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Mitch Perry Report for 12.14.16 – Fun with Guccifer 2.0

Over the summer, a hacker who went by the nom de guerre of Guccifer 2.0 began distributing internal documents from the Democratic National Committee to a variety of reporters and bloggers here in Florida.

I was one of those recipients.

I bring that up this morning because of the story in Wednesday’s NY Times which revisits the issue, and highlights the document dumps in the CD 26 Democratic primary between Annette Taddeo and Joe Garcia.

And it reviews the correspondence between Guccifer 2.0 and a blogger who created the website HelloFLA!,, who the Times reports was run by a former Florida legislative aide turned Republican lobbyist.

I know we published one, maybe two stories from the information that Guccifer 2.0 provided. I then remember he sent me a link to some “new” material in mid-September that didn’t seem that all that new, and that I didn’t use. And some of it was about congressional races in places like Arizona and Texas. When I informed him of that, he then sent me this link to a post written on the HelloFla! site. I never responded, and that was pretty much the end of our correspondence.

There’s no question that some of this opposition research material was used by Republicans in some congressional races, despite Nancy Pelosi’s pleadings to Paul Ryan that Republicans not exploit that.

With all the discussing about how the hacking of the DNC and John Podesta hurt Hillary Clinton, the fact is most of those emails were more on the gossipy and embarrassing side. There were hardly any smoking guns in the thousands of emails that were produced, which in October were released virtually everyday. But these DNC internal documents documented in today’s Times story, yeah, that could have definitely hurt some Dems in some congressional races around the nation.

In other news…

FDOT Secretary Jim Boxold had some interesting remarks to make about the extremely controversial Tampa Bay Express project at a Senate Transportation committee meeting yesterday.

Marco Rubio serves on the Foreign Relations Committee, the committee of U.S. Senators who will vote on confirming Rex Tillerson, Donald Trump’s choice for secretary of state.

The National Urban League is taking Equality Florida to court over what they claim is infringement of their logo.

The ACLU of Florida and other groups and individuals have gone to federal court to remove another provision of that controversial abortion bill passed by the Legislature earlier this year.

Pinellas County Republican Executive Committee Chair Nick DiCeglie was re-elected on Monday night, and now is hoping to lead the entire state of Republican DEC chairs next month in Orlando.

Newly elected Hillsborough County State Attorney Andrew Warren will kick off a listening tour starting this Friday.


Marco Rubio says he has “serious concerns” about Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State

Marco Rubio had already weighed in negatively about Exxon Mobile CEO Rex Tillerson being floated as Donald Trump‘s possible choice for Secretary of State, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that now that it’s official, Rubio is still expressing his doubts.

“While Rex Tillerson is a respected businessman, I have serious concerns about his nomination,” Rubio said in a statement released Tuesday morning.

Other than John McCain, no other Republican has been so outspoken as Rubio in questioning the validity of the Tillerson nomination. Both men have been critical regarding Tillerson’s ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Tillerson negotiated an energy partnership with Putin in 2011 that the Russian president said would be worth as much as $500 billion. The next year, the Exxon Mobile CEO received the Russian Order of Friendship from the Kremlin, one of the highest honors that Russia bestows on foreigners.

The energy deal was put on hold when the U.S. levied sanctions against Russia for annexing Crimea. Reuters reported earlier this year that Exxon vowed to resume the agreement once sanctions are rolled back, a process Tillerson would be heavily involved in as secretary of State.

“The next secretary of state must be someone who views the world with moral clarity, is free of potential conflicts of interest, has a clear sense of America’s interests, and will be a forceful advocate for America’s foreign policy goals to the president, within the administration, and on the world stage,” continued Rubio in his statement. “I look forward to learning more about his record and his views.‎ I will do my part to ensure he receives a full and fair but also thorough hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.”

