Scott Powers, Author at Florida Politics

Scott Powers

Scott Powers is an Orlando-based political journalist with 30+ years’ experience, mostly at newspapers such as the Orlando Sentinel and the Columbus Dispatch. He covers local, state and federal politics and space news across much of Central Florida. His career earned numerous journalism awards for stories ranging from the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster to presidential elections to misplaced nuclear waste. He and his wife Connie have three grown children. Besides them, he’s into mystery and suspense books and movies, rock, blues, basketball, baseball, writing unpublished novels, and being amused. Email him at scott@floridapolitics.com.

Philip Levine’s TV ads introduce his family extolling his work ethic, empathy

Two new television commercials from Democratic gubernatorial candidate Philip Levine‘s political committee introduce his family, with his mother and fiancé extolling his work ethic, empathy for others, and a sense of family.

The commercial with his mother Diane Ziman, “Mom,” is in English, while the one with fiancé Carolina Murciano, “Familia,” is in Spanish. They begin airing Wednesday and will air for several weeks in major markets around Florida, according to his committee, All About Florida.

They are the second round of television commercials from the committee, following a set that began airing last month talking about Levine’s policy priorities.

Levine faces Democratic rivals former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham of Tallahassee, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum and Winter Park businessman Chris King in the primary nomination bid. The leading Republican candidate is Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam. No other candidates have hit TV.

In Mom, as shots trade between her looking into the camera and Levine being with family, or throwing a football, Ziman asks, “What makes a Mom proud? A son like Philip Levine. As a kid, he washed cars, swept floors––every job you could imagine. Then, with a pocket full of dreams, Philip turned $500 dollars into a major Florida business, before becoming the Mayor who fought rising seas and hateful prejudice. If I taught Philip one thing…”

“I know, Mom,” he replies. “Do the right thing!

“That’s my boy!” she concludes.

In “Familia,” Murciano declares, in Spanish, “If you want to know what drives Philip Levine, its moments like these. With his family. When he was young, Philip worked very hard. Washing cars, cleaning floors––truly in all kinds of jobs. It was with this commitment to hard work that Philip transformed $500 dollars into a major company known worldwide. And when other families need help, Philip is always there to help them.”

During last month’s fundraising stint, Levine topped $1 million between his campaign and committee accounts. The former Miami Beach mayor maintains a huge fundraising lead in the Democratic primary.

Opponents strike back on Ashton Hayward’s Airbnb commercial

Pensacola Mayor Ashton Hayward was the star of a television commercial that began in Tallahassee last week in which he extolled the virtues of vacation rental homes in Pensacola and Airbnb for marketing them – but opponents of that company’s legislative agenda are striking back this week, with a new video starring Hayward.

Hayward didn’t explicitly discuss that legislative agenda in the commercial, “Airbnb citizen,” instead talking about visitors wanting “that authentic experience, and this is what Airbnb offers them.”

AirbnbWATCH, a group tied to the hotel industry that opposes much of Airbnb’s legislative agenda, has launched an internet video featuring a brief interview with Hayward in which he acknowledges that local communities should have some say in how to regulate vacation rental homes.

And that’s the crux of the legislative fight: Airbnb and other vacation rental home companies, such as rival marketing firm HomeAway, have been pushing for legislation to prevent cities, towns and counties from regulating vacation rental homes, arguing that such local regulation gets out of hand and thwarts competition in the lodging industry.

An AirbnbWATCH crew caught up with Hayward at the U.S. Conference of Mayor’s convention in Miami Beach in June and asked him, on camera, if he would prefer that mayors have the ability to regulate vacation rental homes, rather than have the state dictate what cities and counties may do.

In the video posted by AirbnbWATCH, Hayward replies, “For me, when it comes to your location, your local community, sometimes there are issues you need to regulate that are different than across the state. If you think about the great state of Florida, it’s the third largest state in the union. And so those are issues that are sometimes different say in Tampa, or in Miami, or Miami Beach, for that matter, or Boca, or Orlando. It’s a big state, so it’s difficult sometimes to have this broad brush of regulation.”

Hayward’s office did not respond Tuesday to a request from Florida Politics to discuss the apparently conflicting messages being offered by the mayor for both sides of the vacation rental debate.

