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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Nelson’s campaign responded by insisting that Scott’s criticisms are based partly on out-of-date information, and partly on the fact that the Nelson campaign followed a very common start-up model: For the first few months the campaign was run and staffed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.”

Rick Scott: ‘I disagree with the president’ on Vladimir Putin

In a campaign stop for his drive to become Florida’s next U.S. senator, Republican Gov. Rick Scott sought to put daylight between himself and President Donald Trump Tuesday, saying he disagreed with him on the positions he expressed Monday in Helsinki toward Russia and its leader Vladimir Putin.

Scott essentially dodged that question on Monday, condemning Putin but declining to address Trump’s political embrace of the dictator in Helsinki. For that, Scott’s Democratic opponent, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, charged that Scott was refusing to stand up to his “pal” in the White House.

On Tuesday, at an event at Restaurant Supply World in Orlando to announced the endorsement of the National Federation of Independent Businesses of Florida, Scott stood up to Trump, though not quite by name.

“I completely disagree. I disagree with the president,” Scott replied to a press question. “I think Putin, he’s not to be trusted. I’m very skeptical of him. I don’t think he’s a friend; he’s a foe.

“I think that there is clear evidence that he tried to meddle in our election,” Scott added.

“I’ve worked worked to try to make sure our Florida elections are fair. I want everybody to vote but I don’t want there to be any fraud,” he continued. “That’s why I’ve added counter-terrorism people at [the Florida] Secretary of State [Office]. We quickly tried to get the money out the federal government sent down to help our superviosors of elections. But I disagree with the president yesterday.”

This was Nelson’s statement on Monday after Scott condemned Putin but said nothing about Trump:

“Today, Donald Trump sided with Putin over the people of the United States. And, once again, Rick Scott has refused to stand up to his pal, Donald Trump – now on an issue that puts our national security at risk. Floridians need a senator who will stand up to Trump, especially when our democracy is under attack, and Rick Scott’s refusal is just another reminder that he’s only looking out for himself.”

Former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham

Gwen Graham: Republican governor streak must end

The last time a Democrat served as governor of Florida, Bill Clinton was still president.

In a new campaign ad, Democratic candidate for governor Gwen Graham says it’s time for that to change.

Titled “Twenty” (see below), Graham critiques Republican leadership of the state for the past two decades, and argues she is the candidate best equipped to flip control over to the Democrats.

“It has been really bad for Florida that, for twenty years, the Republican Party has been in total control,” says Graham in the new 30-second ad.

“It’s these high-paid lobbyists that are in charge in Tallahassee. They have not taken Medicaid expansion. They have hurt education. It’s going to take bringing it back to, ‘How do I serve the people?’ “

That echoes the pitch Graham has made recently, telling Florida Politics the 2018 election “is so important for the future of the state.”

“Graham says stand up to the corporate special interests,” explains the ad’s narrator. “Put health care, schools and people first again.”

The Graham campaign has also been focused on the future of abortion rights, after the retirement of Justice Anthony Kennedy and Monday night’s announcement of his replacement, Judge Brett Kavanaugh.

Graham, a former Tallahassee congresswoman, has been near the top of the Democratic gubernatorial field in recent polling, along with former Miami Beach mayor Philip Levine.

Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, Palm Beach real estate billionaire Jeff Greene and Winter Park businessman Chris King are also competing for the Democratic nomination.

Graham’s new ad is set to air on Orlando and Tampa TV markets. You can watch it below, via YouTube.

Anna Eskamani receives teachers’ union endorsement

Democratic state House candidate Anna Eskamani has received the endorsement of the Florida Education Association in her quest to be elected in House District 47.

“FEA has chosen to endorse your candidacy for the office of House District 47. This endorsement is a recognition of your advocacy for teachers and support professionals, as well as your support for neighborhood public schools in Florida,” Joanne McCall, president of FEA, stated in a news release issued by Eskamani’s campaign Thursday morning.

Eskamani, of Orlando, recently picked up a Democratic primary challenger, Lou Forges, but has built both a deep ground game and a huge campaign fund heading toward the August 28 primary. The winner gets the Republican nominee from the primary, either businessman Stockton Reeves VI of Winter Park or lawyer Mikaela Nix of Orlando.

HD 47 covers north and central Orange County, including downtown Orlando. Republican incumbent state Rep. Mike Miller is stepping down to run for Congress.

