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Mitch Perry Report for 1.5.17 – Poll says voters want Dems like Bill Nelson to fight Donald Trump when necessary

We’ve heard from several Florida Democrats (such as Kathy Castor and Charlie Crist) that, when appropriate, they look forward to working with President-elect Donald Trump once he takes office later this month.

The question for them and other Democrats concerned about their own poll numbers as well as what’s good for the country is where and when they decide to go along with Trump and, more likely, when do they oppose him.

On a conference call yesterday, the folks with the Center for American Progress provided the details about a new poll they conducted in 14 battleground states where Democrats like Bill Nelson will be running for re-election in ’18. The survey concluded that a majority of the public want Senate Democrats to serve as a check and balance on the new president and congressional Republicans even if it means blocking his initiatives “on many occasions.”

That could be a challenge for Nelson, who, on occasion, can be progressive, but also likes to maintain a centrist mien, especially when election time comes around.

Well, good luck to him on that one, because he’s being challenged right now by his supporters here in the Tampa Bay area. Yesterday, dozens came to call on him to, at the very least, call for a delay in the confirmation vote scheduled for next week for Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions, Trump’s choice for Attorney General.

One area where Nelson one might be surmise he’ll stick with his liberal colleagues is in acting as a bulwark to defend the Affordable Care Act.

“They want to repeal it and then try to hang it on us. Not gonna happen. It’s their responsibility, plain and simple,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said at a news conference.

Dems have been pushing the reality that if the Republicans have a legitimate vehicle to replace the ACA with, nobody really knows what it is. And no doubt, some in the GOP might be fearing the repercussions of taking away people’s care.

“Republicans must be careful in that the Dems own the failed ObamaCare disaster, with its poor coverage and massive premium increases……like the 116% hike in Arizona,” Trump tweeted yesterday, adding, “Also, deductibles are so high that it is practically useless. Don’t let the Schumer clowns out of this web…massive increases of ObamaCare will take place this year and Dems are to blame for the mess. It will fall of its own weight – be careful!”

Meanwhile, Schumer’s office said yesterday that the Democrats are targeting eight Trump Cabinet nominees for extra scrutiny, name checking Rex Tillerson, Betsy DeVos, Steven Mnuchin, Scott Pruitt, Mick Mulvaney, Tom Price, Andy Puzder and Wilbur Ross.

Schumer said he wants their full paperwork before hearings are scheduled, adding that only a few have turned it in while most haven’t. Schumer said he also wants their tax returns, particularly because some are billionaires and given the potential for conflicts of interest.

Those hearings begin next week.

In other news…

The race for the Florida Democratic Party gets crazier by the day. Yesterday we learned that 13 members of the Miami-County DEC filed a complaint with the FDP regarding the circumstances that have allowed Coconut Grove real estate developer and donor Stephen Bittel to be eligible for the party chair position. Earlier in the day, Tampa’s (or should we say Bradford’s) Alan Clendenin was shooting down a complaint filed against him regarding the circumstances that have allowed him to become eligible in the race.

The House of Representatives is poised to vote on condemning President Obama and the UN for that resolution last month castigating Israel for continuing to build settlements in the West Bank. The resolution was written by Polk County’s Dennis Ross.

And newly sworn-in Hillsborough County State Attorney Andrew Warren celebrated his victory on Tuesday night with friends and family in Tampa Heights.

House poised to vote on Dennis Ross-backed proposal rebuking Obama, UN for ‘anti-Israel’ vote

On Thursday, the GOP-led House of Representatives will vote on a resolution sponsored by Polk County Republican Dennis Ross that disapproves of President Obama and his administration’s refusal to veto a United National Security Council resolution criticizing Israel for building settlements in the Palestinian territories.

Five days later, Secretary of State John Kerry defended that decision, giving a speech in which he strongly condemned Jewish settlements in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

“Israel can either be Jewish or democratic, it cannot be both and it won’t ever live in peace,” Kerry said.

The move has prompted fierce criticism from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who said that “friends don’t take friends to the Security Council.” And Israel’s allies in the U.S. have been equally condemning, including President-elect Donald Trump, congressional Republicans and congressional Democrats.

“President Obama’s constant disdain and hostility toward our closest ally is completely unacceptable. The administration’s recent refusal to veto the U.N.’s anti-Israel resolution is utterly shameful and flies in the face of the United States’ long-standing relationship with Israel,” Ross said in a statement on Tuesday.

