Delegation for 8.28.18 — Insights from the Beltway to the Sunshine State
Florida Delegation

Florida Delegation

John McCain remembered in Florida for service and 2008 primary

Today is primary day in Florida. Several local and statewide races are being tracked, but none are likely to be as impactful as the state presidential primary 10 years ago.

When the expected news came that Sen. John McCain had lost his battle with brain cancer, fond remembrances came pouring in from around the country. Florida was no exception, including members of the Florida delegation.

All were laudatory from both sides of the political spectrum. Sen. Bill Nelson, who was on the opposite side on issues several times, called McCain “my friend and one of my heroes” and “would always be a role model for me.”

Godspeed: Sen. John McCain leaves a closed-door session where Republican senators met on the GOP effort to overhaul the tax code, on Capitol Hill, Dec. 1, 2017. The Arizona Republican died Saturday. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Sen. Marco Rubio said “America has lost more than a leader and more than a Senator. We lost a true American hero.”

Gov. Rick Scott stated “A lot of folks talk tough, but he was the real deal. From one Navy family to another, we extend our sincerest gratitude for his strength and perseverance.”

Some may have wondered how Democratic Rep. Charlie Crist would remember the man with whom he shared the stage, literally, for high political drama a decade ago. Crist, then the Republican governor of the state, played a key role in helping McCain achieve the highest honor of his political career.

Crist jolted the Florida Presidential Primary on January 26, 2008, by endorsing McCain over Mitt Romney, Rudy Giuliani, and Mike Huckabee just three days before the primary.

“I have been thinking about it a lot,” Crist said, to the shock or chagrin of many, from the podium during the Pinellas Lincoln Day Dinner. “I don’t think anybody would be better than the man who stands beside me.”

No candidate had a clear advantage going into Florida, but McCain’s five-point victory, clearly helped by the Crist endorsement, sent the Senator on the path to numerous subsequent primary and caucus victories and the nomination.

Coverage from the then-St. Petersburg Times summed up what happened, as well as McCain, perfectly.

“John McCain, the irascible U.S. Senator and Vietnam War veteran who has clashed liberally with his party’s base, edged Mitt Romney to win the Florida Republican Primary …”

Exit poll analysis showed: “Fifty-four percent of McCain voters said Crist’s endorsement was very important.” Is it any wonder that as McCain went on to become the presumptive nominee, Crist would be on the short list to be McCain’s running mate?

Of course, the “maverick” went on to select Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. We know how that worked out, but in 2008 Barack Obama would not be denied, despite being thrashed in the Florida primary by Hillary Clinton on the same night McCain was winning his life-changing victory.

On Saturday evening, Crist was not flowery in his praise or condolences, just three sentences that remembered the man and talked to the family. Some might have expected more oratory, but Crist left that to others.

“Tonight our country lost a true American hero,” he said via his House Twitter account. “Honored to have called Senator McCain a friend. May God bless his loved ones during this time of loss.”

Many more tributes to the former Congressman, Senator, and prisoner of war will fill the pages of the news media and social media as his memorial service approaches. Unfortunately, too many will be compelled to continue a posthumous McCain vs. President Donald Trump conflict.

Too bad; it would be far more worthwhile to remember McCain for the reasons why he became a hero to so many.

Russian hacking issue could dog Nelson

It has been three weeks since Nelson made the statement that the Russians had “penetrated” voting systems in some Florida counties. Two weeks ago, he stood by the statement and later pointed to an NBC report that quoted sources “familiar with the intelligence” who agreed with Nelson.

Scott, of course, has done all he could to keep the issue alive, accusing Nelson of either lying or revealing classified information. After Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr of North Carolina, as well as Rubio, would neither confirm nor deny the accuracy of the claim, others who would know did chime in.

Russian hacking allegations could dog Bill Nelson through November.

When the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI informed Florida officials that no system had been hacked, they issue became an almost guaranteed discussion point for the remainder of the campaign. If and whenever any debates between the candidates occur, Nelson will be called upon to offer a full explanation.

Campaign watchers say Scott’s approach borders on calling Nelson “too old” to continue serving in the Senate without actually saying the words. The Scott campaign says it’s something else.

“The problem with Bill Nelson has nothing to do with his age,” said Lauren Schenone, the Scott campaign press secretary. “It’s that he has become such a party-line liberal, and like most career politicians, he talks a lot but doesn’t get anything done.”

Nelson calls for release of FIU bridge docs

As the investigation continues into the March 15 bridge collapse in near Florida International University (FIU) in Miami that killed 6, a major media outlet is demanding records involving the tragedy. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) instructed the Department of Transportation not to release documents to the Miami Herald, drawing the ire of Nelson.

