Kathy Castor Archives - Page 2 of 31 - Florida Politics

In Tampa, public officials blast education bill, urge Rick Scott veto

A host of political and education issues came together Tuesday in West Tampa to trash the massive $419 million public education bill that GOP lawmakers unveiled and passed in the final days of the Legislative Session.

“This is the mother of all education bills, ” said Rep. Sean Shaw. The Tampa Democrat was referring to House Bill 7069, a 278-page conforming bill agreed to in secret and barely surviving a vote in the Senate before the Legislature adjourned earlier this month.

HB 7069, a massive 278-page education conforming bill that was agreed to in secret, barely survived a full vote in the Senate. Public school officials throughout the state have blasted the bill for its enormous incentives for privately run charter schools.

As a freshman who just completed his first session in the Florida House, Shaw said that the way he thought things were supposed to work in Tallahassee is that a bill is introduced in a committee and goes through other committees. Then, if it survives that process, the bill is ultimately voted on in the House and/or Senate.

Not this time.

“Not only is it filled with bad policy, the procedure with which it was done was way out of wack,” Shaw lamented.

Three members of the Hillsborough County School Board — Susan Valdes, Sally Harris and Cindy Stuart — all appeared at the news conference held at West Tampa Elementary.

On Monday, the Florida School Boards Association became the latest organization calling on Gov. Rick Scott to veto HB 7069. In addition to criticizing the lack of transparency in the crafting of the bill, the FSBA have an issue on how Title 1 dollars would be spent if the bill passed.

“The way that the state has now taken a federal law and reregulated it basically at the state level is going to siphon millions and millions of dollars away from our schools that have the highest concentration of poverty,” said a concerned Jeff Eakins, the superintendent of the Hillsborough County School District.

Another controversial provision allocates $140 million for the House’s “schools of hope” proposal, aimed mostly at encouraging charter schools with a track record of helping academically struggling students. The measure would help open branches of charter schools near traditional schools that continually do poorly on state report cards.

“So if we’re going to incentive the charter school that works down the street from a ‘failing school,’ what happens to the failing school that we’ve given no funds to get better?” asked a frustrated Shaw. “What happens in the next five years? The next 10 years?

“This harmful education bill continues to divert our tax dollars from our public schools, many going to for-profit corporations that act as charter schools,” said Tampa-area Democratic Congresswoman Kathy Castor.

Mindy Taylor, an advocate for the Alliance for Public Schools, says her organization is most concerned about parental engagement, increasing funding for public schools, and maintaining local control of schools.

“The provision in HB 7069 violate each of these priorities,” Taylor said.

Eakins stated that Hillsborough receives about $8 million annually for a recruitment retention program to lure nationally certified teachers to teach in some of the county’s poorest area. “That’s $8 million we will not be able to use in that particular program,” he said. “The impact is going to be real.”

Other provisions in the bill include additional funding for social services at a limited number of traditional public schools that are failing, an expanded bonus program for teachers and principals, restrictions on teacher tenure-like policies, a recess mandate for elementary schools, and the elimination of a required high school math exam.

A report from POLITICO on Monday indicated that Scott may, in fact, veto HB 7069.

“We’ve got to make sure we properly fund education, whether we have a great state college system, we have a great K-12 system,” the governor said. “We’ve got to continue to do that.”

Florida’s Democrats, Carlos Curbelo call for investigation after James Comey firing

Florida’s Democratic members of Congress are expressing outrage over Tuesday evening’s firing of FBI Director James Comey and saying it solidifies their demands for an independent investigation into ties between President Donald Trump and Russia.

In statements released last night, Democrats were using words like “disgusting,” “disturbing” and “preposterous,” even as many acknowledged that they were unhappy with Comey dating to his announced findings about Hillary Clinton‘s email scandal on the even of the 2016 election.

At least two Florida Republicans weighed in, as U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo of Kendall expressed concern about the questions the Trump’s firing of Comey raises and called for a special investigation by Congress, while U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis of Ponte Vedra Beach called it “the right decision.”

Typical of many of the Democrats was U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Weston, who called Tuesday,  “a dark day for justice in America,” and then went on to criticize Comey for his past actions.

“The conduct of FBI Director James Comey before the 2016 Election was certainly disturbing, and undoubtedly deserved criticism and scrutiny,” Wasserman Schultz declared. “But the reasoning and timing behind this firing is absolutely preposterous and unbelievable. It smacks of a Nixon-esque cover up of President Trump’s Kremlin ties. And with this egregious political power play, there is now no question that a special prosecutor is needed, because Americans absolutely deserve an open, independent investigation into Trump’s Russian connections.”

Some were more measured. U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy of Winter Park said the firing, “gives rise to many questions, which I have no doubt will be examined in the coming days.

“However,” Murphy continued. “the President’s action makes one thing crystal clear: there needs to be a swift, independent and non-partisan investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. Congress and the American people deserve to know all the facts, especially if we are to prevent further foreign interferences in our democracy. We should follow the evidence wherever it leads—regardless of whom it may implicate. The American people deserve an inquiry that is above partisan politics and is solely devoted to uncovering the truth.”

