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Run For Something group touts Anna Eskamani

A national organization aimed at supporting progressive, millennial Democrats featured Florida House District 47 candidate Anna Eskamani among four endorsed candidates introduced in a national press call Thursday.

Eskamani was joined by candidates running for a city council seat in Costa Mesa, Calif., a district judge’s bench in Austin, Texas, and a county judge’s office in Houston, Texas, during a Run For Something conference call. In the days after the national Women’s Marches, the group touted the four as promising, young women candidates, for support from its allied networks of other progressive-politics organizations, political donors, and political professionals and volunteers.

Eskamani, 27, of Orlando, described her background as an Orlando native and daughter of working-class Iranian immigrants, who followed her mother’s inspiration to obtain four college degrees, and become a political organizer and senior director of public affairs and communications for Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida.

An organizer of the women’s marches in Orlando last year and last Sunday, Eskamani declared, “This is not just a moment in time, this is a movement in our history.”

She is running for HD 47 against Republican Stockton Reeves of Winter Park, both seeking to succeed Republican state Rep. Mike Miller of Winter Park.

“It became quite clear from the [now-President Donald] Trump campaign that there is a desperate need for women in office,” said Eskamani, who also was featured last week on the cover of TIME magazine for an article on women who emerged from the marches to run for office.

She also noted that HD 47 is the home to Pulse, the gay nightclub that was the site of the horrible June 12, 2016 mass murder that took the lives of 49 people, and left 53 others wounded. “And so the issues of LGBTQ equality and gun safety are priorities for the district, and for me,” Eskamani said.

She also reminded listeners that HD 47 is in the heart of the I-4 corridor, arguably not only one of the most important places in the state but in the country when it comes to determining our political future,” she said.

Run For Something, founded by former members of Hillary Clinton‘s presidential campaign and other Democratic campaigns and organizations, is dedicated to encouraging political runs by progressive candidates under the age of 35. Last week it announced endorsements of 51 candidates, including Eskamani and the others on Thursday’s call: Andrea Marr of Costa Mesa, Aurora Martinez Jones of Austin, and Lina Hidalgo of Houston. The organization has endorsed 89 candidates for the 2018 elections.

Donna Shalala for Congress? Thanks, but no thanks

Donna Shalala 

Both the Miami Herald and POLITICO Florida are reporting this morning on a poll being conducted in Miami over recent days, apparently testing the viability of a late-entry to the CD 27 Democratic Congressional primary by Donna Shalala.

Shalala, the former University of Miami President, Bill Clinton HHS secretary and head of the Clinton Foundation during the 2016 campaign, is being touted as a potential game-changer and field clearer in what has thus far been a crowded and fluid (and impressive) Democratic field.

To that, I say: Meh.

Shalala certainly has some things going in her favor that could give her the veneer of “800 lbs. gorilla”-status in Florida’s 27th — particularly a Democratic primary — but there’s an extremely strong case to be made for why she shouldn’t run, and why she might actually lose if she does.

First, let’s dispense with the logical upside of a possible Shalala candidacy: Her name I.D. is likely near-universal in the wealthy, coastal 27th District that includes UM, where she reigned for over a decade and still holds major sway; one must assume her fundraising capabilities are gargantuan; and she’s an obscenely accomplished woman — in a Democratic primary electorate that’s nearly 60 percent female — in what virtually everyone has agreed is the #YearOfTheWoman.

But peel off a layer of the Shalala onion and (surprise, surprise!) it stinks — starting with her tenure at UM.

Shalala left “The U” in 2015 to all manner of acclaim and reverence, but her nearly 15-year term was marked by a number of scandals that will surely be relitigated in an electoral fight.

The big one, of course, is the case of Nevin Shapiro.

Shapiro, now sitting in prison for his role in a $900 million Ponzi scheme, spent most of the aughts as an active booster of the UM basketball team, and major donor to the University. And by “active booster,” I mean he bought hookers (among other things) for student-athletes. Shalala weathered the controversy, despite calls for her resignation at the time, but bet on this to dog a congressional run — and bet on previously unreported details to emerge.

She also went to war with organized labor at “The U,” not an insignificant player in a Democratic primary. In 2006, UM janitors went on, not just a strike, but a hunger strike to protest their low wages and lack of health care. At the time, their wages ranked 194th of 195 in a national survey of what universities paid their cleaning crews. At the time, Shalala was living in a nearly 10,000 square foot UM-owned mansion in tawny Coral Gables, while driving not one, but two UM-leased luxury vehicles.

