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Lindsay Cross cuts pro-environment ad, already taping another

Democrat Lindsay Cross is launching a new ad this week in her bid for Senate District 24 that touts her commitment to the environment.

The ad, entitled “It’s Time” shows images of Cross at various local waterfront locations, as well as a photo of her working as an environmental scientist.

“Florida’s water and natural environment are under attack,” Cross begins the 15-second ad. “It’s time for a state senator that will fight to protect our water supply and environment and as your next state senator that’s exactly what I will do.”

Cross, a Democrat, is running against Republican State Senator Jeff Brandes for the SD 24 seat covering most of St. Petersburg and the Pinellas Gulf Beaches. Cross has criticized Brandes for voting to reduce funding for environmental protection.

Cross frequently references a 2011 bill Brandes voted for that capped the funds Water Management Districts can collect to perform their duties.

Meanwhile, Cross has nabbed backing from environmental groups including the Sierra Club and Florida Conservation Voters.

Cross announced Tuesday she’s taping another ad that will air on cable and social media later this week. She didn’t go into details about what the ad will address, but she was filming at Pass-a-Grille Beach, which she described as one of her favorites, implying the topic may again be the environment.

Cross could also mention red tide. The bacteria bloom is killing tons of fish, which are washing on shore and keeping visitors from the beach. The smell and toxic air make beach going a no-no for the time being.

Conditions have improved in recent weeks, but some beaches are still experiencing problems.

Democrats have been blaming Republicans, particularly Gov. Rick Scott, for the severity of this year’s bloom arguing environmental deregulation has led to increased dirty discharges into the Bay and other waterways.

Red tide is a naturally occurring phenomenon, but some argue pollution worsened it.

Cross is at a disadvantage against Brades. As the incumbent, Brandes comes with broad name recognition and fundraising prowess. The Republican has out-raised Cross by well over double.

Still, Cross is waging quite the social media campaign. Ads are all over Facebook and even in pop-up ads on mobile gaming applications.

She regularly posts on Facebook with her daily campaign activities and canvasses almost every day.

Cross entered the race late after the former Democratic candidate, Carrie Pilon, bowed out to tend to family health matters.


New commercial fills Bill Nelson’s suit with scary things

The Republican political committee that brought Florida Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson’s “empty suit” commercials running constantly for weeks released a new ad that fills the suit with everything from tax increase votes to a confused mind.

The new 30-second spot, “Lining,” from New Republican Political Action Committee, the committee Republican Gov. Rick Scott set up to support his U.S. Senate campaign, brings up all the charges pushed earlier: Nelson voted to raise taxes; he’s been collecting government paychecks for 45 years, now totaling millions of dollars in pay; he voted to cut Medicare; and making up a story about Russian interference … all because he’s confused.

Nelson’s campaign has rebutted most of those charges repeatedly, stating, for example, that the Republican’s assertion that he voted 375 times for tax increases is inaccurate; and that the vote referenced as a Medicare cut was no such thing, but rather a vote in favor of the Affordable Care Act, which included reductions in the amounts that Medicare would reimburse to hospitals, not cuts in coverage for patients.

“Lining” doesn’t get into such detail.

“We know Bill Nelson is an empty suit. But look inside,” the narrator begins as an empty suit flips open to show lining and pockets.

“Forty-five years in office, Nelson has earned millions and a huge pension we’re paying for. Controlled by his party, Nelson has voted 89 percent of the time with them, even voting to raise taxes 375 times, and cutting our Medicare. A confused Nelson even made up stories about Russian election interference.

“Bill Nelson’s suit is empty. But it’s lined with danger and confusion that hurts Florida families,” the narrator concludes.

New Republican PAC has spent $15 million so far on the race, including on more than a half-dozen TV commercials attacking Nelson, almost all of them asserting that he’s been in office way too long, and that he is “confused.”