Rubio has also been out front in taking seriously the questions of Russia’s involvement in the just concluded presidential election.  Over the weekend, the Washington Post reported that the CIA‘s private conclusion that Russia’s activities were intended to tip the scales to help Trump. Senators from both sides the aisle says there will be a congressional investigation into that matter, but Rubio has been saying for months that he has concerns about possible Russian involvement.

While campaigning for re-election to the U.S. Senate in October, Rubio said“We don’t want to be in a country where foreign governments are able to blackmail our officials or interfere with our politics.”

Not too many other Republicans were saying that two months ago, when the WikiLeaks dumps of emails from the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta were hurting the Democratic presidential nominee.

“Do we really want to live in a country where foreign intelligence agents can blackmail our public officials if they threaten that if we don’t do what they want, they’re going to release your daughter’s emails, or your son’s emails, or your wife’s emails?” Rubio said. “Today it’s [Democrats]. Tomorrow it could be us. Or everyone for that matter.”

“This is what Vladimir Putin does to the former Soviet republics: he blackmails leaders and interferes with their elections,” Rubio added. “This is not a Republican or Democratic issue. This is an American issue.”

Undoubtedly, there should be plenty of tough questions coming from the Florida senator when Tillerson comes before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee next month.

Senate passes NASA bill too late, but offers statement of Congress priorities

When the U.S. Senate passed a quadrennial NASA Authorization bill Saturday it was too late for it ever to get adopted, since the House of Representatives already had adjourned for the session, but the bipartisan bill with bi-cameral input was intended as a message to the Donald Trump White House about Congress’s priorities for NASA.

The bill made it clear that Congress – at least those who made up the legislature for the now-ended 114th Congress – wants continuity over the next few years for key space agency programs, notably those aimed at getting humans into deep space. That means continued progress on developing the Space Launch System deep-space rocket, the Orion deep-space astronaut capsule, and several other deep-space projects, including a satellite visit to the Jovian moon Europa.

The U.S. Senate unanimously passed the NASA Transition Authorization Act, Senate Bill 3346, on Saturday, which would have authorized $19.6 billion for NASA in 2017. The bill had been sponsored by U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, the Texas Republican who chairs  Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation. Florida’s U.S. senators, Democrat Bill Nelson and Republican Marco Rubio, were among eight co-sponsors.

“I am proud to have worked with my colleagues in introducing this bill, and look forward to advancing our nation’s space program in the next Congress,” Rubio stated afterwards.

With this bill, he and the 114th Congress left a priorities list for the 115th and for Trump, who has not spelled out much of his space policy yet.

Among them:

* Continued progress in developing the SLS rocket and Orion, keeping NASA shooting for an unmanned launch of the pair in late 2018, and a crewed launch to go around the moon in 2021. In addition, the bill pushes for a “heavy lift” version of the SLS rocket, which would use addition rocket boosters, essentially from the space shuttle program, to give the rocket the ability to send very big items into deep space.

The bill says Congress wants a strategic plan out of NASA by the end of 2017 explaining how it intends to get humans onto Mars by the 2030s.

* Eventually, the bill states, NASA needs to look at longterm goals  to create a permanent human presence beyond lower-Earth orbit, even a “peaceful settlement of a location in space or another celestial body,” according to a committee report filed by U.S. Sen. John Thune, the South Dakota Republican.

Consequently, the bill had proposed increasing funding 12 percent for NASA’s space exploration directorate, while making trims elsewhere in the space agency’s budget, notably in NASA’s Earth science programs.

Naturally, the Coalition for Deep Space Exploration, a lobbying group that represents many of the interests and corporations involved in developing the SLS, Orion and other deep space programs, expressed strong support.

“There is no clearer signal of the continued Congressional support for NASA’s human exploration and deep space science programs than the Senate’s passage of the NASA Transition Authorization Act,” Mary Lynne Dittmar, the coalition’s executive director, stated in a news release Monday. “This bill is the product of hard work by Senators Thune, Nelson, Cruz and [Michigan’s Democrat Gary] Peters, as well as the full Commerce & Transportation Committee and their staff, and their work to pass this bill before the 114th Congress adjourns shows their commitment to NASA and ensuring continued progress on NASA’s core exploration capabilities.”