Oh, and when she finally caved on wages she still refused to offer health care to those workers. That seems like a winner on every level in a liberal, Democratic primary, no?

Perhaps most salient at this particular moment in time is Shalala’s record on-campus rape, assault and where she might fit into the current #MeToo zeitgeist. That record is decidedly mixed — even before you add in her pre- and post-UM fealty to former President Clinton. Much has been made recently of the conflicted, sidelined position that Hillary Clinton has had to take with respect to #MeToo, despite the fact that her defeat to Donald Trump was arguably the catalyst for the whole deal.

Shalala will undeniably have to face tough questions on the issue as a loyal Clintonite, but their toughness will be compounded by her own mixed record on harassment and assault as a university president*, which includes controversies with both assault victims and accusers (separately), accusations of sweeping workplace harassment under the rug, a far too cozy relationship with the Coral Gables police chief that recently retired in semi-disgrace, and of course, her complicity/blind eye when it came to Shapiro supplying hookers to the UM basketball team.

(*It’s also worth noting that one of her potential opponents, former circuit judge, Mary Barzee Flores, has made #MeToo a centerpiece of her campaign, even releasing an ad on the subject.)

But her Clinton problem extends beyond Bill’s Willy — and may be the most compelling argument against her running in the first place. Voters — Democrats, Republicans, NPAs — are sick of the Clintons.

“Clinton Fatigue” has been a diagnosable electoral ailment since at least 1999. It arguably cost Al Gore the 2000 election (yes, Supreme Court, I’m aware). It arguably cost Hillary the 2008 and 2016 elections. And I don’t think you can argue, at this point, that voters are just done with these people.

What is further, unarguable, the fact is that Donna Shalala is one of “these people.”

There are lots of strong, Democratic candidates in FL-27: the aforementioned former judge, Barzee Flores; a young, Hispanic state senator, José Javier Rodriguez; the first openly-gay elected member of the Florida House, David Richardson; two city commissioners, Ken Russell and Kristen Rosen Gonzalez; and a first-time candidate and former Miami Herald reporter, Matt Haggman.

Democrats aren’t lacking a good option here. Exactly no one is clamoring for more Clintonia in the electorate.

Donna Shalala should say “thanks but no thanks” to this ill-conceived idea or risk having the voters tell her the same.

Thousands gather in St. Petersburg for Women’s March

Kay Akins is still “pissed off” about Donald Trump‘s election more than a year ago. “It gets worse every day.”

The Naperville, Illinois resident joined thousands of protesters Sunday in what felt like a seismic level of antipathy for the President of the United States, felt in both St. Petersburg and many parts of the country.

A year ago, Akins participated in the massive Women’s March in Washington D.C.  She never felt more solidarity with so many like-minded people in her life, she said.

This time around, Akins found herself in the Tampa Bay area; she drove by herself Sunday to the Women’s March in St. Petersburg’s Williams Park, joined by thousands of similarly like-minded people. Organizers called on them to make their voices heard by voting in this year’s midterm elections.

Unlike last year, when the marches were all held on the day after the president’s inauguration, protestors held rallies over both weekend days this year, with gatherings Sunday in Las Vegas, Miami, Seattle, Phoenix and many other cities around the country.

On Saturday, a reported 120,000 crowded streets in Manhattan for a women’s march, with massive rallies in Chicago, D.C., the San Francisco area and many other locations.

Among organizers, the theme was “Power to the Polls,” featuring a call to have more women participate in elections this November.

But among those in the crowd, the focus was squarely on Trump.

“He awakened the sleeping giant,” said Patti Michaud, who served as co-captain of the Central Gulf Coast Women’s March.

Thousands of women protested Sunday in St. Pete and across the country, most still angry over Donald Trump’s election more than a year ago.

An activist in the 1960s, Michaud said that while things may have become better for women, following Trump’s election, they were now “fighting for the rights we fought for fifty years ago.”

As a result, record numbers of women are running for office this year. At least 79 female candidates are exploring runs for governor, according to the Rutgers University Center for American Women and Politics.