Outside money now at $42 million in Florida’s U.S. Senate race

Outside groups have spent almost $17 million just in the past two weeks on advertising and other campaigning in the battle between Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson and his opponent Republican Gov. Rick Scott in Florida’s U.S. Senate election.

That spending ramped up from an already impressive $25 million that outside groups previously had spent in 2018, fueling waves of television commercials, stacks of campaign mailers, and other campaign support, according to the latest U.S. Senate independent expenditure reports, through last Friday, posted by the Federal Election Commission.

Nelson continues to be the biggest beneficiary of outside money, as more than $10.3 million was spent in the past two weeks either supporting him or attacking Scott, while $6.6 million was spent supporting Scott or attacking Nelson.

The grand total in outside spending so far: $25.6 million spent to support Nelson or oppose Scott; $17 million to support Scott or oppose Nelson.

Yet the spending is led by the pro-Scott New Republican Political Action Committee, the PAC that Scott set up as an outside group to support his campaign, and then left. It spent $5.4 million in the past two weeks and now has spent $14.8 million overall.

Not far behind was the Senate Majority Political Action Committee, the Democrats’ PAC supporting Nelson, which spent $4.5 million in the past two weeks, and now has spent $11 million in Florida, mostly bashing Scott.

Two other PACs, the Democrats’ Majority Forward and Priorities USA Action, each spent more than $2 million for Nelson’s benefit since the Sept. 30 reports, while Americans for Prosperity Action dropped more than $1 million to aid Scott’s campaign.

Priorities USA now has spent $6.4 million overall, and Majority forward, $4.5 million. Americans for Prosperity and several of its related groups have combined to spend about $1.2 million so far in Florida.

Ten other political committees have spent at least $100,000 apiece on the Nelson-Scott race. Most of them support Nelson or oppose Scott.

Though with three weeks to go, the 2018 outside spending still has not eclipsed the record set in 2016 when outside groups, mostly supporting Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio and attacking Democratic U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, combined to spend $54.2 million. In 2012, the last time Nelson ran, the outside spending reached only $22.5 million.

Missing this year, compared with 2016 when Rubio last ran, is any major participation from the two primary groups supporting Republicans running for the U.S. Senate, the Senate Leadership Fund and the National Republican Senatorial Committee. In 2016 the Republican leadership PACs combined to spend more than $18 million to aid Rubio. This year the Senate Leadership Fund has spent just $18,000 on online advertising to support Scott, while the NRSC has not entered the Florida contest.

The Sunshine State is not the biggest national battleground for outside groups, although it is close. The FEC reports show that more than $53 million has been spent in the U.S. Senate race in Missouri, and $42 million also has been spent in the U.S. Senate race in Indiana.

AIDS Foundation, Governor’s office argue over records

Attorneys for the nation’s largest non-profit AIDS health-care provider squared off Monday against Gov. Rick Scott’s administration over Florida’s broad public-records law and how it applies to the governor’s travel records and meeting schedules.

The Scott administration does not dispute that information the AIDS Healthcare Foundation is requesting is a public record. Instead, the administration argued to a three-judge panel of the 1st District Court of Appeal about the timing of the release of the information.

The AIDS Healthcare Foundation in July requested the governor’s travel schedule, including his overnight accommodations, for three months in advance. The foundation requested the information after the Scott administration made contracting decisions that locked a foundation health plan, Positive Healthcare, out of the state’s Medicaid program for the next five years.

In legal briefs filed with the 1st District Court of Appeal, Tallahassee attorney Barry Richard, representing the Scott administration, argued that while the schedule isn’t exempt from the public-records law, there is a law that exempts from review “any information revealing surveillance techniques or procedures or personnel. “

“If you tell a person where the governor is going to be every time three months in advance — what time he’s going to arrive ,what time he’s going to leave, where he’s going to be lodging — effectively you are giving them the opportunity to learn the surveillance techniques, procedures and personnel,” Richard told The News Service of Florida. “Because all you have to do is get there ahead of time and watch the (Florida Department of Law Enforcement) and how they are setting up their surveillance perimeter.”