Eskamani has declared protecting public education as one of her top legislative priorities, and this past week she signed onto the teacher’s union’s Candidate Pledge to improve teacher and education staff salaries too.

“I am a proud graduate of Orange County Public Schools and a passionate protector of public education. I am grateful to the teachers who supported me in my growth and development, and know that our schools will not thrive if we do not support our teachers,” she stated in the release. “Teachers deserve improved pay, access to leadership development experiences, and to be treated as professionals by allowing them to have the freedom to teach beyond a test. We must invest n public education, and not divert tax dollars to private for-profit charter schools. Education is a right for all students regardless of color, class, sexual orientation, gender identity, and ability. Students should be safe in our schools too, with teachers never armed.”

On Thursday Eskamani also challenged the Florida Legislature’s latest schools package, noting that the Republican leadership touted a $101.50 per student increase in public education. All but $.47 of that funding is mandated to be spent for new obligations being imposed on school districts, she noted.

“That $.47 is supposed to be used by school districts to provide teachers raises, fund new educational programs, and manage other inflationary operating costs,” she stated. “It’s a joke, how do the same state leaders that attack public schools as “failure factories” then turn around and starve our public schools by not providing adequate funding? Ultimately it will be our children that pay the price.”

Mikaela Nix picks up local officials’ endorsements in HD 47 race

Republican state House candidate Mikaela Nix has picked up new endorsements from nine elected officials and former officials in Orange County for her campaign to be elected in House District 47, her campaign announced.

Those include Orange County mayoral candidate and Commissioner Pete Clarke, Belle Isle Mayor Lydia Pisano, and Edgewood Mayor Ray Bagshaw.

“We need a representative who is running for the people and not for a title. That’s Mikaela Nix, a conservative who cares about people and is already making a difference in our community,” Pisano stated in a news release issued by Nix’s campaign.

“We need a conservative leader who is able to work with all parties to get things done. That’s why I’m endorsing Mikaela Nix for State House 47,” added Bagshaw.

Nix, an Orlando lawyer, is in an August 28 Republican HD 47 primary battle with Winter Park businessman Stockton Reeves VI. The Democrats are fielding Planned Parenthood executive Anna Eskamani and Apopka real estate agent Lou Forges.

The district, being vacated by Republican state Rep. Mike Miller, who’s running for Congress, covers north-central Orange County from southern Winter Park through downtown Orlando to Belle Isle and Edgewood on the south side.

Other endorsements announced by Nix’s campaign include Belle Isle Commissioner Anthony Carugno; Edgewood Council members Richard Horn, Ben Pierce, and John Dowless [a political consultant already working on Nix campaign;] Winter Park Commissioner Pete Weldon; and former Winter Park Mayor Ken Bradley.

“I’m especially honored to have earned the support and endorsement of these leaders because they are the elected officials who are closest to the residents and understand the needs of District 47,” Nix stated in the release. “They want an effective and dedicated leader who will fight for the families and residents of our area, and that’s exactly what I intend to do.”

Chris King touting internal poll showing all his numbers rising

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chris King is releasing results of internal polling Wednesday that show his support numbers rising across the board in four Florida markets heading toward the August 28 Democratic primary.

The survey by David Binder Research finds a relatively tight race for the top four contenders in a survey of likely Democratic primary voters found in a combination of Gainesville with Panama City, Jacksonville, Orlando and West Palm Beach. It also shows King making significant progress there and among specific demographic groups: both men and women, white, African-American and Hispanic voters, and across four age brackets.

Overall the survey of 519 likely Democratic voters, polled two weeks ago by cellphone and land-line, found former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham leading with 21 percent, former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine essentially tied with her at 20 percent; King at 11 percent; and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum at 9 percent.

At the time of the survey, the fifth major Democratic candidate Jeff Greene had only just launched his campaign; he barely showed up in the poll, at just 2 percent. The final 37 percent of voters were undecided.

David Binder Research, a California-based firm that was an in-house pollster for the Obama For America campaigns in 2008 and 2012, claimed a 4.3 percent margin of error for the overall results.

“We’ve said all along in this campaign that when voters meet Chris King, they tend to support him,” King’s senior adviser Omar Khan said in a statement the campaign is releasing along with a summary of the poll results Wednesday morning. “As we continue to introduce Chris and his bold, progressive vision to voters across Florida, we’ll continue to see support for his candidacy grow. Democrats are looking for a fresh, bold vision for Florida’s future in 2018 and this survey proves Chris is uniquely positioned to win among a crowded field of conventional politicians from the political establishment.”