Emily’s List, which recruits and trains pro-choice Democratic women, announced last month that over 25,000 women had contacted the organization about running for office since the 2016 election. Additionally, over 8,000 people have signed up to help women run for office.

Among those locally who are pursuing a run for office for the first time is Tampa resident Kimberly Overman, a Democrat running for the Hillsborough County Commission\. Overman attended last year’s march in Washington, which she called “inspirational” and said it demonstrated the power of women working together to get something done.

“I think that’s one of the values of having women in the process,” she said, “whether it be on the corporate side and corporate boards, whether it be on the government side in terms of serving for office, whether it be in the lobbying world, where women actually can help people find a consensus and find some good solutions.”

Other female candidates in attendance included Democrat Jennifer Webb, who is taking a second shot at the House District 69 seat this year.

Trump’s election was a shock, one that took awhile to get over, said Palm Harbor resident Kim Nymeyer. Like others at the event Sunday, she called her participation in last year’s march a cathartic experience.

It’s different this time around, Nymeyer added. “People are asking: What is the action now?”

Joining Nymeyer was her friend Marlene Witherspoon, who made the trek from Fort Myers to St. Pete. The two sat with beach chairs directly in front of the stage at Williams Park.

Reflecting on the 2016 election, Witherspoon admitted she was restrained in her support for Hillary Clinton, the reason she didn’t campaign for her in the conservative hometown, as she had for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012.

“I wasn’t on board with her,” she recounts. “She was too polarizing for me to risk knocking on doors to people [who] I know are Republicans.”

While Trump’s candidacy brought out conservative voters disaffected from the political process for years, his subsequent election has energized progressives who had been indifferent in the past, such as Lakeland resident Michelle Ploughman.

Wearing an “Elizabeth Warren in 2020″ T-shirt, Ploughman said the opportunity to empower female voices is part of the movement in which she’s taking part. She cited the power of black women in particular for Democrat Doug Jones’ victory over Republican Roy Moore in the Alabama U.S. Senate special election last month.

“That’s what this is all about for me. It’s really just promoting the idea that we all have the chance to make change in whatever area we choose and the best choice at this point is to vote.”

There were dozens (if not hundreds) of signs held up by those in the crowd: “The future is female,” “Vote like a Girl,” “Stop tweeting and read a book,” to name a few.

Scheduled to appear was U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, but events with the government shutdown in Washington precluded his appearance.

As was the case last year, Mayor Rick Kriseman made an appearance, as did Democratic gubernatorial candidate Philip Levine. 

“Are you all ready to get expelled from Trump University?” Levine asked to a roar of approval.

Levine then awkwardly posited that it was time to enroll in a new university: “The university of doing the right thing.”

That’s a mantra heard in his often-aired television commercials touting his candidacy. In a creative bit of outreach, Levine also paid to co-sponsor the event.

In a four-and-a-half minute speech, Levine touted campaign pledges: raising the minimum wage, investing in public education and keeping a strong environment. And he excitedly told the crowd that November’s election in Florida was the most important “in the world.”

“Because so goes this governorship this year, so goes the presidency in 2020,” he said. “Women of Florida, you must vote. We must change our state. We will change our country. We will change the world. It begins right here in St Petersburg. It begins right here in Florida.”

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chris King spoke later in the afternoon as well.

In the audience, St. Petersburg resident Joan Thurmond was wearing a T-shirt touting the candidacy of Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, yet another one of Levine’s opponents in the Democratic race (Gillum and Gwen Graham, the other major Democratic candidate for governor, spoke in Miami on Sunday).

“I think he’s a racist,” Thurmond said of Trump. “A bigot. And I really think that he does not know what running the most powerful country in the world is all about. ”

Thurmond added that she didn’t appreciate his recent comment reportedly disparaging African nations.

“Being African-American, I know what it’s like to be discriminated against.”

Although overwhelmingly female in number, the crowd was diverse regarding race and especially in age, where toddlers to seniors were well represented.

Whether 2018 will be “The Year of the Women” at the ballot box won’t be known until after the November 6 midterms. But to women like Akins, their outlook on politics has been forever changed, no matter what happens this fall.

“My husband always says, ‘you can’t do anything,'” she recounted. “I said, ‘I can be there and give my voice.'”

(Photo credits: Kim DeFalco).

Floridians want popular vote to decide presidential elections, poll says

More than two thirds of Florida voters say presidential elections should be decided by the national popular vote, according to a Florida Atlantic University poll.