* Continued development of the James Webb  Space Telescope, NASA’s planned but over-budget and behind-schedule replacement for the Hubble Space Telescope.

* Continued support of the International Space Station through the year 2024.

* Continued support of NASA’s commercial resupply program, which has SpaceX, Orbital ATK and soon Sierra Nevada Corp. running delivery services to the space station. And continued support of NASA’s commercial crew program, which is to soon have SpaceX and Boeing running a taxi service for astronauts headed to and from the space station.

* Continued support for the 2020 Mars Rover mission, and the Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope, a planned space observatory that would be used to delve into deep physics questions.

* Continued support for NASA to continue transforming Kennedy Space Center and the space agency’s launch center in Virginia into multi-user space ports open to private companies’ launches and landings.

Women slam Donald Trump in Tampa as part of a national day of protest

Approximately thirty people gathered in Tampa’s Lykes Gaslight Park on Monday to participate in a protest by women and their “allies in solidarity” against what they call Donald Trump’s hate.

The event was one of at least two dozen being held around the nation. In New York, protesters were gathering at Columbus Circle at 2 p.m., where they were then scheduled later in the day to march to Trump Tower to speak out against the president-elect.

“Part of the objective was to do this before the 19th to try to get the attention of the electoral college voters, however far fetched that might be,” said Suzanne Young, the organizer of the Tampa event.

December 19 is when the 538 members of the Electoral College will cast their ballots for president. Those electors are picked by their political parties, and in the states where Trump took the popular vote like in Florida, the Republican party’s slate of electorate will get to vote.

But a group of rogue electors known as the Hamilton Electors have been engaged in a last-ditch effort to stop Trump from becoming president. To do they must convince at least 37 of the 306 Republican electors currently pledged to Trump to instead support a moderate Republican alternative. Democratic electors have taken the lead in this long-shot effort, which if successful at denying any candidate 270 electoral votes could ultimately throw the presidential election into the hands of the House of Representatives.

“I have a fear for their own safety, because they can’t vote their conscious,” said one anonymous demonstrator about the electors at the Tampa rally. She told this reporter she feared retribution from her boss if she said her name while attending the event.

Others at the rally spoke in dark terms of what a Trump presidency could mean for the nation.

“I’ve lost a lot of elections, but I always had the security of knowing that the U.S. was going to be in pretty good hands. This time I feel that the entire world is at stake,” said Laura Manson from Dade City.”I’m an older women. I have studied some history. And I see some similarities, quite frankly, to Hitler, and I always said to myself, that couldn’t happen. Now I think it could happen. And if history has taught me anything, it’s that there’s a time to stand up.”

Nearly all the protestors in Lykes Gaslight Park were women, some of whom said they feared that under a Trump administration they could lose fundamental rights, such as the right to have an abortion. Trump has said that he supports pro-life justices to sit on the Supreme Court.

“We’ve got to stand up or we’re going to lose,” Geanne Marks from St. Petersburg said with concern. “All that we’ve fought for is going to go down the tubes. We have got to stand up. He’s in. We can’t do anything about that. But we can sure let our voice be heard, that we’re not going to put up with the kind of things that he’s shown while he was campaigning.”

Marks said she has only become more alarmed in the five weeks since the election by the choice of Trump’s Cabinet selections. “I mean you choose somebody for EPA who doesn’t believe in global warming?” she asked incredulously about the choice of Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to lead that agency“You chose a woman for education who doesn’t believe in public education?” she added, referring to Betsy DeVos, Trump’s selection to head the Dept. of Education.

Over the weekend Florida GOP Senator Marco Rubio slammed Trump for considering ExonMobil Corporation head Rex Tillerson as be his choice for secretary of state. The 64-year-old Tillerson, who took home $27 million last year, also has close ties with Russia, which has led to the objections by Rubio, John McCain and Lindsey Graham.