“The United States has historically opposed and vetoed U.N. resolutions that are one-sided and anti-Israel. However, when the U.N. Security Council adopted an anti-Israel resolution that threatens peace in the Middle East, the U.S. sat idly by and turned its back on Israel. Instead of standing shoulder-to-shoulder with our closest ally and vetoing this dangerous resolution, the U.S., under the direction of President Obama, broke its strong and well-established commitment to Israel.”

Ross went on to say that he looks forward to working with the incoming president in correcting what he called President Obama’s “anti-Israel tactics.”

The resolution has 51 sponsors, including Pasco County’s Gus Bilirakis and Sarasota’s Vern Buchanan.

Buchanan said Kerry’s comments were “offensive” and says he should apologize for them.

“This is not how you treat your strongest ally in the Middle East, a democracy surrounded by hostile nations who have openly called for its destruction,” Buchanan said. “The U.N.’s recent action will only embolden enemies of the Jewish state.”

 

Go-ahead given for deepening Port Everglades

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has been given the green light to move forward with a plan to deepen and widen Port Everglades.

Port officials said Thursday that the corps can move ahead with the project now that President Obama signed into the law last week the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act.

The project will deepen the port’s navigational channel to 48 feet from 42 feet and widen the entrance so that cargo ships can get past docked cruise ships.

The plan also calls for planting 103,000 new nursery-raised coral in 18 acres of existing reef areas and creating five acres of artificial reef by relocating around 11,500 corals.

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

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.

Sincerely,

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

Mitch Perry Report for 12.7.16 – The Hillsborough County DEC melts down

“Image is everything” that great philosopher, Andre Agassi, once said in a series of television ads for Canon in the early 1990’s.

Though a bit of an exaggeration, there’s no question that the image of the Hillsborough County Democratic Executive Committee has taken a significant body blow following its reorganization meeting on Monday night.

To recap: Party Chair Ione Townsend concluded that the party’s by-laws precluded Democrats elected to nonpartisan positions from voting in the local DEC elections. The upshot was that the local party, in effect, “disenfranchised” some of the most prominent Democrats in the county – specifically five members of the Tampa City Council and two Hillsborough County School Board members, who did not take their banishment very calmly, let’s say.

Why would there even be by-laws that would do so? Allegedly it’s because nonpartisan officers, unlike Hillsborough County DEC members, don’t have to take a “loyalty oath,” which means not endorsing Republicans in partisan races. As was mentioned the other night, not every Democrat who wanted to vote in the election could say that (specifically Frank Reddick, who endorsed Republican Shawn Harrison over his former colleague, Lisa Montelione, in the recent House District 63 race).

I would argue that one of the reasons why people are turned off by political parties (and they are) is because one is forced to sign a “loyalty oath,” but that’s just my opinion.

A couple of other thoughts from the meeting.

Although I’d hardly call members of either the Hillsborough County School Board or Tampa City Council “elite,” (none make more than $41,000 annually), that’s apparently the perception of some of the members of the Hillsborough DEC, which had no qualms at all putting these elected officials in their place for having the temerity to question how their Democratic Party bonafides could be questioned.

And let’s not forget the anti-Alan Clendenin factor. In my reporting on his attempt to defeat the Debbie Wasserman Schultz/Bill Nelson establishment pick of Allison Tant to lead the Democrats to the promised land in the January of 2013 election, I learned that there were definitely some local folks who wanted to bring down Clendenin, a longtime Democrat who has been a committeeman at the Democratic National Committee, a local committeeman in Hillsborough County, and was given the (token) title of Florida Democratic Party Vice Chair after his loss to Tant.

There definitely seemed to be some of that same scent in the air for those who supported Hillsborough County DEC Chair’s decision to challenge the current by-laws regarding whether Democrats from nonpartisan races should be prohibited in voting in certain locations. The conventional wisdom is that all seven of those Democratic officials who attended Monday night’s meeting were pro-Clendenin votes. He ultimately lost by 12 votes to Russ Patterson, so technically the decision to ban them from not voting didn’t cost Clendenin the election to committeeman, which could have put him in position to run for state chair again last month.

Can you imagine if the margin had been by six votes or less?

