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RNC hammers Dawn McCall, host of Hillary Clinton fundraiser in Miami Beach

Whomever is the likely GOP presidential nominee next year, Florida will be a must-win state for that candidate to get to the 270 electoral votes needed. At least that’s the conventional wisdom.

So any chance that the Republican Party of Florida and the Republican National Committee can take a shot at likely Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, they’ll take it.

The presumptive Democratic front-runner is in the Sunshine State to fundraise at five different locations over Tuesday and Wednesday. The first event took place in Miami Beach Tuesday afternoon, at the Miami Beach home of Dawn McCall and Gail Williams. McCall is a former State Department official who worked under Clinton, and RNC is making an issue about an incident that happened under her tenure.

In an email titled, “Time to Unlike?” the RPOF cites a tough inspector general’s report that, among other things, revealed that the State Dept. spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on Facebook “likes” under McCall.

Specifically, in order to bolster its presence on Facebook, the State Department paid about $630,000 for campaigns to increase its total number of likes. The report said, “Many in the bureau criticize the advertising campaigns as ‘buying fans’ who may have once clicked on an ad or ‘liked’ a photo but have no real interest in the topic and have never engaged further.”

McCall was hired by the State Department as Coordinator of the Bureau of International Information Programs (IIP) at the Department of State in July of 2010. She resigned in April of 2013.

Clinton continues her fundraising tour Wednesday, beginning with an event at the Thonotosassa home of Alex Sink.



Alan Grayson Senate campaign manager Doug Dodson is out

Two weeks ago, rumors began circulating that there might be some shake-ups in Alan Grayson‘s campaign for the Democratic nomination for Senate.

Apparently those rumors were accurate, as both POLITICO and the Tampa Bay Times/Miami Herald reported on Tuesday that campaign manager Doug Dodson had left the campaign.

The Herald’s Amy Sherman also reports that Deputy campaign manager David Keith has left the campaign, and Senior Adviser and campaign spokesman Kevin Franck would soon be leaving.

Franck declined to respond to our inquiries when we asked about the rumors last month.

Grayson is in an intense contest against fellow Florida Congressman Patrick Murphy for the nomination for U.S. Senate in 2016.

After honeymooning in Paris, David Jolly vows “terror will never win”

Pinellas County U.S. Rep. and GOP Senate candidate David Jolly and Laura Donohoe married this past summer, but because Congress was still in session the couple delayed their honeymoon until late November during the week-long Thanksgiving congressional break.

Their plans were to celebrate their nuptials in the Paris, the City of Light.

Then the terrorist attacks occurred there Nov. 13, hours after Jolly spoke to hundreds of Republicans at the Sunshine Summit in Orlando.

“We were faced with much of the same concerns and fear that everyone across the U.S and in Europe faced as well, and so in the face of that, you had to decide – do we continue on with our life, do we continue on as honeymoon travel, as planned in Paris?” Jolly said speaking from Capitol Hill on Tuesday.

“Laura and I talked about it, and decided it was the right thing to do.”

So off they went.

Jolly said a highlight from the nearly week-long trip was visiting the many Christmas markets that open about this time of year in Paris.

“There were thousands of French people, kids riding carousels, people shopping for Christmas ornaments,” he said, including a noticeable security presence. “But I can tell you in those thousands upon thousands of people with Christmas Carols playing, that was a minute that I realized that terror will never win.”

The attacks led to a major discussion in this country regarding resettling Syrian refugees into the U.S., with Jolly joining every other Republican in the House of Representatives in voting to put a “pause” on the issue.

The Obama administration has called for the U.S. to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees by next year. Republicans have argued that Syrian refugees pose a security risk, after what authorities thought was a Syrian passport was discovered on the body of one of the attackers who killed 130 in Paris. The passport was later discovered to be fake, but that hasn’t stopped Republicans, and the issue is scheduled to come up in the big spending bill that must be approved by Dec. 11.

