Four key races
It will be a frantic weekend for several candidates running for Congress as the Aug. 18 primary approaches. Most of Florida’s 27 congressional districts have little drama, either Tuesday or in November, but a few have the attention of elections watchers.
No other district can match the bipartisan drama playing out in district 15, where incumbent Republican Ross Spano must fend off a serious primary challenge even before thinking about facing the survivor of a highly-contested Democratic primary.
A poll released this week shows Spano in a statistical tie with challenger Scott Franklin, a Lakeland City Commissioner. Ominously, those who have already voted show Franklin with a five-point edge.
The winner will face either television journalist Alan Cohn or state Rep. Adam Hattersley. Hattersley had a nearly $100,000 cash on hand advantage over Cohn heading into the campaign’s closing stages.
In district 13, three Republican candidates stand out as they square off for the right to face Rep. Charlie Crist in November. Amanda Makki leads in both fundraising as well as the latest polls as she battles with Ana Paulina Luna and 2018 nominee George Buck.
In a survey from St. Pete Polls taken one month ago, Makki led with 28% to 21% for Buck and 13% for Luna. As of July 1, Makki had a two-to-one advantage over Luna in cash on hand and far exceeds the funds available to Buck.
Two districts with retiring Republican members are drawing crowded primaries. In district 3, 10 Republicans are looking to succeed Gainesville Republican Ted Yoho, who is stepping down from a solid red seat.
Leading the money chase is physician James St. George followed by business owner Judson Sapp with $635,000 and $487,000 cash on hand, respectively, as of June 30.
Kat Cammack, a former Yoho staffer, had $330,000 while Gainesville City Commissioner Todd Chase had slightly less than $200,000 and business owner Amy Pope Wells reported $130,000.
A poll released earlier this week found Cammack with 25%, followed by Sapp, who brought in Roger Stone to campaign for him, with 15%. St. George was third with 13%. The winner is expected to hold the seat for Republicans.
In district 19, Naples Republican Rep. Francis Rooney’s announcement that he was leaving Congress brought another large group of Republican candidates. Heading into Tuesday, four of the nine candidates are tightly bunched among themselves.
A recent likely voter survey by St. Pete Polls shows state Rep. Byron Donalds leading with 22%, followed by Dr. William Figlesthaler (Dr. Fig) at 21%, state House Majority Leader Dane Eagle coming in at 20% and business owner Casey Askar fourth at 16%. Eagle rose by 12 percentage points from a similar poll taken in June, while Figlesthaler climbed by five points, Donalds dropped by four points and Askar fell by 14 points.
The poll, released last week, shows some good news for Eagle, who led among those already voting with 25% to 23 for Figlesthaler, 17% for Donalds and 15% for Askar.
While a few of the other primaries could hold a surprise, these four districts will be the most closely watched. Democrats clearly believe Spano’s seat, which leans Republican, provides them the best opportunity to flip a seat in November, leaving Tuesday to determine whether Spano will be on the November ballot.
Sanction or be sanctioned
The Trump administration has again infuriated the Chinese regime by pushing the equivalent of their hot button. On the same day, Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar visited Taiwan, a no-no in the eyes of China, the regime sanctioned Sen. Marco Rubio and 10 other U.S. officials.
Azar became the most senior U.S. official to visit Taiwan since 1979 when diplomatic relations were broken in deference to China. While visiting the self-governing island, Azar toured a protective mask-making factory and announced the U.S. will sign a memorandum of understanding to expand collaboration between HHS and the Taiwanese Ministry of Health and Welfare.
“I applaud Secretary Azar’s trip to Taiwan, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Rubio said in a statement. “Two democracies meeting in each other’s respective capitals should be the norm. Taiwan is an important U.S. ally, and has been a model of how to respond to a global health crisis.”
Rubio was one of five Republican Senators sanctioned by the Chinese. That list included Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas, Josh Hawley of Missouri, Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania. The 11 sanctioned by China matches the number of China-backed Hong Kong officials, including chief executive Carrie Lam, sanctioned by the Trump administration last week, a move Rubio praised.
“I applaud the Trump Administration for sanctioning these individuals, who have orchestrated the erosion of Hong Kong’s autonomy while spearheading a campaign of repression that violates Hong Kong’s commitments to protect universally-recognized human rights,” said Rubio, a senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Saving college football?
For those deeply into college sports, this week brought an overflowing of disappointment when two major conferences pulled the plug on football and other sports for the remainder of 2020 due to COVID-19. The Big 10 and Pac 12 announced they would instead look to play during the second semester in 2021, but the ACC and SEC are still keeping the option open for this fall.
