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Bernie Sanders to join Andrew Gillum for Tampa, Orlando rallies

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders is coming to Florida to campaign for Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Andrew Gillum.

The Gillum campaign announced late Tuesday that the Senator from Vermont will join Gillum at two rallies on Friday — less than two weeks away from the Aug. 28 primary.

The first of the rallies is set to take place in Tampa, where Sanders and Gillum will speak to voters at 11 a.m. in Armature Works — Gathering Room. In the afternoon, the two will head to Orlando for a 2 p.m. rally at the CFE Arena at UCF.

Sanders endorsed Gillum at the beginning of the month, christening him as the progressive option for Florida voters.

“As governor, Andrew Gillum will work to provide health care for all through a Medicare-for-All program, raise the minimum wage to a living wage, invest in sustainable energy, improve education, make sure the wealthiest corporations pay their fair share of taxes, and be welcoming to immigrants,” Sanders said then.

With respect to the Democratic field, Gillum faces former Congresswoman Gwen Graham, billionaire investor Jeff Greene, former Mayor of Miami Beach Philip Levine and Orlando businessman Chris King. Most recent polls have shown Gillum trailing Graham, Levine, and Greene, though a large swath of likely Democratic voters still haven’t picked their candidate yet, according to the same polls.

Whether a rally could give the Tallahassee Mayor the much-needed boost is unknown.

On the Republican side, candidates Adam Putnam, the Agriculture Commissioner, and Ron DeSantis, the Congressman from Ponte Vedra, were “virtually tied,” according to a Florida Chamber poll in July.

But that was before President Donald Trump endorsed DeSantis on Twitter (for the second time) and came to Tampa to rally on the Congressman’s behalf. Now DeSantis appears to be firmly in the lead in the Republican primary.

Trump, however, is battle-tested against Florida’s electorate. He captured 45 percent of the party’s vote in the Republican primary in 2016. Sanders, in the same primary, lost to Hillary Clinton, who captured more than 64 percent of Democratic votes.

Scott Sturgill ad puts abortion question into CD 7 contest

For the first 18 seconds, the new video ad in the race for Florida’s 7th Congressional District looks like something almost any Democrat would be willing to air: young women praising the candidate for supporting abortion choice rights and Planned Parenthood, and resisting President Donald Trump‘s “assault on Roe versus Wade.”

“I like Mike,” the two women declare. And then the video screeches to a halt.

The angle: the 30-second spot “Thank You Liberal Mike Miller” is not about a Democrat, but rather a mock testimonial to Republican state Rep. Mike Miller. And the ad is not his; it is from his Aug. 28 Republican primary opponent, Sanford businessman Scott Sturgill.

“I’m Scott Sturgill,” Sturgill declares after the quick cut when the ad turns to him. “I’m the only candidate who is 100 percent pro-life, and endorsed by Florida Right to Life.”

Miller’s campaign expressed outrage, calling the positions portrayed about him in the ad “a complete fabrication.”

Sturgill began placing the ad on social media Friday afternoon, the latest shot in the bloody battle between him and Miller for the chance to take back CD 7, which Democratic U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy took from the Republicans and longtime U.S. Rep. John Mica two years ago.

Murphy has her own primary challenger from the left, Democrat Chardo Richardson, and Miller and Sturgill have a third rival in the Republican primary, Vennia Francois.

Sturgill’s campaign said the ad is a direct reference to Miller’s vote last January on House Bill 41 to fund Planned Parenthood, stating that Miller was one of only three Republicans to vote for it.

“It looks like Planned Parenthood has either teamed up with Scott Sturgill or this ad is a complete fabrication, which presents even larger problems for our opponent’s campaign,” Miller campaign spokeswoman Dana Loncar said in a written response. “It is appalling that Sturgill would stoop to such desperate levels to mislead voters when Mike is an “F” ranked legislator by them, because of his pro-life stance.”

The issue, and Sturgill’s effort to raise it to front and center in the primary battle, may wind up providing a test of sorts for the district. Can a strong pro-life campaign still fly in CD 7, even in a Republican primary?

Orlando remains home to a vast evangelical Christian community, much of it centered in CD 7. And historically state and federal lawmakers from much of that area have been staunch conservatives, particularly social conservatives.