Richard said the governor’s office releases Scott’s schedule daily and that the current distribution cycle “balances the public policy of open public records with the necessity of protecting the safety of public officers and law enforcement personnel.”

But AIDS Healthcare Foundation attorney Brian Finnerty said the Scott administration is citing an exemption that doesn’t apply.

“This is a very unusual case for us, and it’s because the executive office of the governor is not claiming these records are not public record,” Finnerty told the court. ”They’re just claiming that there’s a time component or a public policy component that should be read into the particular exemption that they have cited that would preclude them from having to produce the records that we requested.”

Judge Joseph Lewis Jr. asked Finnerty whether the release of the information could give people an opportunity to access surveillance-related information, but Finnerty said it would not.

“It simply would allow somebody to know what the governor’s plans are, and I think it’s consistent with the Sunshine law,” he said, referring to Florida’s public-records law.

The Scott administration took the case to the appeals court after Leon County Circuit Judge Charles Dodson ruled Sept. 5 that the information was a public record. Dodson initially ordered Scott’s office to provide it within 10 days, but the appeals court delayed the effect of the decision while it considered the case.

The lawsuit is part of a series of legal battles that came after the state Agency for Health Care Administration did not renew a five-year Medicaid contract with the foundation’s Positive Healthcare to provide Medicaid services in Broward, Miami-Dade and Monroe counties.

In one of the other cases, the foundation is asking a judge to nullify Medicaid managed-care contracts. The Agency for Health Care Administration tried unsuccessfully to have the case tossed from administrative court, and a decision in the case is pending, according to the state Division of Administrative Hearings website.

Also, another case has been filed in Leon County circuit court arguing that the Scott administration is violating the public records law.

Both parties agreed last month to push back a hearing in that case, saying they were working on a possible agreement.

AIDS Healthcare Foundation attorney Ryan Andrews, however, said progress on that case has slowed. Andrews said he would give the state additional time to respond to his client’s request for information because Tallahassee was affected by Hurricane Michael. But Andrews said “it may be brought back up.”

Lawmakers vow to rebuild damaged Air Force base

Northwest Florida’s Tyndall Air Force Base, where pilots train to fly the F-22 stealth fighter, won’t be abandoned because of major damage it sustained in Hurricane Michael, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson vowed Monday.

Speaking to reporters at Tallahassee International Airport, Nelson sought to dismiss growing concerns that the storm-battered base outside Panama City will follow the path of what had been Homestead Air Force Base, which was heavily damaged by Hurricane Andrew in 1992 and subsequently became an Air Force Reserve base.

“I think that fear is unfounded,” Nelson said. “As a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, I can say that Tyndall will be rebuilt, and it will be an example of a modern U.S. Air Force base. That is because it is critically located right next to one of our greatest national assets, the Air Force Eastern Gulf Test and Training Range, which is the largest testing and training range for the United States military in the world.”

Nelson, a Democrat, is up for re-election and has been touring the storm damage in the Panhandle as his Republican opponent, Gov. Rick Scott, has overseen the state’s response.

On Friday, Nelson joined U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican, and Republican U.S. Rep. Neal Dunn, a Republican from Panama City, in a letter to Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson and Pentagon Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein showing support for rebuilding Tyndall.

“Each of us stand ready to work with the Air Force to rebuild Tyndall AFB and advocate for the resources needed to do so,” the lawmakers wrote.

After Andrew devastated Homestead, the Pentagon failed to get funding to rebuild the Air Force base. Later, the military and civilian workforce were reassigned, and the facility reopened as a smaller Air Force Reserve base.

A year ago, the Pentagon put a $3.4 billion value on the facilities at Tyndall — which encompasses 29,000 acres in southeastern Bay County and has about 11,000 military and civilian personnel. The Pentagon estimated the base’s annual economic impact — combining payroll, expenditures and jobs created — at $596 million.

Tyndall is home to the 325th Fighter Wing, which trains pilots for the F-22 Raptors, which are each valued at up to $339 million.