AirbnbWATCH said in a news release that it has recorded numerous similar interviews with mayors, and looks forward to releasing them as well.

International elections award winners: Australia, Ecuador, Ireland, Seminole County

The Seminole County Supervisor of Elections Office has won an international award for elections, winning a first-place honor for reaching first-time voters, from the International Centre for Parliamentary Studies’ International Electoral Awards.

The award put the Seminole County office on the same stage as elections’ honorees from Australia, Ecuador, Ireland, Canada, and Mexico, among other countries. The only other American elections’ office to win one of the awards was from Los Angeles.

Seminole County won in the category of the First Time Voter Award, with honorable mentions being given to the Permanent Electoral Authority of Romania, and The League of Young Voters of the United Kingdom.

Seminole County Supervisor of Elections Mike Ertel did not attend the awards ceremony, held in Jordan. Dean Logan, county clerk for the Los Angeles County Registrar, picked it up for him.

Ertel said the award recognizes the efforts Seminole County has undertaken to register new voters in high schools, and then to engage them in thinking about how much power their votes give them. He said he’ll go into a high school, register the students to vote, and then tell them they’ve just gained power. He said invariably the students respond with “yeah, right,” attitudes and grumbling about the lack of power of young people.

He’s set them up.

After engaging them in a town-hall conversation about what things they’d like to see changed, and still getting some skeptical, cynical responses, Ertel calls on someone he’s planted in the back of the room, or calls someone on the phone and puts the speaker next to the microphone. A mayor. A school board chairman. Some other elected official. And that person then explains what 200 votes from that auditorium would do to his or her next election.

“It’s really cool,” Ertel said. “The students eat it up.”

This is the second major award his office has won recently. Last week Ertel announced his offices website had won a “Golden Web Award” from the The International Association of Web Masters and Designers,

After cutting murder plea deal, Aramis Ayala demands answers from Rick Scott

The ongoing conflict between Orlando’s State Attorney Aramis Ayala and Gov. Rick Scott over her death penalty policies took another turn as Ayala cut a murder deal with a suspect that avoids a death penalty then answered the governor’s questions by asking her own questions.

Scott and Ayala, state attorney for Florida’s 9th Judicial Circuit, have been battling, at high stakes, since March when she first announced she would not seek capital punishment. Yet even since the Florida Supreme Court told her she cannot take that position and she relented, the conflict continues.

It’s now in a war of public records requests and information demands. Part of that has to do with the case of Emerita Mapp, who would have been Ayala’s first death penalty case. Scott charged Ayala missed a critical deadline, blowing a capital punishment prosecution. Ayala denied that, but then on Friday cut a plea bargain with Mapp in which she pleaded guilty in exchange for a life sentence in an April slaying in Kissimmee.

Last week Scott’s General Counsel Daniel Nordby demanded detailed reports on how Ayala’s death penalty review process operated, and why she missed the deadline, and what she would do about it. Her response Monday continued to deny that the capital punishment case was compromised, and once again charged that the governor himself missed the case back when he was reassigning all potential death penalty cases to another state attorney.

“I would like to know what method/procedure you used in determining which cases you decided to take from my office,” Ayala wrote the governor on Monday.

She made it a records request. And she informed the governor that she had forwarded Nordby’s requests for information to her own public records department.

Brooke Renney to run Rob Panepinto’s Orange County mayoral campaign

Orange County mayoral candidate Rob Panepinto has hired seasoned Republican campaign grassroots organizer Brooke Renney to be his campaign manager.

Renney has led field operations for a number of campaigns including Gov. Rick Scott‘s re-election campaign in 2014, Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera‘s U.S. Senate campaign in 2016, and Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry‘s campaign. She’s also worked for the Republican Party of Florida and the Republican National Committee, and on the state of Republican state Sen. Tom Lee.

“I am excited to have Brooke on the team leading our day-to-day campaign efforts. Brooke has a demonstrated record of success working on campaigns all over Florida,” Panepinto, a Winter Park businessman, stated in a news release issued by his campaign. “I am confident Brooke will build a top-notch organization that will carry us to victory in 2018.”

