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Hillsborough lawmakers call on state and feds to reject Medicaid, CHIP cuts

Hillsborough County Democratic lawmakers Wednesday called on Gov. Rick Scott and the GOP-led Congress to reject potential cuts to Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).

President Donald Trump’s budget plans unveiled earlier this year would reduce the Children’s Health Insurance Program by at least 20 percent over the next two fiscal years and slash Medicaid, which covers millions of children.

Hillsborough County officials and the children who would be directly affected by those cuts, spoke out against the proposals at a news conference at Robles Park Village in South Seminole Heights on Wednesday afternoon in an event sponsored by the group Organize Florida.

Congress enacted the Children’s Health Insurance Program in 1997 as a more modest and more bipartisan expansion of federally funded insurance than compared with the failed bid of Bill and Hillary Clinton for universal health care in 1994.

George W. Bush vetoed efforts to increase the program’s reach, but Democrats succeeded in expanding it once Barack Obama took office in 2009 and again a year later as part of the Affordable Care Act. The Obama administration and Republican congressional leaders struck a deal in 2015 to reauthorize the program, which by then had been credited with helping reduce the uninsured rate among children from nearly 14 percent two decades ago to under 4.5 percent.

The Trump administration official told the New York Times Thursday that the administration wants Congress to provide money the CHIP program.

Tampa Democratic Representative Kathy Castor said that Congress had to recommit to extend the CHIP program by the end of September. She said that has to happen first, or else Governor Scott and the Legislature could then begin cutting kids from the state health care rolls.

House Minority Leader Janet Cruz says she grew up in a family where her single mother couldn’t afford to take her to the dentist as a youth with a severe toothache.

“We tried to figure out all kinds of different things to make the pain go away, and one of the number one causes of absenteeism in schools is toothaches,” she said.

Cruz said one out of every two children in Florida receives their health care through Florida KidCare. She said the program was “fundamental to fulfilling our moral obligation of ensuring that a child’s ability to access health care doesn’t vary by the size of their parents’ paycheck.

“Governor Scott, go pick on somebody your own size and stop picking on these kids!” she said to applause.

“All my life, I’ve received health care through Medicaid,” says Isabelle Hall, 17, a student at Hillsborough High School. “Without this essential service, my teeth would have rotted in my skull because of a lack of dental care. Without the psychological resources provided by Medicaid, my depression and anxiety issues would have made my life exponentially more burdensome.”

“My mother provides for me as a single parent,” she adds, “but Medicaid helps her fill in the gaps when her bi-weekly paycheck is parceled out into every bill due that month until barely anything remains.”

Low-income children are covered by a complicated mix that only the state why they leave it to the leave it to the individual of programs. Medicaid covers 37 million children. The Children’s Health Insurance Program, known as CHIP, has 8.9 million enrolled. Together, these two programs cover about one in three American children, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

The Hillsborough County School District receives up to $12 million annually in Medicaid reimbursement payments, according to school board member Tamara Shamburger. Those funds are used to Medicaid eligible services to students for speech therapies, psychological and counseling services, and providing assistance to students managing their diabetes.

“The loss of this funding does not lower our cost to provide these mandated services, neither does it lessen our obligation,” she said.

“I suffer from sickle cells. It is a problem, and it’s difficult to deal without Medicaid,” said Germanique Canyon, 20. “I’m coming before all of you to ask Governor Rick Scott to please just leave Medicaid for Florida.”

Samantha Underwood, 16, attends Hillsborough High School. She suffers from asthma, allergies and eczema, and had a word for politicians who often talk about “the children.”

“As they’re running for everything, they’re saying it’s all about the youth, but when they get in, they want to take from the youth, and that’s really unacceptable,” she said.

“It would be devastating for state spending if these federal dollars were to go away,” said St. Petersburg Democratic state Sen. Darryl Rouson.

Donald Trump link may have helped swing St. Pete race

A virtual tie between St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman and challenger Rick Baker in a mayoral primary Tuesday has left Florida Democrats giddy and Republicans groping for ways to rebrand their candidate.