On the Republican side, Curbelo called the firing “an extraordinary decision that “raises many questions all of which must be answered.

“Congress and the American people need a transparent explanation as to how this decision was reached and why it was executed at this time,” Curbelo continued. “It is critical that the FBI can continue all of its pending work with independence and integrity – especially the investigation into the Russian government’s efforts to influence our last election and undermine American democracy. Today I reiterate the need for Congress to establish a Select Committee with full investigatory powers to thoroughly examine this matter.”

DeSantis stressed that the firing should rightfully remove the concerns about politics in the FBI.

“President Trump made the right decision to relieve FBI Director James Comey of his duties,” DeSantis stated. “I look forward to the President nominating a strong director who will keep the FBI focused on its core mission and out of the political thicket.”

Among other Democrats weighing in:

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson:

“Now it is more clear than ever that we need an independent commission to get to the truth of Russia’s interference with our election.”

U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor of Tampa:

“President Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey is a blatant attempt to stall the FBI’s ongoing investigation of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. It is also part of a disturbing trend — first, former acting Attorney General Sally Yates is fired by Trump after informing the White House of deep concerns about Trump’s national security adviser, Michael Flynn, and his activities with Russia. Now, Comey is fired by Trump a week after testifying that the FBI is conducting its investigation.

“Trump may well be trying to distract the American people from the very troubling conflicts of interest, and those connections between Trump’s former national security adviser and Russia that were known about for some 18 days before Trump reluctantly fired Flynn. It is past time for an independent, bipartisan investigation. Trump may want to bury the investigation, but his presidency will continue under a cloud unless a special prosecutor or independent commission is established and the facts are fully presented to the American people.”

U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist of St. Petersburg:

“I don’t disagree with the decision to remove Director Comey from his post given his actions over the past year. But the timing is extremely suspect given the FBI recently announced they are investigating the Trump administration for alleged ties to Russia.

“Now President Trump gets to nominate the head of the agency leading that investigation. We need a special prosecutor to take over the Russia investigation, and the Senate must drill down to a degree like never before on whoever is nominated to replace Director Comey. The integrity of our top law enforcement agency – and our democracy – is at stake!”

U.S. Rep. Val Demings of Orlando:

“The circumstances surrounding the firing of FBI Director James Comey, from the timing, to the justification, to the individuals involved, are very concerning.

“We need to restore the American people’s faith in the ability of the FBI to conduct a fair and non-partisan investigation. That starts with the investigation into the Russian interference of the 2016 election, and the Trump campaign’s collusion with Russia.

“It’s time for all of us to put partisanship aside, and do what’s best for the future of our democracy.”

U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch of Boca Raton:

“Not since President Nixon have we seen such a disgraceful abuse of power and attack on the integrity of our system of justice. During one of the most important national security investigations of our time, Director Comey’s firing is a blatant attack on the independence of the Justice Department. This behavior – firing the person who is investigating you – may pass in [Vladimir] Putin’s Russia, but it is disgracefully below the office of the President of the United States.

“This is only the latest in a string of alarming moves by the White House: first they fired acting-Attorney General Yates for calling attention to their compromised National Security Advisor, then Preet Bharara, and now Director Comey.

“Attorney General [Jeff] Sessions has lost any remaining credibility by getting involved in an investigation from which he promised to recuse himself. Given the actions of the White House, the American people unfortunately must now question whether anyone affiliated with this Administration can investigate this case of Russian influence honestly, thoroughly, and independently. We need a special prosecutor and an independent commission to continue this investigation without the whiff of political oversight or interference.”

U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings of Miramar:

“The FBI Director’s firing cries out for a Special Prosecutor. Up until the moment of his dismissal, Director Comey was actively investigating President Donald John Trumps’ connection to Russian interference in the 2016 election. The American people deserve to know why Director Comey was fired without reason and Donald Trump needs to explain himself immediately.”

U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson of Miami Gardens:

“Like many, I was stunned to learn that President Trump has fired FBI director James Comey. This dismissal came as Comey was leading an investigation into whether individuals connected to the president coordinated with Russia to impact the 2016 presidential election.

“This abrupt action raises many serious questions and is further proof that an independent prosecutor should be named to head the Russia investigation. It also could make the possibility of such an appointment more likely. The president may think that firing Comey will help his case, but no matter who conducts the investigation, Comey will now likely be called to testify under oath and his words could do the administration far more harm than good.”

U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel of West Palm Beach:

“I am no fan of Director Comey, but I’m deeply disturbed by President Trump’s decision to fire the man who is investigating him. This just goes to show that it’s now more important than ever to appoint an independent prosecutor to investigate Russian interference in our presidential election, and possible Russian coordination with the Trump campaign.”