Of the 55 F-22 stealth fighters housed at Tyndall, at least 33 were sent to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio before Michael made landfall in nearby Mexico Beach with 155 mph sustained winds.

The base also houses the 601st Air Operations Center, which directs operations for NORAD Defensive Counter Air activities and responds to natural and man-made disasters.

Base command at Tyndall last week called the hit from Michael “widespread catastrophic damage,” with every structure damaged, including hangars where planes that could not be flown out — due to maintenance or safety reasons — had been sheltered.

Wilson, the Air Force secretary, said — after touring the base and meeting with 93 airmen who rode out the storm — that Tyndall will reopen when safe, but she couldn’t offer a timeline for operations to return.

“Right now, it is still not safe to do so,” Wilson said in a video posted Monday on Facebook.

Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force Kaleth Wright added in the video, “I feel pretty good about the future of Tyndall” when discussing the recovery efforts.

Wilson, Goldfein and Wright issued a statement Sunday that noted no injuries occurred during the storm.

“That’s a testament to the base’s leadership and sound judgement in the face of rapidly changing storm predictions,” the statement said.

The statement also didn’t indicate when personnel would return other than to say “it will take time to recover, but we’ve been through this before and our airmen are up to the challenge.”

They added that the damage to the aircraft that remained on the ground “was less than we feared and preliminary indications are promising.”

“We also looked into each of the hangars that housed aircraft which weathered the storm for maintenance or safety reasons,” the statement said. “Visually, they were all intact and looked much better than expected considering the surrounding damage to some structures. Our maintenance professionals will do a detailed assessment of the F-22 Raptors and other aircraft before we can say with certainty that damaged aircraft can be repaired and sent back into the skies.”

The statement posted on Facebook didn’t say how many aircraft had been left on the base.

Rick Scott might not campaign anymore; Ann Scott to take over

Gov. Rick Scott‘s U.S. Senate campaign announced Monday that he expects to be so busy with Hurricane Michael recovery that he might not do any more campaigning before the Nov. 6 election and that First Lady Ann Scott will take over his campaign appearance commitments for at least the next couple of weeks.

The campaign held out the prospect that the governor might yet return to the campaign trail before Nov. 6, but cautioned against it.

“Gov. Scott will be focused on response and recovery from the devastating hurricane that hit the Panhandle for the foreseeable future. It’s unclear, at this point, whether he will hold any campaign events before the November 6th election, though it is still possible closer to election day.” the campaign announced in a news advisory Monday.

“Florida’s wonderful First Lady, Ann Scott, will be taking over his campaign schedule for the next few weeks. There is no better advocate for Governor Scott and his agenda to make Washington work than the First Lady,” the campaign added.

The campaign also expects to rely on other surrogates who are being dispatched to an “aggressive schedule of surrogate events for the coming weeks to make sure that Gov. Scott’s message is getting out across the state.”

Parkland parent endorses Rick Scott in new ad

Rick Scott, Florida’s outgoing Republican Governor, is out with a new ad in the race for U.S. Senate, highlighting the endorsement of Andrew Pollack, who lost his daughter in February’s shooting in Parkland.

Scott is attempting to unseat Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson.

In the new minute-long ad, titled “Meadow,” Pollack speaks of the loss of his daughter during the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

“I get my strength when I think of my daughter and how much she means to me,” Pollack begins.

“I just didn’t want to believe it that out of all the people that it could’ve been my daughter on that third floor. And I also lost a big part of my life that day. I might as well have been buried with her because I’ll never be the same.”

Pollack then turns to discussing the work he did on the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act, which was signed by Scott.

“I put my mind into working. So I picked a battle that we’ll all agree on no matter what party you’re affiliated with, and that’s protecting our kids in the schools. The Governor said to me numerous times, ‘Andy, you stay focused. Don’t get distracted and stick to your mission.’ And we did it. We got that bill passed in Florida.