Tampa resident Erin Feichtinger said after reading Rubio’s tweet about Tillerson, she called his office on Monday to tell him she appreciated the comment. “We should identify these issues that I don’t think should be partisan, that affect all of Americans, and so I think it’s important that I call him,” she said. “I’m going to continue to call the office and hold him to that and let him know that his constituents do see that and do support that.”

Protests against Trump began the night after the election and continued for over a week in the Tampa Bay area and around the nation.  There haven’t been as many recently, but several people who attended Monday’s rally say they’ll be active the entire time that Trump is in office.

Susan from St. Petersburg (she did not feel comfortable giving us her full name) said uncertain whether the Democrats are up to being the opposition party in full in challenging Trump, but she says she won’t quit.

“I believe that radical change and incremental change can co-exist,” she said. “I believe in both kinds of change and it doesn’t hurt me to participate in incremental change while I advocate for radical change.”

Mitch Perry Report for 12.9.16 – Will Bud Selig’s entry into the HOF ease the way steroid users?

Happy Friday, y’all. Hey, can we talk baseball this December morning? Okay, how ’bout hypocrisy?

Bud Selig, the commissioner who presided over the game’s golden age of steroid use, was named to the sacred Baseball Hall of Fame earlier this week by what is called the “veterans committee.”

That’s not to be confused with the Baseball Writers Association of America, who will most likely once again diss Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens when they vote next month on who should make the hall.

There were a lot of other elements of the Selig era, but the press certainly was fascinated by the explosion of people using performing enhancing drugs (PED’s) during the late 1990’s and early aughts, and none were better on (or off them) than Bonds and Clemens.

Of course, it should be noted, steroid use was completely legal in the game at the time. A weak policy was put in place in 2003, but it was strengthen in the fall of 2005 after Congress threatened to intervene. Leading the game at that time was Selig, who, like most of the baseball establishment (including us fans) pretty much ignored the controversy until it centered around a guy that nobody liked named Barry Bonds.

Bonds owns both the all-time home run record for one season, hitting 73 in 2001, as well as the most in the history of the game, when he eclipsed Hank Aaron in 2007.

Bonds was a universally loathed man, but he was beloved in San Francisco. The same for Clemens in the towns that he played in. Alex Rodriguez? Well, when people were throwing fake needles at Bonds during his run-up to breaking the all time home run record in ’07, A-Rod was hitting 54 homers in the Bronx, and NYC sports writers were saying that he would ultimately surpass Bonds. Then A-Rod got busted again for steroid use himself a couple of years later, and ultimately became the whipping boy of the New York city dailies.

Of course, “Big Papi” David Ortiz also got busted for ‘roids a decade ago, but hey, he’s beloved by everyone, so nobody likes to bring that up. In fact Selig’s successor, Rob Manfred, says that drug test that Ortiz failed back then may have been faulty.

“I think that the feeling was, at the time that name was leaked, that it was important to make people understand that even if your name was on that list, that it was entirely possible that you were not a positive,” Manfred told the Boston Globe on October 3, Big Papi’s final day as a pro. “I do know that he’s never been a positive at any point under our program.”

Whatever. But come on, isn’t it time to end the punishment for these stars for doing better what so many others were doing at the time? At least some sportswriters are seeing the light. Veteran San Francisco Chronicle scribe Susan Slusser tweeted last week that it’s “senseless to keep steroid guys out when the enablers are in Hall of Fame. I now will hold my nose and vote for players I believe cheated.”

Will her colleagues in the baseball media follow suit?

In other news..

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel delivered a letter to Donald Trump earlier this week from 17 big-city mayors, calling on the President-elect  to reconsider his vow to end Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), the provision that protects young, so-called Dreamers who came to the country before the age of 16 from deportation and allows them to study and work in the U.S. Bob Buckhorn wasn’t on the letter, but said he would have signed if he were asked.