More legislators, though, say the U.S. visa waiver program should be dealt with first. On Monday, the Obama administration proposed tighter screening of travelers from 38 nations that aren’t required to have visas before entering the U.S.

Jolly agreed that the visa waiver program is much more urgent to stem potential foreign terrorists entering the U.S, but said the greater threat is from the flow of foreign fighters.

“The greatest threat we face is an open border where somebody can find a way to come in illegally,” he said, referring to the north and south U.S. borders and coastlines.

The next most dangerous threat, he said, are homegrown terrorists.

“The number of individuals who are considered homegrown terror suspects, that we currently provide surveillance to, dramatically outweighs anyone who might be coming in through the refugee resettlement program,” he said.

“The visa waiver program, refugee resettlement, border control, all these things need to be strengthened, but we need to keep it in context,” Jolly said. “We still have a much more significant issue when it comes to an open border. That’s the greatest threat of all. I think we should deal with border security in immigration reform now as a result of that.”

Jeb Bush releases new TV ad in New Hampshire on national security

The Jeb Bush presidential campaign has made TV and cable news buys in New Hampshire and the Boston market with a new 60-second ad called “Honor.”

The ad features Medal of Honor recipients – retired Marine Corps Col. Jay Vargas, retired Army Master Sgt. Leroy Petry, retired Air Force Col. Leo Thorsness, and retired Marine Corps Maj. Gen. James Livingston – discussing why they think Bush is the leader the country needs to take on the national security threats facing the United States.

The ads runs from now until Dec. 22, and includes a mixture of both 60-second and a shortened 30-second version of the ad.

The campaign says the cable buys will exclusively air on Fox News.

Mitch Perry Report for 12.1.15 – Corizon Health Care terminates contract with Florida prisons. That’s not a bad thing

If you don’t know of anyone who is caught up in the Florida corrections system, stories about the care of prisoners may not matter much to you at all.

But they have been disturbing, particularly regarding the state of health care for those who incarcerated.

Rick Scott ran for office in 2010 promising to privatize health care in the corrections system in Florida, and that finally happened in October of 2013, when Corizon Health Care took over (along with Wexford Health Services).

Corizon is the St. Louis based company that had already been subject to numerous allegations of quality problems with their care raised in lawsuits across the country, including charges of long waits for care and prisoners dying after not being properly diagnosed with cancer and other diseases. In fact, in 2012,  Corizon had lost statewide contracts covering 84,000 inmates in Maine, Maryland, Minnesota and Pennsylvania. That didn’t stop Florida from hiring them in 2013.

Corizon announced on Monday that it plans to terminate it’s $1.2 billion contract in the next six months.

In September, lawyers for Florida inmates filed a class-action lawsuit against the Department of Corrections and Corizon, alleging that the state agency and the company are denying hernia operations to save money. Corizon also has been fined almost $70,000 for failing to meet standards set by the state.

DOC Secretary Julie Jones had already announced that she intended to reopen bidding for prison contracts before the start of 2016.

In a statement, the DOC said that Jones will “work closely with the Department’s Office of Health Services to ensure that the appropriate staff and resources are available at our facilities to continue seamless delivery of appropriate medical care to our inmate population.”

The DOC will continue its partnership with another private carrier, Wexford Health Services, who provide health care services for prisons in the southern part of the state.

Whenever I write about Corizon, I always reference the story I wrote nearly a year and half ago for Creative Loafing. You read it and make up your own mind.

In other news …

Dr. Bennet Omalu, the Nigerian forensic pathologist who was the first doctor in America to publish findings of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) in NFL and military veterans, will be speaking in Tampa later this week. Omalu’s battles with the National Football League to accept his findings will be the focus of the new Will Smith film, “Concussion,” to be released nationally on Christmas Day.

While some civil liberty groups (and Democratic senators) want a section of the FISA Amendment Act to go away regarding surveillance, Bill Nelson argued yesterday that he wants Section 702 of the FISA Amendment Act to be extended permanently. 