The Herald sued the Florida Department of Transportation in May for records that might explain why the road was not shut down after cracks in the bridge were discovered. In a letter to NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt, Nelson called the denial of information “appalling.”

Bill Nelson is calling for key records released pertaining to the FIU bridge collapse. (Image via Time magazine)

“Somewhat inexplicably, both agencies continue to refuse to release FDOT and other public records that might explain how those cracks got there, whether any FDOT inspections of the cracks were conducted and, perhaps most critically, why traffic was permitted to continue flowing under a bridge with apparent structural issues,” Nelson wrote.

Earlier last week, a state court ordered the release of the of the documents, but the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Florida, representing the NTSB, convinced a federal court to take over the case. Until that court rules, the release of the documents will remain on hold.

A spokesman for Scott said FDOT was ready to release the records until stopped by the federal court. Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo, who represents the area in Congress, said through spokeswoman Joanna Rodriguez he “hopes all parties will be held accountable” for the tragedy.

“The congressman appreciates that FDOT has already stated their desire to release the records to the public, and he hopes NTSB will cooperate to make that happen as swiftly as possible,” Rodriguez wrote in a statement.

Rubio touts funding for school safety, algal blooms

Congress is passing more budget bills than at any time in recent memory. Among the latest are for defense, health, labor, education and related industries.

Rubio is praising the inclusion of funding for two key areas that are of significant importance to Florida. These involve resources to combat harmful algal blooms and mental health provisions designed to help with school safety.

Marco Rubio applauds money for school safety, algae blooms.

The funding includes $10 million to strengthen partnerships between universities and low-income school districts to increase school-based mental health professionals. Another $1 million will target telehealth services to better assist those dealing with mental health problems.

With the scourge of algal blooms still a factor in South Florida, $1 million is to be directed toward public health responses.

“With the harmful algal blooms impacting both coasts of Florida, my amendment provides funding for additional assistance to identify health impacts from the toxins,” Rubio said. “Furthermore, today’s passage includes a provision granting $10 million to increase mental health professionals at low-income schools.”

Rubio has taken heavy criticism for a reluctance to consider gun control, he’s been one of the voices on the right championing greater involvement with mental health as a way of preventing future violence.

Jacksonville shooting brings measured early responses

Sunday’s mass shooting at the Jacksonville Landing was yet another in a string of senseless attacks. When these things happen, politicians offer thoughts and prayers or call for elected officials to “do something,” the keyword for gun control.

The immediate reaction from those representing the area, one Democrat and one Republican, was measured. Republican Rep. John Rutherford, a former Jacksonville Sheriff, said via Twitter that he was “Horrified by what has transpired at The Landing. As we pray for the victims and all the emergency personnel responding to this tragedy, please follow guidance from (the sheriff’s office) as they work to secure the area.”

Early responses to the shooting in Jacksonville were measured.

Democratic Rep. Al Lawson, who is seeking re-election to his District 5 seat that includes parts of Jacksonville, said “Our community is shocked & saddened by the news of today’s mass shooting at the Jacksonville Landing. This news never gets easier.”

Lawson also referred to another Jacksonville shooting, a result of gang violence, two days before.

Rep. Ron DeSantis, from nearby Palm Coast, canceled a planned Monday rally in the area for his gubernatorial campaign. He thanked “the first responders from@JSOPIO for heading into a terrible situation at the Jacksonville Landing. Thanks also to @FLGovScott for providing state resources.”

In the hours after the shootings, and into Monday morning, few media accounts described the type of firearm used by the shooter, prompting further measured responses from both political sides of gun control.

“Word of another tragic mass shooting in our state brings shock and outrage,” tweeted Nelson. “Right now, law enforcement are doing their jobs under horrific circumstances and it’s important that people in the Jacksonville heed their warnings.”

Rubio also mentioned the gang shooting, but also said: “We should also start focusing more on WHY people commit violence.”

Scott tweeted official messages in his role as governor.

The calls for action and criticism of the NRA was present among the majority of candidates for governor, as well as those who weighed in on the above tweets.

Soderberg, Waltz clear favorites in CD 6

As the candidates offer their closing remarks in the race to succeed Republican Rep. Ron DeSantis, two seem to be leading the pack and heading for a November matchup. Democrat Nancy Soderberg and Republican Mike Waltz lead in both the polls and money on hand.

Soderberg, a former U.N. Ambassador, has overwhelmed the Democratic field, taking more than $1 million into the campaign’s final days. She also led Dr. Stephen Sevigny by 31 points in a recent poll.

Nancy Soderberg is an early favorite in the CD 6 race.

Waltz brought more than $286,000 to the final weeks of the campaign, well ahead of John Ward and state Rep. Fred Costello. Waltz held a nearly 20-point lead over Ward in a recent poll.