The Orange County mayor’s race is officially non-partisan, but the parties are lining up to win it. Panepinto is up against Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings, a Democrat; and Orange County School Board Chairman Bill Sublette and Orange County Commissioner Pete Clarke, both Republicans. They seek to succeed Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs, who is term-limted, in the 2018 election.

“I am excited to work to elect the right mayor for Orange County. I believe Rob Panepinto is naturally suited for this seat and genuinely understands what it will take to make a thriving and dynamic community even better. Rob has the experience, vision and, most importantly, a plan to move Orange County forward by creating more economic diversity, educational opportunities, and public safety improvements. It will be an honor to introduce Rob to my friends in Orange County.”

Andrew Gillum calls Adam Putnam ‘racist’ in dispute over undocumenteds

The harshest exchange of the 2018 governor’s race thus far between a Democrat and a Republican just occurred as Democratic candidate Andrew Gillum called Republican candidate Adam Putnam “racist” Thursday, responding to Putnam’s tweet about their policy dispute over undocumented residents and sanctuaries.

“Half true & all racist is nothing to be proud of, Commissioner,” Gillum tweeted Thursday afternoon. “I’m proud to stand up for all people – precisely what Floridians expect of their leaders.”

Gillum’s campaign put out a news release saying the tweet was “In response to an unprovoked and untrue attack by Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, the GOP’s gubernatorial frontrunner, referring to a tweet Putnam had posted about a half-hour before Gillum responded.

“Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum made no apologies for standing up for immigrants and all Floridians,” the release added.

The exchange was carried out largely by Twitter, but it has its roots in Gillum’s and Putnam’s positions on undocumented residents and whether cities, or the state of Florida, should essentially act as sanctuaries for them by declining to work with federal authorities to identify and detain them.

Putnam’s campaign responded by suggesting that Gillum wants to make one side of the policy dispute the racist side.

“It is not racist to want to stop the flow of illegal immigrants. It is Adam Putnam’s goal to keep Floridians safe from criminals, particularly those who are in our country illegally, like the person who shot Kate Steinle,” Amanda Bevis, spokesperson for Adam Putnam, said in a written statement.

About a half-hour before Gillum’s tweet, Putnam had linked to a PolitiFact Florida article, “Does Andrew Gillum want to make Florida a sanctuary state?” delving into Putnam’s criticism of Gillum, and concluding that Putnam’s claim was “half true.”

Putnam linked to that article with a tweet declaring, “Thanks for the Half True, @PolitiFactFl. @AndrewGillum wants to make Florida a sanctuary state. That WILL NOT Happen on my watch.”

Report says loss of health care mandate would hit South, Central Florida hard

Three South Florida congressional districts represented by Republicans would be among the hardest-hit in the country according to a new report assessing how many people would lose or drop health care coverage if the final tax reform bill in Congress includes the U.S. Senate’s provision to repeal the individual coverage mandate in Obamacare.

A report “Estimates of the Increase in Uninsured by Congressional District Under the Senate GOP Tax Bill” from the Democratic-leaning Center for American Progress calculated the prospects for people dropping insurance in all 435 U.S. congressional districts, based on numbers produced by the Congressional Budget Office, if the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate is repealed. The report, first produced earlier this week but revised late Wednesday, found the districts of U.S. Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Carlos Curbelo all would be among the top seven in the country in the numbers of people dropping health care coverage.

Districts of Democratic U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Val DemingsAlcee HastingsDarren SotoTed Deutch, and Frederica Wilson would not be far behind.

Only one Florida member of Congress, Republican U.S. Rep. Dan Webster, could expect to see his district among the 100 in the nation that are least-affected by projected health care coverage reductions, according to the center. Florida’s 11th Congressional District in west-central Florida could expect to lose 24,100 people from health care coverage, the 18th-least among the nation’s 435 congressional districts.

The fate of the mandate is in the hands of the congressional conference committee, as the tax reform bill approved by the Senate includes the mandate repeal, while the bill approved by the House of Representatives does not.