Murphy won in 2016 with a socially-liberal platform, in part because the district, covering Seminole County and north and central Orange County, is not what it had been historically. Redistricting made CD 7 more urban, taking in downtown Orlando and all its surrounding cosmopolitan neighborhoods. Demographic trends made even the legacy areas much more diverse. The district now has an ever-so-slight Democratic lean. And yet the Republicans awash in that more mixed community, maybe less conservative as a group than they were five or ten years ago.

National climate change group backs Anna Eskamani in HD 47

Sunrise Movement, a climate change action group aimed at organizaing young progressives on the topic nationwide, is endorsing Democrat Anna Eskamani for Florida’s House District 47 in Orange County, her campaign announced.

Eskamani is the only candidate in any Florida election and one of only 20 candidates nationally in political campaigns at any level that Sunrise Movement has endorsed in its first round. Among others with her on the group’s “Sunrise Slate” are Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the Democratic-Socialist who won the upset Democratic primary victory in a New York congressional race; and Abdul El-Sayed, the Michigan Democrat seeking to become the nation’s first Muslim governor.

“Anna is a progressive advocate, daughter of immigrants, and our endorsed candidate in the Democratic primary for FL HD 47,” Sunrise Movement tweeted. “She was one of the earliest signers in Florida of the #NoFossilFuelMoney pledge and wants Florida to join Orlando in reaching for 100 percent renewables.”

Eskamani, an Orlando non-profit organization’s executive, has escaped a Democratic primary battle and awaits the winner of the Aug. 28 Republican primary between lawyer Mikaela Nix of Orlando and businessman Stockton Reeves VI of Winter Park. They hope to succeed Republican state Rep. Mike Miller representing north and central Orange County including downtown Orlando.

“I believe that Florida’s future economy relies on protecting and preserving our natural resources, from waterways to beaches, from swamps to forests,” Eskamani stated in a news release. “As the Sunshine State, we should be the global leader in renewable energy, especially solar. We must invest in the creation of green jobs, and prioritize the health of our families, climate, and democracy. Climate change is real, and we must not only curb it’s impact but protect communities who are already experiencing extreme weather and rising sea levels. It’s time we evolve away from energy sources of the past and look instead, towards the future.”

Rick Scott launches Spanish-language Puerto Rico ad

Republican U.S. Senate candidate Gov. Rick Scott is launching a new Spanish-language TV commercial Wednesday touting his creds in helping Puerto Rico and featuring the island territory’s member of Congress praising him.

“As a Puerto Rican, I thank him,” U.S. Rep. Jenniffer González-Colón of Puerto Rico says in Spanish at a Scott campaign event in May, standing next to him and Florida First Lady Ann Scott. “He offered us, in the moment of greatest need for our island in 90 years, shelter, a hug and an opportunity.”

The 30-second spot, “Gracias” [“Thanks”,] is being launched on Spanish-language television and the internet, seeking to build on Scott’s efforts to support Puerto Rico and displaced Puerto Ricans who came to Florida following the island’s devestation by Hurricanes Irma and Maria last September.

The commercial is the latest shot in the battle with Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson for the Puerto Rican vote, a significant factor in the Orlando area.

In the new commercial, footage of that May event in Kissimmee is mixed with other shots of Scott at other Puerto Rican events, meeting with various people, sometimes in front of a Puerto Rican flag, and walking in a Puertan Rico parade in Orlando in April.

“Gov. Rick Scott will be a great senator for the state of Florida. I know that as senator, he will be better,” she states in the commercial. “Leaders like Gov. Scott of Florida are the type of people we need in Congress.”

Philip Levine getting Disney, South Florida unions’ backing

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Philip Levine is getting the endorsement of two of the largest unions at Walt Disney World and from another representing hospitality workers in South Florida, with a formal announcement set for late Thursday in Orlando.

UNITE HERE Locals 362 and 737, combining to represent 23,000 at Walt Disney World and other Central Florida locations, and Local 355 representing 7,000 workers in South Florida, are picking Levine in the Democratic primary over four rivals.

Local 355 represents hospitality workers in South Florida’s hotels, airports, sports stadiums, and casinos. Local 362 represents attractions, custodial and vacation planning employees Walt Disney World and food service workers in Central Florida. Local 737 represents food and beverage workers and housekeepers at Disney and other locations throughout Central Florida.

“With union workers at Disney on the verge of winning a historic raise to $15, we need a governor who is committed to raising wages for all Floridians,” Eric Clinton, president of UNITE HERE Local 362, stated in a news release. “Phil Levine has taken action to raise wages in South Florida, and we stand with him to help workers across the whole state.”