If you’re registered Republican in time to vote in next March’s presidential primary in Florida, you can vote for the departed Bobby Jindal, but you’re out of luck if you’re part of the .001 percent of voters who want to support George Pataki for president. That’s because Jindal qualified to appear on the ballot, despite the fact that he’s departed the race, while Pataki is still nominally running, but failed to qualify to get on the Florida ballot.

At the Donald Trump rally in Sarasota last weekend, this reporter spoke with some of those in attendance to learn more about the appeal of the NYC based real estate mogul turned presidential hopeful.

A provision that Congressman David Jolly introduced last February ensuring that the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base will not be returned to the Cuban government is now the law of the land in the U.S., thanks to President Obama‘s support of the NDAA last week.

Tampa City Councilwoman Lisa Montelione announced last month that she would enter the Democratic Primary for the House District 63 seat currently occupied by Republican incumbent Shawn Harrison. In an interview with us last week, Montelione said definitively that she will beat Democratic opponent Mike Reedy, but not surprisingly, he disagrees.

Bill Nelson calls for permanent extension of Section 702 of FISA Amendment Act

Citing the terrorist attacks in Paris earlier this month, Florida Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson took to the floor of the Senate Monday to call for the permanent extension of Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act, which is scheduled to expire in 2017.

“This crucial tool provides access to electronic communications of suspected terrorists and other foreign persons located outside of the U.S., and so as we redouble our counterterrorism efforts, we must maintain what works and make the necessary changes as the threat evolves,” Nelson said. “And that means remaining vigilant and using all the tools in our toolbox, including intelligence collection, homeland security protections in the fight against ISIS on the battlefield.”

Nelson began his speech by referencing a change in the law that occurred this weekend that means  the National Security Agency will no longer directly hold information about the telephone calls of millions of US citizens. The USA Freedom Act that passed this summer and went into effect this past the weekend means that phone data will remain with the telecom companies, and the NSA will have to go to the FISA court to get access. However, the change only applies to telephone records. The NSA can continue to harvest bulk communications from the Internet and social media.

The ACLU called the change a “milestone,” but Nelson complained about that change.

“So how long is it going to take to go into court? Is it going to take months? Is it going to take weeks? Days? All the time the potential terrorist is well ahead of us,” he said, adding that “this senator feels that we shouldn’t limit those hops if we’re trying to find out who the bad guy is and who it is, what he’s about to do.”

While Nelson wants Section 702 of the FISA Amendment Acts permanently extended, civil liberty groups want it to go away.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, one of the nation’s leading civil liberties groups on digital issues, has said that Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act “is deeply troubling.”

“Section 702 is not just about keeping us safe from terrorism. It’s a distressingly powerful surveillance tool,”  EFE activist Nadia Kayyali wrote last year. She cited the fact that the NSA has shared intelligence with the Drug Enforcement Agency that has led to prosecutions for drug crimes, all while concealing the source of the data.

“We also need to reform the FISA Amendments Act, which sunsets in 2017,” Senate Judiciary Committee ranking Democrat and USA Freedom Act author Sen. Patrick Leahy said last month. “This law, also known as Section 702, has significant privacy implications for innocent Americans. And with the European Court of Justice’s decision, it continues to have significant implications for American businesses in the global economy. I look forward to working with you to reform Section 702 and other surveillance authorities.”

RPOF lists 14 for March presidential primary; includes Bobby Jindal, but not George Pataki

Republican Party of Florida Chairman Blaise Ingoglia delivered a letter to Secretary of State Ken Detzner on Monday with a list of 14 GOP presidential candidates who have qualified to be on the Florida presidential preference primary next March.

