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Mitch Perry’s 5 people to watch in Tampa Bay politics in 2016

It’s been a long contentious year in Tampa Bay, from Pinellas County’s “Failure Factories” and Beth Leytham in Tampa City Hall to the evolving political landscape that has drawn Charlie Crist for another bid for elected office.

Good or bad, 2015 offered a little something for everyone (to cheer or argue about).

Now that the New Year is finally in sight, here are the top five people to watch in Tampa Bay for 2016:

Mike Grego — It hasn’t been an easy time for the well-respected Pinellas County school superintendent of late, particularly after the report in the Tampa Bay Times about “Failure Factories” in South St. Pete schools. Or, as the paper described it, how “Pinellas County School Board members turned five schools in the county’s black neighborhoods into some of the worst in Florida.”

Grego wasn’t around in 2007 when the board initially abandoned integration and avowed that schools in poor black neighborhoods would receive more money, staff and resources — and didn’t deliver.

He’s there now, though, and is working on a contract to keep him employed with the district until 2020. But for those who aspire to have St. Petersburg become the “Seamless City” (in Rick Baker‘s words), everyone knows midtown and the Southside can’t be ignored. Grego needs to step up.

Jeff Brandes — Although liberals will never get over the fact that he was the lone vote in the Senate a couple of years ago to deny any semblance of Medicaid expansion, the St. Pete legislator has a serious libertarian streak, making him not just one of the most interesting Republicans in Tampa Bay, but in the entire state. Whether it’s medical marijuana, Uber, self-driving cars, looking at civil asset forfeiture reform, Brandes wants to shake things up and get things done.

Cindy Stuart and Susan Valdes — Half of the so-called “Mean Girls” – so identified by Bob Buckhorn after the ouster of former Hillsborough school Superintendent MaryEllen Elia at the beginning of the year – the pair of school board members will go before the voters next November.

In the wake of the controversial sacking of Elia, many were talking (including the Times editorial page) about not forgetting the incident when the time came for those board members to face the public for re-election.

Kevin Beckner — While some Democrats who have stood with him since being elected in 2008 are taking a side and backing his opponent, incumbent Pat Frank in the Clerk of the Court election case, how much will Beckner be able to produce for county residents in his last year on the job?

He’s accomplished a lot so far:

  • Founded the Juvenile Justice Task Force that led to the expansion of the Civil Citation program for first-time misdemeanor offenders;
  • Introduced and passed ordinances that shut down pill mills and reduced epidemic insurance fraud related to staged auto accidents;
  • Formed a countywide violence prevention initiative to reduce the frequency and severity of violence in communities; and
  • Led hard in the county enacting a wage-theft ordinance.

Oh yeah, he’s also been a trailblazer in getting Hillsborough out of the 19th century on LGBT issues.

Charlie Crist — The jury is out on how his 2016 bid for Congress will play out. He had a ridiculously large lead over challenger Eric Lynn before the new CD 13 district lines were verified by the Florida Supreme Court. Lynn, though, has assiduously worked the grassroots for months to build support and win the endorsement of a slew of Pinellas County Democratic officials. Many of them, like a certain majority of statewide Democrats, just aren’t enamored with Charlie for his GOP background through most of his adult life.

Mitch Perry’s Top 10 stories of 2015 in Hillsborough politics

As first said by Greek philosopher Heraclitus, in the universe change is the only constant. Nowhere was that more applicable than in Tampa Bay during the past 12 months.

From the much-ballyhooed dismissal of MaryEllen Elia as Hillsborough County School Board District superintendent to redistricting and the rising (and falling) fortunes for hizzoner Bob Buckhorn, many of the leading political issues of the year centered on shaking up the status quo.

With that, here are Hillsborough County’s top ten stories in 2015:

1) MaryEllen Elia canned by Hillsborough County School Board.

For most of her decadelong tenure as Hillsborough County School Board District superintendent, Elia enjoyed a glorious run, beloved by the local media and recognized by her peers across the nation as one of the top public school instructors in the country.

But there are always issues simmering below the surface that actually wasn’t that hidden for those who followed the 2014 Hillsborough County School Board elections, where Elia was referred to critically by many if not most of those running for office.

