Kathy Castor – Florida Politics

Ted Deutch, Lois Frankel, Debbie Wasserman Schultz call on Donald Trump to cancel Vladimir Putin meetup

Florida congressmen Ted Deutch, Lois Frankel and Debbie Wasserman Schultz joined national Democrats calling for President Donald Trump to cancel an upcoming meeting with Russian president Vladimir Putin.

Deutch and Frankel signed onto a stern letter from Democrats on the House Foreign Relations Committee sharply criticizing Trump’s meeting with Putin.

“Unfortunately, due to your constant expressions of sympathy for Vladimir Putin, your conflicts of interest, and your attacks on our closest allies, we do not have faith that you can faithfully negotiate with the Russian leader, and we urge you to cancel the meeting,” the letter closes.

Deutch, a Boca Raton Democrat, furthered criticism of Trump in his own message on Twitter, where he asserted the president believes Putin over U.S. intelligence when it comes to election interference.

House Democrats issued the letter the same day a fresh round of indictments came out of FBI special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian election meddling. The Tampa Bay Times notes those indictments show efforts specifically involving Florida election efforts.

Weston Democrat Wasserman Schultz suggested on Twitter that Trump cancel the meeting and “use the opportunity to publicly call on Russia to extradite the 12 Russian intelligence officials who were just indicted for interfering in the 2016 election.”

U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, a Tampa Democrat, also made note Florida elections offices had been targeted by Russian meddling, and said Trump should demand criminals be turned over and “quit denying that criminal conspiracy took place.”

On that part, Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio also strongly said Putin’s meddling was clear. “I don’t ‘believe’ Putin interfered in our elections,” Rubio tweeted. “I know for a fact he did.” He went on to criticize the partisan nature of media reaction to the Muller indictments.

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, while less sharp in his critique than Democratic colleagues in the House, also said the indictments should be a “wake-up call for all Americans.” The Democrat did not go so far as to call for Trump to cancel his meeting.

Internal poll gives Kristen Carlson lead among CD 15 Dems

Lakeland attorney Kristen Carlson entered the Democratic primary for Florida’s 15th Congressional District only two days before the deadline, but a poll released by her staff shows her ahead of her two opponents, each of whom has been running for the spot for a year or more.

The poll’s frequency count shows Carlson ahead with 25 to 14 percent for Andrew Learned of Valrico, with 10 percent for Ray Pena of Lakeland. Six-percent said, “someone else” (at least two other candidates dropped out before qualifying). Forty-five percent were undecided.

The poll was conducted June 14 -17 by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, using 401 residents determined to be likely Democratic primary voters in CD 15. The margin of sampling error is near 5 percentage points. Live interviewers conducted the poll.

According to Source Watch, the Washington D.C.-based Greenberg Quinlan is a political research and campaign firm that works closely with the Democratic Party and has experience internationally, as well.

Researchers said that when voters learned of the three candidates after the initial question, Carlson’s numbers rose higher.

Carlson campaign manager, Conor Hurley, said the online biography posted by each candidate was read in its entirety before asking each voter for their preference a second time.

“I looked at the same things they put out and couldn’t figure out where that came from,” Learned said. “The campaign has barely started.”

EMILY’s List is endorsing Carlson. Her finances show a list of hefty donations from many regular donors.

Learned also has the support of several Democratic Party officials, including U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, who has helped him in fundraising. Former candidate Greg Williams of Lakeland left the race to publicly endorse and work for Learned.

The rush by Democrats is the pending retirement of CD 15 Republican incumbent Congressman Dennis Ross of Lakeland and their assessment that the district is winnable.

The Democratic winner of the Aug. 28 primary elections goes on to face the winner of the heavily crowded Republican primary, which has six candidates in the race.