Baker, a Republican former mayor who remained wildly popular years after leaving office, led Kriseman in polls and fundraising throughout the campaign.

But Kriseman, who served in the Florida House prior to his 2013 election as mayor, wound up beating Baker by 69 votes, with both candidates garnering about 48 percent of the ballots in the nonpartisan race.

The dead heat, with neither candidate capturing more than 50 percent of the votes, forced a Nov. 7 runoff between the two politicians.

St. Petersburg is a swing area in which Democrat Hillary Clinton trounced President Donald Trump by a margin of 60 percent to 36 percent in November.

Baker’s campaign tried to link Kriseman to a variety of divisive local issues, including a kerfuffle over the replacement of an iconic waterfront pier, a massive sewage link and a pricey new police station.

While those issues may have resonated with many voters, Democratic and Republican political consultants maintained that what likely hurt Baker the most was the Kriseman team’s success in tying Baker to Trump.

Strategists cautioned against overstating the broader significance of Kriseman’s Tuesday comeback.

“But it should be a warning sign. It should be an alert signal. It should cause Republicans to ask themselves, how could a guy who was so beloved in this community (Baker) not be able to turn that on again,” Republican strategist Rick Wilson told The News Service of Florida on Wednesday.

Kriseman’s success could be a model for progressives and Democrats going into next year’s elections, Progress Florida Executive Director Mark Ferullo said.

“It’s going to validate that strategy going into 2018, to make Trump an anvil to hang around the neck of our opponents,” Ferullo, whose organization endorsed Kriseman, said in a telephone interview Wednesday.

In contrast to many GOP politicians, Baker made inroads with black voters, especially those in St. Petersburg’s Midtown district, during his tenure as mayor from 2001 to 2010.

But the recent controversy about Trump’s remarks in response to a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia – and Baker’s refusal to say whether he had voted for Trump – almost definitely hurt the Republican candidate.

“Rick Baker’s secret sauce was always that he could bring out African-Americans to vote for a Republican,” said Wilson, a harsh critic of Trump who was one of the founders of the “Never Trump” movement.

Baker’s performance in the mayoral election – especially in a city that has been rocked by racial strife in the past – may be a reflection of a growing racial divide nationally, Wilson said.

“There’s an association now among African-Americans that Donald Trump is leading a party of folks who are comfortable with racism. That doesn’t mean Rick Baker is racist. What it means is the association with the Republican Party’s brand and Donald Trump is having blowback effects down the ballot,” he said.

Baker’s support from the black community may have been overshadowed by an endorsement former President Barack Obama gave to Kriseman on Friday.

Democratic strategist Steve Schale, who led Obama’s 2008 campaign in Florida, credited Obama’s endorsement for helping Kriseman.

“This was definitely a #ThanksObama moment,” Schale said in a telephone interview.

Almost 70 percent of the votes in the mayoral primary were cast before election day, and nearly all of them before the Obama endorsement, Schale pointed out. And, when those votes were tallied, Baker was ahead in the absentee ballot count by more than 1,000 votes.

Just a fraction of the voters on election day, therefore, “cast a ballot with the knowledge of the Obama endorsement,” Schale said.

“There’s no question in my mind that the reason it got as close as it did was at some level the Trump brand and at the same level because of the popularity of Barack Obama,” Schale said.

In advance of the 2018 elections, Democrats are eyeing not only the St. Pete race but a key special election next month in Miami-Dade to replace former Sen. Frank Artiles, a Republican who was forced to resign in April after a profanity- and racially-tinged tirade at a private club near the Capitol.

“If they can win here and they win the Frank Artiles seat, the Florida Democrats are going to be a totally new party,” said Barry Edwards, a Democratic strategist and radio-show host who is active in St. Petersburg politics.

“The Democrats need to see the light at the end of the tunnel, and if they see this light, then they’re going to be energized. Their donors are going to be energized. The activists are going to be energized. And it’s going to create the perception that they’re on a roll, and we know in politics, perception is reality,” he said.