U.S. Rep. Darren Soto of Orlando tweeted this on Twitter:

“Trump fires Comey while under investigation about Russia-Watergate all over again! #Sayfie @FlaDems @HispanicCaucus”

U.S. Rep. Al Lawson of Tallahassee posted this on Facebook:

“The American people deserve to know the truth about the full Russia investigation and we need an independent special prosecutor to oversee it. #ComeyFiring”

Charlie Crist leads Florida congressional pack in first quarter fundraising

First quarter fundraising numbers are in for U.S. Representatives and first-term Democratic Rep. Charlie Crist leads the Florida Delegation with $720,000 raised between Jan. 1 and March 31.

Crist brought in $578,000 of that money through individual contributions, while $137,000 came in through committees. He also kicked in $5,400 of his own money for his CD 13 re-election campaign. He started the second quarter with $672,000 in the bank.

Crist’s performance was far and away better than any of the other incumbent Democrats, though fellow first-termer Stephanie Murphy posted a strong $286,000 report in the Orlando-based 7th Congressional District.

She spent just $41,000, leaving her with $256,000 in her war chest at the end of the quarter.

Former Democratic Party chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz also broke the $250,000 mark for the quarter with $287,000 in total receipts which left her with $236,000 on hand on March 31.

The only other Democrat to break the six figure mark was Lois Frankel, who raised about $206,000 in her re-election campaign for CD 21. The South Florida Democrat spent about $65,000 leaving her with $926,500 in her campaign account on April 1.

The other Democrats didn’t fare as well. Freshman Rep. Al Lawson brought in $72,000 in CD 5, and Darren Soto raised $41,000 in CD 9. Rep. Ted Deutch raised $51,000, Fredrica Wilson brought in $33,000, Alcee Hastings added just under $29,000, Tampa Democrat Kathy Castor raised just $23,500, and Val Demings has yet to file a report for the quarter.

Republicans had more incumbents breach the six-figure mark, though none were close to Crist’s monster Q1.

The top GOP fundraiser this quarter was Brian Mast, who took over the CD 18 seat from former Rep. Patrick Murphy after he decided to run against Marco Rubio for Senate. Mast was able to raise just under $430,000 and spent about $114,000, leaving him with $410,000 in the bank.

Rep. Vern Buchanan came in second among Florida Republicans with $395,000 raised. His $1.8 million in cash on hand is the highest among Republican incumbents.

Not far behind in total assets is Ron DeSantis, who despite only raising $14,500 for the quarter has nearly $1.7 million in the bank.

The bulk of the rest of the GOP incumbents hovered around the $100,000 zone in fundraising.

Gus Bilirakis raised just shy of $150,000 and has $160,000 on hand; first-term Rep. Matt Gaetz brought in $122,000 and has $129,000 on hand; Neal Dunn brought in $114,000 and has $67,000 on hand; Daniel Webster raised $105,000 and finished the quarter with $76,000 in the bank; and Dennis Ross raised $146,000 and has $126,000 in the bank.

The other incumbents are lagging behind the pack.

Rep. Tom Rooney took in $73,000 and spent $60,000 to finish the quarter with $85,000 on hand, while John Rutherford raised $45,700 and spent $16,000 for an on hand total of $32,000.

Finally, Gainesville Republican Rep. Ted Yoho raised a lowly $15,000 for the quarter and has about $100,000 in the bank.

Only 7 members of Florida’s congressional delegation hosting town halls during Easter break

(Updated) Gainesville Republican U.S. Rep. Ted Yoho held a raucous town hall meeting Monday night, as he was jeered by members of the audience before he finished his opening statement.

“I really, really expected them to be a little more civil,” Yoho to the Gainesville Sun after the event.“This was the rowdiest crowd.”

Similar statements have been made by congressional Republicans around the country in 2017, as angry Democrats have crowded town halls in some of the most conservative parts of the country, expressing their unhappiness about GOP plans to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, issues with the Trump administration, or other events since the election.

Yoho is scheduled to go back out on the road Tuesday night, where he’ll host another town hall meeting in Palatka.

However, most members of Florida’s congressional delegation don’t have any town halls scheduled over their two week break which began on Monday. According to the website townhallproject.com, only seven of Florida’s 27 Representatives have such events planned in April.

However, that doesn’t mean their staying idle during their Easter recess.

“The Congressman is in the district throughout the break,” said Gus Bilirakis spokesperson Elena Hernandez. “He’s spending a majority of the next couple of weeks meeting with constituents, holding open office hours, visiting local businesses, hosting a student government roundtable. Also he’s meeting with Pasco County officials, local doctors, touring a substance abuse center, and hosting a Veterans Resource Fair next week.”

Polk County Republican Dennis Ross was scheduled to return on Tuesday from an official congressional delegation trip to Kuwait and Iraq, where he met with members of the Florida National Guard stationed in Kuwait, as well as with the U.S. Ambassadors to Kuwait and Iraq and other government officials.

Ross spokesperson Joni Schockley adds that Ross has “multiple meetings scheduled throughout the district during the next two weeks.

Tampa Representative Kathy Castor  appeared at the USF College of Medicine on Monday, where she met with scientists to denounce President Trump’s proposed 18 percent cut to the National Institutes of Health. She also held a town hall at the University Area Community Center last Friday, according to her district director, Marcia Mejia.