#6 on list of Tampa Bay’s Most Powerful Politicians — Kathy Castor

Whether it’s a string of good decisions — or that she has had an impossibly charmed life in politics thus far — Congresswoman Kathy Castor doesn’t really seem capable of having a bad year. Yet the Tampa Democrat has certainly been an underdog more than once; first, as a Hillsborough County Commissioner in the Ronda Storms era, then as a member of Congress starting her third term amid the tea party wave.

Her Tampa district, which voters first sent her to represent in 2006, is safely blue. And even though lawmakers added thousands of Republicans to it because of the gerrymandering lawsuit, she easily won re-election in 2016 against Trump-supporting Republican Christine Quinn, whom she beat by an astonishing 24 points.

This year, she won re-election by default when not one person filed to challenge her.

Castor hasn’t been afraid to espouse progressive causes. She’s passionately opposed to offshore drilling and will speak out against any Trump administration attempt to roll back environmental protections. She’s been an outspoken advocate for protecting — and enhancing — the Affordable Care Act. In the wake of recent mass shootings, she’s taken to the House floor — and the airwaves — to express her frustration with her GOP colleagues’ unwillingness to consider what she sees as preventive measures.

In 2014, Castor helped the Obama administration develop its plan to re-establish diplomacy with Cuba.

In other words, she and her district are part of the reason Florida is a purple state.

Last year, there was speculation that, given how little power Congressional Democrats presently have, she may step down and run for mayor of Tampa, but she since declined to jump in.

The possibility that a blue wave will have enough might to flip the House could prove a boon to Castor, who would finally, after eight years in the minority, have Congressional leadership that listens to her. Important committee assignments wouldn’t be out of the question, either.

Whatever happens in November, Castor probably won’t be slowing down anytime soon.

Castor was No. 8 on this list in 2017.

Joe Henderson‘s take: “She has one of the safest seats in the U.S. House and could emerge as a major power if ‘Blue Wave’ happens this fall.”

For a complete explanation of how this list was created and who made up the panel that amassed it, please read here.

Democratic hopeful Ray Pena hits CD 15 with old-school handshaking, retail politics

Ray Pena, of Lakeland, is running for the Democratic Party’s nomination for Florida’s 15th Congressional District as the first Hispanic-American to seek the district located in portions of Hillsborough, Polk and Lake counties.

He is doing it the old-fashioned way, handshaking every person he meets and appearing at all public candidate meetings. He enumerates the issues that he says are ignored by the other party, i.e., critical highway infrastructure needs, the total lack of interest in public education funding by the administration and repeal of the Republican Budget Act.

While both his Democratic Primary opponents, Andrew Learned of Valrico and Kristen Carlson of Lakeland have campaign war chests of more than $100,000, Pena reported campaign funds of less than $5,000 in the most recent report of the Federal Elections Commission.

Perhaps it is the lack of big-time contributors or the highly visible primary fight between Learned and Carlson over who should get the Democratic Party’s support that Pena is often unknown in spite of all his groundwork.

“I have been running for a year and a half,” Pena told Florida Politics Wednesday. “Do you know who was the first media outlet to sit down for a face-to-face interview with me? You are. Today.”

Learned has been running for a year, but has gained more attention now that Republican incumbent U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross of Lakeland is stepping down from his Congressional District 15 seat and Democrats believe it is vulnerable.

The son of a Cuban mother and Puerto Rican father, Pena is a veteran of the Coast Guard and a 33-year veteran of the San Jose Police Department, retiring as a detective. He owns General Aviation LLC in Winter Haven. He is a commercial helicopter pilot

Pena embodies the belief that a person can still put themselves up for election and run on their ideas and by meeting people at post offices, the tax collector’s office, and small-town gatherings. But to meet the demands for electronic media and newspapers, big money is often a determining factor.

Unable to hold large fundraisers with Congresswoman Kathy Castor hosting as Learned has done or to have a group like EMILY’s List endorse and notify their heavy donors as was done for Carlson, Pena has gone on a marathon handshaking campaign.