Republished with permission of the News Service of Florida.

Donald Trump’s turn to face tricky politics of natural disasters

George W. Bush never recovered from his flyover of Hurricane Katrina’s devastation. Barack Obama got a bipartisan boost late in his re-election campaign for his handling of Superstorm Sandy.

Now, President Donald Trump confronts the political risks and potential gains that come with leading the federal government’s response to a deadly and destructive natural disaster. Hurricane Harvey, the massive storm that has dumped torrents of rain across Texas — flooding Houston and other cities — is the first major natural disaster of Trump’s presidency, and the yet-to-be-determined scope of the damage appears likely to require a years-long federal project.

Trump, who is suffering through a long stretch of low approval ratings, has been particularly eager to seize the moment. He will visit Texas Tuesday — and may return to the region again on Saturday. The White House announced the first visit even before Harvey made landfall. On Monday, Trump promised Texans will “have what you need” and that federal funding would come “fast.”

“We will come out stronger and believe me, we will be bigger, better, stronger than ever before,” Trump said Monday during a White House news conference. Trump was scheduled to be briefed on relief efforts with local leaders and relief organizations during a stop in Corpus Christi, then touring the state emergency operations center in Austin and receiving a briefing on the storm before returning to Washington.

The president’s unconventional style has still oozed out. Trump sent about two dozen tweets about the storm since Friday, marveling at the size of the hurricane and cheering on emergency responders: “You are doing a great job — the world is watching!”

Indeed, he argued Monday he specifically timed his controversial pardon of former Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio to capitalize on all the viewers tuned into storm coverage. The Friday night pardon wasn’t an attempt to hide the news, he said: “I assumed the ratings would be higher.”

Trump advisers are well-aware that the hurricane poses a significant test for the White House, which has largely been mired in crises of its own making during Trump’s first seven months in office, including the president’s widely criticized response to white supremacist protests in Charlottesville, Virginia. Trump, who ran a real estate business and starred in a reality show before taking office, has no experience in the kinds of recovery efforts that will be required in Texas and has struggled at times to show competency in governing.

Administrations often tread carefully in planning visits to disaster-ravaged areas. Mobilizing a president, his staff and his security is an enormous logistical undertaking and can pull local law enforcement resources away from the disaster recovery efforts. But Trump hasn’t been cowed.

Aides said it was Trump who pushed for the White House to make his desire to travel to Texas known early. He won’t be visiting Houston, where flooding has wreaked havoc on the nation’s fourth-largest city. Instead, he is meeting with local leadership and relief organizations in Corpus Christi, then visiting the state’s emergency operations center in Austin.

“Conditions haven’t cleared in Houston yet so probably not appropriate for him to go up there, probably not safe for him to go up there,” said Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Texas. “But I do think having your own eyes on the devastation that I have seen is important.”

The optics of a president’s initial response to a natural disaster can be long-lasting.

Bush was haunted by his now-infamous declaration that then-FEMA Director Michael Brown was doing “a heckuva job” — a statement that appeared wildly off base after the full scope of the devastation became clear. Images of Bush peering down at the flooding in New Orleans from Air Force One also furthered the impression that he was detached from the horrific conditions on the ground.

“He understands why that picture became a metaphor,” said Dana Perino, who was serving as deputy White House spokeswoman at the time.

Trump has played storm politics before. During his campaign, he rushed to Louisiana, in his signature “Make America Great Again” hat, to view damage from massive flooding. Trump made it to the battered neighborhoods before Democratic rival Hillary Clinton and while President Barack Obama was vacationing.

“We’re glad you’re not playing golf at Martha’s Vineyard,” one woman told him, a jab at Obama.

“Somebody is, somebody is that shouldn’t be,” Trump replied.

Over the weekend, Trump offered a sunny assessment of the response efforts while the rain was still pouring down on Houston and other Texas towns. He cited the “great coordination between agencies at all levels of government” and declared, “We have an all-out effort going, and going well!”