Charlie Crist will be holding a veterans roundtable, walking in the march for science, and speaking at the rededication of the Jordan Park complex in St. Petersburg, according to spokesperson Erin Moffet.

 Florida District 11 Republican Dan Webster is one of the seven Florida congressional members who is holding a town hall this week.  He held two on Monday.

The other members holding town halls this week include Ron DeSantis, Matt Gaetz, Darren Soto, Brian Mast, Al Lawson and Yoho.

Representatives for Vern Buchanan did not respond to our requests for comment.

Kathy Castor agrees with Hillary Clinton; misogyny played a role in her loss

In her first interview since she lost the race for president in November, Hillary Clinton said last week that “Certainly, misogyny played a role.”

“I mean, that just has to be admitted,” she told New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristoff last Thursday night. “And why and what the underlying reasons were is what I’m trying to parse out myself.”

Congresswoman Kathy Castor agrees.

“What struck me is some interviews on TV during the campaign folks out in Pennsylvania where young people would say, ‘I don’t believe in having a female president.’ I was taken aback,” the Tampa Democrat said Monday “I don’t hear a lot of young women saying that ever.”

Castor believes “there is something that permeates this opposition to female as executives. You see it especially in corporate boardrooms.”

Castor has served in Congress for 10 years. Before that, she served on the Hillsborough County of Commission for one four-year term. When asked if she herself has had to deal with sexism in Washington or Tampa, she says, “a little bit.”

Castor serves on the Energy and Power Subcommittee in Congress, the only female on the thirty-three member large board. When she was recently called upon to ask a question, she says was addressed as “Mr. Castor.”

Meanwhile, as with most congressional Democrats, Castor came out last Friday in support of the President’s cruise missile attacks on Syria, two days after President Bashar al-Assad unleashed chemical weapons on his own people. In a statement, Castor added that she wants the president to confer with Congress on any other possible military action.

When asked what she would like to happen on dealing with Assad, Castor said a plan of action with our allies would be a good start.

“The Obama administration did a pretty good job of building that coalition to squeeze ISIS and now the pressure has to be brought to bear against Russia and Iran, who are supporting this brutal dictator in Assad,” she said. “It’s not our place to promote regime change on our own, but working with our allies in the Middle East and all across the world, really bringing pressure to bear on Assad and Iran and Russia.”

Charlie Crist, Kathy Castor want Congress consulted on military force in Syria

The two Tampa Bay-area Democratic members of Congress — Kathy Castor and Charlie Crist — say they support President Donald Trump‘s military action in Syria Thursday night. both say that the House of Representatives should immediately reconvene so that members can debate the use of military force there.

But both say the House of Representatives should reconvene immediately so members can debate the use of military force there.

That seems doubtful, perhaps, as the House is breaking Thursday for a two-week Easter recess.

“The Tomahawk missile strike on the Syrian air base was an important and targeted response to Bashar Assad’s use of chemical weapons,” Castor said. “Russia and Iran should be held accountable as well for their support of Assad and his war on the Syrian people.”

“The continued atrocities committed by Bashar al-Assad against innocent men, women, and most horrifyingly, children and infants, are an assault on humanity and must be stopped,” said Crist. “Last night’s targeted airstrikes were a proportional and appropriate response, making clear that these war crimes will not go unanswered.”

Both Democratic lawmakers say that the Constitution puts the responsibility to declare war with the Congress, and that the President should make his case before them if he is prepared to engage further in Syria.

‎”Congressional leaders, the Trump Administration and Obama Administration have been derelict in following the requirements of the Constitution and law for a formal Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF),” said Castor. “The military strike on Syria and ongoing war on ISIS should prod policymakers to return to Washington and adopt a new AUMF.”

“Congress must also do its part and return immediately from recess to debate an Authorization for Use of Military Force to determine a comprehensive strategy for the United States and our allies,” said Crist. “We need clear objectives to end this crisis to protect our troops and the Syrian people.”

Castor has previously criticized Barack Obama for not getting an Authorization for Use of Military Force in engaging in battle with the Islamic State, criticism that some other Democrats made as well, none more loudly than Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine.

Congressional Democrats as a whole seem to be parroting a consistent line Friday, praising Trump for the cruise missile attacks on a Syrian military base, but insisting he go before the Congress to get authorization before any further action.

Citing rising poll numbers, Florida congressional Dems urge Rick Scott to expand Medicaid

When Congressional Republicans last month attempted to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, they heard from several GOP governors, who warned them not to go ahead with a plan to cut more than $800 billion from Medicaid, saying it would have a deleterious effect on voters.

Now, with new polling indicating that Medicaid has never been more popular, Florida Congressional Democrats are finding the inspiration to ask Gov. Rick Scott to again consider expanding Medicaid.

“A number of states that had not previously expanded Medicaid are now considering expansion and we strongly urge you and the Florida Legislature to do so too,” begins the letter penned by Sen. Bill Nelson, and Congress members Charlie Crist, Kathy Castor, Ted Deutch, Alcee Hastings, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Lois Frankel, Fredericka Wilson, Al Lawson, Stephanie Murphy and Darren Soto.

