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Joe Henderson: Another tone deaf move by Donald Trump

Florida’s members of the United States Senate don’t agree on much, but with a Category 5 hurricane bearing down on Miami and the east coast, Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio are standing shoulder-to-shoulder in advocating for their state.

Well done.

Yes, we expect leaders to put aside their differences and come together in times like this. But the trend of bipartisan agreement between those two actually started a few days ago, although current events shoved the news to the back pages.

They agree that President Trump offered up a lousy nominee to head NASA.

The choice of climate-denier U.S. Rep. Jim Bridenstine of Oklahoma to lead the space agency was just the latest example of the president’s tone-deaf timing, given the devastation in Texas from Hurricane Harvey and the way Hurricane Irma just flattened Caribbean islands on its way to Florida.

The nomination came last week in what has become known as the “Friday news dump” – that time when leaders try to slip controversial items into a period where they don’t think people will be paying attention.

Nelson and Rubio were paying attention.

Bridenstine has shown a keen interest in the space program and has indicated he would fast-track the mission to send astronauts to Mars.

That is all good.

But weather research also is a key part of NASA’s mission, and Bridenstine has left no doubt where he stands on the issue that humans are contributing to climate change.

In a 2013 speech on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives, he said, “And we also know that (President Obama) spends 30 times as much money on global warming research as he does on weather forecasting and warning. For this gross misallocation, the people of Oklahoma are ready to accept the president’s apology, and I intend to submit legislation to fix this.”

Politifact rated Bridenstine’s assertion as mostly false.

“The head of NASA ought to be a space professional, not a politician,” Nelson told Politico in a statement.

Rubio told Politico he agreed with Nelson, and added that because the Senate must approve the nominee, the “baggage” Bridenstine carries means his confirmation is no sure thing.

“I just think it could be devastating for the space program. Obviously, being from Florida, I’m very sensitive to anything that slows up NASA and its mission,” Rubio said.

What’s happening in this hurricane season is exactly what climate experts have been warning about for years.

They say because of human actions, storms would be stronger than anything we’ve seen and they would be more frequent. Coastal areas would be devastated and the economic damage would be in the trillions of dollars.

Well, it’s happening. Trump’s response is to turn a key agency involved in climate research over to someone who says it’s all fake news.

Bill Nelson, Marco Rubio want more FEMA cash in aid bill

U.S. Sens. Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio sent a joint letter to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer Wednesday asking for money for Florida to be added to the Hurricane Harvey aid package passed by the U.S. House earlier in the day.

“Hurricane Irma is now one of the most powerful hurricanes ever recorded in the Atlantic Ocean and is currently on track to make landfall in South Florida as early as Sunday,” they wrote. “This massive category-5 storm has the potential to cause catastrophic destruction throughout the state, and we are deeply concerned that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will not have the resources it needs to respond if Congress doesn’t act soon.”

The senators noted that FEMA is set to run out of money by Friday, two days before Irma is expected to hit the state.

“As Floridians are preparing for one of the worst storms on record, they need to know that the federal government is both ready and willing to direct the necessary resources needed to help them in the recovery process. As such, we strongly urge you to include additional funding in the Hurricane Harvey aid package to account for the additional costs FEMA will likely incur responding to Hurricane Irma,” they wrote.

The package that passed the House includes $7.9 billion in aid specifically for Hurricane Harvey recovery and could not be shifted to Florida responders without leaving the victims of that storm out to dry.

Cheryl Elias: Addressing Florida’s opioid crisis must include helping the person with the addiction

Each day it becomes more and more apparent that opioid addiction and trafficking are plaguing Florida. According to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, five out of the nine types of drugs that caused the most deaths in 2015 were ones that fall within the category of opioids.

Two years later, we are seeing the effects of opioid addiction escalate and there does not seem to be a part of the state, rural or urban, that has not seen some impact.