Elia clashed severely with two school board members for years: April Griffin and Susan Valdes. After last fall’s school board election, which included the stunning upset victory by Sally Harris over establishment favorite Michelle Shimberg, Elia was in more trouble than she could have ever imagined.

In January, the school board on a 4-3 vote shockingly fired Elia.

One of those school board members who opposed her, Cindy Stuart said that some incidents had eroded the board’s trust, including one in which the board did not learn for 10 months about a special education student who had a medical emergency on a school bus and later died.

It all ended up well for Elia. In addition to costing local taxpayers more than $1 million to break her contract, four months later, she was named New York state Education Commissioner.

2) Guido Maniscalco stuns Jackie Toledo, Tampa establishment in runoff City Council race.

In this three-way race to succeed Charlie Miranda in Tampa’s City Council District 6 contest (Tommy Castellano was the third candidate), Republican Jackie Toledo had the financial edge and was embraced by the business elite in Tampa who welcomed a fellow “R” on the otherwise all-Democratic Council.

But as the campaign continued, Toledo suffered serious negative fallout. Some of that had to do with the actions of her campaign manager Anthony Pedicini that Toledo never addressed.

But some of it was on her, such as her weak response when it was learned that her campaign had failed to get permission from the Florida Department of Transportation to shoot video in a restricted construction zone for a television ad.

Nevertheless, Toledo won the plurality of votes on primary Election Day in April, garnering 46 percent of the vote, to Maniscalco’s 29 percent (Castellano received 25 percent).

Saying he was offended by her campaign, Castellano endorsed Maniscalco that evening, and local Democrats worked the streets to ensure that the council remained all Democratic in party registration.

In the runoff, Maniscalco narrowly won, 51-49 percent.

3) Uproar over Citizens Review Board for Police in Tampa.

The Tampa Bay Times report in April that Tampa Police had written more than 2,500 bike tickets over the past three years: more than Jacksonville, Miami, St. Petersburg and Orlando combined. They also reported that nearly 80 percent of the citations in the city went to blacks.

That report — along with some problematic issues within the department — resulted in community activists calling on the City Council and Mayor Bob Buckhorn to create a Citizens Review Board to monitor police procedures and policies, something that most major cities in the country have, but not Tampa.

The controversy hit “Def Com 5” the day Buckhorn — initially resistant to the idea — announced an executive order creating such an agency, giving himself the power to name all but two members to the nine-member regular board with two alternates.

That led to a prolonged battle with the City Council over who had jurisdiction to name members of such a board. Activists also wanted the board to have subpoena power, something that no council members was even calling for.

4) Redistricting changes everything — David Jolly leaves the 13th Congressional District seat for a U.S. Senate run, Charlie Crist enters the race.

In Tampa Bay, some of the greatest political changes can be summed up in one word:  redistricting. David Jolly had been part of one of the most expensive congressional races in U.S. history in early 2014 when over $12 million was spent altogether for the Pinellas County District left open after the death of longtime U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young.

A little over a year later, Jolly announced he would leave the seat in 2016.

That’s because, during the summer, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that the Florida GOP-led Legislature had violated the state’s constitution by gerrymandering eight of the state’s 27 congressional districts in 2012. The result was a newly drawn up CD 13 that, on paper anyway, made it much less possible for Jolly (or any other Republican) to hold on to the seat.

So, exit Jolly from local politics (he’s now running for U.S. Senate), and say hello (once again) to Charlie Crist, whose political career seemed to have ran out of options less than a year earlier after his narrow loss to Rick Scott in the incredibly bitter contest for governor.

Crist is running for the Democratic nomination in CD13 against Eric Lynn, the St. Pete native who began working for then-U.S. Sen. Barack Obama right before the Illinois lawmaker announced his run for president. Lynn served for six years in the Pentagon, before announcing earlier in 2015 that he would challenge Jolly.

Jolly’s out, but Crist is in, and his overwhelming advantage in name recognition has made him the prohibitive favorite in the race, but Lynn has refused to be cowed by his much more famous challenger.

5) Jim Norman attempts a return for local politics.

The jury is still out on how significant development this actually is, but what is newsworthy is that Jim Norman opted to come out of hibernation and attempt a return to the place he served for 18 years.

The former County Commissioner says he’s been exonerated for the ethical issues involving the vacation home involving one of his benefactors, the late Ralph Hughes. He remains the odds-on favorite to capture the GOP nomination for the District 6 countywide seat next year, but it’s not known if the electorate overall will be that forgiving.

