Brandes to stir the pot before the delegation meets so he can waive his hands in the air and go, ‘Oh look, here we go again, there’s another problem with the PTC,'” Crist said on Thursday night. “Well you know what? If this was an issue now, why wasn’t it an issue nine months ago? Or four months ago? Or three months ago? Just two weeks before their meeting?”

On Thursday, the Florida Attorney General’s office essentially punted on the request by Brandes to provide a legal opinion on whether the agency should be allowed to hire a lobbyist, putting the issue back into the hands of the PTC.

“This is not a matter that the Attorney General may presently comment on,” Assistant Attorney General Ellen B. Gwynne wrote to Brandes, writing that the remedy would be for the PTC itself to decide on whether they should hire a lobbyist.

It shouldn’t be too difficult to determine how that vote will end up. The PTC earlier this year approved funding the lobbying firm of Corcoran and Johnston at $120,000.

“That’s like letting my children decide whether what they’ve done is right or wrong,” quipped Brandes on Thursday night. “This thing gets more bizarre by the moment.”

The St. Petersburg based legislator says the statute that the AG’s office is basing their opinion on is flawed, and may need to be reviewed by the Legislature. “Only the special district can ask whether the special district has a certain power?” he asked incredulously.

The Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission is a special district created by the Legislature. Other special districts in the region include the Tampa/Hillsborough Expressway Authority, the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority, and the Tampa Sports Authority.

None of them have been in the crosshairs of some legislators like the PTC has been, however. The PTC regulates taxicabs, limousines and companies like Uber and Lyft, which the state calls Transportation Network Companies (TNC). The agency had been enforcing citations against Uber and Lyft drivers since they began operating in the county in the spring of 2014 (though they have stopped doing that several months ago). In the summer of 2012, the agency stopped Uber Black from operating during the Republican National Convention because of their $50 minimum fare requirement for such rides. Those moves have alienated state lawmakers like Brandes and Jamie Grant.

When the Hillsborough County Legislative Delegation meets this coming Tuesday at the Amalie Arena, among the bills they will be asked to vote up or down on include stripping the agency of having any authority over ridesharing companies like Uber & Lyft.  Another bill would call for the outright elimination of the agency. Both are sponsored by Grant in the House and Brandes in the state Senate.

After Fox-13 reported last month about the PTC’s use of a lobbyist, Brandes reacted by calling on Attorney General Pam Bondi’s office to provide a opinion on the legality of such an act.

The PTC claims it is perfectly fine, and on Thursday Hillsborough County Attorney Chip Fletcher wrote that Brandes’ request for an opinion “cannot be considered in a vacuum,” since there approximately 1,026 so-called “special districts” created by the Legislature throughout the state, such as the Aviation Authority and Expressway Authority. All hire lobbyists.

Brandes says he was “flummoxed” by that legal argument.

“I thought the Chip Fletcher letter was amazing,” he says. “There might be illegal activity going on, but there’s a lot of illegal activity going on therefore you should let it go – that’s how I read the paragraph.”

Fletcher also noted that the PTC does not rely on taxpayer funds to operate, and none were used in the hiring of Corcoran and Johnston.

Hillsborough Commissioner and PTC Chair Victor Crist says that the AG’s opinion – which he said wouldn’t be binding if it had ruled against the PTC – was a total rebuke to Brandes.

“He obviously overstepped his authority,” he said. “He obviously didn’t understand the statutes he was reading, he didn’t consult with anybody in advance to find out what would be the appropriate thing to do here and he didn’t realize that at the end of the day, he would be screwing every single airport, every single port, every single expressway authority, every single sports authority across the entire state of Florida, and all their boards, and all their boards of directors and all their big campaign donors. That’s the truth of it.”

Brandes says Crist’s comments shows a “desperation to maintain control over small businesses.”

And he said he looked forward to Tuesday’s meeting. “I want to ask him if he can handle the truth.”

The escalation in rhetoric may indicate that the bonhomie that the two shared after a dinner back in September has been washed away. After that evening at Shula’s Steakhouse in Tampa, Crist said that the two found a lot of common ground.