The poll, commissioned by the League of Women Voters, asked 1,000 registered voters how they thought the country should elect the President, and 68 percent said the winner should be the candidate with the most votes in all 50 states, while less than a third said they wanted to stick with the current Electoral College system.

“Despite the fact that Florida is the third largest state, Floridians’ voices are not equal to those of residents of other states,” said LWVF President Pamela Goodman. “Floridians’ voices are further diminished by the ‘winner-take-all’ rule, common to 47 other states, which awards all of a state’s electoral votes to the candidate who wins in that state, no matter how slim the margin.”

Support for the measure was near 90 percent among Democrats, with 70 percent of independents and 46 percent of Republicans saying they were also in favor. Nearly three-quarters of women supported moving to a popular vote system, while 63 percent of men were in favor.

Broken down by region, North Florida voters were in favor of the Electoral College 74-26, while Central Florida voters (63-37) and South Florida voters (68-32) were in favor of the popular vote.

Voters who backed President Donald Trump were split 53-47 in favor of keeping the Electoral College, which benefitted Trump bigly, while nine tenths of Hillary Clinton’s backers said it was time for a change.

The poll also found the more voters know about the Electoral College the more inclined they are to like it, though a majority of those who said they know “a lot” about the system said they were in favor of a switch.

Dr. Kevin Wagner, who chairs the FAU Department of Political Science, said the results of the poll “are consistent with other polls conducted over the past 50 years which have found the majority of Americans believe the President and Vice President should be chosen directly by the American people.”

The results of the poll were announced Wednesday at a press conference held by Aventura Rep. Joseph Geller and Orlando Sen. Victor Torres, who have filed legislation that would bring Florida into the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact if signed into law.

FAU conducted the poll from Oct. 19 through Oct. 22 and responses were collected online and by telephone in English and Spanish. The poll has a margin of error of +/- 3.5 percent with a 95 percent confidence level.

CD 27 Democrat Matt Haggman had $400K fourth-quarter haul

Congressional District 27 Democratic candidate Matt Haggman announced Tuesday that he raised more than $402,000 in the last quarter of 2017, and now has taken in $914,000 overall in the race to succeed Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen this November.

Ros-Lehtinen’s announcement in 2017 that she would leave public office after 30 years representing Miami and Miami Beach in congress has made her seat tempting for many Democrats, with no fewer than eight of them jumping into the race thus far.

“We desperately need to turn a new page in our politics. I’m proud to have the support of so many friends and neighbors who are ready to do just that, and I’m proud to be running a campaign powered entirely by people—not PACs,” said Haggman, who has pledged to only accept contributions from people, refusing to accept any contributions from political action committees.

“In 2018, we have an opportunity—not only to stand up to Donald Trump—but also to tell America what we stand for as Democrats. We need to find a new way forward if we want to get back to solving problems and bringing people together in this country.”

Haggman is a former investigative journalist with the Miami Herald who had been working for the Knight Foundation before he stepped down last year to pursue the congressional seat.

The district is certainly ripe to flip from red to blue, as it was a congressional district that voted for Hillary Clinton over Trump by 19 points. CD 27 is one of just 23 House seats nationwide — and one of two in Florida — to vote in favor of Hillary Clinton for president while also sending a Republican to Congress.

The other Democrats in the race include Mary Barzee-Flores, Jose Javier Rodriguez, David Richardson, Kristen Rosen-Gonzalez, Ken Russell, Michael Hepburn and Mark Anthony Person.

Barzee-Flores, Richardson, Rodriguez, Rosen Gonzalez and Russell each boasted six-figure hauls in the third quarter.

Richardson was the first of the octet to give his fourth quarter numbers, announcing on Jan. 3 that he raised more than $500,000 during the last three months of the year and had cracked $1 million raised. However, half of that haul ($250,000) he loaned to his campaign.

Miami-Dade County Commissioner Bruno A. Barreiro is considered the leading contender on the GOP side.

Ros-Lehtinen is one of 29 House Republicans who have announced that they are retiring, running for another office or resigning outright.

Florida’s 27th Congressional district is just one of three open congressional seats currently held by a retiring Republican incumbent that is rated as “lean Democratic” by the Cook Political Report.

Darryl Paulson: President Oprah Winfrey?