6) Kevin Beckner challenges Pat Frank in Hillsborough County Clerk of the Court race in 2016.

The biggest game of “he said/she said,” in local politics, Kevin Beckner ended up alienating some of the Tampa Democratic establishment by challenging Pat Frank, but it was never intended to be that way.

The two Hillsborough Dems acknowledge they had a conversation, where Beckner talked about his interest in running for the race. They disagreed on what was actually said at that meeting. Beckner said Frank told him she would be stepping down in 2016, suggesting he consider running for the office.

Frank vigorously denied that, saying she told Beckner she hadn’t made up her mind yet.

“I never said I wasn’t going to run,” Frank told this reporter. “I said I hadn’t made up my mind yet. And I never said that I would endorse him or anything of that sort. In fact, he did say to me, ‘If I do run, could you support me?’ And I said, ‘I’ve gotta be honest with you, the person who would stand first in line with me would be Harry Cohen.’”

7) Frank Reddick becomes Tampa City Council Chair/Les Miller ousts Sandy Murman as Hillsborough Board of County Commission Chair.

There was a changing of the guard in local leadership.

In Tampa, Charlie Miranda was expected to be re-elected by his colleagues once again as chair. In fact, Mayor Bob Buckhorn predicted it. But in a rare sign of flexing independent muscles, something they would do again later in the year, a majority of the council opted instead for another choice, Frank Reddick, probably the mayor’s biggest critic on the board.

In November, two Republican Hillsborough County Commissioners (Victor Crist and Ken Hagan) joined Democrats Kevin Beckner and Les Miller to select Miller as Board Chairman, ousting former chair Sandy Murman.

It was a stunning move, which had many people wondering how it had happened.

While there were a few scenarios presented, it seems apparent the vote against Murman had nothing to do with her counter proposal to fund transportation projects in the county.

That offer, using the framework a plan worked on by both Sierra Club and Tea Party members, employs a variety of courses (such as mobility fees and a gas tax), and received poor reviews when Murman announced it, although she still expects it to get a hearing in 2016.

8) Go Hillsborough effort rocked by WTSP Channel 10 story.

Speaking of Go Hillsborough, the fate of that possible county transportation tax remains unresolved as of this posting. Go Hillsborough is the collective work effort of the county initially presented last summer as a plan to go before voters in 2016.

With transportation taxes going down in the Tampa Bay area in 2010 and 2014, the pressure is on Hillsborough to finally break the losing streak and get something — anything — passed. Or, at least, that’s the way it looked like to Tampa residents — a plan tailored for the rest of Hillsborough County (outside of Tampa) and heavy on adding or improving roads, with little devoted to transit.

Then Noah Pransky‘s story on WTSP hit in early September. It sought to enlighten the public on the power public relations consultant Beth Leytham held within the county’s corridors of power but exposing serious questions about how the contractor, Parsons Brinckerhoff was selected to work on the project. Parsons then hired Leytham as a subcontractor.

Hillsborough County Sheriff David Gee has been investigating some of the questions presented by Pransky — his findings have yet to be announced (as of this posting). Some say it doesn’t matter, and the project is now doomed to fail — again. Others say it could be ready to make a comeback.

9) Bob Buckhorn’s bad summer

Bob Buckhorn started off 2015 in grand fashion, seeming to have found his footing at the end of last year. But in late summer, the mayor definitely encountered the most turbulence in his four-year-plus tenure.

It began with winning re-election by the margins usually tin-pot dictators, taking 96 percent of the vote.

That would be the highlight. For a while, anyway.

As noted above, the Tampa Bay Times reported that blacks had been disproportionately cited by the TPD for bike citations. Police Chief Jane Castor and Buckhorn initially pooh-poohed the report, but it opened the floodgates for critics of the police department, who held a host of meetings decrying their treatment by police, along with the seeming lack of concern by the mayor.

Buckhorn and Castor asked for assistance from the U.S. Justice Department, which sent its Office of Community Oriented Policing (COPS) program to investigate the TPD; that report is slated for the end of the year. (Critics say it will be a whitewash, and that the DOJ should have instead sent itsCivil Rights Division to investigate.)