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, has so far praised the federal response to Hurricane Harvey, which has been blamed for at least three confirmed deaths. But with nearly 2 more feet of rain expected, authorities worried whether the worst was yet to come.

On its own, a successful federal response to Hurricane Harvey is unlikely to reshape Trump’s presidency. But with his approval rating perilously low, it could help Trump convince some Americans that he has the capability to lead the nation through difficult moments.

Trump’s predecessors have also benefited from the political opportunities that can arise after natural disasters.

When Superstorm Sandy barreled across the East Coast days before the 2012 election, Obama paused his campaign to monitor the federal response from Washington. He traveled to hard-hit New Jersey, where Republican Gov. Chris Christie, a strong supporter of the president’s rival, lavished praise on Obama.

Obama advisers said then that while they didn’t believe the president’s Sandy efforts were a deciding factor in the election, the praise he received from Republicans was helpful in the midst of a highly partisan campaign.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

NRA’s video message to ‘elites’: ‘We’re coming for you’

The election of President Donald Trump and Republican control of Congress meant the National Rifle Association could probably rest easy that gun laws wouldn’t change for at least four years. But the NRA has begun a campaign not against pending legislation but what it sees as liberal forces bent on undoing the progress it’s made — and the political powerhouse is resorting to language that some believe could incite violence.

Using the hashtags #counterresistance and #clenchedfistoftruth, the NRA has put out a series of videos that announce a “shot across the bow,” and say the gun-rights group is “coming for you” and that “elites … threaten our very survival,” terms that suggest opponents are enemy combatants.

“The times are burning and the media elites have been caught holding the match,” NRA spokeswoman Dana Loesch says in one video aired on NRATV, the gun lobby’s web video site, as it shows footage of people fighting police, breaking storefront glass and burning the American flag.

Later, she specifically calls out The New York Times: “We’ve had it with your narratives, your propaganda, your fake news. We’ve had it with your constant protection of your Democrat overlords, your refusal to acknowledge any truth that upsets the fragile construct that you believe is real life. And we’ve had it with your tone-deaf assertion that you are in any way truth or fact-based journalism,” Loesch says. “Consider this the shot across your proverbial bow. … In short? We’re coming for you.”

Kathleen Hall Jamieson, the director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania, said the tone and language is “overwrought rhetoric” that, viewed by the wrong person, could lead to violence. The kicker on one of the videos — “We’re coming for you” — is straight out of the movies, she said, and “that phrase means that violence is imminent and we will perpetrate it.”

The NRA is taking a page from the Trump playbook.

The friction between the gun lobby and the media isn’t new. But critics of the NRA contend the organization is relying on the “fake news” mantra started by Trump to whip up its followers after a dip in gun sales that has taken place since Trump succeeded President Barack Obama, who favored stricter gun-control laws.

“They’re not inventing this hyperangry, nasty partisan tone but piggybacking on Trump’s approach. Of course, NRA voters, by and large, are Trump voters, so they would be sympathetic to that kind of message,” said Robert Spitzer, chairman of the political science department at State University of New York at Cortland, who has examined the firearms industry and Second Amendment issues extensively.

Spitzer, a member of the NRA as well as the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, said it’s a pattern the NRA has exhibited as the group evolved from an almost exclusive focus on gun safety into a political beacon for conservatives who fear changes to the Second Amendment and the gun industry.

“It was Bill Clinton in the 1990s. In the early 2000s, it was John McCain. It was Hillary Clinton. It was the United Nations. They’ve held up the U.N. as ready to swoop in and take everybody’s guns,” Spitzer said. “The focus of their ire has changed, but the basic message has been the same.”

The NRA declined to comment on the videos to The Associated Press. But the NRA has produced videos saying the left and the media are out of control and feeding a false narrative that tea party conservatives are racists and Trump supporters are “toothless hillbillies.”

Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president of the NRA, said this month: “There is no longer any difference between our politicians and the elite media who report on them. … These elites threaten our very survival, and to them we say: We don’t trust you, we don’t fear you, and we don’t need you. Take your hands off our future.”

Erich Pratt, executive director of Gun Owners of America, said it’s been a longtime frustration with journalists who, he contends, “ignore the violence and harsh rhetoric on the left while magnifying and twisting the words of those on the right.”

The NRA videos prompted Mike Nelson, a Democratic congressional candidate in Arkansas and self-described hunter and gun-rights supporter, to label them as “hate speech.” Nelson, whose website lists the NRA among more than two dozen organization he’s supported, said he can no longer back the NRA.

In a Facebook post, Nelson wrote: “If the NRA does not stop their hate campaign, I will call them out on sedition. Sedition is the willful undermining of the legal authority, the Incitement of Violence.”

Some gun owners have cheered the videos and said they give voice to conservatives weary of media attacks on Trump; others say the videos stray from the NRA’s original mission and that the NRA is inviting violence.

Joe Plenzler, a Marine veteran who served overseas and sometimes had reporters accompanying his unit, joined two other veterans in writing an opinion piece for The Daily Beast criticizing the videos.

“The NRA props up the Second Amendment by undermining and vilifying the protections afforded in the First, and paints everyone who may disagree with the current administration, our country’s justice system, or the NRA’s partisan political position with a very dark and unjust broad brush,” Plenzler wrote with Marine veterans Craig Tucker and Kyleanne Hunter.

Plenzler, who has since dropped his NRA membership, said he was disturbed by the videos.

“Lately, it seems like they’ve gone well out of the bounds of any sort of sane responsible behavior. If you want to advocate for the Second Amendment, which I unapologetically believe in, that’s fine,” he said. “But I think at the point where you are going to demonize half the American population in a recruitment effort to get more members, I’ve got a big problem with that.”

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Jack Latvala says he’ll capture more Trump voters than GOP opponents

While President Trump is being disparaged this week even by some Republicans following his controversial remarks in which he equated white nationalist hate groups with the protesters opposing them, Jack Latvala showed no qualms about the commander in chief when he said Wednesday that Trump voters in Florida may look more favorably upon his candidacy for governor than his opponents.

“I’m looking at a field that’s made up of people who have been in government their entire lives—either in elective office or as a staff member—and don’t have any business experience and have never really had those challenges that those of us that have businesses have, and I just think that the party who nominated Donald Trump (is) not going to be comfortable with nominating somebody like that,” Latvala told Tampa 820 AM host Dan Maduri on Wednesday.

Trump easily defeated Marco Rubio in the Florida Republican presidential primary more than a year ago, before capturing the Sunshine State narrowly over Hillary Clinton in last fall’s presidential election.

The 63-year-old Clearwater state senator was referring to Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and House Speaker Richard Corcoran when he said that, unlike his opponents, he has no desire to run for higher office than governor, saying that leading Florida would be his ultimate destination.

“It’s a never ending ladder and I’m at the end of the ladder,” he said. “I’m old enough that this is my last race for anything, and I just want to get in and do what’s got to be done to solve some of these problems and straighten things out.”

Putnam declared his candidacy back in March, and remains the presumptive favorite in the race, thanks in part to his prodigious fundraising and simply the fact that he’s so well known after serving in politics for nearly half of his 43-year-old life. Corcoran has not declared for office, though he is expected to early in 2018.

Latvala announced last month that he would pledge to raise $50,000 over the next six months for the Republican Party of Florida. He told Maduri that someone has to do it, since Rick Scott and other high profile Republicans are raising money for their own political committees.

“The governor doesn’t participate with the party, the Cabinet members haven’t done that, and the leadership of the party is all out raising money for themselves, for their own PACS and own campaigns, and it’s taking it’s toll on the party,” he said. “We’ve got to remember the party.”

Latvala spoke to him the Tampa radio station en route to the Panhandle, where he was scheduled to make his third and final appearance around the state as he officially kicked off his run for governor on Wednesday.