Is Oprah Winfrey seriously considering a run for the presidency in 2020?

If so, will Americans support another celebrity politician with no political experience after the disaster known as Donald Trump?

If you ask me whether I would prefer having Trump or Oprah as a neighbor or a dinner companion, it is clearly Oprah. Ask me which one I would prefer having as president, the answer is neither.

I opposed Trump as president because I found him neither to be a Republican or a conservative. Most importantly, I found Trump to be uniquely unqualified to be president. Nothing has happened in his first year in office to change my opinion.

I would oppose Oprah Winfrey for the same reasons. She is extraordinarily successful; so was Trump. She is a billionaire; so is Trump. She has no political experience; neither did Trump.

Politics may be the only career where experience is considered a weakness. I hope you don’t choose your heart surgeon using the same criteria.

For those who argue that Oprah could not do any worse than Trump, I would argue that it is a low standard on which to judge a candidate. In addition, we won’t know if Oprah would be better or worse than Trump until she holds the position.

Supporters of Oprah argue that she is far more likable than Trump. She has consistently been rated among the most admired women in America. So was Hillary Clinton, and that did not help her in her presidential campaign.

Although Winfrey has no formal political experience, she did help secure passage of what is known as the “Oprah bill,” or the National Child Protection Act, which set up a national database of convicted child abusers.

Winfrey has given away tens of millions to support various causes, including the construction of 60 schools in 13 nations. One of those schools was the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls in South Africa.

Winfrey has strong ties to two critical Democratic constituency groups, women and African-Americans. This could be an asset in a presidential race.

Even many Republicans see Winfrey as a strong candidate. Bill Kristol, editor of The Weekly Standard, stated that Oprah is “more sensible on economics than Bernie Sanders, understands middle-class Americans better than Elizabeth Warren, is younger than Joe Biden and nicer than Andrew Cuomo.”

Oprah Winfrey’s negatives are long. Will American support another celebrity candidate with no political experience, or will they see her as a left-wing version of Trump?

Voters often select someone who is the opposite of the person occupying the White House. Will Oprah be seen as more of the same?

As a longtime media personality, every statement Winfrey has ever made will be reviewed and analyzed. How many times will we hear: “And you win a car. Everyone wins a car?”

A recent piece by Robert Tracinski described Winfrey as “our nation’s premier snake oil salesman.” Gwyneth Paltrow pushed her coffee enemas, Suzanne Somers offered her hormone therapy and vitamin treatments, and Jenny McCarthy attacked vaccinations for children on Oprah’s show.

Oprah created Mehmet Oz as “America’s Doctor.” Dr. Oz has recommended so many controversial cures that his colleagues at Columbia University wrote an op-ed saying that over half of his recommendations lacked scientific underpinnings. “Many of us are spending a significant amount of our clinical time debunking Oz-isms regarding metabolism game changers.”

Oprah is a successful person who has been a voice for the voiceless. Is that enough to qualify her as a presidential candidate?

Oprah’s elevation as a presidential candidate may simply signal the weakness of the Democratic Party and its pool of presidential candidates, just as Trump’s candidacy signaled the debacle that is now the Republican Party.


Darryl Paulson is Emeritus Professor of Government at USF St. Petersburg specializing in Florida politics and elections.

Philip Levine: Check to Marco Rubio ‘tiny’ compared with long, deep Democratic support

There’s that Sept. 30, 2009, check to the U.S. Senate campaign of former Florida House Speaker Marco Rubio:

It’s the $2,400 contribution to a Republican who then was seen as the darling of Florida’s Tea Party movement, an upstart whose explosive popularity on the right chased Charlie Crist from the Grand Old Party and made Democratic candidate Kendrick Meek a third-place finisher in 2010.

It’s the bank draft from Miami Beach businessman Philip Levine, who then was the future mayor of that city and who now is one of the leading Democratic candidates for governor in the 2018 election.

Privately, some Democrats have been whispering wonder about whether Levine’s erstwhile support of Rubio in 2009 reflected at all on his commitment to the Florida Democratic Party.

“Nope. Not at all. Zero,” Levine insisted in Orlando Tuesday when asked about whether that contribution meant he harbored an interest in Rubio or for what he stands.

“I have written millions of dollars to the Democratic Party, and that was just one small, tiny donation,” Levine said. “Friends of mine called me up and asked me for it, and I said ‘yes.’