Critics then began demanding the creation of a Citizen’s Police Review Board, something the mayor initially said wasn’t needed. He came around to the idea, but alienated members of the City Council when he signed an executive order allowing him the power to choose nine of the 11 total members. Council members objected, but Buckhorn’s initial stance was that the City Charter allowed him to name all 11 members. He dismissed the critics who attended council meetings who criticized him, saying they were part of “fringe groups.”

Buckhorn also played a supporting role in the WTSP report on Leytham, providing the mayor one of his least flattering on-camera moments ever when he responded to Noah Pransky’s queries.

After fundraising slowed for his political action committee, which was designed as a vehicle for him to travel around the state broadening his profile for a potential 2018 gubernatorial run, questions began percolating that Buckhorn dropped the idea. He hasn’t.

However, Buckhorn acknowledges that it will involve a major undertaking on his part, something he says he’ll definitely decide by the end of 2016, if not earlier.

10) TBX Express is coming to Tampa

For nearly two decades, the Florida Department of Transportation has been invested in what it calls the ultimate downtown interchange: widening both I-275 and I-4.

And what that meant was for years, the FDOT did nothing except buy and move historic structures in Ybor City and Tampa Heights, part of the purchase of rights of way for road widening.

But earlier this year, when the FDOT finally announced plans for the ultimate downtown interchange, many members of the local Seminole Heights/Tampa Heights community were less than impressed.

The plan calls for express toll lanes to run along Interstates 275, 4 and 75, and would cost up to $2 per mile to use. On I-275, TBX would go south from Bearss to the I-4 junction, west to the Westshore area, and over the Howard Frankland bridge to Pinellas County. The price tag would be $3 billion.

Community activists say it could destroy the progress, particularly that made in Seminole Heights, citing what FDOT did to the city when the interstate was constructed in the 1960s.

Supporters of the plan, like Bob Buckhorn, say it’s a new FDOT, which is more sensitive in how they go about construction projects, and it intends to be more cooperative with neighborhoods.

FDP releases ad for mock Marco Rubio credit card

Just in time for Tuesday night’s GOP presidential debate from Las Vegas, the Florida Democratic Party is mocking Marco Rubio with the release of a new web video called, “The Rubio Card” that mocks the Florida Senator’s variously reported financial problems over the years.

Questions of Rubio’s spending on a Republican Party of Florida charge card first surfaced in his U.S. Senate election in 2010, when the Tampa Bay Times and Miami Herald were leaked two years of records from when Rubio was Speaker of the Florida House.

The records showed plenty of personal spending, including movie tickets, charges to a wine store, a family vacation, even $1,000 for damage to his minivan and thousands more for a rental car to replace it.

Rubio and his campaign say the state GOP never paid his personal expenses, as recently as last month.

“While the concept of a job interview may be new to a career politician like Marco Rubio, voters deserve honest answers about his financial malfeasance. Yet every time he’s asked about it, he dodges, lies, and dismisses the concerns voters have,” FDP Chairwoman Allison Tant said in a prepared statement. “How can Marco Rubio expect Americans to trust him with the nation’s finances when he has proven unable to manage his own throughout his entire career?

Here’s the script for “The Rubio Card”:

Voice-over: You’re a politician on the go, and you’ve got a lot of expenses.

Sure, you could use your personal credit card, but you need something a little more … nefarious.

What you need is the Rubio Card.

This is your opportunity to be as financially reckless and irresponsible as Marco Rubio.

The Rubio Card not only allows for preposterous expenses, it encourages them.

News Clip 1“For instance, he charged the party $1,000 for repairs to his minivan.”

News Clip 2: “… spend $1,000 at Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse, chalk it up to a party expense.”

Voice-over: You can use the Rubio Card to take a vacation, remodel your house, or even get a haircut. Just listen to what people are saying:

News Clip 3: “Senator Rubio, you, yourself, have said that you’ve had issues. You have a lack of bookkeeping skills.”

News Clip 4: “… spending party money at a time when he should have used his personal money.”

Voice-over: Now some, like the Florida Ethics Commission, might say the Rubio Card is “negligent” and “disturbing.” But the best part about the Rubio card is that you’ll never have to pay anything or answer any questions about your purchases — no matter how bad they look.

So, apply today! There’s no credit check, no application, and absolutely no credibility. You don’t even need to show up for your job!