(Photo credit: Kim DeFalco)

Why won’t Donald Trump condemn white nationalism?

Why doesn’t President Donald Trump just unequivocally condemn white supremacists?

It’s a jarring question to ask about an American president. But it’s also one made unavoidable by Trump’s delayed, blame-both-sides response to the violence that erupted Saturday when neo-Nazis, skinheads and members of the Ku Klux Klan protested in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Trump has faced such a moment before — one that would have certainly drawn swift, almost predictable condemnations from his recent predecessors, regardless of party. As a candidate and now as president, when racial tensions flared or fringe groups rallied around his message, Trump has shown uncharacteristic caution and a reluctance to distance himself from the hate.

At times, his approach has seemingly inflamed racial tensions in a deeply divided country while emboldening groups long in the shadows.

On Saturday, as Trump read slowly through a statement about the clashes that left dozens injured and one woman dead, he condemned hatred, bigotry and violence “on many sides.” The president was silent when journalists asked whether he rejected the support of nationalists’ groups.

That silence was cheered by the white supremacist website Daily Stormer: “When asked to condemn, he just walked out of the room. Really, really good. God bless him.”

Trump denies that he’s racist or sympathetic to such groups. Son-in-law Jared Kushner, the grandson of Holocaust survivors, and daughter Ivanka, who converted to Judaism, are among those who have defended the president against those charges.

Still, he has a history of engaging in high-profile, racially fraught battles.

Early in his career as a developer, Trump fought charges of bias against blacks seeking to rent at his family-owned apartment complexes. He long promoted the lie that the nation’s first black president, Barack Obama, was not born in the United States. As a candidate, he proposed temporarily banning Muslims from the United States. He retweeted a post from accounts that appeared to have ties to white nationalist groups. And he was slow to reject the endorsement of former KKK leader David Duke.

Some of the president’s friends and advisers have argued that Trump is simply refusing to bend to liberals’ desire for political correctness. A boastful, proudly disruptive politician, Trump often has been rewarded for saying impolite and impolitic things. Some supporters cheered him for being someone who said what they could not.

Democrats frequently assert that Trump sees a political advantage in courting the support of the far right. Indeed, he has benefited politically from the backing of media outlets such as Breitbart or InfoWars. They have consistently promoted Trump and torn down his opponents, sometimes with biased or inaccurate reports.

Charlottesville’s mayor, Democrat Mike Signer, said Sunday that Trump made a choice during his campaign to “go right to the gutter, to play on our worst prejudices.”

“I think you are seeing a direct line from what happened here this weekend to those choices,” Singer said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

White House senior adviser Steve Bannon ran Breitbart before joining Trump’s campaign, and several of the president’s other aides believe Bannon continues to have influence over the website. In “Devil’s Bargain,” a new book about his role in the Trump campaign, Bannon is quoted as saying that attempts by Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton to tie Trump to the alt-right and nationalists did not move voters.

“We polled the race stuff and it doesn’t matter,” Bannon said, according to the book.

But there here’s no reliable public polling on the scope of Trump’s support among those with white nationalist leanings or the percentage of the electorate they comprise. The reaction from Republicans following Trump’s statement Saturday suggests there may be greater political risks for the president in aligning himself with bigoted groups.

“The president needs to step up today and say what it is,” said Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., who was one of several GOP lawmakers urging Trump to be more strident in calling out the nationalists and neo-Nazis that gathered in Charlottesville. Gardner said plainly: “It’s evil. It’s white nationalism.”

By Sunday, the White House was scrambling to try to clean up the president’s statement. The White House issued a statement saying the president does condemn “white supremacists, KKK, neo-Nazi and all extremist groups.”

The spokeswoman who issued the statement refused to be named. And the president himself remained silent.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Daily Kos wildly off the mark trashing Phil Levine as ‘Trump-praising Democrat’

On Tuesday, the left-leaning Daily Kos trashed Phil Levine, calling the Miami Beach mayor a “Trump-praising Democrat” who could “hurt the party’s chance” to win the Florida Governor race.