Among the millions weighing in was Sen. Rick Scott. He believes strongly that there is a way to salvage the season.
“Most players want to play. We fans want to watch. University presidents and conferences should ABSOLUTELY NOT cancel college football this year,” he tweeted. “Athletics play a hugely important role in our national psyche. The schools and conferences can figure out how to do this safely.”
The American Conference, which counts the University of Central Florida and the University of South Florida among its members, is also looking to play, but UCF players may scuttle that notion. Scott is not alone in pushing fall sports.
Trump, Rubio and Republican Sens. Ben Sasse of Nebraska and Kelly Loeffler of Georgia also seek a college football season. In an op-ed for USA Today, Rubio made the case for the safe return of high school sports.
“The question isn’t whether we need sports this fall — we do, “ he wrote. “It’s how we can make them safe, and states like Florida must allow local flexibility, which is critical and necessary for a safe restart.”
There are plenty who agree with the Big 10 and Pac 12. Officially, nothing has been totally canceled, but the next two weeks will likely play a defining role in what the rest of the schools and conferences do for the remainder of the school year.
Dems love Biden-Harris
The Biden-Harris ticket is now official. Biden decided to not hold grudges against first-term California Sen. Kamala Harris for her sharp criticism of him during the Democratic presidential debates last year. Based on Biden’s unintentional flashing of talking points about Harris more than one week ago, it now appears the choice had been made by that time.
Several candidates were in the running for the spot, including Rep. Val Demings of Orlando. While ultimately passed over, she was humbled to have been considered.
“For a little girl who grew up poor, Black and female in the South to be considered during this process has been an incredible honor. I feel so blessed,” she said in a statement. “To see a Black woman nominated for the first time reaffirms my faith that in America, there is a place for every person to succeed no matter who they are or where they come from.”
In a subsequent statement she praised the ticket and said, “I am excited to do everything in my power to ensure that on January 20, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris will be sworn in as President and Vice President of the United States.”
While Harris was still a presidential candidate, two delegation Democrats endorsed her candidacy. Rep. Alcee Hastings of Delray Beach was one of them, along with Rep. Frederica Wilson of Miami Gardens, and celebrated Harris’s new role as the first woman of color on a presidential ticket.
“Today, Vice President Biden and Sen. Harris made history, and our country has taken a great step forward in credit to our creed,” Hastings said in a statement. “I am proud to have endorsed Kamala many months ago, a member of my Divine Nine Family, and am proud to have earned her endorsement.”
Harris is clearly a progressive, which President Donald Trump seeks to make an issue by upping the ante to describe her as anything but a moderate.
“She’s radical left. Now she tries to pretend she’s not, but she’s the most liberal person in the U.S. Senate,” he said on Fox Business Network. “She’s done things that are terrible in terms of the police, in terms of the Second Amendment, in terms of everything else and she is a big taxer as Joe is a big taxer,”
None of that dims the excitement of Florida Democrats that include Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Weston. She said “Amid the historic social unrest, pandemic and economic crisis this nation faces, this is the sharp, honest and steady leadership team that America needs right now.”
Made in Florida
This week, Rep. Michael Waltz paid a visit to a manufacturer of defense items he has helped to fund in the federal budget. He joined U.S. Navy Secretary Kenneth Braithwaite to visit Sparton Corporation in DeLeon Springs, which manufactures critical defense technology such as sonobuoys, which the Naval Air Station in Jacksonville utilizes for anti-submarine warfare.
“It was an honor to have Sec. Braithwaite in our district and wonderful to visit Sparton together,” Waltz said in a news release. “Sparton is a leader in manufacturing critical tools for our military and their technology, including sonobuoys, ensure our military has the finest equipment necessary, not only to complete their missions but also to keep our country safe.”
For the past two years, Waltz has also successfully secured funding for sonobuoys and other critical defense tools as part of the annual national defense authorization bill. The last package included $2.9 for sonobuoys, all of which are produced in Florida. He was happy to support that funding but voted against a major bill that also contained appropriations for other agencies.
“While I am glad I could support funding for our national security departments, I want to be clear that I voted against the behemoth package to fund the remaining federal departments because it was introduced fewer than 24 hours before the vote and significantly increased spending from last year,” Waltz said just before the 2020 national security package passed by a 280-138 vote.
Making it count
The 2020 Census has been a source of a partisan divide for more than a year after the Trump administration sought to insert a citizenship question onto the questionnaire. The administration found another way to gain that information but elicited a strong reaction to a decision to end the census canvassing on September 30, one month earlier than expected.