Because why be ethical, when you can be Marco Rubio?

[Disclaimer] The Rubio Card cannot be used for the follow items: Women’s health, income inequality, same-sex marriages, immigration reform, net neutrality, or doing the actual work of a U.S. Senator.

And here’s the ad:

Bob Buckhorn calls on Congress to give Puerto Rico bankruptcy protection, while Buddy Dyer sits it out

With Puerto Rico facing $72 billion in debt and not able to pay off its creditors, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn has joined a group of over a dozen mayors in the U.S. calling on Congress to restore the commonwealth its bankruptcy protections in the omnibus appropriations funding bill being debated in the House of Representatives.

Interestingly, Buckhorn is the only Florida mayor who is part of that group. Not signing on to that letter was Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, whose city has one of the largest populations of Puerto Ricans in the state. More on that below.

Buckhorn voiced his concerns in an op-ed published on the website of Bloomberg View on Monday, sharing his byline with New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.

“We have heard from Puerto Rican, congressional and local leaders across the country that we need urgent action,” Buckhorn and de Blasio write in advocating that Congress get involved. “Leaving Puerto Rico in a state of fiscal uncertainty is not only unacceptable but also un-American. There is too much at stake for too many people to delay any further.”

Buckhorn and de Blasio are part of a group of 15 other mayors and county leaders across the country who sent a letter to House Speaker Paul D. Ryan on Thursday urging him to work with President Barack Obama and other members of Congress on backing a package of proposals that the president unveiled back in October to enact a plan to provide broad bankruptcy protection and debt restructuring powers for Puerto Rico.

Because Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory, it cannot declare Chapter 9 bankruptcy the way that U.S. cities and municipalities can. The commonwealth has been borrowing to pay its debts as they came due. It payed $354 million in principal and interest owed on Government Development Bank notes on Dec. 1, but said that its liquidity was “severely constrained” with another payment of $357 million due Jan. 1.

Two weeks ago, Puerto Rican Gov. García Padilla called on Congress to include a measure allowing bankruptcy in the must-pass omnibus spending bill being negotiated, saying it would be “the most likely way for Congress to act prior to January.”

Last week, Utah Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch proposed legislation that would offer Puerto Rico up to $3 billion in cash relief, reduce employee payroll taxes for five years, and establish a new independent authority that could borrow on the government’s behalf. It would also require Puerto Rico to disclose more detailed financial information about its pension obligations. The island faces a Jan. 1 deadline to make bond payments of $900 million.

According to the Center for Puerto Rican Studiesin 2014 New York continued to host the most Puerto Ricans in the U.S., but for the time in history, Florida became the first state after New York more than 1 million Puerto Ricans. Much of that growth of Puerto Ricans coming to the Sunshine State has concentrated on Central Florida, and specifically the Orlando area.

When asked why Orlando Mayor Dyer did not sign on to the letter sent to House Speaker Ryan last week, a spokeswoman said that the issue was a bit too hot for Dyer to weigh in on.

“We decided to remain silent on the issue for a number of reasons,” says Kathleen Devault, Director of Strategic Partnerships for the city of Orlando. The main reason, she says, was how a bankruptcy could affect small businesses in Puerto Rico that have ties to central Florida.

“We heard a lot of feedback from our local community, which we have a large portion from Puerto Rico,” Devault said. “And there were a number of expressions of concern regarding this, because many of our residents have family members in Puerto Rico, some who own companies which the government may be their largest consumer or their largest customer.”

Default adds that there was a fear expressed by members of the community that those local businesses ini Orlando would create a domino effect, “and that a lot of smaller locally owned business in Puerto Rico that have ties to central Florida, could also have been negatively impacted.”

Meanwhile, it’s no secret that Buckhorn has aspirations for possibly running for governor in Florida in 2018. If nothing else, the letter will get the attention of that growing Puerto Rican demographic in the Sunshine State.

Mitch Perry Report for 12.14.15 – Warming up for a Tampa Bay Winter

Gosh it’s hot out there. That’s what went through my mind this morning when I went running at 5 a.m. Seriously, this felt like the warmest morning yet of what has been a very warm December in the Tampa Bay area.

Maybe it’s the El Niño affect, but this unseasonably warm winter weather isn’t relegated to those of us in the Sunshine State.