Marco Rubio and the Republican Senate isn’t about to give Merrick Garland an up or down vote regarding his nomination for the Supreme Court, but a coalition of progressive groups in Florida aren’t giving up the opportunity to think about it during the lame -duck session of Congress.

And the Tampa City Council District 7 election is over, but the hard feelings aren’t – at least with one fallen candidate.

Marco Rubio introduces bill to combat human trafficking

A new bill filed by Sen. Marco Rubio and Sen. Bob Menendez seeks to depoliticize how the State Department reports on human trafficking, while increasing congressional oversight on the enforcement of penalties.

The Trafficking in Persons Report Integrity Act (TIPRIA) is intended to reform the annual Trafficking in Persons Report from State.

Reuters broke the story that political appointees of the State Department squashed the truth about human trafficking in Malaysia, Cuba, and China.

The Rubio/Menendez bill would make the report more meaningful and actionable, with the United States Congress ensuring that American concerns about human trafficking aren’t subverted in the name of realpolitik.

Among its components: any country that has “forced labor” would be on Tier 3 of the report; State would have to explain the actions (or lack thereof) that contributed to the country’s ranking; tighter controls on presidential “waivers” that allow countries that would otherwise be in the third tier to be in the second.

Tier 3 countries are not allowed aid, beyond humanitarian and trade assistance. This legislation would compel presidents to report to Congress before relaxing restrictions.

Countries in both Tier 2 and Tier 3 could be barred from loans from multi-lateral development banks, unless those loans are yoked to anti-human trafficking conditions.

“In recent years, we’ve seen political agendas at the State Department interfere with America’s efforts to shine a light on human trafficking around the world,” said Rubio. “The Trafficking in Persons Report should be above politics and should reflect the full extent to which modern slavery exists and what governments are doing – or failing to do – about it. Passing this bill will bring greater transparency to this process of preparing the report and in doing so, it will help us hold human traffickers around the world accountable.”

In waning days of 114th Congress, progressive coalition presses Marco Rubio to push for voting on judicial nominees

There are just days left before Congress concludes its lame duck session and heads home for the holidays, but that isn’t stopping a coalition of progressive organizations in Florida from urging Senator Marco Rubio to act when it comes to the logjam of judicial nominees.

The Florida Why Courts Matter coalition on Thursday delivered a letter to the Miami Republican, calling on him to “work to end the obstruction of federal judicial nominees, starting with a full and fair hearing and an up-or-down vote this lame duck session on Chief Judge Merrick Garland’s nomination to the Supreme Court.” The coalition also called on Rubio and the Senate to “fulfill its constitutional duty by acting on the other lingering judicial vacancies in our federal courts, including six here in Florida, and by holding up-or-down votes on the 25 lower court nominees that have been vetted and approved by the bipartisan Senate Judiciary Committee and their home state senators.”

The letter was signed by eight Florida civic engagement organizations, including Equality Florida, the Florida Alliance of Retired Network, Progress Florida, and Florida NOW.

The Florida Why Courts Matter Coalition has been pressing Rubio to address the of the lack of progress by the GOP-led Senate Judiciary Committee when it comes to confirming justices nominated by President Obama to the federal bench.

In August, the group reported that under President Obama, 82 nominees had been filibustered, compared to 86 nominees blocked under all the other presidents combined.

Most famous has been the case of Garland, who was nominated by Obama to replace the late Antonin Scalia on the U.S. Supreme Court back in March. Senate Republican leaders immediately announced their their intention not to vote on the nomination, arguing that they thought the next president should fill the vacancy because it came in the middle of a presidential election season and so late in Obama’s final term.

President-elect Donald Trump is expected to announce immediately when he takes the reins of power his nominee to replace Scalia on the high court.