“Quite seriously, I have met close to 30,000 people in the district since I started in February 2017,” he said.

One issue he says he would fight for in Congress is the repeal of the Jobs Act, which he said is unfair to middle class working people.

“Infrastructure must be addressed. I-4 is the most dangerous highway in the nation. Between 2011 and 2017, 164 people were killed on that roadway,” he said.

In education, more money is needed in every state, but particularly in Florida.

”I am against any tax dollars going to charter schools whether for profit or public. We must start investing in teachers and our school kids,” he said. “We also need to create tuition-free education for our public universities’ undergraduate programs. It’s done in the San Francisco area, New York City, and others, and students are required to stay in their area and work for a period of four years.”

And if the Democratic Primary isn’t rough enough, the winner will face the winner of a six-way Republican Primary for District 15.

“I am not worried,” he said of his opponents’ money, both Democrats and Republicans. “When people see a genuine person, they gravitate toward them. I would tell all candidates and elected officials everywhere, stop your maliciousness and just be honest to the people.”

“Ours is a genuine grassroots campaign. We certainly have the deep roots, but are waiting for the grass,” he said.

#15 on list of Tampa Bay’s Most Powerful Politicians — Gus Bilirakis

In the time that’s elapsed since the noise that erupted around U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis in early 2017 died down following his brave decision to face angry constituents at a packed town hall, things have been pretty quiet for the Palm Harbor Republican.

That’s no surprise to anyone familiar with Bilirakis, 55, who tends to eschew political theater in favor of buckling down and getting things done. His district, Florida’s 12th Congressional District, comprises all of Pasco County as well as parts of northern Pinellas and northwestern Hillsborough counties. First elected to Congress in 2006, he is particularly active on veterans’ issues.

At a time when bitter divisions reign, Bilirakis is known for being likable and easy to work with.

“The nicest guy in Congress, and also the hardest working, Representative Bilirakis truly cares about his constituents and making Florida a better place to live,” said Southern Strategy Group’s Laura Boehmer.

Earlier this year, he scored a legislative win when the House unanimously passed a bill he sponsored that aims to strengthen air travel safety measures.

Following a WTSP report about “zombie campaigns” of former candidates that still spend money years after the politicking ends, Bilirakis teamed up with U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor on a bill targeting the practice. A Republican teaming up with a Democrat on a proposal that outlaws something that (however dubiously) puts money in fellow politicians’ pockets? That’s not something you see every day. But it speaks to Bilirakis’ character and his willingness to reach across on the aisle on important issues like accountability.

He faces a midterm challenger in Democrat Chris Hunter, a former federal prosecutor and FBI agent. CD 12 overwhelmingly went for Donald Trump in 2016, so it’s unclear whether a blue wave would reach Pasco County.

Bilirakis climbs up a notch this year; in 2017, he came in at No. 16.

Joe Henderson‘s take: “Maybe needs to consider the ‘weight’ of his words when planning talks to women’s groups in the future.”

For a complete explanation of how this list was created and who made up the panel that amassed it, please read here.

Two progressive organizations, but different candidates?

Many political junkies are questioning whether two different entities that support the same goal — a Democrat in Florida’s 15th Congressional District — are backing two different candidates in the primary.

Andrew Learned of Valrico has been a candidate for the post since June 23, 2017, and has the advice and help from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and some well-known Democrats like Congresswoman Kathy Castor of Tampa.

Attorney Kristen Carlson of Lakeland opened her campaign May 2 this year, two days before qualifying deadline for federal office adding that she had been encouraged to run by local Democrats and Emily’s List.

One Democratic candidate, Gregory Pilkington of Indian Lake Estates, pulled out the primary days before federal qualifying for the ballot, accusing the DCCC of supporting Learned in the primary. Learned said he is being given advice from the committee and others, but only after Republican U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross announced he would not run for re-election to the district.

A third candidate in the primary, Raymond Pena Jr. of Lakeland, has been largely quiet since qualifying.