In Cleveland yesterday, it was 64 degrees, one degree off the warmest December day in the city’s history. According to Accuweather, for most of the east coast this weekend, high temperatures ranged 10 to 20 degrees Fahrenheit above normal for this time of year. Temperatures in some areas were predicted to climb to 30 degrees above normal this weekend.

Now let’s talk about climate change.

First of all, let’s state that weather is not climate. As NASA describes it, when we talk about climate change, we talk about changes in long-term averages of daily weather. However, this looks like it will go in the books as the hottest year in the history of the planet – again.

On Saturday in Paris, the United Nations 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21) concluded with an agreement for a long-term goal to eliminate global-warming pollution in this century.

The accord achieved one major goal. It limits average global warming to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial temperatures and strives for a limit of 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) if possible.

It does not mandate exactly how much each country must reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. Instead, it sets up a bottom-up system in which each country sets its own goal – which the agreement calls a “nationally determined contribution” – and then must explain how it plans to reach that objective.

Those pledges must be increased over time, and starting in 2018 each country will have to submit new plans every five years.

Naturally, GOP candidate for president bashed the proposal – at least those who even mentioned it this weekend. But the criticism wasn’t limited to Republicans.

“While this is a step forward it goes nowhere near far enough. The planet is in crisis. We need bold action in the very near future and this does not provide that,” U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders said in a statement.

Perhaps will hear something of some substance on the issue tomorrow night when the GOP candidates debate in Las Vegas tomorrow night on CNN?

Or maybe not.

Oh, and in other news this weekend,  Saudi Arabia let women vote, as well as runoff office.

 

Marco Rubio in 4th place in Iowa in new poll

Despite the support from more major donors and the so-called GOP establishment, Marco Rubio‘s campaign doesn’t appear to be doing much in Iowa, site of the first caucuses next year.

The Florida senator remains in fourth place in Iowa, according a poll released Sunday.

The big story in the Des Moines Register  is the rise of Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who leads the survey with 31 percent support, giving him a 10-point lead over Donald Trump, who has 21 percent support in the poll.

Dr. Ben Carson is in third place with 15 percent, and Rubio is next at 10 percent.

Jeb Bush is fifth with 10 percent.

Rubio and Bush have gained 1 point each in the survey from the previous poll the Register conducted in Iowa in October.

The story of the poll is Cruz. He was the favorite of just 10 percent of likely Republican caucusgoers in the Iowa Poll in October.

Another 20 percent of likely caucusgoers say he’s their current second choice for president. Cruz hits 51 percent support when first- and second-choice interest is combined, again leading the field.

Three Republicans are tied at 3 percent: Rand Paul, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

The Iowa Poll of 400 likely Republican caucusgoers was conducted Dec. 7-10 by Selzer & Co. of Des Moines. The margin of error is plus or minus 4.9 percentage points.

Joe Negron signs on to Jeff Brandes civil asset forfeiture reform bill

Joe Negron, the Stuart-based state Senator who recently survived a marathon battle with Jack Latvala to become Senate President in 2017, has signed on as a co-sponsor Jeff Brandes civil asset forfeiture bill (SB 1044) in the Legislature’s upper chamber.

The legislation would stipulate assets or property may only be seized under the Florida Contraband Forfeiture Act after a criminal defendant has been convicted of a crime. Up to that point, assets suspected to be connected to a crime may be only temporarily revoked under a provisional title obtained by police.

Under current law, police can seize assets without even bringing charges against a defendant.

Civil asset forfeiture laws became in vogue with law enforcement agencies in the 1980s, where they became empowered to seize the property and money associated with criminal organizations involved in the illegal drug trade. The agencies that seized the assets were allowed to keep the proceeds resulting from their seizures, creating a powerful financial incentive to seize and forfeit property.

Unlike criminal asset forfeiture, however, with civil forfeiture, a property owner need not be found guilty of a crime – or even charged – to permanently lose her cash, car, home, or other property.

Lehigh Acres Rep. Matt Caldwell is sponsoring the companion bill (HB 883) in the House.

David Jolly Senate campaign now boasting of Donald Trump backing his legislation

Earlier this week, Pinellas County Congressman David Jolly made national news by calling on Donald Trump to leave the Republican presidential race, after the real estate mogul’s controversial comments about temporarily banning Muslims from the U.S.