King’s campaign was more interested in the change since the previous David Binder Research survey. Among Democratic voters “certain to vote for King,” he was barely showing up outside of the margin of error in an early March statewide poll. That was before he [and Graham and Greene] began television advertising. King’s numbers have gone up 5-10 percent in all four markets and within all the demographic groups when comparing the surveys.

King’s campaign did not release any statewide numbers for the June survey.

The King campaign also released the following analysis provided to it by David Binder Research along with the results:

“The survey indicates that voters respond very favorably to information about King’s experience living his progressive values every day and his bold policy priorities. Voters from across all demographic groups react positively to King being a proven progressive with a criminal justice reform plan that ends the death penalty, legalizes and taxes recreational marijuana, expands Medicaid to cover 800,000 more Floridians, and expands high-wage job opportunities by making community college and trade schools free. Voters react favorably to King’s courage to hold politicians’ of both parties feet to the fire in taking on the NRA.

“Additionally, results from this survey show that King has special appeal to important voter segments that are expected to turn out in high proportions in the August primary. King grows his strong base with females, progressives, African-Americans, Hispanics, and voters across all age groups throughout the state to lead all other candidates by a wide margin after voters hear communication about his priorities and policies.

“The survey clearly shows that if voters hear about King’s story and his plans to work on behalf of Floridians, his support level could grow to 33 percent, which in this crowded field of Democratic candidates would be more than enough to ensure the Democratic nomination for Governor of Florida.”

Philip Levine

Philip Levine opening Orlando campaign office

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Philip Levine is opening an Orlando office, the third Democratic gubernatorial candidate to hang a shingle in the City Beautiful.

Levine’s campaign office formally opens Tuesday at 5 p.m. at 646 West Colonial Dr., a couple miles down Colonial from the East Colonial offices of his Democratic rivals Chris King and Gwen Graham, which are just about a block apart.

Republican gubernatorial candidate U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis also has his primary campaign office in Orlando.

Levine, the former Miami Beach mayor, already has regional offices in Kissimmee, Tampa, and St. Petersburg in the I-4 Corridor.

Also in the race are Democrats Andrew Gillum, who’s holding a town hall meeting in Orlando a couple hours after Levine’s office opens, and Jeff Greene; and Republican Adam Putnam.

Orlando Democratic guberatorial debate canceled

The Orange County Democratic Party has canceled efforts to have a gubernatorial debate in Orlando next Tuesday because Philip Levine and Gwen Graham would not agree to participate.

Orange County Democratic Chair Wes Hodge expressed regret over the last-week cancellation he announced Friday and that voters in Orange County “will not have the opportunity to hear from the candidates seeking to be their governor in one open, public forum.”

Hodge said Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum and Winter Park entrepreneur Chris King had committed weeks ago, but not former U.S. Rep. Graham nor former Miami Beach Mayor Levine. The fifth candidate, newly-entered Palm Beach businessman Jeff Greene, also had recently committed, his campaign said.

“Regrettably the Orange County Democratic Party has been forced to cancel the planned Democratic gubernatorial debate scheduled for next Tuesday, June 26th, due to an inability to secure all of the candidates for the event,” Hodge said in a statement. “We have been working hard over the past six weeks to make this event a success, and I would like to thank all of our volunteers who worked to make this happen. It is unfortunate that the voters of Orange County will not have an opportunity to hear from the candidates seeking to be their Governor directly in one open, public forum.”

The debate was being planned for Barnett Park on Orlando’s west side, for a 7 p.m. forum.

“The Democratic Executive Committee will be working to find another way to connect our voters directly with our five candidates seeking the governor’s office, and hope to announce another event in the near future,” Hodge added.

Gillum and King blasted their rivals for not being willing to join them. The first four Democratic gubernatorial candidates have debated three times, and Gillum and King have done well, getting strong reviews for their performances. But now Levine and Graham are showing signs of pulling ahead in polls heading toward the August 28 primary.

Gillum said he’s going to come anyway.

“It’s critical that Orange County voters hear about our priorities for this state, and since my opponents refuse to join me for a debate, I’m looking forward to hosting a town hall in its place on Tuesday night,” Gillum said in a statement. “Floridians need to know where we stand, and who we stand for.”