The district favors Republicans, but Soderberg’s prodigious fundraising has the attention of Republicans. The Sabato Crystal Ball labels the district as “Likely Republican.”

Crist pleased with Rolling Stone coverage

A 70s song by the rock group Dr. Hook & the Medicine Show sang about getting on the “Cover of the Rolling Stone” magazine. Crist has not made the cover, but the magazine has taken up the cause contained in recent bipartisan legislation he recently filed.

Crist and Georgia Republican Rep. Drew Ferguson introduced the Fairness in Federal Drug Testing Under State Laws Act, It addresses the plight of federal employees who live in states where medical marijuana is legal, but risk their jobs if using the substance because it is still illegal under federal law.

While he may not be on the cover, Charlie Crist is pleased with the Rolling Stone coverage of sponsored legislation. 

In an article titled Pot For the People: New Bill Would Allow Federal Employees to Access Weed, the magazine focuses on veterans, who make up a large percentage of the federal workforce, unable to use marijuana to deal with PTSD or treat pain.

“That just doesn’t make sense,” Crist says. “Why wouldn’t we do it for our federal workers in all 50 states by virtue of this legislation?”

Alabama Republican Sen. Richard Shelby offered an explanation.

“Marijuana is a controlled substance and we ought to either repeal that or enforce the law,” he said. “The laws on the books we ought to enforce the law.”

Crist downplays going by the letter of federal law, as several states have done. The goal of his bill is to help those physical or mental problems.

“This has nothing to do with being high,” he told Rolling Stone. “This has everything to do with being pain-free.”

Spano under fire on two fronts in CD 15

Accusations of wrongdoing are a part of an election campaign, especially in the final days. In the GOP primary, Neil Combee is accusing his intraparty opponent, Ross Spano, of vote buying, while an influential sheriff is accusing him of deception.

A witness reported Spano giving rebates to customers at a Lakeland gas station during an event he organized. Combee quickly made an issue out of it.

Ross Spano faces a two-front battle in CD 15.

“I fully condemn today’s blatantly illegal vote-buying scheme by Ross Spano. Giving voters cash in exchange for their support is the opposite of free and fair elections. Today’s illegal vote buying attempt does our party a disservice and reminds people more of Venezuela than Valrico,” Combee said.

The witness, Melissa Nichols, said Spano was providing a five-cent per gallon rebate, which came to $145 total among all recipients. Nichols sided with Combee.

The Spano campaign said the event was designed to bring attention to a gas tax supported by Combee in the Florida Legislature. The customer earning the highest rebate, based on 33 gallons of gasoline, came to $1.65.

Spano’s campaign spokeswoman, Sandi Poreda, hinted that the campaign believes the accusations could be defamatory.

“We are currently evaluating whether today’s statements rise to the level of defamation or merely show a stunning ignorance of election law; if they are defamatory, we too may file a lawsuit to protect ourselves from these outrageous and inflammatory accusations,” she said.

In a separate matter, Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd has not endorsed anyone in the race for Congress, but was upset by a Spano mailer. In that campaign piece, a photo of Judd and Spano taken together includes the quote “Ross Spano is a hero in my eyes.”

While Judd did offer those remarks, they came during a news conference where the two offered competing ideas on school safety after the tragedy at Parkland on Valentine’s Day.

In a brief video message, Judd makes it clear he has not endorsed anyone. “Ross Spano is trying to trick you. I’m not supporting Ross Spano.”

In a poll taken on Saturday, Combee held a 32-29 percent lead with 20 percent undecided.

Depending on who wins Tuesday, Spano or Combee will be the favorite to win the seat being vacated by Republican Rep. Dennis Ross of Lakeland. However, both Republicans were outraised by Democrats Kristen Carlson and Andrew Learned.

Mast calls for St. Lucie designated as cancer cluster

St. Lucie County has seen dozens of cases of brain cancer in the past few years. Republican Rep. Brian Mast is sounding the alarm and asking for more help from the federal government. In a letter to the Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Acosta, Mast urges the federal government to hasten implementation of existing legislation designed to protect citizens from chemicals that can lead to cancer.

“In one of the counties I represent there are more than one dozen cases and counting of glioblastoma, which is an aggressive type of brain cancer that occurs in the brain and spinal cord and affects roughly 13,000 people each year,” Mast wrote.

Brian Mast is pushing to declare St. Lucie a cancer hotspot. (Image via Getty)

He is trying to pressure the government to implement Trevor’s law, legislation that President Barack Obama signed in 2016. The bill requires the federal government to document and track cancer clusters.

 “We owe these families every conceivable effort to determine the prevalence of this deadly disease in St. Lucie County qualifies as a cancer cluster,” Mast added.

This week, the Senate approved $1 million to carry out the law.