Critics say more, not less, time is needed to get an accurate count of those living in the country. The COVID-19 pandemic has hampered the ability to get sufficient canvassers into the field to follow up on the multitude that failed to return the Census questionnaire.
“Communities of color & rural communities have been undercounted in the Census for decades,” tweeted Democratic Rep. Darren Soto of Kissimmee. “Halting participation efforts to unresponsive homes by next month only proves the Trump admin is doing everything it can to keep certain people from counting.”
Democrats have been, by far, the most active advocates for the Census, many of whom represent large urban districts comprised of minorities and both legal and undocumented immigrants. They often produce videos or Twitter messages urging constituents to be counted as their “civic duty.”
A rare Republican pumping up the census was Rep. Neal Dunn of Panama City, who had many constituents displaced by Hurricane Michael. After reporting a response rate of only 51.6%, he urged constituents to “Make sure you’re counted before September 30.”
Democrats would have preferred more time.
Take the bus
In normal times, presidential campaigns begin to take shape during the summer when both parties hold their national conventions, followed by Labor Day, known as the traditional starting point for serious campaigning.
While Biden was choosing Harris as his running mate, the Trump campaign spent a few days in Florida, traveling by bus. Trump’s son, Eric Trump, was joined during Central Florida stops by former Trump 2016 campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, former Attorney General Pam Bondi, Lt. Gov. Jeanette Núñez and Attorney General Ashley Moody.
Also joining the tour for early stops was Waltz, who represents a nearby district.
One of the stops was in Kissimmee, represented in Congress by Soto, who had a response for those on the tour. He sought to keep the focus on the President’s role in handling the coronavirus.
“We’re in a massive pandemic and the deepest recession in a decade, and President Trump is at the helm,” Soto said. “It’s his refusal to take the pandemic seriously that led to over 160,000 Americans losing their lives, and 5 million Americans being diagnosed with coronavirus.”
At the same time, Eric Trump kept up the campaign theme of his father and other Republicans.
“We didn’t inflict this virus on our country, the Chinese inflicted this virus on the country,” he said. “And you know what? Our country is coming roaring back.”
More PPE, please
With the COVID-19 pandemic still very much at large, a question frequently arises whether there is enough personal protective equipment (PPE) for those treating patients. Democratic Rep. Charlie Crist and nine other delegation Democrats brought their concerns to the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA).
The members presented concerns within long-term care facilities, which house the most vulnerable of the population. In a letter led by Crist to AHCA Secretary Mary Mayhew, the group wrote of their “grave concerns about the status of nursing home residents and staff.”
“Specifically, we have heard from front-line caregivers who have communicated to us that they lack adequate personal protective equipment and testing supplies,” they wrote.
They further added that as COVID-19 infections in long-term care facilities across the state allegedly continue to spike, caregivers report being forced to reuse PPE for days or even weeks at a time.
“Our loved ones in long-term care facilities and the workers who risk their lives every day to care for them cannot be left behind as our state fights COVID-19,” Crist added in a news release. “Our families, friends and neighbors live and work in these facilities, and reports of long-term care staff having to reuse PPE as cases rise are downright troubling. When front-line workers sound the alarm, we need to listen.”
According to AARP Florida Associate State Director for Community Outreach Michelle Cyr, “Nursing home residents comprise fewer than 1% of the population, but nursing home and other long-term care facility residents and staff account for more than 40% of coronavirus deaths. Reports indicate that PPE is still not available or used properly.”
“As public servants, we should all do our part to protect and support seniors and the workers who have stood by them during this health crisis,” the letter concludes.
Also signing the letter were Democratic Reps. Wilson, Wasserman Schultz, Demings, Kathy Castor, Ted Deutch, Lois Frankel, Al Lawson, Debbie Mucarsel-Powell and Donna Shalala.
This is Crist’s second call for more action to protect Florida seniors. In June, he sent a letter to Gov. DeSantis asking him to create and release a detailed testing plan for residents and staff at long-term care facilities.
Nonprofit sports orgs?
Professional sports are losing hundreds of millions of dollars in ticket sales, advertising and television rights as a result of COVID-19, but some organizations have an advantage some lawmakers would like to remove. The Properly Reducing Overexemptions for Sports Act would prohibit teams, leagues and associations from claiming nonprofit and tax-exempt status.