This is not only misleading, but it is also inaccurate.

Apart from the unlikelihood that any Democrat would actually praise Trump, the accompanying article limited its focus a comment by Levine on FOX Radio’s Brian Kilmeade Show (another ill-advised move for a Democrat seeking higher office): “So far the president has done a very good job.”

What the Daily Kos took out of context was that Levine – a friend and surrogate of both Bill and Hillary Clinton who frequently blasted Trump in the campaign – was discussing the president’s well-received recent speech in Poland, and not his overall performance.

Also going unmentioned: Levine’s established Democratic positions, particularly on issues such as Medicaid expansion, climate change, minimum wage increase and more.

Indeed, Kilmeade even cut him off when Levine said: “It’s the funniest thing in the world to be an economic adviser to Donald Trump. That’s kind of like letting the arsonist run the fire department.”

Nevertheless, over the course of his political career, Levine has made many enemies, meaning he will have an uphill battle if he decides to run for governor, which he has not.

One thing Levine does have, if he should choose to run, is a lot of money.

“Levine is certainly fundraising like he’s running for higher office,” Kos writes. “Reportedly worth $100 million, the mayor raised $225,000 from donors in July and gave his own campaign another $275,000, bringing his total self-funding to $2.6 million this cycle.”

“That pace already puts Levine at the front of the pack financially,” the piece concludes, “ahead of every top-tier Democrat who’s announced already.”

Now would again be an appropriate time to repeat that Levine has not announced any further ambition, political or otherwise, beyond his recent SiriusXM “real Florida” listening tour. And if he does, it certainly wouldn’t be at the expense of the party’s chances of winning the Florida governors’ race.

Stephanie Murphy, Darren Soto join ‘New Democracy,’ to win back middle-class voters

Two Central Florida first-year members of Congress — Stephanie Murphy and Darren Soto — are joining former U.S. Rep. Jim Davis and a group of Democrats determined to extend the party’s reach to centrist voters.

In what reads like an update of the earlier center-leaning Democratic Leadership Council, New Democracy has the explicit mandate to expand the party’s appeal, both demographically and geographically.

Leading New Democracy is Will Marshall, president and founder of the Progressive Policy Institute and a co-founder of the now defunct DLC, created in the aftermath of Walter Mondale‘s landslide 1984 loss to Ronald Reagan. Alumni include Bill Clinton, Al Gore and Florida’s Bob Buckhorn and Rick Kriseman.

“New Democracy is a ‘home base’ and support network for pragmatic Democrats determined to make our party competitive in every part of America,” Marshall said. “These leaders — governors, mayors, state officials and Members of Congress — know how to reach beyond core partisans and build governing majorities from the ground up,” he added.

Since Hillary Clinton‘s November defeat much has been made about the Democratic Party losing white, middle-class voters to Donald Trump, particularly in the industrial Midwest. In addition to losses in the House, Senate and White House to Republicans, Democrats have also dropped 900 seats in state legislatures over the past nine years.

Marshall said New Democracy will focus on four key priorities for building a bigger Democratic tent: reclaiming economic hope and progress; engaging voters across America’s cultural divides; decentralizing power to more effective and trusted local governments, and putting national and personal security first.

“Democrats don’t need to choose between center and left — we need to expand in all directions,” he added. “Building a broad coalition is the Party’s best chance of rectifying today’s dangerous imbalance of political power and stopping the harmful Trump-Republican agenda.”

Along with Florida Democrats enlisted to help guide New Democracy’s strategy is Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu and former Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear. 

Bipartisan Senate bill aims to protect special counsel’s job

Two members of the Senate Judiciary Committee are moving to protect Special Counsel Robert Mueller‘s job, putting forth new legislation that aims to ensure the integrity of current and future independent investigations.

Republican Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina and Democratic Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware plan to introduce the legislation Thursday. The bill would allow any special counsel for the Department of Justice to challenge his or her removal in court, with a review by a three-judge panel within 14 days of the challenge.