“The families of dozens of people in St. Lucie County impacted by brain cancer deserve answers,” mast wrote in an email to constituents. “That’s why I’m demanding accountability and transparency from the Department of Health and Human Services about why they haven’t implemented a law that could help.”

The families of dozens of people in St. Lucie County impacted by brain cancer deserve answers. That’s why I’m demanding accountability and transparency from the Department of Health and Human Services about why they haven’t implemented a law that could help.

Diaz-Balart announces LaBelle airport grant

The Department of Transportation has awarded significant funds for improvements to the LaBelle Municipal Airport in South Florida. Miami Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart announced the $769,000 grant; he is chairman of the House Appropriations Transportation Subcommittee.

The funds will be targeting for rehabilitating the apron, where passengers and cargo are loaded and removed from planes servicing the airport.

“This project will provide for a safer and smoother experience for aircraft operators and passengers traveling through LaBelle,” said Diaz-Balart in a news release. “I thank Secretary (Elaine) Chao for recognizing the need for this rehabilitation at LaBelle Municipal Airport and I look forward to continue working with her to enhance and update Southern Florida’s ports and transit systems.”

CD 27 closing arguments

In his final arguments before the primary Election Day, Democratic state Rep. David Richardson was telling voters in Congressional District 27 that Trump needs to be impeached. He has been consistent in that belief.

“We started talking about impeachment months ago and furthered the conversation on impeachment,” Richardson said. “Voters who are worried are seeing my commercials.”

David Richardson closes his primary campaign with impeachment talk.

Democratic Party leaders are trying to quiet impeachment talk, but Richardson is among candidates in his party telegraphing what he would do if given the chance to win the seat. He is locked in a highly contested primary race with former University of Miami President Donna Shalala, former Knight Foundation executive Matt Haggman and two others.

Richardson said it was a coincidence that the headline-grabbing events of last week involving Trump, his former campaign manager, his former personal attorney and the CFO of the Trump “organization were either convicted or offering pleas to prosecutors.

We certainly had no way of knowing it,” Richardson told the Miami Herald in an interview. “We’ve been furthering the conversation about impeachment.”

Shalala is a slight favorite to win the seat being vacated by retiring Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. As the campaign was drawing to a close, actress and recording artist Barbra Streisand cut a robocall on behalf of Shalala, the former Secretary of Health and Human Services in the Clinton administration.

For those who answered the phone, they received this message:

“Hi, this is Barbra Streisand. I’m calling you to ask for your help in electing Donna Shalala to Congress,” Streisand says. “I’ve known Donna for years. She’s a person of great integrity. She’s spent her entire life fighting for progressive values. And she is a strong voice for the rights and empowerment of women.”

It won’t be long before we know which message will continue until November.

 On this day in the headlines

August 28, 2003 — In a crucial first step toward resolving a 10-month old nuclear standoff, representatives of the United States and North Korea met Wednesday. Sitting down together on the sidelines of six-nation aimed at ending North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly talked informally for about half an hour with Vice Foreign Minister Kim Jong-il of North Korea.

Since President George W. Bush in 2002 declared North Korea a member of an “axis of evil” with Iraq and Iran, North Korea’s isolated communist regime has accused the United States of planning to attack. As a condition to ending its nuclear weapons programs, North Korea has demanded a nonaggression treaty and normalization of relations with the United States.

August 28, 2008 — Florida delegation members played a prominent role on the third day of the Democratic National Convention in Denver. Rep. Rob Wexler of Boynton Beach took to the podium to lament the foreign policy failures of President Bush and GOP nominee Sen. McCain, that ignored Iran “destabilized the Middle East and threatens our ally, Israel.”

Rep. Kathy Castor of Tampa criticized the No Child Left Behind education law, saying “Barack Obama knows that No Child Left Behind has left millions behind.” Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schulz of Weston, who supported Hillary Clinton over Obama, seconded Obama’s nomination, saying “no matter where we stood at the beginning of this campaign, Democrats stand together today.”

When McCain left ’em laughing

McCain leaves behind a political legacy, but he will also be remembered for something else. His colleagues from both sides all recall his sense of humor.

He made multiple appearances on Saturday Night Live, but perhaps his greatest comedic performance came at the Al Smith Dinner, a few weeks before the 2008 election. Sharing the stage with Obama, McCain got in a jab at what was still hard feelings from the Democratic primaries between Obama and Clinton as well as McCain’s own chances of winning.

Barack Obama and John McCain trade friendly jabs at the 2008 Al Smith dinner.

“I can’t shake that feeling that some people here are pulling for me,” McCain said. Turning to his right, he looked down the dais and deadpanned “I’m delighted to see you here tonight, Hillary …. where is Bill by the way?”

McCain frustrated Democrats and Republicans alike, but he will be best remembered for making them laugh.

Staff Reports


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