“I rise today to call on Donald trump to withdraw his candidacy for the White House,” Jolly said on the House floor Tuesday morning.

Those sentiments weren’t mentioned today, however, as the Jolly Senate campaign is boasting that Trump is backing a bill Jolly is sponsoring in the House of Representatives that would mandate stiffer penalties on people convicted of killing police officers.

In a campaign appearance in Portsmouth, New Hampshire on Thursday night, Trump said that as president,  he would call for the death penalty for any person who kills a cop.

“One of the first things I’d do in terms of executive order, if I win, will be to sign strong, strong statement that would go out to the country, out to the world, anybody killing policeman police woman, police officer, anybody killing police officer, the death penalty is going to happen,” Trump said, not mentioning any specific piece of legislation. He spoke alongside the New England Police Benevolent Association, shortly after that group voted to endorse him for president.
It was close enough for the Jolly camp however to tout about in a statement released on Friday about Jolly’s bill, called the Thin Blue Line Act (H.R. 814). The legislation would make the murder of a law enforcement officer, firefighter or first responder an aggravating factor in death penalty determinations. Under current law, the homicide of a federal public servant, such as federal agents, politicians and federal judges, is an aggravating factor for the death penalty during sentencing. The Thin Blue Line Act would extend the same treatment to state and local law enforcement and first responders when they are acting under federal jurisdiction.
“My bill simply says this – if you take the life of a law enforcement officer, be prepared to lose your own,” Jolly said in a statement. “I encourage all presidential candidates and Americans alike to rally behind my legislation to protect our brave men and women who put their lives on the line every day for us.”

Those presidential candidates apparently include those who you’d prefer weren’t in the race.

Sarah Bascom, a spokesperson for the Jolly campaign, pushes back on the idea that it’s incongruous to be highlighting Trump’s support for the Thin Blue Line Act.

“It’s politically intriguing,” she says. “Trump touts support of an issue that Congressman Jolly has been leading on since February, only days after the congressman’s criticisms of Mr. Trump.  That is the point.”

Jolly is competing for the GOP nomination for Senate in 2016 in Florida.

Floridians for Solar Choice organizers say they’re still going strong

Floridians for Solar Choice said Friday that its efforts to gather enough signatures to get on the 2016 are still going strong. The group’s prepared statement came in response to reports that its progress has been slowing of late.

“Despite manipulation and millions of dollars spent by Florida’s monopoly utilities, the Solar Choice coalition has been successful in gathering hundreds of thousands of signed petitions in an effort to place the solar choice amendment on the ballot,” said Tory Perfetti, chairman of Floridians for Solar Choice. “This campaign’s growing army of volunteers and supporters, coupled with the backing of over 70 diverse associations, businesses and organizations, is committed to removing barriers to solar production and to open Florida’s solar market.”

The proposed constitutional amendment would allow companies to install solar panels on homes and businesses and sell that energy without being treated as a utility by state and local regulators. Its backers range from Tea Party and Libertarian groups to environmentalists.

An opposition group – Consumers for Smart Solar – was formed, though, with its own proposed constitutional amendment. Its aim is to protect current rules governing solar power sales. It’s backed by the biggest utility companies in the state. Consumers for Smart Solar have been bringing in much larger campaign donations than Floridians for Solar Choice, much to the frustration the latter’s advocates.

“It is extraordinary that FPL in collusion with the other monopoly utilities and their proxy groups are spending millions of dollars to intentionally mislead Florida citizens in an effort to block customer-owned solar development in the Sunshine State,” said Pamela Goodman, President of the Florida League of Women Voters, a member of Floridians for Solar Choice. “Floridians should be asking ‘Why do we allow monopoly institutions to exist when they are working against the public interest?’ We will not be deterred by their money because we have people power on our side, and we will continue to mobilize the people of Florida to have the freedom of solar choice.”

When contacted by FloridaPolitics.com, Perfetti said the campaign continues to collect signatures and go forward. Asked whether there’s any problem with its current paid signature gatherers, he acknowledged that “we have backed off of some of the pay,” but would not elaborate.

Floridians for Solar Choice has been working with PCI Consultants, a Southern California company, to pay for collecting signatures. Calls to speak with Angelo Paparella, their president, were not returned on Thursday.