The letter comes on the same that a new poll conducted by the University of Miami shows that two-thirds of Floridians, or 67 percent, say they favor Medicaid expansion.

Infamously, Scott said in 2013 that he initially supported expanding Medicaid in Florida, but then quickly reversed course and every year since has steadfastly maintained his opposition, despite the business community rallying behind such a move.

In 2015, the Florida Senate approved a hybrid version of Medicaid expansion; the House overwhelmingly rejected the proposal.

State officials said that plan would have covered as many as 650,000 residents.

Here’s the text of the letter sent to Scott:

Dear Governor Scott:

A number of states that had not previously expanded Medicaid are now considering expansion and we strongly urge you and the Florida Legislature to do so too. Thirty-one states and the District of Columbia already have expanded Medicaid to provide affordable health care to working families and students. Floridians should not be placed at a disadvantage compared to other states. Indeed, a survey published today by the University of Maryland’s Program for Public Consultation found that 67 percent of Floridians support moving forward with expansion to bring $66 billion in federal funding between the years of 2013-2022 to our state. Medicaid expansion will boost jobs and enable Florida to move to a more efficient health care delivery model. In fact, it is estimated that the state would have seen $8.9 billion in increased economic activity and more than 71,000 new jobs in 2016 alone. It not too late to chart a better course for the State of Florida.

Now that Speaker Ryan has declared, “[the Affordable Care Act] is the law of the land,” we should all be doing our part to expand coverage to the uninsured, improve the quality of health plans, and lower costs for everyone. Expanding eligibility to all Floridians with annual income below 138 percent of the federal poverty level–less than $30,000 per year for a family of three–is the fiscally-responsible thing to do not only for a huge number of Floridians, but also for consumers who use Healthcare.gov, for businesses who provide coverage to their employees, and for hospitals who are charged with providing care without regard to a patient’s coverage status. Insurance premiums for Americans who have private insurance are generally lower in states that have expanded Medicaid. Private insurance costs are higher in states that did not expand Medicaid because of costs of sick and uninsured are transferred to the private insurance pool according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Coverage is key, rather than costly and inefficient emergency room care and delayed treatment.

With years of Medicaid expansion already underway in other parts of the country, we have seen that other hard working Americans have benefited from improvements in health care quality and affordability through expansion. Medicaid expansion in Florida would provide over 800,000 of our fellow Floridians with access to primary care. Preventive services like screening for HIV, cancer, and heart disease will save lives, help keep our state’s residents healthier, and improve management of their chronic conditions. Providing access to Medicaid will also improve risk pools in the private market, a shift that has saved consumers in expansion states seven percent on their monthly premiums. Floridians deserve these benefits just like any other American.

Medicaid expansion also will reduce the unpaid medical bills owed to hospitals that put pressure on the state budget and our safety net hospitals funded with taxpayer dollars. Refusing to cover working Floridians through Medicaid expansion does not reduce our state’s health care costs, it just passes them on through rising premiums and tax hikes. With a third of our state’s resources already devoted to health care, the influx of $50 billion in federal funding would safeguard services from the draconian cuts currently under consideration by the state legislature. Medicaid expansion would help the state avoid the rising costs brought by Zika, the opioid crisis and mental health needs.

Throughout your time as the chief executive of our state, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has shown a willingness to work with you to find a path forward that will expand coverage to hard-working, able-bodied adults in our state. States with conservative governors around the nation have arrived at solutions that expanded Medicaid while upholding their conservative principles. If you miss this opportunity, you will chart a fiscally-irresponsible path that will cost our state billions, cost our state jobs and sacrifice the health and well-being of all Floridians.

Thankfully, Republicans in Congress abandoned their recent proposal to rip coverage away from millions of Americans including children, the disabled, and our neighbors with Alzheimer’s in skilled nursing. Like most Floridians, we realized that this was not an honest attempt at improving health care in America. Rather than continuing political games over the Affordable Care Act, we ask that you move to develop a plan for Medicaid expansion in our state to benefit the health, financial security, and well-being of all Floridians.

Sincerely,

###

 

Joe Henderson: Concern for the environment really depends on which party is in charge

The words “green space” can have a different meaning depending on the person involved.

Democrats generally believe green space to mean protected grasslands, pristine parks, waterways, and regulations to keep companies from belching pollutants into the atmosphere.

Republicans generally appear to believe green space is a metaphor for money that can be made by paving over any empty spot of land they see.

I know that’s a generalization. There are plenty of conservatives who will argue strongly for environmental protection. I put my old friend and former Tampa Tribune editorial chief Joe Guidry at the top of that list.

It is true, though, that Republican administrations often roll back environmental regulations in the name of cutting red tape that they say strangles business.

We saw it in Florida when Gov. Rick Scott gutted many environmental protections (remember the Great Algae Bloom of 2016). The GOP-controlled Legislature scoffed when voters approved a constitutional amendment in 2014 requiring the state set aside millions of acres for conservation.

