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National Democrats aid Florida Democrats’ Puerto Rican voter outreach

The Democratic National Committee just weighed in on the Florida partisan fight for Puerto Rican voters, providing the state party with a $100,000 grant and arguments on why they should register as Democrats.

DNC Chair Tom Perez and Florida Democratic Party Chair Terrie Rizzo joined U.S. Reps. Darren Soto and Val Demings and others in Orlando Wednesday to announce the grant, amidst a drumbeat of criticism for how Puerto Ricans desperately need help and Republican-led Washington is not delivering.

It began with Soto arguing that the island territory already was in dire straights when Hurricane Maria caused $90 billion in damage, yet got $18.9 billion in aid, adding, “We had to fight for each inch for what they got … The worry I have is in Washington the attitude is, ‘Puerto Ricans should be grateful for what they got,’ because they’re not a state.”

That led to the mass migration of people from the island to Florida, a scenario the Democrats see as a beacon call, and Soto, Demings, state Sen. Victor Torres, states Rep. John Cortes and Carlos Guillermo Smith, Orange County Commissioner Emily Bonilla and others all made arguments that they have every reason to want to join the Democratic Party.

“The Democratic Party is the party that is going to be fighting for working people; it’s the party that’s going to be fighting for immigration, for living wage, for making sure we have a fully-funded affordable housing fund – and the Republican Party is the party of Donald Trump,” Smith said.

Perez, the former U.S. Labor Secretary under President Barack Obama, charged that under President Donald Trump the federal government offered clear double standards with how it assisted Texas and Florida, compared with how it assisted Puerto Rico. He also put in plugs for Soto, Demings, U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy, and U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson for supporting Puerto Rico and Puerto Ricans who came to Florida.

“When all you see from Republican leadership is throwing paper towels, that’s insulting. What we have on the island is an economic crisis. It’s a health care crisis. It’s a humanitarian crisis, and frankly it’s a moral crisis,” said Perez a Dominican-American who said he has family ties in Puerto Rico.

Yet in Florida the Democratic Party faces a challenge in convincing Puerto Rican voters that Republicans are not addressing the moral crisis, as Nelson’s opponent, Gov. Rick Scott, and others in the party such as state Reps. Bob Cortes and Rene Plasencia, like Nelson, Soto, Torres, John Cortes, Smith and other Democrats, made numerous trips to the island and pushed hard to organize and provide aid, and to help displaced Puerto Ricans in Florida.

“While the Republican National Committee, in conjunction with the Florida GOP, has been working to ensure the Puerto Rican community in Florida has all the resources they need after Maria, Tom Perez is showing up right on time to support Bill Nelson and Congressional Democrats with more empty rhetoric in a tough campaign year. We are here to continue to be supportive of the people of Puerto Rico. They deserve nothing less than that, and we’re going to continue to be focused on helping in every way we can,” RNC spokesperson Taryn Fenske said in a written statement.

The DNC grant money comes from a party”s new State Party Innovation Fund the DNC established.

“Florida Democrats have been working tirelessly to organize in every community, and mobilize voters in every election,” Perez said in a news release. “With this grant, we’re making sure that Florida Democrats have the tools they need to identify and connect with new Puerto Rican voters, and provide them with the support they need as they settle in the Sunshine State. By using innovative digital outreach efforts combined with grassroots organizing, we will be able to reach thousands of potential voters. The DNC is proud to partner with the Florida Democratic Party through this grant to expand our engagement in every single ZIP code.”

Court orders new hearing in Alan Grayson property dispute with ex-wife

An appeals court Friday ordered a new hearing in a property dispute between former Democratic U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson and his ex-wife.

A panel of the 5th District Court of Appeal sided with Lolita Carson-Grayson, who argued that her due-process rights had been violated. The issue stemmed from a decision by an Orange County circuit judge to grant requests by Alan Grayson to transfer Carson-Grayson’s interest in property to him, according to the appeals-court ruling.

The circuit judge’s decision came during a hearing June 22, 2017, that had been noticed as a scheduling conference, which Carson-Grayson did not attend.