Overall, Florida could see 873,000 people drop their health care coverage by 2025 if the mandate is eliminated the center estimated, according to the center. Nationally, state-by-state numbers pretty much rank the same as a state’s population size, and Florida would expect to have the third-highest number of people losing or dropping health care coverage, behind the only two states with higher populations, California and Texas.

With congressional districts, however, the variances range more widely, dependent on how many people in each district now are enrolled in Medicaid, or in health insurance policies purchased through the individuals’ market, or in insurance packages purchased through employer-sponsored plans.

The CBO projected that 5 million of those people dropping health care coverage would be dropping from Medicaid, another 5 million from the individuals’ market, and about 3 million from employer-sponsored health insurance.

“Mandate repeal has two effects on the individual market,” Emily Gee, a health economist at the Center for American Progress, explained in her report. “First, some healthy enrollees would drop out of ACA-compliant plans and become uninsured or underinsured. Second, because the remaining enrollees in the risk pool would be sicker on average, insurance companies would need to raise rates about 10 percent to cover the increased average cost. The resulting higher premiums would discourage even more people from obtaining coverage through the individual market.”

With those factors, Diaz-Balart’s district could become one of the most vulnerable in the nation to reductions in health care coverage, a phenomenon expected to not just affect individuals, but also the financial pressures on hospitals, other health care entities, and local governments, the report notes.

The center’s report says that Florida’s 25th Congressional District could expect to see 41,000 people drop or lose insurance, the fourth-highest number of any congressional district. Ros-Lehtinen’s district is projected to lose 40,800, the nation’s sixth-highest total; in Curbelo’s district, 39,900, seventh-highest among the 435 congressional districts, according to the Center for American Progress.

Diaz-Balart’s, Ros-Lehtinen’s, and Curbelo’s offices did not respond Thursday to a request from Florida Politics to comment on the center’s findings.

Several Democrats, already opposed to either version of the tax bill, responded, including Demings, whose 10th Congressional District was projected to lose 37,700 health care enrollees.

“After much debate, the facts are in: the president’s tax bill will raise your healthcare costs, putting your right to manage your own health further out of reach. Without a second thought, donors came first,” she said in a written statement. “The GOP’s proposal would mean nearly a million Floridians would lose their healthcare over the next eight years. Floridians have done their part by turning out in record numbers during the open enrollment period. However, the people seem to have been forgotten in a tax bill that was supposed to be all about the people.”

Soto, whose Florida’s 9th Congressional District in Central Florida is projected to lose about 35,400 enrollees, declared that “Florida’s hardworking families should be troubled by the current GOP Tax bill. As it stands, it is disastrous for our state’s health programs. In Central Florida alone [including his, Demings’ and Democratic U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy‘s districts,] approximately 103,000 people would face a reduction in health insurance coverage due to the individual mandate repeal.”

The other four Florida districts projected to be among the nation’s 50 hardest-hit nationally are Wasserman Schultz’s 23rd Congressional District in South Florida (expected to lose 37,700 health care enrollees); Hastings’ 20th Congressional District in South Florida (36,300); and Deutch’s 22nd Congressional District and Wilson’s 24th Congressional District, both in South Florida, both 35,200.

Across the country, the average congressional district would lose about 29,800 enrollees from health care plans, the center reported. Eighteen of Florida’s 27 congressional districts would exceed that average.

Chris King calls for sexual misconduct victims’ advocacy in ethics office

Declaring again that it’s time to “change the toxic culture in Tallahassee,” Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chris King on Thursday laid out a plan to address sexual misconduct allegations including the creation of a victims’ advocacy program.

In a video he launched on his campaign’s Facebook page Thursday, King declared it is time to end “the abuse of power against women in politics in Florida.”

He did not name any names, but King decried the state of affairs that has resulted in several recent reports of sexual misconduct against public officials, and expressed awe of the courage of the women coming forward. Among those being accused are one of his opponents, state Sen. Jack Latvala of Clearwater, a Republican candidate for governor. Sexual misconduct allegations also cleared out the leadership of the Florida Democratic Party last month.

King first faces several Democratic rivals for the 2018 primary nomination: former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham of Tallahassee, former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum. The leading Republican candidate is Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.