The letter lists Jeb Bush, Ben Carson, Chris Christie, Ted Cruz, Carly Fiorina, Jim Gilmore, Lindsey Graham, Mike Huckabee, Bobby Jindal, John Kasich, Rand Paul (shown in photo signing forms in Orlando two weeks ago at the Sunshine Summit putting his name on the ballot), Marco Rubio, Rick Santorum and Donald Trump.

Jindal dropped out of the race on Nov. 17, but his name will remain on the ballot.

The only Republican candidate who is (allegedly) still in the race who will not be on the ballot is former New York Governor George Pataki, who failed to qualify on the ballot.

The RPOF’s executive committee voted in late September that GOP candidates for president could qualify for the March 15 presidential primary in Florida by doing one of three things: Get at least 125 signatures in each of the 27 congressional districts, pay $25,000 as a qualifying fee – or attend the party’s Sunshine Summit in mid-November.

All of those candidates, save for Pataki, took up the third option, and attended the two-day event in Orlando this month.

Longtime Bill Nelson spokesman Dan McLaughlin to retire

Another longtime staffer to Florida Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson is stepping down.

Dan McLaughlin, Deputy Chief of Staff and Communications Director, will retire at the end of the year, after a 21-year association with Nelson, the past 15 in the Senate.

Dan has been my confidant and friend all these years, and is recognized in both journalism and communications as one of the best,” Nelson wrote in a memo to staffers.

McLaughlin is a former reporter for The Tampa Tribune. He will be replaced by Ryan Brown.

in October, Pete Mitchell, Nelson’s longtime chief-of-staff, announced that he would be departing from Nelson’s staff. However Nelson noted at the time that Mitchell would “begin laying the groundwork for my re-election in 2018.”

The 73-year-old Nelson has been Florida’s highest-ranking Democrat for years, and flirted with running for governor of 2014, but never appeared serious. He clearly indicated that he’d like to challenge Rick Scott, and he may get his wish in 2018.

Scott has not discouraged talk that he would be a candidate for the Republican nomination for Senate in ’18.

Donald Trump supporters in Sarasota speak out

It would be more than two-and-a-half hours before Donald Trump would appear, yet there were already hundreds of people standing in the pit area in front of the stage at the Robarts Arena in Sarasota, making sure they had a good spot last Saturday morning to see the man who has dominated American politics in 2015.

Among those excited to be up front that early was James Bankes, a 51-year-old St. Petersburg resident. A political independent who leans to the right, Bankes says he didn’t vote in the 2012 presidential election, and didn’t support Rick Scott for governor last year. He’s all in for Trump in 2016, however.

“He’s the face of change, ’cause he’s not so partisan. He’s not a politician,” he says. “And while he hasn’t outlined all of his plans, he plans to manage. A lot of people think you have to have some type of resume to run the country. Well, no president has ever had a resume to run the country, but he has a resume to think logically, to think intelligently, and listen to what people feel, and say that’s how we need to move. So, often politicians just go in their own direction, no matter how they were voted in. That’s what people are fed up with.”

The message about the 2015-2016 campaign has been characterized on the GOP side as one about the voters rejecting politics as usual and celebrating outsiders. That certainly explains a lot of Trump’s appeal. That and the fact that he’s unencumbered when it comes to worrying about offending anybody, which the crowd in Sarasota celebrated.

Bradenton resident Rich Gross had been carrying a sign criticizing Hillary Clinton before another member of the crowd took it away from him. He said he loves the way Trump “tells it like it is” and isn’t a career politician.

Gross said that he’s totally disaffected by politics. When asked why, he blamed the current occupant of the White House.

Actually, he can’t even bring himself to say Barack Obama‘s name, instead referring to him as, “That guy.”

You mean Barack Obama?

“You can call him whatever you want,” says Gross. “I call him other things. He (Trump) talks like the common man, speaks about what we want to hear.”

Gross says he thinks a Clinton vs. Trump election won’t even be close at the end, with the real estate magnate becoming commander in chief. “I don’t think America is that stupid,” he says of any other result. “Unless all the people with the handouts vote for her.”