We’re seeing it again in what Democratic U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor from Tampa called “President Trump’s attack on the environment and U.S. economy through his executive order” that eliminated many of the Obama-era environment rules.

“By signing the latest in a line of dangerous executive orders, Trump is trying to dismantle America’s commitment to avert climate catastrophe and to stifle America’s clean energy future,” Castor said in a statement.

Trump’s executive order will cost Floridians a lot.  Unless we can slow the damage caused by climate change, Floridians will pay more for property insurance, flood insurance, beach re-nourishment and local taxes as the costs of water infrastructure and coastal resource protection rise.”

Castor, in her sixth term in Congress, is the vice ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. She has a long track record of supporting environmental causes, including the introduction of the Florida Coastal Protection Act that established a 235-mile drilling ban in the Gulf of Mexico off Florida’s west coast.

So yeah, this is personal.

It’s also expected.

You don’t hear many Democrats scoff about the science of climate change. And you haven’t heard many Republicans question Trump’s attempt to jump-start coal mining in the name of job creation.

The problem it, all someone needs is a long memory or access to a computer to see what environmental disregard can do to cities in this country. Have we really forgotten what happened in Cleveland when the Cuyahoga River caught fire from all the pollution?

Have we forgotten how urban smog was threatening the nation’s health? It’s still not great, but it’s better than it was.

When I was a kid growing up in southern Ohio, I remember the Armco steel mill in Middletown turning the night sky orange when workers fired up the coke plant.

We were breathing that stuff. Residents there used to apologize for the foul-tasting sulfur water that smelled like rotten eggs. These things changed because Congress decided things had to change or we were all going down the tubes.

Those laws aren’t designed to strangle business. They’re designed to protect us. People like Kathy Castor still believe that. President Trump apparently does not.

Florida Congress members react to GOP health care plan defeat

As U.S. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan was gathering his conference and then announcing the failure of the Republican health care plan, many Florida Democrats were swiftly calling for bipartisan work to improve the Affordable Care Act instead.

Republicans who opposed the bill also responded swiftly, calling for a better bill to be crafted, and some even called for some bipartisan work but showed  no interest in using the Democrats’ Affordable Care Act as a starting point.

Many Florida Democrats, recognizing the ACA remains in trouble as is, are acknowledging the concerns, and offering to work across the aisle on it – after criticizing the Republican bill.

“This is a win for the American people,” stated Democratic U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist of St. Petersburg. “It was a bad bill, plain and simple. It would have harmed our seniors, and particularly those who often don’t have a voice in the debate – ‘the least among us’ if you will, the poor and the disabled. We have the opportunity now to drop the rhetoric, roll up our sleeves, and work together to fix what needs fixing to bring down costs, expand access, and protect the most vulnerable in our society. I’m an optimist, this was a teachable moment, and I think the lesson will be learned. Work together, put people above politics.”

Others were taking the same tack.

“I believe every American should have access to quality, affordable health care, which is why I’m pleased House leadership pulled this bill from consideration,” stated Democratic U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy of Winter Park. We must reform the Affordable Care Act, but it should be done in a transparent, bipartisan way that lowers costs and strengthens coverage for all.”

“What we must do now is come together to work to improve the Affordable Care Act,” Democratic U.S. Rep. Al Lawson of Tallahassee said in a statement. “It took us centuries to get to where we are now with our health care, and we’ve already helped 20 million people get the health care they need. Let’s improve the ACA to see how we can help even more people get the health care they need and deserve.”

Republican U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis of Palm Harbor also called for some bipartisan work, just not on ObamaCare.

“My main concern has been, and will continue to be, making sure my constituents have access to the best possible health care,” he stated. “Our efforts do not stop here to ensure our nation’s health care system is stronger, more affordable, and truly patient-centered. That is my goal, and I will keep working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to accomplish it.”

Others, though, suggested bipartisan efforts as unlikely, giving no quarter for the ACA. U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis of Ponte Vedra Beach, was the first Florida Republican to jump in, showing that the GOP bill’s opponents on the right could be just as critical of it as Democrats, without being less critical of ObamaCare.

“The House health care bill is a flawed piece of legislation produced by a hasty process and it shows: by leaving the core architecture of ObamaCare in place, it does very little to address the core problems of rising health insurance premiums and lack of consumer choice that have harmed so many Americans,” DeSantis declared. “In fact, it very well may have caused insurance premiums to increase 15-20 percent over and above the anticipated ObamaCare increases over the next several years, which is unacceptable.”

“There was no reason to rush this bill through the House to begin with,” DeSantis added. “Congress should take its time and pass a good bill that actually repeals ObamaCare, puts a downward pressure on insurance premiums and expands competition in the marketplace. Failure is not an option.”

Representative U.S. Rep. Dan Webster of Clermont had a similar response.

“For six years, I have advocated for repealing the [un]Affordable Care Act and replacing it with real healthcare reform. Obamacare is collapsing across the country – currently 4.7 million people are without an insurer. This failed policy is raising costs for patients and forcing insurers out of the marketplace, which leaves patients and families with nowhere to go,” Webster predicted.