The bill would be retroactive to May 17, 2017 — the day Mueller was appointed by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to investigate Russian meddling in the 2016 election and possible ties to Donald Trump‘s campaign.

“It is critical that special counsels have the independence and resources they need to lead investigations,” Tillis said in a statement. “A back-end judicial review process to prevent unmerited removals of special counsels not only helps to ensure their investigatory independence, but also reaffirms our nation’s system of check and balances.”

Mueller was appointed as special counsel in May following Trump’s abrupt firing of FBI Director James Comey. Mueller, who was Comey’s predecessor as FBI director, has assembled a team of prosecutors and lawyers with experience in financial fraud, national security and organized crimes to investigate contacts between Moscow and the Trump campaign.

Trump has been critical of Mueller since his appointment, and his legal team is looking into potential conflicts surrounding the team Mueller has hired, including the backgrounds of members and political contributions by some members to Hillary Clinton. He has also publicly warned Mueller that he would be out of bounds if he dug into the Trump family’s finances.

Mueller has strong support on Capitol Hill. Senators in both parties have expressed concerns that Trump may try to fire Mueller and have warned him not to do so.

“Ensuring that the special counsel cannot be removed improperly is critical to the integrity of his investigation,” Coons said.

Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, another member of the Judiciary panel, said last week that he was working on a similar bill that would prevent the firing of a special counsel without judicial review. Graham said then that firing Mueller “would precipitate a firestorm that would be unprecedented in proportions.”

The Tillis and Coons bill would allow review after the special counsel had been dismissed. If the panel found there was no good cause for the counsel’s removal, the person would be immediately reinstated. The legislation would also codify existing Justice Department regulations that a special counsel can only be removed for misconduct, dereliction of duty, incapacity, conflict of interest or other good cause, such as a violation of departmental policies.

In addition, only the attorney general or the most senior Justice Department official in charge of the matter could fire the special counsel.

In the case of the current investigation, Rosenstein is charged with Mueller’s fate because Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from all matters having to do with the Trump-Russia investigation.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Debbie Mucarsel-Powell ready to take on Carlos Curbelo in CD 26

In front of the West Perrine Health Center in Miami, Democrat Debbie Mucarsel-Powell officially announced her candidacy for Florida’s 26th Congressional District, where she hopes to take on Republican incumbent Carlos Curbelo next year.

Although Curbelo is considered extremely vulnerable in the Democratic leaning district that stretches from Miami to Key West, Mucarsel-Powell is the first Democrat to officially file a challenge in CD 26 for 2018.

Last year, Mucarsel-Powell lost a bid for a state senate bid against Republican Anitere Flores.

“I immigrated to the United States as a young girl with my mother and three sisters — in search of opportunities to better our lives,” she said in a statement Wednesday. “My mother worked tirelessly as a home health care provider and attended school in the evenings and weekends to learn English. She instilled in me the belief that if you work hard and play by the rules, your potential is endless in America. I lived those values — got a good education and built a successful twenty-year career working to improve the lives of underserved communities right here at home.”

Mucarsel-Powell blasted Curbelo for his vote in support of the GOP health care bill in the House.

“It’s shocking that Washington politicians, like the one who claims to represent this community, would vote to rip away health care access from our families,” she said. “That’s not what we want and it’s not what hardworking families like the one I grew up in need. We need to improve on what’s working and fix what’s broken in our health care system, not recklessly scrap the whole system and abandon people who need it the most.

Murcasel-Powell also said she’s seen first hand the negative effects of climate change.

“We must invest in green energy, reduce carbon emissions and invest in infrastructure that will protect South Florida from sea level rise.  We cannot continue to elect politicians that say one thing here at home and do another in D.C. — the issues are too big; the stakes are too high.”

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has been targeting Curbelo for months. Although Curbelo defeated Democrat Joe Garcia last November by 12 points, Hillary Clinton won CD 26 by 10 points over Donald Trump.

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