Here’s the letter sent to Rubio:

December 8, 2016

The Honorable Marco Rubio
United States Senate
284 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington DC, 20510

Dear Senator Rubio:

On behalf of The Florida Why Courts Matter coalition and other Florida civic engagement organizations representing hundreds of thousands of Floridians, we’re writing to urge you to work to end the obstruction of federal judicial nominees, starting with a full and fair hearing and an up-or-down vote this lame duck session on Chief Judge Merrick Garland’s nomination to the Supreme Court. In addition the Senate should fulfill its constitutional duty by acting on the other lingering judicial vacancies in our federal courts, including six here in Florida, and by holding up-or-down votes on the 25 lower court nominees that have been vetted and approved by the bipartisan Senate Judiciary Committee and their home state senators.

The Constitution gives the President the responsibility to nominate justices to the Supreme Court, and gives the Senate the responsibility to provide “advice and consent” on those nominees. President Obama nominated the eminently qualified Chief Judge Garland more than 260 days ago, but you and your colleagues in the Senate Republican leadership have refused to even consider his nomination. Since 1975, it has taken an average of 42 days after nomination for the Senate Judiciary Committee to hold a confirmation hearing for Supreme Court nominees, and an average of 67 days for the full Senate to vote. It has never taken more than 125 days, until now.

This unprecedented obstruction is destructive, as it forces the Supreme Court to operate with only eight justices. During the Supreme Court term in 2015, the Court deadlocked in several important cases, such as U.S. v Texas, leaving millions of undocumented immigrants in limbo. In Zubik v Burwell, the Supreme Court did not issue a final ruling on whether employers can deny their employees birth control coverage. In other instances, the Court apparently is avoiding deadlock by not taking important cases in the first place. Allowing the vacancy to continue even further into a second term of the Court is dangerous and could leave critical issues, such as health care, immigration, and voting rights, unresolved. There is an urgent need for the Senate to do its job and convene a hearing on Chief Judge Garland’s nomination and other pending nominations.

We are also deeply troubled that the Senate has refused to act on numerous lower court vacancies. Judicial emergencies have skyrocketed from 12 at the start of this Congress to 38 today. In Florida there are currently six vacancies, and four of those are emergencies. The refusal of the Senate to address these vacancies threatens the stability and fairness of our justice system and delays justice for Floridians seeking their day in court.

Floridians are counting on you to push Senate leadership to do their job and fill these long-standing court vacancies. Now that the election is behind us, we urge you to join us in calling for a hearing and confirmation vote on Chief Judge Merrick Garland and other federal court nominees during the lame duck session.


Clean Water Action
Kathy Aterno, Director

Equality Florida
Nadine Smith, Co-founder and CEO

Florida Alliance of Retired Americans
Bill Sauers, President

Florida Consumer Action Network
Susan McGrath, Executive Director

Florida National Organization of Women (Florida NOW)
Terry Sanders, President

National Council of Jewish Women (Florida Chapter)
Linda Geller-Schwartz, Florida State Policy Advocate

Organize Now
Stephanie Porta, Executive Director

Progress Florida
Mark Ferrulo, Executive Director

Bill Nelson, Marco Rubio applaud NIH funding bill passage; Moffitt money preserved

Florida’s Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio and Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson both applauded passage Wednesday by the U.S. Senate of a bill that heads off potential cuts in cancer research at Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa and the University of Miami’s Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center.

The Senate approved H.R. 34, entitled the “21st Century Cures Act,” by a 94-5 vote Wednesday. The House of Representatives approved it earlier.

“This bill makes a lot of improvements to our nation’s medical research programs, but the most important thing it provides is hope — hope for patients affected by thousands of diseases, hope for people battling mental illness, and hope for families scarred by the ravages of opioid addiction,” Rubio stated in a news release issued by his office. “This legislation combines some of the best ideas for advancing medical treatment and research, speeding up the development of lifesaving drugs, and reforming our mental health system. It also funds the fight against the heroin epidemic and overdoses sweeping through far too many communities in Florida and around the country.”

The bill provides the National Institutes of Health an additional $4.8 billion over the next ten years.