And while Carlson said it was the urging of Emily’s List members that convinced her to jump in the race, she was not listed as being officially recommended among the organization’s 2018 list of 49 women candidates on its website Friday.

The DCCC, as its practice, has not openly endorsed Learned, but Castor’s hosting of a fundraiser for him likely would not have occurred without the tacit approval of the campaign committee.

Carlson sounds like a candidate full of confidence in her run.

“I met with Andrew sometime before I decided to run. I admire him for jumping in the race and the work he has done for a year, but then the gameboard flipped when Dennis announced that he would not run again,” Carlson said. “We have done our work. We have already identified and hired some staff members, but I am not going to release all the names until we have the full staff on board.”

Carlson said she does not believe having three Democrats in the CD 15 race weakens the movement to elect a Democrat there.

“The benefit of having more than one person in a (primary) race is that people get a choice for the primary as well as the general,” she said.

Learned, who began running for the spot more than a year before Ross announced he wouldn’t run said his campaign is perplexed by Carlson’s claim about Emily’s List support because he has seen no official endorsement. Some attending Castor’s Valrico fundraiser for Learned said the campaign expressed upset with the late entry.

“I wouldn’t say upset,” Learned said of his staff’s comments. “It’s just very confusing. If you are claiming (Emily’s List) support, then why isn’t she on the actual endorsement list?”

He said Carlson’s stances were not the same as many he is pushing forward.

“She sat on the bench on Parkland (shooting) and she wants to make the tax cut permanent. She is out of touch with the party of 2018,” he said.

Still, the two candidates’ shadow boxing with each other promises a vigorous Democratic primary for the seat, something lacking for a couple of decades in the heretofore solid-Republican district.

Report says changes will increase health premiums

Premiums for health insurance plans sold on the federal marketplace are expected to increase by nearly 16.9 percent in Florida next year due to changes in the Affordable Care Act, according to a new analysis released Friday.

Released by the Center for American Progress, the analysis estimates that a decision by Congress and President Donald Trump to repeal the mandate that people buy health insurance, coupled with proposed changes to the types of policies that can be sold, will increase premiums for Floridians by $1,011.

The report by the left-leaning group estimates that the average unsubsidized health insurance premium for a 40-year-old male buying a marketplace policy in 2019 will be $6,995.

The Affordable Care Act has provided subsidies for many people buying coverage, reducing their costs. More than. 1.7 million Floridians enrolled in the health insurance marketplace this year, with more than 1.5 million receiving subsidies either in the form of advanced premium tax credits or additional cost-sharing reductions that help lower co-payments and coinsurance requirements.

The new analysis accounts for the impact of repealing the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that individuals buy health-insurance policies as well as a Trump administration proposed rule to rescind limits on the sale of short-term insurance plans.

The individual mandate, one of the most controversial parts of the federal health care law commonly known as Obamacare, was repealed as part of a tax overhaul that passed in December.

In a prepared statement, Topher Spiro, vice president for health policy at the Center for American Progress, blasted Trump and Congress for what he called “sabotage of the insurance marketplaces.”

“First they passed massive tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations, and now they’re asking middle-class Americans and people with pre-existing conditions to pick up the tab,” Spiro said. “They should be focused on lowering health care costs, not increasing them and intentionally undermining the stability of the insurance marketplaces that millions of Americans benefit from.”

The analysis came a day after Florida Democratic members of Congress sent a letter to Gov. Rick Scott urging him to take steps to protect Floridians from spikes in health insurance premiums. They also asked that Scott — who adamantly opposes the Affordable Care Act — require health plans to provide for essential health benefits, like hospital care or prescription drugs, and raised concerns that consumers could end up buying low-benefit plans.

“These junk plans would return patients to the days where only upon illness did they discover their plans imposed limits on coverage and excluded vital benefits,” said the letter, signed by U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, Congresswoman Kathy Castor and 10 other Democratic members of the delegation. Nelson faces an election challenge in November from Scott.