“The court’s failure to provide Ms. Carson-Grayson with any notice that the merits of the motions would be determined at the June 22 hearing requires reversal and a new hearing,” said Friday’s three-page ruling, written by appeals-court Judge Richard Orfinger and joined by judges Thomas Sawaya and James Edwards.

The property issue is part of a long-running legal battle that has involved an annulment of the couple’s marriage.

Grayson recently announced that he will challenge Democratic U.S. Rep. Darren Soto, of Orlando, this year for a Central Florida congressional seat.

Grayson was first elected to Congress in 2008, but he lost his seat to former state House Speaker Daniel Webster, a Republican, in 2010. Grayson returned to Congress in 2012 and won re-election to his seat in 2014, before making an unsuccessful bid for the U.S. Senate in 2016.

Republished with permission of the News Service of Florida.

Darren Soto picks up Emgage Muslim group endorsement in CD9 race

Orlando U.S. Rep. Darren Soto has picked up the endorsement of a national Muslim civil rights group in his quest for re-election, announcing Thursday that the Emgage PAC is backing him because of his efforts on behalf of Muslims caught up in the White House’s Muslim policies.

“On the first day of President [Donald] Trump’s hateful, useless Muslim ban, friends and family of Muslims in Central Florida called Congressman Soto because their loved ones were being held at the Orlando Airport. Soto rushed down there and was able to help them re-enter our country even as others were being turned away at airports around the country,” his campaign stated in a news release. “Since then, Soto has worked with Emgage to fight the Muslim ban and other discrimination and helped gain approval to build a Muslim American Community Center in Orlando.”

Emgage (formerly EmergeUSA) is a national organization, which Soto’s campaign says has a strong Central Florida presence, dedicated to increasing the civic engagement of Muslim Americans. The organization strives to “build the political awareness and capacity of Muslim Americans to engage on key policy issues,” according to its website.

The endorsement continues the Soto campaign’s efforts to build up backing from progressive and Civil Rights leaders, including that last week of U.S. Rep. John Lewis, as a potential political firewall against the Democratic primary challenge being brought by his predecessor, former U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, who has some national backing as a progressive bulldog.

The winner of the August 28 Democratic primary will face Saint Cloud businessman Wayne Liebnitzky.

“Soto is proud to stand with Muslim Americans, and all Americans who believe that a welcoming, inclusive culture is what truly makes America great,” the Soto campaign release stated.

Alan Grayson up with TV ad featuring Martin Sheen, Michael Moore

In his two tenures as a progressive bulldog in the U.S. House of Representatives Alan Grayson made a few high-profile friends and now he’s featuring them in a new TV commercial, the first in the Democratic primary battle for Florida’s 9th Congressional District.

The new ad “Progressive Warrior,” which begins airing Wednesday in the Orlando TV market, features actor Martin Sheen, documentary movie maker Michael Moore, and political commentators Chris Hayes and Ed Schultz, among others, extolling Grayson for courage, leadership, and effectiveness in Congress.

“Alan Grayson is undoubtedly, the progressive warrior,” Schultz declares from some past broadcast of his MSNBC show, as pictures of Grayson and short clips of video roll out.

Grayson is battling with Democratic incumbent U.S. Rep. Darren Soto of Orlando, who took the CD 9 seat in 2016, defeating Grayson’s wife Dena Grayson in the Democratic primary as Alan Grayson was losing the Democratic primary for Florida’s U.S. Senate seat held by Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio. This year’s August 28 Democratic primary winner takes on Republican Wayne Liebnitzky of Saint Cloud in November.

CD 9 covers Osceola County, east Polk County, and south Orange County.

The Grayson campaign did not provide details for how much it is spending or how long or how often the spot will air. Early filings with the Federal Communication Commission show that the campaign has paid $1,334 to reserve 39 spots on WESH TV Channel 4 in Orlando through the end of May. Wednesday morning there were not yet any contracts posted on the FCC site involving other TV stations.

“People have told me, over and over again, that I’m saying what they’re thinking but nobody else is saying,” the Grayson says at one point in the commercial.