Drug addiction and abuse is a major public health problem in the U.S. and associated costs go well beyond the standard medical bills. Costs related to drug addiction encompass those that result from developing other chronic health conditions, increasing crime rates, loss of work productivity and even unemployment.

In hospital costs alone, this epidemic cost Florida more than $1 billion in 2015. And let us not forget drug addiction’s impact on families and communities. The emotional hardships felt by those trying to help the person suffering from addiction are often unimaginable and the fact that their own lives are turned upside down cannot be ignored.

Understanding that addiction’s impacts reach far and wide, it becomes clear that to make any difference we need to address this issue in a comprehensive way.

Thankfully, our leaders in government are quickly realizing opioid addiction’s impacts and catastrophic effects and are taking action. Just this year, Sen. Marco Rubio was an original cosponsor of the Synthetics Trafficking & Overdose Prevention (STOP) Act to help reduce the flow of illicit fentanyl into the country, and he is also working with U.S. Health and Human Services in bringing grant dollars into the state aimed at combatting opioid trafficking and abuse in Florida.

Sen. Rubio understands how pressing this issue is for Floridians, and the actions he has taken this year are commendable.

However, efforts to address this issue should not stop there. There is still a long road toward a Florida free of opioid abuse, and part of this strategy should include providing proper treatment to those who suffer from addiction.

Patients seeking help in their recovery should have adequate access to all FDA-approved treatment options, including those which are non-opioid based. People can react differently to the same medication. What works for some will not necessarily work for all, and treatment should ultimately depend on the patient and the health care professional overseeing their recovery.

The goal here is to reduce and even eradicate addiction in the state of Florida to provide a more safe and promising future for everyone. Every Floridian can benefit from a reduced incidence of opioid addiction and abuse, so why not do everything we can to help those who need it most?

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Cheryl Elias is Executive Director of the U.S. Rural Health Network, an organization dedicated to creating and maintaining a dialogue between national health care advocates and rural communities.

 

Rick Scott on Irma: We haven’t had a landfall like this since Andrew

Rick Scott said all Floridians need to prepare for Hurricane Irma’s arrival, stocking up with three days of water and three days of food, though folks in the Tampa Bay area (and others) are having a hard time finding bottled water at this stage.

“When you go to the grocery store, take what you need, don’t take too much,” he told reporters in East Tampa Tuesday afternoon. The governor was in town to celebrate an increase in jobs at the corporate headquarters of Cognizant Technology Solutions in East Tampa, but all eyes and ears were on the latest updates on Hurricane Irma, scheduled to hit Florida within the next week.

Scott heard this morning about shortages of water, noting: “We’re doing everything we can. We’re talking to retailers. We’re talking to the individuals who bring fuel in, to make sure that we have plenty of resources in here.”

“If you think you might need to go to a shelter, find out where the shelter is going to be,” he said. “Know where your evacuation routes are,” he added, telling people that they could go to FloridaDisaster.org and will inform people all the things that they need.

No one knows where the storm will hit, but one place where Scott is telling people to evacuate from is starting tomorrow is in Monroe County. “If you’re in the Keys, you’ve gotta get out,” he said.

Scott has already called up 100 members of the National Guard to prepare for the storm, with an additional 7,000 to be called up Friday to report for duty.  The emergency orders “also allows us, our semis, people doing deliveries to get the water and food into stores and everything,” he added.

The governor has not heard back from a request for President Donald Trump to declare a pre-landfall emergency for the state. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio seconded the call, writing a letter to Trump: “While the storm is not predicted to make landfall until later this week, the state and federal government must work together in order to help reduce the potential loss of life and destruction of property. As we recently witnessed with Hurricane Harvey, preparation and upfront resources are paramount.”

Florida sent approximately 130 members of Fish and Wildlife Commission to Houston to assist in the recovery effort for Hurricane Harvey last week, most of whom have returned to Florida. Scott said the information that state officials have taken from the aftermath of that epic event is that resources must be thrown at the situation from the get-go.