“Rick Scott wasn’t worried about the politics that came with that bill, and he did what he thought was right. We need a politician that’s going to do what’s right. I truly believe that, that Rick Scott loves this country, and he wants to get up to Washington and make a difference.”

That bill raised the minimum age to buy a gun in Florida from 18 to 21. It also banned bump stocks, the type of modification used in last year’s Las Vegas shooting, among other new restrictions.

Other Parkland parents have endorsed Nelson in his re-election bid, including Fred Guttenberg.

You can watch Scott’s new ad below.

Businesses band together against offshore drilling

The Florida Gulf Coast Business Coalition is officially launching an alliance of coastal business owners and leaders opposed to offshore drilling off Florida’s Gulf Coast. The group of businesses is formally announcing its partnership on October 16 at 10:30 a.m. at the Tradewinds Island Grand Resort on St. Pete Beach.

The Coalition represents more than 2,000 businesses, chambers of commerce and other associations. The group hopes to create a unified voice against any new drilling in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico and works to ensure no existing drilling moves any further inland.

U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist is expected to speak at the group’s announcement. Robin Miller, president and CEO of the Tampa Bay Beaches Chamber of Commerce, and Clearwater Marine Aquarium CEO David Yates will also speak.

Efforts under the Trump administration to expand offshore drilling threaten more than 300,000 jobs and $17.5 billion in gross domestic product associated with Florida’s Gulf Coast Fishing, tourism and recreation, according to the Coalition.

The Trump administration announced earlier this year its plans to open almost all U.S. waters to offshore drilling. The Department of the Interior’s a draft five-year program for oil and gas development on the Outer Continental Shelf, the agency proposed the largest number of potential offshore lease sales ever, the Coalition said.

The group’s members include businesses and advocacy groups from the entire Gulf Coast.

The announcement comes as Gulf Coast businesses battle a different problem — red tide. Statewide efforts are ongoing to mitigate the effects of this year’s algae bloom, which has been one of the worst in recent history. Fish kills and toxins in the air are keeping visitors away from beaches and nearby businesses.

The state of Florida allocated $3 million for businesses affected by red tide and the federal government made small business loans available to help them recover. Researchers are also continuing work trying to understand why red tide occurs and how to prevent or mitigate it.

Rick Scott says transitional shelter assistance available in Bay County

Gov. Rick Scott on Sunday said a request for transitional sheltering assistance has been approved for Bay County.

The news means the Federal Emergency Management Agency will provide more options for places for families to stay, including hotel rooms, for individuals displaced by Hurricane Michael.

“They’ll begin accepting applications tomorrow,” Scott said on social media.

FEMA may provide such assistance to state governments in areas where disaster survivors cannot return to their residence because their home remains uninhabitable or sits in an area that’s inaccessible due to a Presidential-declared disaster.

TSA funding will be subject to cost-sharing with state government, according to FEMA guidelines. Those eligible will have hotel and motel lodging covered for a limited period, minus incidental costs such as phone calls, room service, and food.

FEMA most recently offered such assistance to areas struckb by Hurricane Florence in September.

To be eligible, individuals or households must register with FEMA, pass an identity verification, prove they live in the affected area (in this case Bay County) and that they have been displaced from their pre-disaster residence.

FEMA will fund the short-term accommodations through a vendor-managed payment system to shelter providers.

This assistance won’t count toward an applicant’s amount of assistance available under the Individuals and Households Program.

FEMA maintains a database online of evacuee hotels for TSA-eligible individuals.

Sen. Marco Rubio today stressed that in Bay County, a high concentration of residents remain isolated.

The assistance becomes available after major storms, but state Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, who has been working in Bay County since the storm struck, credited Scott’s relationship to President Donald Trump for the fast approval of TSA service.

State officials continue rescue and recovery efforts in storm-struck areas and will work with individuals impacted by the hurricane to learn of available services and assistance.