That’s followed by Sheen, the liberal activist actor who played the president in the “West Wing” series in the 2000s, saying, “We need that kid of courage and leadership.”

Moore, the liberal activist film producer, then offers, “Stands up for what he believes in, stands up for the rest of us, isn’t afraid to speak his mind.”

Grayson also makes, in the 30-second spot, his frequent statement that he has passed more legislation, largely through amendments, than any other member of Congress. A news release announcing the commercial states he passed 121 pieces of legislation in four years, under Republican leadership.

Brian Mast, Bill Posey, others urge feds to suspend bonds for Brightline

Contending that there are statutory problems with the federally authorized bonds All Aboard Florida intends to use to finance its Orlando Brightline train expansion, U.S. Reps. Brian Mast, Bill Posey, Ron DeSantis and Matt Gaetz are urging the federal government to suspend the authorization.

At issue is $1.15 billion worth of private activity bonds that the U.S. Department of Transportation signed off on, allowing All Aboard Florida to get tax exemption status to lower interest rates on bonds it wants to issue for construction of the West Palm Beach to Orlando phase for the company’s private, higher-speed Brightline passenger train line.

North Carolina Republican U.S. Rep. Mark Meadows, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee’s Subcommittee on Government Operations, wrote and sent a letter last week to U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, with the four Florida Republican congressmen signing on.

The letter includes an assertion that the department’s approval of the bonds for All Aboard Florida “amounts to blank-check authority.” The letter also includes an apparent veiled threat from Meadows, the powerful chairman of the House Freedom Caucus: “Please consider carefully the damage to the future of PABs that results from continuing this allocation.”

Mast, of Palm City, and Posey, of Rockledge represent areas that the train would be passing through and have been adamant opponents of it. They spoke April 19 at a hearing on the bonds before the House Government Operations subcommittee. DeSantis, of Ponte Vedra Beach, is a member of that subcommittee and a Republican candidate for governor. Gaetz, of Fort Walton Beach is, like Meadows and DeSantis, a close ally of President Donald Trump.

Brightline wants to upgrade the tracks from West Palm Beach to Cocoa and build new tracks from Cocoa to the Orlando International Airport, and start higher-speed train service, running up to 110 mph between West Palm Beach and Cocoa, and up to 120 mph between Cocoa and Orlando, by the early 2020s.

The proposal has received some sharp opposition along Florida’s Treasure and Space Coast regions, through which the trains would roll but not stop. Mast and Posey represent much of that area.

Brightline has contended throughout that it has followed all federal rules and received the approval through appropriate processes, and that courts which reviewed the financing have agreed.

In the April 19 subcommittee hearing, Meadows, Mast and Posey raised questions about whether All Aboard Florida and the Brightline train should have qualified for the private activity bonds program, while federal transportation and company officials assured that it did and explained why it was approved. The trio of congressmen and a couple of others on the committee challenged the departments’ interpretations of rules and laws behind the program, charging that those interpretations appeared to them to be in conflict with what Congress had intended.

Meadows demanded more information. Others have too, subsequently, including Florida’s Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio.

“Given the ongoing review by the Subcommittee on Government Operations, and given the number of yet-to-be answered questions relating to this issue, we the undersigned Members of Congress respectfully urge you to use your authority to suspend the allocation of the AAF PABs until the hearing record is complete and the Subcommittee has reviewed the addition information it expects to receive,” Meadows letter to Chao states.

“Failing to do so compromises the integrity of the entire PAB program, and we cannot support what amounts to blank-check authority for this program,” the letter continues. “Please consider carefully the damage to the future of PABs that results from continuing this allocation.”

Bill Nelson, Philip Levine rip federal response to Puerto Rico

Speaking at the 9th Annual Puerto Rico Summit in Orlando Friday, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Philip Levine and Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson ripped the federal response to Puerto Rico’s devastation by hurricanes last fall.

Nelson called for statehood for Puerto Rico.

Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló also ripped Washington, but his ire was focused on Congress for including a new excise tax on Puerto Rican businesses in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 passed in December.