Frankly, there wasn’t a whole lot of noble behavior on the part of Democrats regardless of where they stood on the issue on Monday night. The fact that the meeting was held at the Letter Carriers Union is proof that after Hillary Clinton’s loss to Donald Trump in the electoral college last month, Democrats around here appear ready to want to participate more than ever in the process. But events like Monday night are why people don’t get involved – when it seems to be about personalities, or by-laws, instead of inclusion and changing policies.

In other news….

Luis Viera has defeated Jim Davison by just 65 votes in the special Tampa City Council District 7 run-off election last night.

Sarasota Congressman Vern Buchanan is warning President Obama not to pardon U.S. Army veteran Bowe Bergdahl before he leaves office next month.

Newly elected Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warren has made his two first personnel selections to join his administration next year, including nabbing former HD 59 candidate Rena Frazier to be his communications chief.

Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine is checking in with his constituents about his ambitious plans to have a streetcar run from Miami to Miami Beach.

 

Vern Buchanan doesn’t want Obama to pardon Bowe Berghdahl

Sarasota Congressman Vern Buchanan is urging President Obama in his last weeks in office not to pardon Army deserter Bowe Bergdahl, saying the search for Bergdahl may have led to the deaths of several American soldiers.

White House and Justice Department officials say Bergdahl has submitted the clemency request. If granted, it would allow him to avert a court-martial trial scheduled for next April. Bergdahl faces a maximum penalty of life in prison.

“It has been seven years since Sgt. Bergdahl chose to abandon his fellow soldiers in Afghanistan during a time of war,” the GOP Congressman said in a statement on Tuesday. “He should be court-martialed and held accountable.”

Bergdahl is facing charges of desertion and misbehavior before the enemy that endangered fellow soldiers.  He was captured by the Taliban in 2009 after walking off his post in Afghanistan, sparking a massive man-hunt conducted by the military over the five-year period. During this time it was reported that as many as six to eight American soldiers may have died as a direct result of the search for Bergdahl.

But a review of the casualty reports and contemporaneous military logs from the Afghanistan war shows that the facts surrounding the eight deaths are far murkier than definitive, the NY Times has reported.

On his Fox News program last week, commentator Bill O’Reilly predicted that Obama will pardon Bergdahl, saying that Obama feels Bergdahl is not responsible for his actions because he was “out there” and not “emotionally equipped” to serve, and the Army “made a mistake even putting the man in the field.”

Eugene R. Fidell, Bergdahl’s defense lawyer, said if his case is still pending on Inauguration Day, Jan. 20, he will file a motion to have it dismissed, arguing that a “fair military trial will be impossible after Mr. Trump becomes the commander in chief,” according to the New York Times.

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.”

Kathy Castor says she’ll work with Donald Trump and GOP majority in Congress ‘if there’s an opportunity’

Kathy Castor says the voters in Florida’s 14th Congressional District re-elected her to get things done in Washington and, when she can, she’ll work with the Donald Trump administration and GOP Congress. But she’ll also resist them, depending on what policies they propose.

“People elected me to solve problems and if there’s any opportunity to do that with President Trump and a Republican Congress, that’s what I’m going to do,” she said Monday. “But I’m not going to compromise the values that this community holds dear. Whether that’s taking our Dream Act students and not deporting them, or fighting for higher wages, the Democratic Party is the party of working people and I’m going to continue to stand up for their interests against the system.”

Yet despite that perception, Hillary Clinton’s failure to win rust-belt states like Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Ohio, and Michigan in the election has led to the accepted perception the Democrats have lost their way with working people.

In Boston on Sunday night, Bernie Sanders said the party has to return its focus to the working class.

“The working class of this country is being decimated — that’s why Donald Trump won,” Sanders said. “And what we need now are candidates who stand with those working people, who understand that real median family income has gone down.”

“All I know is that every week when I’m in Washington D.C. we’re standing up to moneyed special interests and for some reason that’s not being communicated,” Castor says. “For example, they want to give massive tax breaks to big corporations and the top one percent. That’s not going to help working class people or working people, and what I’m afraid is that the Congress that has passed draconian budgets and tried to keep all the benefits for the wealthiest in the country, that they kind of play on Trump and take advantage of him and the people who elected him. We’re going to be pointing these things out.”

Next week Castor and her Democratic colleagues will vote on whether to retain Nancy Pelosi as their leader, or go in a different direction. Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan has announced his candidacy to challenge Pelosi, the 76-year-old San Francisco congresswoman who leads the Democrats in the House of Representatives.