Levine got the hospitality workers’ backing over his rivals in the Aug. 28 Democratic gubernatorial primary, Jeff Greene, Gwen Graham, Chris King, and Andrew Gillum, and over the Republican frontrunners, Ron DeSantis and Adam Putnam.

Andrew Gillum challenges ‘What’s impossible?’ in first TV ad

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum is challenging thinking about what’s impossible in his first television commercial, being launched today with a modest buy that will ramp up next week.

Gillum’s 30-second spot, “What’s impossible?”, seeks to define him as someone who already has a record of succeeding against long odds, as the son of the bus driver who grew up to become Tallahassee’s mayor and win a lawsuit against the National Rifle Association. The ad also offers Gillum’s promises to increase public education spending by $1 billion, and to accept the federal Medicaid expansion.

Running the lowest-budget campaign among the five Democrats and two Republicans seeking the governor’s office this year, Gillum’s commercial touts that underdog status and explicitly asks those viewing it to contribute to his campaign to keep the commercial on the air.

“Is it impossible to come from nothing, to be outspent ten to one, and win?” he asks. “Share this, buy a TV ad and prove the impossible.”

His campaign is spending $60,000 now to put it on statewide cable, including on CNN and MSNBC, starting Wednesday, and said it would make a six-figure purchase to put it on broadcast TV in Tampa, Orlando and West Palm Beach starting next week.

Gillum faces Jeff Greene, Philip Levine, Chris King, and Gwen Graham in the Aug. 28 Democratic primary. The first three have poured millions of dollars of their own money into their campaigns and all four have campaign funds far in excess of Gillum’s, though Gillum also has a political committee that has raised a couple million dollars, mainly through out-of-state donors.

Martin, Indian River counties ask federal judge to stop Brightline’s bonds

Martin and Indian River counties and Citizens Against Rail Expansion Florida are asking a federal judge to vacate the federal approval that would allow All Aboard Florida to sell $1.15 billion in private activity bonds to finance the railway expansion to send higher-speed Brightline passenger trains between Souh Florida and Orlando.

In a federal case they filed last February in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, the counties and CARE-FL filed a motion asking U.S. District Court Judge Christopher Cooper for a summary judgment vacating approval of the bond sale. They charge that the U.S. Department of Transportation, “ignored or failed to consider the environmental, public safety, maritime, and environmental impacts the AAF rail project will have on Treasure Coast communities.”

The $1.15 billion in tax-exempt private activity bonds were souight by the company to finance the double-tracking and upgrades needed along the 128-mile stretch of existing railroad, owned by All Aboard Florida’s affiliate Florida East Coast Railway, running from West Palm Beach to Cocoa. The money also would be used to build a new 40-mile railroad from Cocoa to the Orlando International Airport.

With those railway upgrades and expansions, Brightline intends to run as many as 32 privately-owned and -operated passenger train runs a day between South Florida and Orlando, linking the state’s two big tourist areas by passenger rail. The trains would be able to go up to 110 mph  from West Palm to Cocoa, and up to 120 mph from Cocoa to the Orlando airport, where a train station already has been built in anticipation of the service.

Federal officials approved the bonds in December, though All Aboard Florida has not yet sold them.

Already, Brightline has used annother set of private activity bonds to finance the first phase of the project, a 79-mph private passenger train railway linking West Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale and Miami. That service began earlier this year.

All along, the Treasure Coast counties and many communities along the way have opposed the trains running through their region [without planned stops there.] They contend that All Aboard Florida is insufficiently addressing the impacts so many high-speed trains would have, running through the middles of cities and towns, crossing canals and rivers and environmentally-sensitive areas.

This is the ninth lawsuit opponents of the train have filed, and All Aboard Florida contends the counties have spent more than $7 million in taxpayer funds fighting Brightline. The previous eight lawsuits were dismissed.

The 57-page motion from Martin and Indian River counties and CARE-FL goes into detail about safety concerns for a largely unfenced railroad corridor that has been described as having an “epidemic” of tresspassing,

“At the same time, FRA’s own guidelines warn that “[h]igh-speed passenger trains are difficult to detect visually and can be virtually silent until their arrival at any given location. The deadly mix of these circumstances poses grave and unique risks to pedestrians and cyclists,” the motion argues.