“This funding will help us retain some of the nation’s best and brightest medical researchers and allow them to continue working on several important projects such as cures for cancer and Alzheimer’s,” Nelson stated in a news release from his office.

Marco Rubio endorses Blaise Ingoglia for Florida GOP chair

Add Sen. Marco Rubio to the growing list of Republicans backing Blaise Ingoglia for Florida GOP chair.

Ingoglia, a Spring Hill Republican state representative, announced Tuesday that Rubio has thrown his support behind his re-election bid. In an email to Republican Party of Florida executive committee members, Ingoglia said Rubio has “been a great friend to the RPOF” and thanked him for his leadership.

“We look forward to seeing him shine in the U.S. Senate with Republicans now in control of all three branches of the federal government,” he said in his email.

Ingoglia was elected chairman in 2015, after Republican activists rejected Gov. Rick Scott’s hand-picked chairman. He had served as the party vice chairman, and was backed by grassroots leaders throughout the state.

“The Republican Party’s performance in Florida under Blaise’s leadership speaks for itself. We won tough races across the board in the nation’s biggest swing state, and Blaise’s leadership in the GOP’s get-out-the-vote ground operation this past year was decisive,” said Rubio in a statement. “He has worked tirelessly the past two years traveling the state, meeting with activists, and growing our party. Blaise has my full support for reelection as Chairman of the Republican Party of Florida.”

Ingoglia will face Christian Ziegler, a Sarasota Republican committeeman, in the race to serve as the RPOF chair. Ziegler, 33, announced his candidacy in November.

Joe Henderson: Donald Trump ‘saves’ Indiana jobs; Eric Newman asks ‘why not us?’

Eric Newman read news reports of the fight by incoming president Donald Trump to keep the Carrier air conditioning company from moving jobs to Mexico and thought, hey, why not us?

Newman owns the J.C. Newman Cigar Company in Tampa and has been fighting the Food and Drug Administration over regulations that Newman says could put his 121-year-old operation out of business.

So when this lifelong Democrat saw what Trump was doing to save jobs in Indiana, he described himself as “cautiously optimistic.”

“If President Trump is true to his word that overregulation is killing small businesses, we are the poster child for that,” Newman said. “It’s still way too early to tell if he can help us, but I feel better about it now.”

At its peak, Tampa was home to about 150 cigar-making companies, but Newman’s is the last such operation in the city. Other companies folded under increased regulatory pressure by the FDA and health concerns about tobacco use.

But, Newman has always argued that cigars are different from cigarettes and shouldn’t be held in the same category as a cancer risk.

“You go outside an office building, and you’ll see people huddled around smoking cigarettes,” he said. “You don’t see them smoking cigars. It’s not the same thing.”

You can’t blame Newman for feeling his government is out to get him, though. In addition to stringent new FDA rules that restrict the development of new product lines, Newman pointed to an executive order by President Obama that benefited Cuban cigar-makers.

The order allows travelers to bring all the Cuban cigars they want into the United States for personal consumption. Those cigars aren’t subject to the same regulations faced by Newman’s company.

“I have no problem competing with Cuban cigars on an equal footing,” Newman said. “But this exemption by President Obama gives such an advantage to the Cuban worker while screwing the American worker.

“We’re not looking for a handout. But one federal agency says cigars are bad for you, while another federal agency – in this case, the president – says it’s OK to bring in all the Cuban cigars you want. This whole thing with Cuba is just wacky.”

There have been attempts in Congress to address this issue, but despite bipartisan support from U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor and senators Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson, they haven’t gotten anywhere.

However, as Newman pointed out, “There will be a new sheriff in town.”

The Trump administration likely will mean an overhaul at the FDA and that gives Newman hope that the added fees and testing requirements that he says drives up his cost dramatically will be reduced or eliminated.

“It is supposed to be a government of the people, by the people and for the people,” he said. “It’s not supposed to be screw the people.”

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