Mitch Perry Report for 12.4.15 – on Jeb, Ted and Kobe

First off, I want to wish the best for Brendan McLaughlin, who will be departing as a news anchor at ABC affiliate WFTS in a couple of weeks after 21 years in the market. Like yours truly, Brendan hails from the San Francisco Bay Area (Marin County, actually, I believe). Folks, there ain’t that many of us in Tampa Bay, much less Florida. I wish him the best in his future endeavors.

The latest CNN/ORC national poll of GOP candidates has Jeb Bush at 3 percent, lagging far behind  front-runner Donald Trump, who polled at 36 percent.

That news comes out a day after Mike Murphy with Jeb’s super PAC Right to Rise announced that a 15-minute documentary featuring Bush will be released this weekend online and later on television.

According to The New York Times, the documentary “will talk about Mr. Bush’s record as the governor of Florida, as well as describe his vision for the future, including his plans to defeat the Islamic State and overhaul the federal government.”

A little advice to Murphy that I’m sure he’ll ignore: Leave out the “Florida Miracle” stuff, OK? If there’s one thing I know from covering this presidential campaign and speaking to Republican voters inside Florida and out, it’s that they don’t care that much about what happened in Florida from 1999-2007. Too many things have gone on since to focus on those halcyon days in Tallahassee.

Ted Cruz is second place in the CNN poll at 16 percent. That’s a long way away from Trump, but still puts him ahead of his arch rival, Marco Rubio. Thursday the two laid out their different theories on how to deal with Syria at the Republican Jewish Coalition presidential forum in D.C.

Cruz is getting battered in some conservative circles for having a somewhat isolationist stance on some issues. He’s no Rand Paul, but he said it wouldn’t be smart to get rid of Bashar al-Assad without considering who would succeed him, alluding to what’s happened in the region recently.

“If we are to defeat our enemies we need to be clear-eyed that toppling a government and allowing radical Islamic terrorists to take over a nation is not benefiting our national security interests,” Cruz said. “Putting ISIS or al-Qaida or the Muslim Brotherhood in charge of yet another state in the Middle East is not benefiting our national security.”

Rubio argues that Assad must go. “This simplistic notion that ‘leave Assad there because he’s a brutal killer, but he’s not as bad as what’s going to follow him,’ is a fundamental and simplistic and dangerous misunderstanding of the reality of the region,” he said.

Meanwhile, let’s jump to the sports world for a moment, if you don’t mind, and speak of Kobe Bryant and Barry Bonds.

Bonds has been one of our greatest athletes ever, in my opinion, but also the most loathed. That’s not my opinion, that’s the sad reality.

The Miami Marlins are on the verge of hiring the man who has set the all-time record in home runs for a career and single season, and they may get hell for doing it. 

That’s of course, because of his steroid use. Bonds was one of many, maybe the majority of baseball players in the aughts who used performance-enhancing drugs, but nobody was better on them. Combined with his baseball intelligence because of his later years, he was one of the smartest hitters ever when he won four straight MVP’s from 2001-2004.

Another player who wasn’t liked until his twilight years was the Los Angeles Lakers’ Bryant, who said Sunday he’s retiring at the end of this season. And not a moment too soon.

Bryant, to be charitable, has been lousy this season. Look at his field-goal stats this season: 1 for 14 against the Warriors; 6 for 22 against Portland; 3 for 15 against Dallas. And this is his first time he’s played in three years, after his ruptured Achilles, fractured kneecap and ravaged rotator cuff.

Well, at least the Lakers are relevant, as every game this season will be noted more for Kobe’s “last time” playing in all of the various NBA cities. At times, Kobe was the best player in the game since Michael Jordan, and he’ll go down as one of the greatest of all time. Though also a bit of a ball hog.

In other news …

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi‘s office responded to state Sen. Jeff Brandes’ request for a legal opinion on whether the Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission can hire lobbyists. Their response? Let the PTC decide.

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Florida’s Stand Your Ground law could be changed to put the onus on the state – and not the person who kills someone – to prove that they actually did something wrong.

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And the late Warren Elly will soon be remembered forever at the Hillsborough County Courthouse.

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And the mass killings in San Bernardino were noted at the beginning of Thursday’s Tampa City Council meeting.

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