“But he’s been a disappointment, and I’m not a supporter or a believer in any way, shape or imagination,” Levine continued. “Thank God my Democratic donations outnumber it about 5,000 to one.”

Levine is in a crowded race seeking the Florida Democratic primary nomination to run for governor, with former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham of Tallahassee, Winter Park businessman Chris King, and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum; and terms such as “real Democrat,” “true Democrat,” and “lifelong Democrat” already have been tossed about in that contest, as if someone in the race is not. The leading Republicans are Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam of Bartow and U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis of Ponte Vedra Beach.

“Mayor Levine has raised millions of dollars for fellow Democrats, up and down the ballot,” spokesman Christian Ulvert stated. “Most importantly, his record of getting progressive policies done is crystal clear — and it’s exactly the leadership he will take to the Governor’s mansion.”

Levine tells his story often about how he left college to work as a Royal Caribbean cruise ship deckhand, later following his instinct to become an entrepreneur serving cruise ships, to starting up and then selling companies, to becoming very rich.

By the late-1990s he became an active political campaign contributor, and by early this century he was a prominent one, making him an extraordinarily unusual candidate for governor. Other wealthy candidates have run statewide in Florida before, notably Republican incumbent Gov. Rick Scott and Democrat Jeff Greene of West Palm Beach, who ran for the U.S. Senate in 2010; yet neither previously had been as financially generous to others’ political causes as Levine had.

Though they do not quite show the multiple millions he asserted, U.S. Federal Election Commission and the Florida Division of Elections records do show that Philip Levine — from addresses in Miami, Miami Beach and Tallahassee — has contributed more than $1 million to others over the past couple of decades. He also has donated nearly $3 million to his own campaign’s funds in the past year.

Levine donated at least $189,900 to various state campaigns and political committees in Florida, and another $893,385 to various federal campaigns and political committees in Florida and across the country.

Campaign finance activity reviewed by Florida Politics does not include any political contributions Levine may have made in local elections in Florida [he was a two-term mayor of Miami Beach,] nor any he may have made in local or state elections in other states. Those would have been recorded outside the FEC and the Florida Division of Elections.

Levine, in fact, has a clear record of donating to Democrats for many years. His donations for Democrats compared with those for Republicans do not entirely create a 5,000-1 ratio, but it is higher than a 200-1 ratio, at least in dollars.

Since 2000, he has donated $161,800 to the Florida Democratic Party [including $61,800 in 2016] and at least another $12,500 to specific Democratic candidates and committees. Another $16,600 of his state political contributions went to committees that at least on paper may be considered nonpartisan. No state-level Levine money went to Republicans, the Republican Party of Florida, or Republican committees.

On the federal side, since 1999, Levine made at least 270 donations totaling $876,791 to Democrats, Democratic parties, and committees associated with Democrats. He has made six contributions totaling about $12,000 to committees that have some claim to being nonpartisan, or have unclear partisan standing.

He’s made just four donations, adding up to $4,650, to Republicans, including the Rubio check.

Levine was a big backer of Hillary Clinton, donating $300,000 to her Hillary Victory Fund committee in 2016. He also was a significant backer of Barack Obama, donating $30,000 to his Obama Victory Fund committee in 2008.

In contrast with the $2,400 he gave to U.S. Senate Republican candidate Rubio, over the past two decades Levine contributed $31,000 to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, $25,000 to the Florida Senate Victory 2004 committee, and $15,000 to Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson‘s campaigns.

Levine also has made direct donations to campaigns of Florida Democrats Dan Gelber, Bill McBride, Janet Reno, Alex Sink, Joe Garcia, Raul Martinez, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Crist [when he ran for Congress as a Democrat,] Peter Deutsch, Betty Castor, Alex Penelas, Andrew Korge, Jose Javier Rodriguez, Katherine Fernandez Rundle, Elaine Bloom, Ken Gottlieb, David Richardson, Richard Steinberg, and Wilbert Holloway.

Besides Rubio, other non-Democrats who received support from Levine include Miami Republican Lincoln Díaz-Balart, who got $250 for his 1998 Congressional re-election campaign; Montana Republican Conrad Burns, who got $1,000 for his 1998 U.S. Senate re-election campaign; and New Jersey Republican Dick Zimmer, who got $1,000 for his 2008 U.S. Senate campaign. Levine also donated to the nonpartisan campaigns of Florida’s 11th Judicial Circuit judges Maxine Cohen Lando and Milton Hirsch.