Sarasota Republican Greg Steube introduced the bill with Rep. Matt Gaetz of Fort Walton Beach joining as the original co-sponsor. This bill prohibits any organization from being tax-exempt if it is a professional sports league, organization, or association, a substantial activity meant to foster national or international professional sports competitions, and has annual gross receipts in excess of $10 million.
“Professional sports organizations are simply not nonprofits and they should not be receiving the same tax breaks and treatment, especially when many of them are bringing in tens of millions of dollars in profits each year,” Steube said. “Closing this loophole is common sense and will save taxpayers millions of dollars over time.”
The sponsors claim the legislation is expected to save American taxpayers roughly $100 million over the course of a decade. Professional sports organizations have received the 501(c)(6) status and exemptions since 1966. Among the affected entities would be the Florida-based Professional Golf Association (PGA) and the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA).
The bill is a companion to legislation filed in the Senate by Iowa Republican Sen. Joni Ernst.
USPS changes blasted
If widespread mail-in balloting is to have any chance of success, the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) will need significant funding and organization. Recent changes in the USPS structure has caused concern across the political spectrum.
Trump’s appointment of ally and campaign fundraiser Louis Dejoy brought howls of protest when Dejoy initiated organizational changes Democrats and some Republicans claimed was slowing down mail service. Democrats further argue it goes beyond mail-in ballots.
“Americans rely on @USPS to get medicine, letters from loved ones in the military, care packages for kids at college — it’s ESSENTIAL,” tweeted Mucarsel-Powell. “But Trump is doing everything to interfere in fair & free elections by dismantling the Postal Service. This is dangerous!”
Trump supporters argue something must be done to reorganize the Postal Service that has lost $2.2 billion in three months and $69 billion over the last 11 years. The USPS is seeking a $10 billion infusion to keep running with reports indicating it could be out of money by the end of September.
While Dejoy claims vital services will not be slowed down, Democrats are not buying it.
“Trump’s attack on @USPS is not only a threat to the integrity of the election, but the well-being of the people,” said Democratic Rep. Donna Shalala of Coral Gables. “Veterans and seniors receive medicine by mail, workers receive their hard-earned paychecks, among other populations made vulnerable by the White House.”
Trump policy applauded
Multiple administrations have dealt with foreign policy challenges around the world, including hotspots in the Western Hemisphere, ranging from Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela. Russia, China and Iran provide areas of concern in the Eastern Hemisphere.
A group of Republicans led by Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart of Hialeah recently wrote to Trump offering their strong approval of his foreign policy efforts toward these rival regimes. A heavy emphasis was placed on Venezuela.
“As elected officials who support a U.S. foreign policy that promotes democracy, prosperity and respect for fundamental rights, we write to encourage and express our support for a principled and consistent application of U.S. foreign policy across our hemisphere,” the letter reads.
“Regrettably, the people of Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua remain under the thumb of dangerous despots who oppress their people and threaten U.S. national security interests.”
The letter goes on to praise the Trump administration’s imposition of sanctions on individuals and regimes in Venezuela, Nicaragua, Cuba, Iran, China and Russia. It offered support for the “administration’s policy to deny U.S. dollars to regimes in our hemisphere which repress their people and engage in coordinated, dangerous activities beyond their borders.”
In a news release, Diaz-Blart added “these regimes actively support each other through intelligence sharing, petrol subsidies, trade deals, and more. I encourage President Trump to continue his effective policy of opposing tyranny throughout our hemisphere.”
Signing the letter were 17 GOP colleagues, including Reps. Waltz, Rooney, and John Rutherford of Jacksonville.
On this day
August 14, 2014 — As the unrest builds in Ferguson, Missouri following the shooting death of teenager Michael Brown by a white police officer, President Barack Obama is urging calm. The President said “now is the time for peace and calm on the streets of Ferguson” as local and state officials sought help from the Justice Department in handling the protests. A witness claimed Brown had his hands up before being shot.
Attorney General Eric Holder organized meetings between civic leaders and pledged an escalated civil rights investigation. In unusually blunt terms Holder lamented the presence of military-type vehicles, saying he was “deeply concerned” about “the deployment of military equipment and vehicles” on the streets of Ferguson.
August 14, 2018 — It was another day of drama surrounding Trump. A fired African American White House aide known as Omarosa was touting a new book and claiming to have a tape of Trump using the “N” word. Trump described her as a “crazed, crying lowlife.”
At the same time, the defense for former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort rested, bringing his trial on tax and bank fraud charges to its near conclusion. Manafort, who was charged by the Robert Mueller team investigating possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, did not testify in his own defense.