“As I have said, I have concerns with the bill that was to come up for a vote today. In particular, it does not provide the dollars needed for the Medicaid-funded nursing home beds that many of our seniors rely on. I have expressed these concerns to House leadership and the administration,” Webster added.

“It is my hope that House and Senate leadership and the administration will work together and bring to the floor the conservative, common-sense healthcare reform that Americans deserve,” Webster concluded.

Republican U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz blasted Republicans in the House of Representatives for letting down Trump and the American people.

“We did so in the most cowardly, craven way possible — by failing to vote on the repeal of Obamacare. I share the frustration and disappointment of Northwest Floridians who expected and deserved action. We should know who was willing to stand with President Trump and who wasn’t. Now we never will,” Gaetz said in a statement.

He promised not to give up, pledging, “In the weeks and months ahead the Republican party must demonstrate the competence to govern. It is possible.

“I plan to redouble my efforts to bring a renewed sense of urgency to this corrupt and disconnected town. In the face of this setback, we need bold, conservative reform more than ever. The fate of our nation is at stake,” Gaetz concluded.

U.S. Rep. John Rutherford of Jacksonville saw repeal of ObamaCare as the first priority, but without the criticism of Congress.

“Maintaining a status quo is not an option. There is a widespread consensus that President Obama’s signature health care law is broken and unsustainable. I remain committed to repealing and replacing Obamacare to improve and protect Americans’ access to quality, affordable health coverage.”

Republican U.S. Rep. Brian Mast of Palm City focused on how ObamaCare remains a problem. And he use his Army experience to say, essentially, that the war is not over with the first shot.

“I’ve heard over and over again about the incredible burden that ObamaCare has placed on 18th District families. Because of Obamacare, two of our counties now have only one insurer on the individual exchange, while premiums and deductibles have become beyond unaffordable.

“Our broken healthcare system will not be fixed overnight,” Mast said. As I have said from the beginning, the only way we can fix the failures of ObamaCare is through a fully transparent process that engages voices all across the country. Moving forward, I hope my colleagues on both sides of the aisle will join me in working to improve our nation’s healthcare system to ensure that everyone has the liberty to choose the health care that is best for their life.”

Republican U.S. Rep. Neal Dunn of Panama City also focused on his desire to replace ObamaCare.

“Obamacare will continue to harm Americans with higher costs, lost coverage, and fewer choices. That’s unacceptable,” Dunn stated. “We were sent here with orders to end this law and replace it with a patient-centered approach that actually lowers the cost of care. Today’s events will not deter or discourage us from honoring the commitment we made to the voters that elected us.”

Some Democrats gave no quarter on the ACA either, praising it while offering harsh criticism of the American Health Care Act plan that Ryan and President Donald Trump had pushed through to a vote, only to see Ryan pull it at the last moment when its death on the floor was inevitable.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Weston suggested the Republicans should be thinking about reaching out to the Democrats now.

“America’s seniors, women, children and families scored a major victory today. Trumpcare was a horrible bill from the start, and was only made worse the more it was amended. The lack of transparency, hearings and proper vetting was appalling. President Trump obviously didn’t do his homework, and Republicans are clearly at war with themselves. This defeat was earned and well deserved,” Wasserman Schultz began in a statement.

“More importantly, for millions of individual Americans, Trumpcare would have been devastating. It reduced coverage for millions, gutted benefits and massively increased costs, and added what amounted to an “age tax” for older Americans. It was the worst bill for women’s health in a generation. In fact, for the entire health care system, it would have been a nightmare. The solvency of Medicare would have been weakened, Medicaid would have been gutted, and safety-net hospitals would have been further burdened to truly distressing levels. Doctors, nurses, hospitals and nearly every major medical or health advocacy group opposed it, with good reason.,” she added.

“Hopefully,” Wasserman Schultz concluded, “Republicans will now reach out to Democrats to improve the Affordable Care Act in a serious, meaningful way. We’re more than ready to participate if it means truly improving our health care system.”

Democratic U.S. Rep. Val Demings of Orlando said in a written statement that the “voices of the American people were heard.”

“Republicans have been promising to replace the Affordable Care Act with something better for seven years, but the destructive bill that they proposed would force people to pay more for less coverage, erase protections for preexisting conditions, deny veterans additional benefits, force seniors to pay more for care and prescriptions, and shorten the life of Medicare,” Demings said. “I will continue to stand strong for my constituents in my fight to protect the Affordable Care Act.”

Democratic U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor of Tampa called for continued vigilance by Democrats to protect the Affordable Care Act and its coverage.

“Today, my neighbors in Florida and hardworking families across America can breathe a sigh of relief that the Republican TrumpCare bill failed thanks to the outpouring of opposition from citizens, doctors, nurses, hospitals and advocates. They knew it would rip coverage away, raise costs and provide a massive tax break to wealthy special interests,” Castor declared.