The letter asked Scott to work with state Insurance Commissioner David Altmaier to take steps to make sure consumers are kept safe. Democrats also asked that Scott consider investing in outreach and enrollment efforts and help provide funding to navigators who can connect patients with the federal marketplace. Floridians buy coverage through the federal marketplace because the state decided against setting up its own exchange.

John Tupps, a spokesman for Scott, said the governor’s office received the letter, adding that “Congress hasn’t controlled the nation’s health care costs or passed a balanced budget in decades.”

Republished with permission of the News Service of Florida.

Bill Nelson, Democrats blast proposed Medicaid cuts

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson and Democratic U.S. House members Thursday called for the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to reject a move by Gov. Rick Scott’s administration to cut $98 million by trimming the length of time people have to apply for the Medicaid program.

“I rise here today because the state of Florida has again proposed to harm thousands of seniors and folks with disabilities who rely on Medicaid for their health care,” Nelson, a Democrat who faces an election challenge this year from Scott, said on the Senate floor.

Nelson, along with U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor and 10 other Democratic members of Florida’s congressional delegation sent a letter to CMS Director Seema Verma urging her to reject a proposed amendment to a state Medicaid “waiver” that would exempt Florida from a federal requirement that gives people up to 90 days following a health problem to apply for Medicaid coverage.

The Scott administration proposed — and the Republican-led Legislature agreed — to require people to apply for Medicaid during the same month of the health event.

“Retroactive eligibility is designed to protect Medicaid beneficiaries — including seniors, pregnant women, individuals with disabilities, and parents — and their families from the steep costs of medical services and long-term care. Importantly, this protection was also designed to minimize uncompensated care costs faced by hospitals and other health care providers who take care of our neighbors and are already challenged by the state’s low reimbursement rates,” the letter said.

The state Agency for Health Care Administration estimates that 39,000 people could be impacted by the change. Hospitals and nursing homes, though, say the numbers could be much higher.

The change has become a flashpoint between Democrats and Scott.

“It is our duty to ensure eligible individuals have access to care without going into debt to obtain it, which is why retroactive eligibility is so vital. This proposal would not only wipe out many families’ pocketbooks, but it would also place a financial burden on health care providers, the state and indeed all Florida taxpayers through increased uncompensated care costs,” the letter said. “We fail to see how this proposal will ‘enhance fiscal predictability’ as the state claims when it will increase costs across the board.”

But Mallory McManus, a spokeswoman for the Agency for Health Care Administration, issued a statement Thursday saying it is “categorically false to assert that this change impacts the care” provided to Medicaid beneficiaries.

“Florida continues to focus on quickly enrolling Florida’s most vulnerable people including children, frail elders, those with disabilities and pregnant women,” the statement said. “By enrolling individuals quickly, you ensure better-coordinated fully integrated care, as well as access to preventative services.”

Democrat Gregg Pilkington drops out of CD 15 race, blames ‘rigged primary’

Accusing the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee of meddling in the 15th Congressional District Primary, Gregg Pilkington of Indian Lake Estates said he is discontinuing his race for the seat.

“It would be against my principles to continue, knowing that this is a rigged (primary) election by the DCCC,” Pilkington said. He added that he wouldn’t pay his qualifying fee Friday, the last day to get on the ballot, thereby withdrawing from the race he began 14 months ago.

The opponent in the Democratic Primary who is getting special treatment from the party is Andrew Learned of Valrico, Pilkington said.

“The DCCC has not endorsed anyone in the Democratic primary” Learned said.

“Members only contacted me two weeks ago,” Learned said, “to offer advice aimed at the general election and to invite me to Washington.”

That was when Republican Congressman Dennis Ross announced that he would not run for the seat again.