All three drew at least partial standing ovations, though the crowd was mixed, with Democrats, Republicans and others, including a scattering of elected officials from Central Florida, South Florida and Puerto Rico.

Earlier in the day, Florida Gov. Rick Scott also spoke to the gathering of more than 300 about all that his administration has done to assist Puerto Rico and Puerto Ricans who fled the devastation to Florida. He too, received an ovation. And Rossello thanked Scott, along with Nelson, Levine, and U.S. Rep. Darren Soto of Orlando, who did not attend, for their help for the struggling island territory since Hurricanes Irma and Maria laid waste and left problems that persist today.

Yet in their afternoon remarks, Levine and Nelson took off gloves, and most of the crowd loved it.

Levine personally brought one of the first planes into Puerto Rico with relief supplies shortly after the Sept. 20 Hurricane Maria disaster, arriving with the goods ahead of anything the Federal Emergency Management Agency offered. The group gave Levine an award for that, and also gave an award to Scott.

“The way the administration handled that relief effort was embarrassing to our nation and the world, what they did to Puerto Rico,” Levine said. “And I don’t care if that’s politically incorrect, I’m going to call it like it is.”

Levine said the same kind of White House response would have made the Normandy invasion or the Berlin Airdrop utter disasters.

“What our country could have done for Puerto Rico, it didn’t do. Instead of throwing paper towels, what they should have done is say I want the top 25 CEOs of the top companies in America, put them on a plane, and say we will show the world what America can do!” Levine said, bringing a rousing ovation.

Nelson was more measured in his criticism of the federal response, but also far more detailed, talking about his numerous trips to Puerto Rico, including two weeks ago, when he saw small cities that still lacked power to up to 30 percent of their residents, and where clean water still is unavailable to many.

He spoke of recent decisions by the administration of President Donald Trump to end FEMA assistance, and, as of Friday, to bring home the Army Corps of Engineers’ restoration efforts. He spoke of contracts being mismanaged, and “basic necessities” such as tarps and hot meals still not available to all.

“This is completely unacceptable. Can you imagine anybody on the mainland in Texas and in Florida almost nine months after the hurricane still without electricity?” Nelson said.

“I have always supported self-determination for all U.S. citizens. Now with all the poor treatment by this administration it seems to me that statehood is the answer,” Nelson said.

“We should never accept incompetence andgross negligence as the new normal,” Nelson said. “So we have to fight.”

Teresa Jacobs’ state of Orange Co. finds fiscal strength, prosperity, community

Outgoing Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs‘ last State of the County speech found it “strong” with strong fiscal indicators, a robust economy, a more open, business-friendly government, and a community spirit of collaboration and unity.

“The upshot of these and so many other strategies, ladies and gentlemen, I am proud to announce that the state of Orange County is in fact very strong,” Jacobs declared.

Her speech in many ways looked back across her entire seven and a half years in office, focused on her commitments to delivering fiscal conservatism and responsible government, and helping bond and balm the community, particularly after the crises of the 2016 Pulse nightclub massacre and the 2017 Hurricane Irma.

“Together, we weathered these storms,” she said.

“Never would I have imagined the outpouring of love and unity or the depth of our strength and unity,” she said of the period after the Pulse massacre. “As a community we share a commitment to make sure the world never forgets our 49 Pulse angels.”

Yet she pointed to few if any landmark legacies for which she might be remembered, or anything that spoke of bold initiatives that could bear her name in future generations. She did not mention the International Drive urban-center planning underway, or commitments to rural and environmental preservation.

Jacobs referenced the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts, the rebuild of what is now called Camping World Stadium, and the Amway Center. Yet while Jacobs battled to make those three economically feasible, it was Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer who drove them forward. She referenced big transportation projects, notably the I-4 ultimate build-out, SunRail, and the Wekiva Parkway, projects driven largely by state and federal officials.

She also briefly discussed two areas emerging in the 2018 mayoral election as major concerns for the county, wage levels and affordable housing, but offered no specifics, other than to say a housing plan would be rolled out later this year.