Ron DeSantis calls Donald Trump Russia dossier ‘BS … fake news’

On Fox and Friends Wednesday, U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis again cast doubt on an oppo-dossier against President Donald Trump, calling it “BS” and  “fake news.”

DeSantis was asked to respond to a report in the Washington Times, which asserted that the FBI cannot verify the dossier’s claims.

“Think about where this dossier came from. It was not something that was generated by an intelligence agency. It was funded by the Democrats and Hillary Clinton through the Perkins Cole law firm to Fusion GPS,” DeSantis asserted.

DeSantis also blasted the dossier’s author, Christopher Steele, as lacking relevant contacts, tenuously based on his being a spy in Russia a quarter century ago.

“[He] didn’t really have any sources,” DeSantis said. “They put a lot of BS in this thing. Fake news, and then they tried to dress it up as an intelligence product.”

The illegitimacy of the product and the process, DeSantis said, raises troubling questions.

“I think it would undermine the legitimacy of the genesis of the investigation and all the way to the present … The Russia collusion was always more of a narrative than anything based on any type of factual basis. But if this was the basis to get surveillance on an American citizen, remember, if you are doing a FISA surveillance on an American citizen, it’s not just that they may have foreign contacts. You have to actually say there is a basis they committed a criminal offense.”

“If the dossier, an opposition research political hit piece, is what you’re using, it calls into question how they’ve conducted themselves in this investigation. There’s no doubt about it,” DeSantis said.

“We’ve tried to get simple answers about the genesis of the dossier, whether the government paid for the dossier … it’s always ‘no, we can’t give this to you’,” DeSantis added, expressing frustration over stonewalling of Congressional committees on this long-simmering controversy.

“Unless the answers are bad,” DeSantis said, “wouldn’t you want to answer the questions and move on?”

Many Florida politicians have attempted to yoke themselves to President Trump, either rhetorically or symbolically.

However, DeSantis stands alone in his ability to convincingly argue the pro-Trump case, and to undermine the critiques of the President’s political opponents.

Perhaps that symbiosis — in pugnacity and worldview — is why Trump endorsed DeSantis for Governor, even before the Northeast Florida Congressman declared his candidacy.

Gwen Graham mocks Matt Gaetz’ FBI probe, taunts Adam Putnam, Richard Corcoran

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gwen Graham, a former member of Congress herself, on Friday attacked U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz for his campaign to get the FBI investigated and to halt the bureau’s investigation of President Donald Trump, then challenged her Republican rivals to state their positions.

Graham, of Tallahassee, took to Twitter first, calling out, “Matt Gaetz, what are you so afraid of?”

Gaetz, a Fort Walton Beach Republican, has been one of the leaders in a Republican congressional effort to both get an investigation of how the FBI looked into Hillary Clinton allegations of misconduct last year, and to get Special Counsel Robert Mueller fired for what Gaetz and the other Republicans in the effort contend has been a partisan, biased “witch hunt” investigation of alleged connections between Trump, his election campaign team, his White House staff, and Russia.

“Calls to fire him undermine the fundamental rule of law,” Graham tweeted. “The special counsel and DOJ must be allowed to investigate – even the president – without partisan interference.”

Gaetz office did not immediately respond to an inquiry about Graham’s tweets.

She then went after Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and House Speaker Richard Corcoran. The former is the leading Republican candidate in the governor’s race, the latter a likely major candidate. That included a mash-up picture of Corcoran and Putnam standing with Gaetz, who stands behind a podium with a Trump campaign sign.

“Congressman @MattGaetz asked Republicans to join his attacks against Robert Mueller. Do @AdamPutnam and @RichardCorcoran stand with Gaetz or do they stand with the rule of law? Floridians deserve to know,” Graham tweeted.

In a press release her campaign then put out, Graham also went after another potential major Republican gubernatorial candidate, U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis of Ponte Vedra Beach. Both Gaetz and DeSantis flew with Trump to Pensacola last week and joined him at a campaign rally there which, in part, was aimed at supporting Roy Moore in the neighboring Alabama U.S. Senate race.