Florida officials fear Michael’s death toll will rise

Search and rescue personnel are continuing to comb through the ruins of a small Florida Panhandle community destroyed by Hurricane Michael, which has left hundreds of thousands without power and without easy access to supplies.

So far, one body has been found in Mexico Beach, but authorities say there is little doubt the death toll will rise.

Crews with dogs went door-to-door Saturday in Mexico Beach, pushing aside debris to get inside badly damaged structures in a second wave of searches following what they described as an initial, “hasty” search of the area. About 1,700 search and rescue personnel have checked 25,000 homes, Gov. Rick Scott said.

Michael made landfall Wednesday as a Category 4 hurricane with 155 mph winds (249 kph) and heavy storm surge. The tally of lives lost across the South stood at 15, including the victim found in the rubble of Mexico Beach, where about 1,000 people live.

“Everything is time-consuming,” said Capt. Ignatius Carroll, of the South Florida Urban Search and Rescue task force. “You don’t want to put a rush on a thorough rescue.”

More roads were passable along the storm-ravaged coast as crews cleared downed trees and power lines, but traffic lights remained out and there were long lines at the few open gas stations.

About 4,000 members of Florida’s national guard have been called up to deal with the storm, including 500 added on Saturday. Nearly 2,000 law-enforcement officials have been sent into the Panhandle.

Schools will stay closed indefinitely, a hospital halted operations and sent 200 patients to hospitals elsewhere in Florida and in Alabama, and more than 253,000 customers in the Panhandle remain without power.

“Everybody just needs to help each other right now,” Scott said after meeting with emergency responders in the Panama City area.

“You feel sorry for people,” Scott said. “They might have lost their house. They worry about their kids getting into school. You know, people don’t sit and have a whole bunch of extra money in the bank just waiting for a disaster.”

Some residents were packing up and getting as far away as they could.

Jeff and Katrina Pearsey, with a ruined rental home in the Panama City area and no indication of when they could again earn a living, said they were heading to Bangor, Maine, where Katrina once worked as a nurse. Several trees came down on their property, including one that smashed through the roof.

“We’re getting our stuff and we’re going,” said Jeff Pearsey, 48. “We’re probably done with Panama City.”

Michael was one of the most powerful hurricanes to ever make landfall in the U.S. While most residents fled ahead of the storm’s arrival, others stayed to face the hurricane. Some barely escaped with their lives as homes were pushed off their foundations and whole neighborhoods became submerged.

Hector Morales, a 57-year-old restaurant cook, never even thought of evacuating. His mobile home wasn’t on the beach but when it suddenly began floating during the hurricane, he jumped out and swam to a fishing boat and clambered aboard.

“I lost everything,” Morales said. “But I made it.”

How many others were not so fortunate was still not clear. By one count, state officials said, 285 people in Mexico Beach defied mandatory evacuation orders and stayed behind. It’s unclear how many people stayed behind in nearby communities.

One who did, Albert Blackwell, was preparing on Saturday to cover holes in the roof of his apartment and take a chainsaw to trees that fell and broke his windows just outside Panama City.

“I’m the idiot that rode it out here in this place,” said Blackwell, 65, sweat dripping from his face. He doesn’t plan to leave; he wants to protect his home from looters.

Emergency officials said they’ve received thousands of calls asking about missing people, but with cellphone service out across a wide area, they found it impossible to know who among those unaccounted for were safe but just unable to dial out to friends or family.

Federal Emergency Management Agency chief Brock Long said he expected the death toll to rise. Searchers were trying to determine if the person found dead in Mexico Beach had been alone or was part of a family.

Authorities have set up distribution centers to dole out food and water to victims. They’ve also set up a triage tent to treat residents stepping on nails and cutting themselves on debris.

President Donald Trump announced plans to visit Florida and hard-hit Georgia early next week but didn’t say what day he would arrive. On Saturday he approved federal disaster aid relief for four Alabama counties affected by the storm.

Trump spoke with Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal and “reiterated that the federal government is fully available,” the White House said Saturday.

“We are with you!” he tweeted.


Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

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