Jacobs, who now is running for the position of chair of the school board, got emotional only when she spoke of the schools, specifically of school shootings, at Parkland earlier this year, and in Santa Fe, Texas, just a few hours before her speech. She broke down and needed a moment as she asked for people to remember those who are grieving,  saying, “Our community did for us. Our nation did as well. And it makes a difference.”

And she repeatedly stressed collaboration and community partnerships.

“Let’s not forget what sets this community apart in tough issues like this,” she said. “It’s our ability to collaborate. It’s our ability to set aside partisan politics and other barriers to insure that we are working in unison for the safety and welfare of our citizens.”

Jacobs had plenty to offer for her declaration that the county was “very strong:”

– When she took office in 2011, the county was still mired in the Great Recession, during which it lost $150 million in annual revenue. The county overcame that dip by 2016.

– The county’s bond and credit worthiness “are routinely rated “Triple A.”

– The county added more than 160,000 new jobs, and won 50 business projects.

– The unemployment rate fell from 10.7 percent to 3.2 percent today.

– The tourism business has boomed, and consequently the county’s tourism development tax has boomed, bridging in more than $255 million last year.

– Building permits “are being issued at a pace we haven’t seen in years,” she said: 84,000 last year, with more than $2.3 billion in valuation.

– She declared that the culture of county government has been changed, emphasizing access and accountability, beginning with her 2008 “Citizen Participation Bill of Rights,” and including a variety of internet aps to provide citizens with information and services.

– The county began addressing the opioid crisis early, in 2015, when she commissioned a heroin task force which led to numerous policy initiatives.

– The county first set out to begin hardening schools and against attacks and addressing youth mental health problems shortly after the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Connecticut.

– She led the county commission earlier this month to adopt a three-day waiting period for all firearms purchases in the county, including those at gun shows. She did not mention that in 2011 she led the commission to repeal a previous three-day waiting period requirement.

More cities join challenge to gun-law penalties

An additional 10 municipalities have joined a challenge to the constitutionality of a state law that imposes strict penalties on local governments and officials who violate a restriction on regulating guns and ammunition.

The lawsuit was filed last month in Leon County circuit court by 10 South Florida communities and numerous local officials, and an amended complaint was filed Tuesday that added 10 municipalities and more officials.

The additions were Boca Raton, Surfside, Tallahassee, North Miami, Orlando, Fort Lauderdale, Gainesville, St. Petersburg, Maitland and Key Biscayne.

The case is rooted in a decades-old law that gives the state power to regulate firearms and ammunition and “preempts” the ability of local governments to approve such regulations.

In 2011, the Legislature approved stiff penalties for local governments and officials who violate the state preemption law, including potential removal from office and fines.

The municipalities allege in the lawsuit that the penalties are unconstitutional on a series of grounds. In a statement issued Tuesday after the amended complaint was filed, lead attorney Jamie Cole described the penalties as “onerous” and “unprecedented” against local governments and elected officials.

“Municipalities and elected officials from across the state, in urban, suburban and rural communities, have all joined the fight to protect the home rule authority of local governments, and to reflect the passion of their residents,” said Cole of the firm Weiss Serota Helfman Cole & Bierman.

Rick Scott’s Spanish commercial pushes his Puerto Rico cred

Republican Gov. Rick Scott‘s U.S. Senate campaign is launching a new Spanish-language commercial touting his efforts on behalf of Puerto Rico and providing praise for him from Puerto Rican Floridians.

The 30-second spot,  “Presente,” is running on Spanish TV stations in Tampa and Orlando as part of what the campaign describes as a “major ad purchase,” according to a news release.

Translated to English, the praise Scott receives includes Jeannie Calderin stating, “I’m supporting Gov. Rick Scott because the truth is that when Puerto Ricans needed the help, he was the first to be there…. Rick Scott has been there. He has been present. He has helped. And what he said he would do, he has done.”

Kelvin Valle says, translated to English, “As a veteran, I’m very grateful to Rick Scott. He has created jobs and he’s put people back into the labor force, and that’s why I support him…. Rick Scott will fight for us in the Senate.”