“One of the things that I talked with the acting director of FEMA today (Robert Fenton) is ‘don’t wait,'” he told reporters. “But we haven’t had a landfall like this since Andrew,” he said referring to the August 1992 storm, the last Category 5 rainmaker to hit the U.S. mainland.

Florida’s U.S. senators urge emergency declaration

U.S. Sens. Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson Tuesday called on President Trump to approve Gov. Rick Scott’s request for a pre-landfall emergency declaration for Florida in advance of Hurricane Irma. 

“A pre-landfall declaration will provide important resources and assistance from the federal government and would free up funding sources for emergency protective measures such as shoring up beach dunes, building emergency berms and planning for potential evacuations,” a press release from Scott’s office explained earlier Tuesday.

The full text of the senators’ letter is below: 

Dear Mr. President, 

We write in full support of Florida Governor Rick Scott’s request for a pre-landfall emergency declaration for the state of Florida in anticipation of Hurricane Irma. As the current projections indicate, this major hurricane will heavily impact Florida communities, and we urge you to immediately approve this request to ensure that full federal resources are made available. 

Hurricane Irma has been classified as a category five hurricane, and is projected to cause incredible devastation to Florida and portions of the Caribbean.

While the storm is not predicted to make landfall until later this week, the state and federal government must work together in order to help reduce the potential loss of life and destruction of property. As we recently witnessed with Hurricane Harvey, preparation and up-front resources are paramount. 

We strongly urge you to consider all of the circumstances referenced in Governor Scott’s request and approve this pre-landfall emergency declaration that will provide the resources necessary to ensure the safety of Floridians.

Marco Rubio, Bill Nelson have qualms on path forward for DACA

The Donald Trump administration announced Tuesday plans to scrap DACA: the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

The program was instituted by President Barack Obama via an Executive Order that current Attorney General Jeff Sessions will not defend.

With six months for Congress to perhaps institute a legislative fix to DACA, Florida’s Senators both have concerns about the way forward.

Sen. Marco Rubio agreed that the program as currently constituted violates the U.S. Constitution — but has questions about where the White House wants to go.

“I have long supported accommodating those brought to this country illegally through no fault of their own. However,” Rubio said, “I have always felt that President Obama’s executive action was unconstitutional and that the right way to address this issue was through legislation.”

“Congress now has less than six months to deal with this the right way, through the legislative process. It is important that the White House clearly outline what kind of legislation the president is willing to sign. We have no time to waste on ideas that do not have the votes to pass or that the president won’t sign,” Rubio added.

Sen. Bill Nelson, meanwhile and unsurprisingly, took issue with the decision as a whole.

“DREAMers are our neighbors and our friends. They are our high school valedictorians and our first responders. It’s time for us, as a country, to come together and acknowledge the many contributions that DREAMers have made to our great country, instead of trying to kick them out of the only country they’ve ever known,” Nelson said.

Splitting the distance between the two Senatorial positions last week was Gov. Rick Scott, who issued a preemptive statement, saying that while “President Obama was wrong to address the Dreamers issue by Executive Order,” DACA “kids must be allowed to pursue the American Dream, and Congress must act on this immediately.

Marco Rubio, Bill Nelson want Florida agriculture protected in NAFTA talks

NAFTA negotiations are all but upon us and Florida’s U.S. Senators Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio want to ensure Sunshine State agriculture gets a fair deal.

On Thursday, the two wrote a joint letter to U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, urging protecting of Florida’s agriculture industry from what they call “unfair trade practices,” especially regarding a “fair and equitable market” for Florida farm goods.

Rubio and Nelson want “regional growers to use seasonal data for antidumping and countervailing duty (AD/CVD) cases.”

The senators “are hopeful the Administration will use all means available to prevent Mexico from targeting regional growers in an effort to monopolize the U.S. market during certain seasons.”