The question about government handouts has always been a persistent issue with conservatives, and feels amped up larger than ever in the Age of Obama. When I ask Gross if he thinks that’s out of hand now, he responds, “How do you think Obama got elected for eight years?”

Nicole Affatao from Lakewood Ranch says she’s also tired of “everybody coming here for a free ride,” more of a reference to the undocumented immigrants who Trump claims he’ll be able to deport en masse. But she does believe in a social safety net. “People who need it, so be it. They need it. But that’s not a way of life. That’s not a lifestyle.”

Tampa resident Shelby McIntyre says he thinks Trump’s tough talk on immigration will fold into a more pragmatic approach if he ends up getting the Republican nomination. “I think we’ll hear in the near future, as we get closer. It’s going to be one of those, ‘you know, I thought about that, this is how we’re going to handle it.”

McIntyre, a Democrat who says as of now he intends to support Trump next year, believes that the New York City businessman is tapping into the hard-core conservative voter by making his claims about deportees. “People say he’s going to divide people. Listen, this is politics. It’s a show. He is being hard-core right now. I think he’s going to dial it back, I think he knows he can’t deport that many people, I think they’ll be some self-deportation.”

None of the people interviewed expressed much interest in the other Republican candidates, except for Affatao, who expressed her ardor for Ted Cruz.

“He’s a brilliant man,” she said of the Texas senator. She said she’d love to see a Trump-Cruz ticket. “We need a businessman and we need somebody who knows politics. The combination. Oh My God, yeah!”

“I thought that Jeb was a respectable governor for the state,” said Tampa resident Jim Lucier. “I think Mr. Trump’s right — Jeb’s low energy. He certainly hasn’t distinguished himself in the debates, I just don’t think he’s bringing his message very well.”

Regarding Marco Rubio, Lucier calls him a good man and good public servant, but said he certainly fits that career politician resume that he’s not in the mood for. “I’m interested in an outsider candidate,” Lucier says. “But one that I thought that has the intellect, the charisma, the ideas and the strength to lead the country.”

Most of those interviewed by Florida Politics seemed to have no issue at all with the many controversial comments that the Republican presidential front-runner has said since entering the race earlier this year. But James Bankes says that Trump’s most recent comments regarding New York Times reporter Serge Kovaleski went too far.

“This latest one, where he flailed like he was disabled, was a little outrageous,” Bankes said about Trump’s mocking of the disabled reporter. “But in the end if you think about it, so many politicians say lies and ridiculous things with a straight face. Maybe they don’t have dramatics with it, and maybe they don’t have antics with it, and maybe they don’t say it as if they’re a regular lay person. They say it in an articulated, pre-canned fashion speed, when really all they’re doing is the same thing. And it’s called they’re mocking us. They mock us regular people for like we don’t know any better, and I’m in power, so deal with it!”

“Nobody ever heard of the guy,” Trump said of Kovaleski on Saturday. “He’s using what he’s got to such a horrible degree. I think it’s disgraceful. And I think The New York Times should give me an apology.”

Of course, bashing the media is a tried and true practice in Republican politics, but Trump’s harangue regarding the Times was particularly vitriolic, and extensive.

Ernie Votaw, 64, said that Trump’s popularity is because of the “way he just tells it like it is. And people really like it,” he adds. “They don’t want stuff clouded with politically correct stuff.”

Vote said he thought Trump could beat Hillary Clinton next year, and says it will be “entertaining.”

“He’s a deal maker and we need a deal maker on a lot of these treaties and future treaties,” he said. “And he has a knack of picking the best people. I have faith in him.”

Lisa Montelione feels confident in HD 63 Democratic primary versus Mike Reedy

Lisa Montelione said it was “excruciatingly hard” to decide to give up her Tampa City Council seat next year, but that’s what will happen now that she’s decided to run for the Florida Legislature in 2016. She’ll take on fellow Democrat Mike Reedy in the House District 63 primary next August, with the winner to face GOP incumbent Shawn Harrison in November.