While in Washington at the offer of the DCCC he confirmed that he had briefly met U.S. Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, minority party whip,

Congresswoman Kathy Castor, a Tampa Democrat, is hosting a fundraiser for him, Learned said.

“Whatever happened to the party staying out of it until voters had chosen their nominee in the primary?” Pilkington asked.

Two other candidates in the Democratic primary are Raymond Pena and Kristen Carlson. Neither has been contacted or asked to come to Washington.

Three other Democrats did not qualify. A fourth, Greg Williams, a Democratic Party activist from Lakeland, pulled out several weeks ago to endorse Learned.

Two political science professors from Florida Southern College in Lakeland Zach Baumann and Bruce Anderson said it isn’t unusual anymore for both major parties to involve themselves in primaries.

“We do see parties getting more involved in primaries to make sure the most viable candidate wins,” Baumann said. “It isn’t as hands-off as it used to be, but it is still fair if you have something to say.”

While Learned, Pilkington and Pena have been in the race for more than a year, Anderson said Learned got out early and made contact with the right people in the district and beyond more than any other Democrat did.

“He is probably the most viable because of that. Do parties have preferences in a primary? Yes. Mr. Pilkington could be a viable candidate, but not by complaining,” Anderson said. “Get out and work.”

FEMA extends Puerto Rican transitional housing to June 30

Puerto Rican evacuees from Hurricane Maria’s wrath last fall have been granted another six weeks of federal assistance to live in emergency motel shelters in Florida, U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy announced Thursday.

The latest extension, through June 30 according to social media posts Thursday afternoon from the Winter Park Democrat, means that families who migrated from the island to Florida, or to other states, will have federal assistance to stay long enough for their children to complete the school year.

Gov. Rick Scott also applauded the extension Thursday afternoon.

The extension also means the families living in motels and paying their rents with Federal Emergency Management Agency vouchers, because there is little  available affordable housing, will not face a last-day crisis, at least not any time soon. That happened on April 20 when FEMA agreed to extend the program through May 14 on the very day that the previous extension was set to expire. Hundreds of families were reportedly packed up and being told to leave, with no place to go, on the day the extension was approved.

On April 18 Murphy, U.S. Sens. Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio, four other members of Congress from Florida, Democrat Darren Soto of Orlando, Republican Carlos Curbelo of Kendall, Democrat Kathy Castor of Tampa, and Republican Dennis Ross of Lakeland, as well as U.S. Rep. Jenniffer González-Colón of Puerto Rico, all signed a letter urging FEMA to extend the program through June.

They also urged Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló to seek the extension. FEMA could not extend the program without a formal request from the governor of the area affected, Puerto Rico.

On April 24, Rosselló told FloridaPolitics he would ask FEMA to extend the program through June, in part so that Puerto Rican migrant families with children could at least get through the school year.

“Pleased to report that FEMA will be extending the Transitional Shelter Assistance program for displaced Puerto Rican families in Florida and other states through June 30,” Murphy posted on Facebook Thursday afternoon. “This will give families more time to find permanent housing and won’t result in children being evicted during the school year. Another successful bipartisan effort! Thank you to Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello for seeking the extension.”

Said Scott, in a press release: “Florida has done everything possible to help our neighbors in Puerto Rico with their continued recovery from Hurricane Maria. Over the past seven months since Maria made landfall, we have remained in constant communication with Governor Ricardo Rosselló and his leadership team and I have made five trips to Puerto Rico to offer our full assistance and guidance. Florida remains the only state with a Host-State Agreement with FEMA to help families from Puerto Rico.

“I also recently spoke with FEMA Administrator Brock Long about our joint efforts to make sure we are doing everything possible to help those who evacuated here. This includes keeping the FEMA case managers I requested on the ground across our state to offer assistance. I’m glad to hear that FEMA is once again extending Transitional Sheltering Assistance (TSA) for the many families from Puerto Rico in the Sunshine State and we continue to stand ready to assist in any way possible,” Scott added.

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