Castor said she is undecided, but said there’s value in having a female leader.

“The party needs different leaders,” she acknowledges. “It’s time for a younger generation of leaders to run for local office, to get involved in local issues and state issues. But there is one consideration about who is going to be in leadership in Washington. President Trump, Chuck Schumer, Sen. McConnell, Paul Ryan. What do they have all have in common?”

She then answered her own question. “There is a lot of value in having a female leader,” before insisting that she hasn’t made a final decision on who should lead the caucus.

Speaking in Peru Sunday, President Obama said he was reticent to “meddle” in party votes while still in office, but went on to say that he “cannot speak highly enough” of the woman who a decade ago became the first female House speaker. “She combines strong progressive values with just extraordinary political skill, and she does stuff that’s tough, not just stuff that’s easy,” Obama said of Pelosi.

 

Medical marijuana advocates up in arms over Jeff Sessions

The head of a medical marijuana advocacy group is criticizing President-elect Donald Trump’s pick of Jeff Sessions for U.S. Attorney General.

Steph Sherer, executive director of Americans for Safe Access, said in an email Friday that the Republican Sessions “has criticized the morality of cannabis users and has stated that cannabis is more harmful than alcohol.”

Sessions, a former federal prosecutor, once “rebutted (President) Obama’s observation that marijuana is safer than alcohol by citing a renowned expert on substance abuse: ‘Lady Gaga says she’s addicted to it and it is not harmless,’” according to Forbes.

On the other hand, Sherer said, Trump “repeatedly said he supports medical cannabis and that he believes states should be able to set their own policies in this area.”

The president-elect “needs to reassure the more than 300 million Americans living under some sort of medical cannabis law that his attorney general will honor his campaign pledge to respect state medical cannabis programs,” Sherer said.

“Plain and simple, medical cannabis is a critical therapy used by millions of patients to alleviate symptoms of epilepsy, chemotherapy, HIV/AIDS, chronic pain, and more,” she added. 

Twenty-eight states and the District of Columbia have decriminalized medical marijuana under state law, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. A ballot initiative giving Floridians a state constitutional right to medical pot passed earlier this month with 71 percent of the vote.

But marijuana is still outlawed by the federal government. The Obama administration has given states a pass, saying federal prosecutors should not charge those — particularly “the seriously ill and their caregivers” — who distribute and use medical marijuana under a state law.

Americans for Prosperity spends more than $2.5 million to defeat Patrick Murphy

Patrick Murphy frequently bashed Marco Rubio on the campaign trail this fall as a “puppet of the Koch Brothers,” citing the 98 percent grade he received from Americans for Prosperity, a 501(c)(4) nonprofit political advocacy group considered the political arm of Charles and David Koch.

In fact, AFP’s Florida chapter announced Monday they knocked on more than one million doors and spoke to over three million people on the phone in their effort to defeat Murphy’s bid for U.S. Senate. They also launched a website, PayMorePatrickMurphy.com along with TVdigital, and mail ads to try to ensure the Treasure Coast Democrat doesn’t win tonight’s U.S. Senate race against Rubio. It’s unusual in the respect that the group is best known for working on legislative issues at the state level, and has rarely become involved in Florida electoral politics.

“The majority of our work is not that world at all,” admits Andres Malave, a spokesperson for AFP-Florida. He hints that may be changing in the future, however.

“We usually focus on state issues, and as we in Florida continue to grow, we’re now, I think, at a point where we’re going to start doing a lot more work to try to impact the work of our federal delegation, and certainly the senators,” he said, but admits that when it comes to a direct advocacy campaign such as what they’ve employed against Murphy, “we have not partaken in it a lot.”

One exception was in 2012, when the group spent money in direct advocacy in Florida against the re-election of President Obama. 

Andres said the same issues AFP-Florida opposes in the state were obvious targets against Murphy, referring to opposition to a “pay-to-play attitude,” corporate welfare, and acceptance of the Affordable Care Act. “All of those boxes Patrick Murphy checked. And for us it was just an opportunity to rally our base and make them understand why it was so critical to keep him out.”

AFP-Florida was one of more than 50 outside groups to spend money in the U.S. Senate campaign. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Americans for Prosperity had spent more than $2.5 million into the Florida Senate race.

 

 

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