Their comments come with interspersed video shots of them speaking and Scott appearing at various events with Florida’s Puerto Rican community, including the Puerto Rican parade in Orlando two weeks ago, and of various factory and distribution center scenes.

Scott faces Democratic incumbent U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson this year.

Republican super PAC changes approach ahead of November

What’s old is new for the Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC dedicated to maintaining the Republican majority in the U.S. House of Representatives.

During a conference call with media ahead of the 2018 midterms, CLF emphasized its paradigm shift in campaign strategy; rather than focus almost exclusively on big TV buys, the group is investing heavily in groundwork in the field.

The move is evident in Florida, where two CLF field offices operate in districts held by Republican congressmen Brian Mast and Carlos Curbelo, both of whom are considered vulnerable by pundits and pollsters alike.

CLF’s field strategy has been in play since February 2017, but the group has continued to demonstrate its dedication to the old-fashioned, localized approach — one that it hopes will work for the other 29 districts across the nation where Republican incumbents face tough Democratic challenges.

“This micro-targeted focus on ground game will be a key component to maintaining the Republican majority in 2018,” said CLF Executive Director Corry Bliss.

The field advocacy is data-driven, backed by surveys of local electorates. In each district, the PAC conducted issue surveys and developed messages accordingly. Give or take, the group targets between 50,000 and 80,000 voters per district. High school- and college-aged volunteers make up the typical demographic for CLF field workers who are making phone calls and knocking on doors.

In CD 18, held by Mast, organizers are messaging on veterans’ issues, highlighting Mast’s opening of an office in the local VA, along with his work on Lake Okeechobee.

In Curbelo’s South Florida district, CD 26, the group’s strategy is different.  

“For Curbelo, our biggest focus is talking about his work on immigration, protecting the Everglades …  as well as the Keys and national marine sanctuaries,” CLF Communications Director Courtney Alexander told Florida Politics.

The messaging is part of a three-pronged strategy CLF has adopted: ensuring the middle class is aware of Republican-backed tax cuts and their anticipated benefits, localizing each election, and reminding voters that if Democrats usurp the majority, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California, someone the group describes as divisive, would become Speaker.

In close races in the Sunshine State, the ‘localizing’ tool appears to be most apparent. Though, notably omitted is discussion of gun issues, which could make or break Mast and Curbelo in the wake of the Feb. 14 massacre at  Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Both candidates have separately messaged on gun control, with Mast going as far as penning a high profile op-ed supporting an assault-weapons ban.

When asked if CLF planned to incorporate gun control in its messaging on behalf of the two congressmen, Alexander maintained the group’s work would focus on their congressional achievements.

“Both Congressman Mast and Congressman Curbelo are strong incumbents that run good campaigns and are doing a really good job — a really good job representing their constituents,” Alexander said. “Our job at CLF is to promote the policies that they’re doing, or what they’re accomplishing on behalf of their constituents and the work that they do on local issues.”  

And while CLF is investing heavily in groundwork, it’s not planning to skimp on television spending — at least not to a noticeable degree.

Ahead of the midterms, CLF set out to raise and spend $100 million. According to the group, it’s on pace to break that goal and has surpassed previous fundraising records. Florida Politics reported in April that Mast and Curbelo are reaping the benefits of that fundraising, with early ad buys reaching $1.67 million for Curbelo in Miami-Dade airwaves, and a bit of digital spending coming Mast’s way. CLF has dedicated $10 million — an unprecedented amount for the group — on digital ads in targeted districts across the nation.

CLF did not have details ready for other congressional races, notably CD 7 held by Democratic Rep. Stephanie Murphy. She will face a potentially tough battle against the Republican nominee, from a bench that includes Scott Sturgill, state Rep. Mike Miller, Vennia Francois, and Patrick Weingart.

Alexander, however, hinted that Murphy will be affronted with opposition research from the super PAC.

“There is oppo on everybody, and there is certainly oppo on Stephanie Murphy,” Alexander said.

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