“Today Congressman Matt Gaetz called on his Republican colleagues to join him in a partisan campaign to fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Floridians deserve to know, do their leaders stand with Gaetz or with the rule of law?” Graham stated in the news release. “Adam Putnam and Richard Corcoran won’t be able to hide from the president and his connections to Russia forever — they must answer whether or not they stand with Matt Gaetz against Robert Mueller.”

Darryl Paulson: Al Franken is a big, fat sexual predator

In 1996, Al Franken wrote a book called “Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot.”

I understand Limbaugh is working on his book about Franken, which he will call “Al Franken is a Big Fat Sexual Predator.”

What comes around, goes around.

After 20 years as a writer and cast member for Saturday Night Live, Franken concluded that he had much to offer to the political realm. He wrote a series of books critical of conservative politics. In addition to his Limbaugh book, Franken wrote: “Why Not Me” (1999), “Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them” (2003), “The Truth” (2005), and “Giant of the Senate” (2017).

Franken also decided to sign with Air America Radio and go head-to-head with Limbaugh on the radio. Franken got crushed, and Air America folded after a few years.

The death of Minnesota Sen. Paul Wellstone in an October 2002 plane crash would create a new political opportunity for Franken. Minnesota Democrats selected former senator and Vice President Walter Mondale to replace Wellstone and take on Republican St. Paul Mayor Norm Coleman.

Coleman pulled off a surprising upset of Mondale, defeating him 50 to 47 percent.

Six years later, Franken moved back to his native Minnesota and was positioned to take on Coleman. Franken led the field of Democratic challengers until a Playboy article that he wrote in 2000 surfaced. The article was about a virtual reality sex institute where men were free to do whatever they wanted with women. Feminists were outraged, and Franken apologized and was able to secure the nomination.

On election night, both Coleman and Franken received 42 percent of the vote, with Franken leading by 206 votes. A recount increased Franken’s led to 312 votes and July 7, 2009, eight months after the election, Franken was sworn in as Minnesota’s junior senator. As the 60th Democrat in the Senate, Franken was critical in securing passage of Obamacare.

After defeating Coleman, Franken worked hard to suppress any comedic impulse flowing through his veins. Franken wanted to be considered as a serious politician, not a funny politician. He impressed senators across the aisles, who praised Franken for his hard work and serious demeanor.

In 2014, Franken easily won re-election, defeating his Republican opponent Mike McFadden by a 53-43 percent margin.

After Hillary Clinton’s loss to Donald Trump in 2016, speculation immediately arose about Franken running for president in 2020. Progressives created a “Why Not Al” movement along with a “Draft Al Franken” website. Few doubted that Franken would be a serious candidate.

Franken’s announced resignation from the Senate not only ends his Senate career but also any talk of a presidential campaign.

Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton will now appoint a replacement for Franken until a 2018 special election. Speculation is that Dayton will appoint Tina Smith, his Lieutenant Governor.

Smith is the likely replacement for Franken for three reasons. First, Dayton picked her as his Lieutenant Governor, so he is a close personal and political friend. Second, a female replacement seems appropriate since seven women have come forth and alleged they were assaulted by Franken.

Finally, Smith has indicated that she will be a caretaker replacement and is not interested in running in the 2018 special election.

Possible Democratic candidates in the 2018 special election include Betty McCollum who represents Congressional District 4, Keith Ellison from District 5 and Rick Nolan in District 8. Another possibility is Ileana Omar, a state representative, who would become the first Somalia-American in the Senate.

Republican candidates include members of Congress Tim Walz of District 1, Erik Paulsen of District 3 and Tim Emmer of District 6. Former Gov. Tim Pawlenty is another possibility, along with former Sen. Norm Coleman. A final candidate might be Stuart Mills, heir to the Fleet Farm fortune, who narrowly lost a campaign against incumbent Democrat Richard Nolan for the Congressional District 8 seat.

Whoever the nominee, the open seat race will force the nominees to raise $20 million if they want to seriously contend.

Although Minnesota has voted for the Democratic presidential nominee since 1976, longer than any other state, the Republicans hold the state Senate by one seat, the state House by 20 seats and Clinton carried the state by just 1.5 percent, her smallest margin of victory of any state other than New Hampshire.

Minnesota is turning redder than most observers note, and this will create a very interesting 2018 special election.


Darryl Paulson is Emeritus Professor of Government at USF St. Petersburg specializing in Florida politics and elections.

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