It also details safety concerns for the waterways, maritime traffic, and other matters, and charges that the U.S. Department of Transportation and its Federal Railroad Administration failed to consider them appropriately. The process that led to approval took four years and involved dozens of public hearings.

“Instead of directly addressing those vital concerns and directing that they be appropriately resolved in the Final Environmental Impact Statement and Record of Decision,  [the] USDOT/Federal Railroad Administration instead acted as the project’s supporter, deferring to AAF’s needs and wishes in violation of law,” the plaintiffs alleged.

“Even more concerning is the manner in which USDOT relied on AAF to develop responses to concerns raised during the FEIS process—a job that rests in the hands of the regulatory officials, not the hands of the company whose project is being reviewed,” Indian River County Attorney Dylan Reingold stated in a news release. “Instead of putting the well-being of the public first, USDOT bent over backwards to rubber stamp this project with little regard for its impact on the public.”

Aramis Ayala endorses Andrew Gillum in governor’s race

Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum has received the endorsement of Orlando’s State Attorney Aramis Ayala, someone who polarized much of Florida last year with her anti-death penalty stance but also won strong statewide recognition and support among many progressive Democrats.

“I’m proud to stand with Mayor Andrew Gillum in his campaign to take this state back for working people,” Ayala stated in a news release issued by Gillum’s campaign. “He’s shown true courage in this race — from speaking truth to power, to standing up for our most important values of inclusion and decency. His track record as a progressive leader in Tallahassee, combined with his bold vision of a true north star for this state, will serve him well as our next Governor. I’m looking forward to campaigning with him this summer and fall.”

She also joined him for an announcement in downtown Orlando.

Ayala, the state atorney for Florida’s 9th Judicial Circuit serving Orange and Osceola counties, also has been credited for courage, by her supporters – and for wrecklessness, by her critics. Last year she became the first Florida state attorney to declare a ban on death penalty prosecutions for capital murder cases in her circuit. That led to a high-profile, high-stakes, protracted legal and political fight with Gov. Rick Scott and others. Ultimately she lost and was forced to develop a system to institute death penalty prosecutions. And because the case was decided by the Florida Supreme Court, she likley will be the last state attorney to attempt such a stance under current Florida laws.

The fight made her famous statewide, and also attracted national attention, a poster child for liberal excesses to many Republicans and conservatives, and a champion of judicial reform to many Democrats and liberals. She has followed up with a couple more, less-controversial reforms, including a roll-back of automatic bail requests in many non-violent crime cases.

As the state’s first African-American state attorney, Ayala also has fostered a strong statewide base in Florida’s black communities, and she may be something of a role model for Gillum, who is seeking to become the state’s first African-American governor.

She won a shocking upset victory in the Democratic primary in 2016 over then-State Attorney Jeff Ashton before winning the post in the fall election. Her victory was fueled in large part by a third-party campaign financed by New York billionaire George Soros, who has declared his dedication to helping black candidates get elected to high offices. Soros also has poured $750,000 so far into a political committee to support Gillum this year.

Gillum faces former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, businessman Jeff Greene, and businessman Chris King heading into the Aug. 28 Democratic primary. King also advocates a ban on the death penalty.

“I’m deeply honored have State Attorney Ayala’s support in this race,” Gillum declared. “She is a deeply dedicated public servant and a strong advocate for justice and fairness, and the personification of leadership in her community and across the state. I’ve been deeply impressed by her criminal justice reforms, including the elimination of cash bail, as a way to make our justice system more equitable. She’s not afraid to stand up for what she believes in, and I can’t wait to continue campaigning with her throughout the summer and fall.”

Andrew Gillum sees his path in five-way primary

At this point Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum is counting on it not taking much – maybe 20-something, 30 percent – to win the August 28 Democratic primary for governor and he is counting on inspiring a midnight-blue wave of progressive Democrats and people of color to make him the party’s nominee this fall.

Gillum, in Orlando Tuesday afternoon to meet with airport workers struggling with low wages and benefits, is steadily taking meetings with unions, workers, minority groups, and progressive organizations trying to inspire a groundswell turnout while his Aug. 28 Democratic primary opponents, Jeff Greene, Philip Levine, Gwen Graham, Chris King, increasingly are saturating Florida’s airwaves with TV commercials.

Gillum said he will be up with TV commercials, which would be his first, not including the third-party, “dark money” commercials run in a couple of markets by The Collective, which Gillum has been forced to at least mildly disavow because many Democrats have been turned off by their attacks on Graham.