Regarding that primary race against Reedy, Montelione said simply, “I will win.”

The Hillsborough County-based seat is one of those handful of state House districts that favor the Democrats in presidential election years, and Republicans in off-year elections. Harrison defeated Democrat Mark Danish in a rematch of their 2012 contest, in which Danish won out.

Montelione said she considered whether to jettison her Council seat for months, but it took watching a “TED Talk” by philosopher Ruth Chang that finally persuaded her.

“It doesn’t come down to a plus or minus column, it comes down to where you feel your heart is, and having the courage to maybe not do the practical thing that everybody expects, but to do the hard thing that means it might cost you a lot but in the end it’s the right the thing to do,” Montelione said of deciding to leave her seat and run for the Legislature.

Reedy, a Tampa native and full-time organizer for the LGBT activist group Equality Florida, said he was surprised when he learned of Montelione entering the Democratic primary.

“I don’t know what her thinking is, quite frankly, as someone who was just elected for City Council in March,” he said. Montelione was re-elected to a second four-year term this year. Both Democrats said that they’re aware the seat has flipped back and forth in recent years, but both said that should they win, they’ll keep it blue for years to come.

Noting how much of her current council seat mirrors the geography of HD 63 and how people in unincorporated areas of Hillsborough County have grown to know her because of her work on the Metropolitan Planning Organization and Hillsborough River Board, Montelione said it’s a seat “I know that in ’16 I will win, and I know in ’18 I’ll hold onto it, because I have crossed the aisles in popularity, people from both sides of the aisle support me.”

Reedy said he considers himself in the first year of a “10-year campaign.”

He means he’ll be active with the community from the beginning of his first term in office. “There is someone who is always going to be running the two years that you’re trying to make it, so as soon as we win in November, we’re going to continue that outreach to the community, and I think that’s something that this community has definitely said what they want to know more of,” adding that “there is a lack of knowing who their elected officials are, and what they are doing and how they are voting not only in the city but also in Tallahassee.”

The race will divide Democrats to an extent.

Among those who attended an earlier fundraiser for Reedy included Pat Frank, Mike Suarez, Mary Mulhern, Patrick Manteiga, Guido Maniscalco, and Mark Danish.

Reedy said that among the issues he’s concerned about being debated in Tallahassee is the guns on campus bill and the problems with the Department of Children and Families.

“We have a lot of tenured professors and students who live in the district, and they’re voicing their concerns about what in a situation which someone with a hoodie with a gun, and then there’s another person with a hoodie and a gun that fits the only description, how is the cop going to know who’s the good guy and the bad guy?

“That’s a real concern for students … and statistically, our schools are safer than our communities, and our communities have been safer now than they have been in the last 30 years so that’s a big concern to me and people in this district.

“I think also we’ve seen a lot in terms of DCF … and what’s happening with some children who are falling through the cracks, if you want to say something that is happening that’s not getting enough coverage, it is that and we have to find a way … that connects not only our social services with our medical community but with law enforcement, there cannot be this disconnect, because there is too many children who are falling through the cracks.”

Montelione has nearly a year to go on City Council, and said there’s plenty of work to still do. She was on the losing side of a recent vote that would have committed taxpayers to spending over $250 million for much needed improvements to the city’s aging stormwater system. She said it wasn’t just herself, Mike Suarez and Harry Cohen who were on the losing side of that council vote, but the residents of Tampa and unincorporated Hillsborough County as well.

After the council’s initial vote rejecting the proposal by the Bob Buckhorn administration, Montelione offered a motion to bring the issue back in January, but that died without getting a second vote.

“I hope that it’s coming back, but the members of council who voted against it are the only ones who can bring it back,” she said. “The only other alternative is for the (Buckhorn) administration to come up with a plan that is marginally different from the one proposed so they can bring it back and hope for a different impact.”

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