Nelson and Rubio also invoke the Bipartisan Congressional Trade Priorities and Accountability Act of 2015; specifically, its call for “eliminating practices that adversely affect trade in perishable or cyclical products, while improving import relief mechanisms to recognize the unique characteristics of perishable and cyclical agriculture.”

“Failure to meet these objectives would clearly not meet the standards Congress has set for trade agreements and would threaten the viability of a renegotiated NAFTA,” the Senators contend.

“A modernized NAFTA that helps level the playing field for American farmers, ranchers, businesses, and workers will go a long way toward restoring faith in our trade agreements. Therefore, we ask that you give this request careful consideration and take meaningful steps throughout the remainder of these NAFTA negotiations to support American fruit and vegetable growers,” the letter concludes. 

David Jolly, Patrick Murphy to embark on speaking tour of Florida college campuses

Former Florida Congressmen David Jolly and Patrick Murphy will tour college campuses this fall, where the onetime U.S. Senate rivals will try to explain why politics in Washington is so screwed up.

“Why Gridlock Rules Washington and How We Can Solve the Crises” will feature a town-hall style format moderated by members of the media and academics, with a question-and-answer session to follow.

The first stop is Sept. 12 at the University of South Florida in Tampa.  The 75-minute event will be sponsored by USF and the Tampa Bay Times.

Other stops include Oct. 4 at Florida International University, Oct. 18 at the University of Miami and the University of Florida in Gainesville Oct. 25, with more events likely to be added.

Jolly, a Republican from Pinellas County, won the special election in early 2014 to succeed the late Bill Young; he was re-elected later that year. He lost his bid for re-election last fall to Democrat Charlie Crist after his 13th Congressional District was redrawn up with plenty more Democrats after the Florida Supreme Court ruled that the district had been illegally drawn up by the Florida Legislature.

“I think what Patrick and I are focusing in on is regardless of where you consider yourself on the (political) spectrum, there’s a path forward to working together, and in this environment I don’t think there’s enough people speaking to that,” said Jolly, who describes himself as a “governing conservative,” willing to approach issues where few Republicans seek a compromise.

Murphy was a two-term Democratic Representative from Jupiter who narrowly defeated Republican Allen West in Florida’s 18th Congressional District in 2012. He was the Democratic Party’s nominee for U.S. Senate last fall but lost to GOP incumbent Marco Rubio.

“One of the biggest things that are frustrating Americans on both sides of aisle, and perhaps resulting somewhat in President Trump’s election, was the lack of progress that people have been seeing,” says Murphy, who said both he and Jolly agreed upon their election that there was common ground to be found on issues such as climate change, tax reform and the need for infrastructure spending.

During their short time serving together in Congress, the two men found ways to work together on those issues and more. There was the possibility that the two could have faced each other in the Senate race last year, but Jolly ultimately dropped out of the race once Rubio flip-flopped and decided he would run again for his Senate seat after his presidential ambitions collapsed.

Murphy says of all the problems with a dysfunctional Congress, gerrymandering is at the top. Jolly agrees but believes that districts should be redrawn in terms of electoral competitiveness, so that working across the aisle will be positive, instead of giving ammunition to political party officials to have that candidate “primaried” come election time.

Murphy recently agreed to serve as one of six fellows at Georgetown University’s Institute of Politics and Public Service this fall.

Jolly, meanwhile, has been ubiquitous on CNN and MSNBC this year offering unfettered criticism mostly at Trump. He says that while the tour isn’t about Trump at all, it clearly is designed to provide an alternative to politics in the Trump era.

You can find more information about the tour at fixwashington2017.com.

Personnel note: Richard Reeves departs GrayRobinson to start own firm

Richard Reeves, a veteran lobbyist who founded his own firm before joining another that merged with GrayRobinson last year, now is leaving the firm, he told Florida Politics Friday. 