“Although we must remain vigilant about future Republican attempts to weaken health care in America, the failure of the Republican bill will allow millions of families to keep their health care and peace of mind. Hopefully we can work together to build on the success of the Affordable Care Act that has dropped the number of uninsured Americans to its lowest in history and ended discrimination against our neighbors with pre-existing conditions,” she continued.

“Republicans tried to ram TrumpCare through the House without a single hearing and then traded consumer protections away with damaging changes to bring the right-wing tea party faction of the U.S. House on board. It collapsed under its own weight and the unmasking of the huge tax breaks to wealthy special interests while raising costs for everyday Americans and weakening Medicare and Medicaid health services,” Castor added.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch of Boca Raton declared that “President Trump and Speaker Ryan should be ashamed of themselves for trying to force through a disastrous bill that would have ripped away health coverage from tens of millions of Americans, dramatically increased premiums, and severely cut Medicare and Medicaid. The American people spoke loud and clear; they do not support gutting their own health benefits in order to give massive tax cuts to health insurance companies. House Republicans need to start working with Democrats on real policy solutions that will benefit the American people.”

Democratic U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings of Miramar offered to work with Republicans, but first slammed their plan.

“House Republicans and President Trump tried to takeaway healthcare from millions of Americans and they failed. Today’s defeat of TrumpCare is a victory for seniors, people with disabilities, veterans, families, children, women, and every one of the 24 million people who would have had their health coverage stripped from them under the Republican plan.

“When Congress reconvenes next week, Democrats will continue to stand up for the most vulnerable among us. There are many aspects where healthcare in America can be improved. For many of my constituents, the cost of care remains far too high, while for others, access to care remains a challenge. I, like all Democrats, want to make healthcare better for all Americans. If Republicans are willing to join this process in good faith, I would welcome the conversation and work to make improvements that benefit all Americans,” Hastings stated.

“President Trump’s plan failed today because his legislation did not prioritize the American people. It prioritized a select few – the millionaires and billionaires that President Trump has surrounded himself with – and ripped coverage away from millions of hard working and working poor Americans,” Hastings continued. “I will continue to work tirelessly to ensure that all Americans have access to the healthcare they need. I hope Republicans learn from this experience and begin the process of working Democrats moving forward.”

Former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, a likely Democratic gubernatorial candidate, also weighed in.

“Today’s debacle was another example of the so-called political leaders ignoring what is going on in the real lives of every American family. Instead of doing something real to deal with the crushing cost of healthcare, Donald Trump and Republican leaders in Congress pushed forward a plan that would have totally eliminated healthcare coverage for over 20 million Americans, taxed seniors, and forced working Americans to pay billions more straight out of the pocket,” she stated.

“This bill was much more than a failure of leadership — it was a missed opportunity to work in a bipartisan way to cut premiums, lower prescription drug cost, and improve Obamacare. It was simply political cowardice from the Republicans in Congress, who failed in their most basic responsibility and duty to stand up for the American people,” Graham continued.

“The thousands of Floridians who spoke out against TrumpCare should be proud of their efforts to stop this disastrous legislation. But we must also stand ready to fight back if Donald Trump and Paul Ryan try once again to ram this legislation through Congress,” she concluded.

Bill Nelson, bipartisan Florida Congress members urge drilling ban in Gulf

Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson has pulled together a bipartisan group of Florida congressmen to sign a letter urging the administration of President Donald Trump to not permit off-shore oil near Florida’s Gulf Coast.

In a letter sent Friday to U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, Nelson and 16 members of Florida’s congressional delegation urged the administration to maintain the current moratorium on offshore oil drilling in the eastern Gulf of Mexico for at least the next five years.

Joining Nelson were Republican U.S. Reps. Vern Buchanan, Brian Mast, Francis Rooney, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Daniel Webster; and Democratic U.S. Reps. Kathy Castor, Charlie Crist, Val Demings, Ted Deutch, Lois Frankel, Alcee Hastings, Al Lawson, Stephanie Murphy, Darren Soto, Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Frederica Wilson.

Earlier this month, the administration announced it intended to keep the moratorium in place until at least 2022, but recent reports suggest that the administration may be considering a new plan, Nelson’s office reported in a news release Friday morning.

“It’s our understanding that your department may be considering a new Oil and Gas Leasing Program for 2017-2022,” the lawmakers wrote. “If you do choose to draft a new plan, we strongly urge you to keep the eastern Gulf off limits.

“Drilling in this area threatens Florida’s multi-billion-dollar, tourism-driven economy and is incompatible with the military training and weapons testing that occurs there,” the letter continues.

In 2006, Congress passed the Gulf of Mexico Energy and Security Act, which created a moratorium on drilling in most of the eastern Gulf of Mexico.

The letter notes the Deepwater Horizon explosion seven years ago that killed 11 men, damaged the marine life ecosystem, and soiled an entire tourism season for Gulf states.

“This tragedy was a painful reminder that Florida’s beaches and economy are at risk even when oil rigs are hundreds of miles away from its shores,” the later states.

Show Buttons
Hide Buttons