Yet while the other Democratic candidates have been raising far more money than his campaign and running one ad after another, they’ve been moving in the surveys, while Gillum has been largely stagnant, in most polls in the high single-digits or low teens.

That doesn’t count inspiring people to turn out to vote who otherwise wouldn’t, who don’t show up in the “likely primary voters” counts, he said during a stop at Orlando International Airport Tuesday, where he met with officials of the Local 32BJ SEIU and a gathering of contract airport workers whom the union is working with to organize. They certainly seemed to like what he was saying Tuesday.

“We have talked about bringing all marginalized communities to the polls, particularly in these midterm elections that are not popular elections for people to vote,” Gillum said.

“We feel very confident that we are building the kind of grassroots capacity that’s going to be necessary to turn voters out to win,” Gillum added.

After all, he pointed out, it is a five-way primary. Technically, 20 percent plus one vote could win. He said he expects the winner might have around 30 percent. That essentially is what his campaign is shooting for right now.

“In a primary in this state you gotta get a plurality. And the truth is we don’t need expensive television to reach that outcome. What we need is to communicate to voters who need to know I am their choice on the ballot,” Gillum said. “For a lot of reasons, largely because of our message, and what we’re trying to communicate, and the way we are communicating it, we believe we will have what it takes to win this primary.”

Gillum also sees perhaps a little magic in the date of Aug. 28, a little historical mojo that he feels good about breaking his way. It was Aug. 28, 1963, that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his “I Have a Dream” speech, and it was Aug. 28, 2008 that Barack Obama accepted the nomination to run for president.

“I believe on Aug. 28 I will accept the Democratic nomination for Florida, and it will put us on the trajectory to win the election on Nov. 6,” he said.

Rick Scott calls Bill Nelson ‘a hypocrite’ over tax, health care for staff

Republican Gov. Rick Scott blasted his U.S. senate election opponent Bill Nelson on Tuesday, calling the Democratic U.S. senator a hypocrite for not paying payroll taxes or health care benefits for campaign staffers while railing against tax cuts and Republican opposition to health care programs in Washington.

Scott was responding to reports that Nelson’s campaign finance report details show that his campaign was not paying the matching Social Security, Medicare, and unemployment taxes for those laboring in his re-election campaign this year, and also was not offering any health care benefits.

“Here’s a guy who likes to raise our taxes all the time, Bill Nelson, and at the same time we got a report last week that for his campaign, he’s not even paying his payroll taxes. … And on top of that he likes all these big government health care mandates and he’s not even paying his own employees’ health care,” Scott said.

“He’s been a hypocrite,” Scott added.

Nelson’s campaign responded by insisting that Scott’s criticisms are based partly on out-of-date information, and partly on the fact that the Nelson campaign followed a very common start-up model: For the first few months the campaign was run and staffed significantly by consultants – independent contractors who get paid a contract amount and are on their own for dealing with taxes and benefits.

That has largely changed, starting July 1, as the Nelson campaign has gotten established, replacing many contractors with full-time employees. For them, the campaign does pay payroll taxes, and negotiates salaries to provide that the employees can be able to afford to purchase health insurance, Nelson’s campaign contended.

Scott said his campaign pays payroll taxes and provides health care benefits.

Scott’s campaign also uses contractors and consultants, but his staff argued it’s a different matter, because his are not used in lieu of full-time staff members.  The Scott for Florida team has more than 30 full-time employees. Full-time staffers are salaried with health insurance and the campaign pays payroll taxes.

Scott declined to speak to whether any of his businesses do not pay payroll taxes or health care benefits, saying they’re all in a blind trust.

He was in Orlando Tuesday, at Restaurant Supply World, a longtime supporter of his, to announce the endorsement from the National Federation of Independment Businesses of Florida, and the formation of his campaign’s Small Business Coalition, made up of more than 400 endorsing businesses spread across all 67 of Florida’s counties.

He argued Nelson is no friend of small business, and, worse, doesn’t pay the taxes and health care mandates he helped create for those small businesses.

“I think it’s absolutely hypocritical for Bill Nelson to sit there and vote for all these tax increases but he doesn’t want to pay his own taxes,” Scott said. “Can you imagine? He’s not paying his fair share of payroll taxes and he’s not providing his workers health care, but he wants to go raise all these taxes on us and have all these big government health care mandates.”

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