“I wanted to be out on my own again,” he said in a phone interview. “The opportunity to work with Dean (Cannon) was tremendous. He’s a great mentor and leader and friend.”

Cannon, a former House Speaker (2010-12), formed Tallahassee’s Capitol Insight, where Reeves also worked. It then merged with GrayRobinson.

His departure “was a friendly decision,” added Reeves, 46. He says he will continue to work with Cannon on projects that benefit their mutual clients.

“Richard is a great friend and asset to us at GrayRobinson, so it is bittersweet to see him go,” said Cannon. “However, we are happy he is going to form his own firm and looking forward to collaborating with him in the future.”

Reeves’ new firm will be called RLR Consulting, and he plans to rent space in the downtown building near the Capitol co-owned by Jennifer Green‘s Liberty Partners of Tallahassee and Tampa-based lobbyist Ron Pierce‘s RSA Consulting.

Reeves, who became GrayRobinson’s Senior Director of Government Affairs in Tallahassee after the merger, began his career in Florida politics working for now-U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, a Democrat, during Nelson’s 1990 gubernatorial campaign, according to his bio.

In 1995, Reeves moved to Tallahassee to serve Nelson in his role as Insurance Commissioner, acting as an external affairs liaison, including board appointments and legislative affairs related to what is now Citizens Property Insurance Corp. and the Florida Insurance Guaranty Association (FIGA).

Reeves later served as campaign director for Nelson’s 1998 re-election campaign. After the re-election, he went on to become Finance Director for Nelson’s successful U.S. Senate Campaign in 2000.

In 2001, Reeves formed his own firm and began lobbying, “specializing in education, workforce development, insurance, utilities and appropriation issues,” his bio says. 

He also has served as a political consultant for political committees and candidates, including now-U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, a Republican, in 2004-05. Reeves was finance consultant during Rubio’s successful campaign to become Speaker of the Florida House. 

Gwen Graham calls on Rick Scott to ‘immediately denounce’ Donald Trump’s Charlottesville comments

Rick Scott is set to sit down to lunch with President Trump this afternoon at the Trump National Golf Course in Bedminster, New Jersey.

Gwen Graham says there’s no better time for him to do what he has declined to do all week — criticize the president for his remarks last weekend equating white nationalist hate groups with the protesters opposing them in Charlottesville, Virginia.

“Public officials from coast to coast — both Democrats, and even some Republicans — have condemned Donald Trump’s outrageous remarks on the violence in Charlottesville, but there’s at least one glaring exception: Florida Governor Rick Scott, who has remained deafeningly silent,” the Democratic gubernatorial candidate said in a statement Thursday. “Silence is unacceptable in the face of a president who called white supremacists and neo-Nazis ‘very fine people’ and claimed ‘all sides’ were responsible for the violence that left three people dead.”

Scott and Trump are friends, and the governor had notably declined to address Trump’s controversial comments this week when he defended the white nationalists who demonstrated in Virginia and said they included “some very fine people.”

Trump laid some of the blame for the violence that broke out at the feet of “alt-left” counter-protesters; he also equated the Confederate General Robert E. Lee with America’s Founding Fathers. Florida Republicans like Marco Rubio, Carlos Curbelo and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen have called out the president directly for the comments, but Scott has remained notably silent.

“You can ask President Trump what he said,” Scott told reporters Wednesday when asked his thoughts about the president’s latest comments.

The governor went on to say that there was “no moral equivalency between the two sides,” and that as a Navy veteran, he didn’t go into the military to defend neo-Nazi’s.

“I urge all political leaders at the state, local and federal level – including the president- to focus on unity,” he continued, adding, “how do we come together, how do we create more love and less hate? We’ve got to eliminate this divisiveness in this country.”

Graham says it’s time for Scott to specifically call out Trump’s comments.

“I am calling on Governor Scott to immediately denounce President Trump’s remarks and confirm that white supremacists are not welcome in Florida,” she said.

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