Floridians for Solar Choice has more than 262,000 already verified by Florida’s Division of Elections and says they have more than 250,000 additional petitions signed and awaiting verification.

Consumers for Smart Solar has 361,509 signatures verified by the Division of Elections.

The deadline to turn in all verified signatures is Feb.1, 2016.

Mitch Perry Report for 12.11.15 – Bowe Bergdahl speaks

Since he began campaigning for president this year, one part of Donald Trump’s stump speech that has remained intact is when he attacks Bowe Bergdahl, calling him a traitor and saying he should be executed for deserting.

“We’re tired of Sgt. Bergdahl, who’s a traitor, a no-good traitor, who should have been executed,’ Trump said in Las Vegas last month. Thirty years ago, he would have been shot.”

The lines always gets huge cheers, another example of the so-called lack of political correctness that his supporters love him for. And it’s certainly a reflection of what a segment of the population feels about the soldier, who left his post during his tour in Afghanistan in 2009. He was captured and held prisoner by the Taliban for five years before he was exchanged for five high-ranking Taliban commanders being held by the U.S.

A lot of negativity (hello Bill O’Reilly) has been spewed about Bergdahl on cable news over the past year and a half, but the man himself has never addressed the American public.

Until now.

On the opening episode of the second season of the acclaimed podcast, “Serial,” Bergdahl speaks to screenwriter Mark Boal, in comments that were originally never meant for broadcast. Boal penned “The Hurt Locker” and “Zero Dark Thirty,” and was able to gain Bergdahl’s confidence with he came home in 2014.

In the first episode, called “DUSTWUN” (which refers to the Army radio signal for “Duty Status Whereabouts Unknown.”), Berghdal says he realized the nature of what he did about 20 minutes after walking away from his remote operating base.

“I’m going, ‘Good grief, I’m in over my head,’ ” he says. “Suddenly, it really starts to sink in that I really did something bad. Or, not bad, but I really did something serious.”

Bergdahl says he left his post because he felt there were serious leadership problems in his unit, and he wanted to tell higher-ranking military officials about it. His plan was to walk 18 miles to Forward Operating Base Sharana, to report his observations. Then he decided he might be in trouble with them, and opted to gather intelligence on the Taliban so his commanders wouldn’t treat him as a deserter.

“When I got back to the FOB (Forward Operating Base), you know, they could say, ‘You left your position. But I could say, ‘Well, I also got this information. So what are you going to do?’ ”

That’s when he compares himself to Jason Bourne of the Bourne movie franchise (and what has prompted some of the biggest headlines from the first show).

“I was trying to prove to myself. I was trying to prove to the world, to anybody who used to know me, that I was capable of being that person,” he said. “Like me doing what I did was me saying that I am, I don’t know, Jason Bourne.”

It’s riveting stuff, as are the voices of some of his fellow troop members who were there when it was discovered that Berghdal was missing. They call themselves his friends at the time (though those same voices might be changing their tune as the series progresses).

“Serial” host Sarah Koenig promises as the end of this initial podcast that we’ll be hearing from Taliban soldiers in next week’s episode, to get their perspective.

The podcast’s debut came just as a military court is considering on whether to charge Bergdahl with desertion, which could land him in prison for five years. He could also get life imprisonment for endangering the troops who searched him.

The Armed Services Committee Thursday also released its long-awaited report on how the Obama administration handled trading Berghdal for five Taliban detainees at Gitmo.

Thanks to “Serial,” Bergdahl will have a segment of the population sympathizing with him. Frankly, that can only help him in the court of public opinion, which of course, ain’t a military court.

Oh yeah: The podcast debuted the same day that the House Armed Services Committee released a report blasting the Obama administration’s decision to release five Taliban detainees at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, in exchange for Bergdahl.

In other news …

Alex Sink says if asked, she’d gladly serve as an ambassador or any other position that a President Hillary Clinton might offer her if elected next year.

• • •

Former Hillsborough County Commissioner Jim Norman is the fourth month of his political comeback after a scandal led to his quitting politics three years ago. He’s raised more than $107,000 in his campaign to win the District 6 countywide race next year.

• • •

Tampa state House Democrat Janet Cruz will become House Minority Leader in a couple of years, and says she has no desire to run for mayor of Tampa in 2019 (or earlier).

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