King said his plan is intended to make it easier for women to come forward. Among the points:

– Require that sexual misconduct lawsuit settlements involving legislators, cabinet secretaries, and municipal and county elected officials be made public, including the accusations of what was done, and how the settlements were paid.

– Create an office of victim advocacy under the Florida Division of Ethics, set up specifically to handle sexual harassment and assault cases.

– Require that any allegations be reported to that office within 48 hours of being reported to any other governmental unit.

– Shielding victims’ identities from being made public so they never have to choose between their careers and reporting misconduct.

The sexual misconduct proposal follows King’s statement Wednesday regarding revolving-door politics, including a proposal for an eight-year ban on former lawmakers lobbying the Florida Legislature.

“We’ve got to start holding our leaders accountable for bad behavior. This is not a partisan issue,” King said of sexual misconduct. “This is not about left or right. This is about right or wrong,

“I am deeply, deeply appalled at the behavior of folks that are in positions of power that are abusing women. That’s why we need new ideas to address it,” he said.

Jerry Demings raises $109K in Orange County mayor’s race

Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings reported raising more than $109,000 in November in his quest to get elected next year as Orange County mayor.

Demings’ November campaign finance reports are only for his official campaign fund. He also has an independent political committee, United For Orange County, which has not yet reported its November activity.

The November haul in his campaign fund brings its total to $305,603 in contributions. With expenses, Demings’ campaign had $277,130 left on Dec. 1.

Another candidate, Orange County Commissioner Pete Clarke of Orlando reported raising $9,900 in November, bringing his total contributions to $19,200 since he entered the race in early October. Clarke had $18,400 in the bank on Dec. 1.

Businessman Rob Panepinto of Winter Park reported his campaign totals earlier this week. He raised $34,100 for his official campaign fund and another $15,000 into his political committee, Vision Orange County. With the money he raised in October, including a $100,000 loan he made to his campaign, Panepinto now has $204,530 in his campaign and $84,530 in Vision Orange County.

November reports still have not been posted for the fourth major candidate, Orange County School Board Chairman Bill Sublette. He finished October with $52,000 in the bank.

Demings’ November haul was by far his largest, nearly three times greater than his previous best month. He received 210 individual checks, with 70 of them coming in for the maximum $1,000 donation. Ten of those maximum checks came from various companies and individuals associated with Full Sail University.

Kathleen Passidomo backs SB 434 push with video of addicted babies

State Sen. Kathleen Passidomo has launched a powerful and alarming promotion of her bill to create a new Florida-based project to take care of babies born to opioid-addicted mothers.

Passidomo, a Republican from Naples, posted social-media advertising featuring a video produced with Golisano Children’s Hospital of Fort Myers, talking about babies born with neonatal abstinence syndrome, the syndrome’s devastating effects on newborns, and its shocking increase in occurrence.

“We’ve seen a 1,200 percent increase in our babies admitted for neonatal abstinence syndrome,” Golisano Medical Director and neonatologist Dr. William Liu states in the video.

“What we are seeing is our babies are the ones who are collateral damage,” he states.

The babies are born addicted, and must go through painful and risky withdrawal.

Passidomo’s Senate Bill 434 would authorize a statewide pilot project for a new way to treat such babies. The bill is up for a key committee consideration Thursday afternoon.

The bill would authorize the Agency for Health Care Administration, in consultation with the Florida Department of Children and Families, to establish a pilot project to license one or more health centers to treat NAS babies after stabilization, offering a community-based, lower-cost, more baby-centric care. That’s an alternative to the current treatment normally provided in hospital neonatal intensive care units, care that is lengthy [averaging 23 days] and expensive, and a burden on the state’s Medicare program. Much of the the expensive equipment and staffing at the neonatal ICU is not needed after a few days.

The pilot project is part of a national effort.

“We have a responsibility to the babies being born into the devastation of the opioid crisis,” Passidomo stated in a news release issued by Florida Senate Republicans. “The Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome Pilot Project takes important steps toward ensuring these babies are not left behind while we as a society work toward tackling the larger crisis we are facing.”

SB 434 was approved by the Senate Health Policy Committee in early November, and on Thursday is being considered by the Appropriations Subcommittee on Health and Human Services, which meets at 12:30 p.m.

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