King said it was too bad that neither Orlando nor Jacksonville are getting to see the Democrats go head-to-head.

“Politics and politicians, as usual, have failed progressive values and ordinary Floridians for too long and Democrats deserve to judge for themselves whether the other candidates for governor offer a fresh vision and a break from the past. That’s why I’m disappointed that some candidates in this race have refused invitations to debate in Orlando and Jacksonville,” King said in a statement. “We must compete in every corner of our state and take no one for granted, and that means making sure Spanish language, African American, Caribbean and other diverse media outlets are included as well.”

Levine’s campaign responded with a reminder that the Democrats initially had agreed to five debates, even though that included none in Orlando or Jacksonville.

“Our campaign worked successfully with the Florida Democratic Party on a number of agreed-upon debates and forums. After weeks of negotiations, all campaigns agreed to five debates, including a statewide televised debate that will air in Orange County,” Christian Ulvert, senior advisor to the campaign, said in a statement. “The Mayor is excited and proud to continue to share his vision for Florida and his progressive record of accomplishments directly with voters in the upcoming three debates and town halls.”

Gwen Graham’s new TV spot focuses on Medicaid expansion

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gwen Graham is launching her second television commercial today — once again only in Tampa Bay and Orlando — and pushing hard for Medicaid expansion in Florida.

Her latest 30-second spot, “Absolute,” begins like a dramatic movie trailer with pounding music and flashing images of Tallahassee and someone being rushed on a hospital gurney, as Graham begins, “It’s disgusting what’s going on in Tallahassee. It didn’t used to be this way.”

That cuts to the obligatory reference and images of Graham’s father, former Gov. and U.S. Sen Bob Graham, as a narrator reminds viewers that he expanded health care and then noting that it’s now up to his daughter.

Gwen Graham, the former congresswoman from Tallahassee, then declares, “It is an absolute failure of the Republican Legislature that we haven’t taken Medicaid expansion. We will take Medicaid expansion.”

She also states another wish, a little vaguer and somewhat less of a pledge: “And every Floridian should be able to buy into the same type of insurance that Tallahassee politicians get.”

Graham has pledged to work with the Legislature to expand health care, and she has said she would take it directly to the voters with a state constitutional amendment if the Legislature refuses to act.

“Medicaid expansion is critical to our state. As governor, I will work with the Legislature to expand health care — and if they won’t, I will veto their priorities until they are willing to listen to the priorities of everyday Floridians,” Graham stated in a news release about her new TV commercial. “And if the Legislature refuses to act, I believe the people of Florida will do their job for them.”

Graham faces Jeff Greene, Philip Levine, Andrew Gillum, and Chris King in the August 28 Democratic primary. Greene, Levine, and King have been running statewide television commercials, while, so far, Graham has appeared content to concentrate on capturing the I-4 corridor, from where much of the Democratic vote came in the 2014 and 2016 primaries.

Gillum’s campaign has not yet gone up on television, although a national political committee supporting him ran statewide ads for him earlier this spring.

The winner gets to take on the Republican nominee, either Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam or U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis.

Darren Soto picks up Human Rights Campaign endorsement in CD 9 race

The national Human Rights Campaign, the nations’ largest LGBTQ civil rights organization, has endorsed the re-election bid of Democratic U.S. Rep. Darren Soto in Florida’s 9th Congressional District.

The endorsement is part of Soto’s efforts to shore up the progressive wing of the Democratic Party as he prepares for the August 28 Democratic primary showdown with his predecessor in the CD 9 seat, former U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson.

The winner faces Saint Cloud Republican Wayne Liebnitzky. CD 9 covers southern Orange, Osceola and eastern Polk counties.

JoDee Winterhof, senior vice president of policy and political affairs for the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement:

“HRC is proud to endorse Darren Soto for re-election to Congress. Darren has been a strong ally to the LGBTQ community throughout his career, including standing up to the Trump administration’s hateful anti-LGBTQ policies and pushing for progress to expand civil rights and protections under law.

“In Central Florida, he brought community leaders together when the Trump administration rescinded protections from transgender students. He has fought for workforce and housing protections, and he supports legislation to make sure our elders get the care and services they need.

“We need Darren Soto in Washington, and we encourage Central Floridians who support LGBTQ rights to support him.”

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