Scott Powers – 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 Besides them, he’s into mystery and suspense books and movies, rock, blues, basketball, baseball, writing unpublished novels, and being amused.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.

Orange County Sheriff election set for November with three candidates

There will be no primaries in the Orange County Sheriff’s election this year as only one partisan candidate, Darryl Sheppard, qualified for the ballot while Jose “Joe” Lopez switched to run as an independent.

Another Democrat also failed to qualify.

Consequently, Orlando Police Chief John Mina, already running as an independent candidate, will face Lopez and Sheppard in a November election to decide the successor to longtime Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings.

Both Mina and Lopez had registered last year as Democrats, but both did so too late to qualify for this year’s ballot as Democrats. Consequently, Mina initially filed to run as an independent when he first submitted candidate paperwork in February. Lopez initially filed to run as a Democrat in February but changed that in new filings presented this week to run as an independent. There are no Republicans in the partisan election. Republican Thomas Stroup initially entered the race but withdrew.

Mina, retired Florida Highway Patrol Chief Lopez, and Sheppard all qualified for the ballot this week, while former Eatonville Police Chief Eric McIntyre, who’d filed as a Democrat, did not qualify to run when the window closed at noon Friday.

Moneywise, Mina and Lopez started close, but Mina has been raising far more campaign money over the past few months. Through May, Mina raised about $113,000, Lopez about $49,000; Sheppard, $3,000.

Four candidates make ballot for Orange Co. School Board chair

Four candidates, including Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs and Orange County School Board Member Nancy Robbinson, have made it onto the ballot for the August 28 election for the countywide chair position of the Orange County School Board.

Jacobs and Robbinson were joined by Orange County teacher Robert Prater and Orange County Public Schools administrator Matt Fitzpatrick.

Prater has been running since November, Robbinson since December, Fitzpatrick since January, and Jacobs since April in a quest to succeed outgoing Orange County School Board Chair Bill Sublette, the only person to hold the position since it was created

If no one gets more than 50 percent of the vote in the August 28 election, the top two finishers move on to a runoff in November.

Many consider this a two-person contest as Robbinson, long a fixture in Orange County politics, entered the race with widespread support in the nonpartisan contest, while Jacobs, completing two terms in the county’s highest post, is among the best-known politicians in Central Florida. Prater and Fitzpatrick have taught and worked as administrators in the district for decades.

Through May, Robbinson had raised more than $122,000 for the campaign and Jacobs $69,000, in less than two months. Fitzpatrick’s campaign had attracted about $7,000, and Prater’s about $3,000.

Chris King digital ad offers his highlights from Democrats’ debates

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chris King is launching a new digital video ad offering two minutes of his highlights from the three Democratic debates this month.

Swing for the Fences,” provides eight clips of King’s better moments in the debates, plus one of Democratic front-runner Philip Levine‘s response to a King attack that leaves Levine getting jeered. There’s also a shot of rival Gwen Graham looking annoyed as King makes an indirect attack on her. Democrat Andrew Gillum appears in some of the debate shots but doesn’t get a close-up or a line. Democrat Jeff Greene has not yet appeared in any debates.

Interspersed in the video are text compliments lifted from media coverage about King’s debate performances.

King’s campaign said the ad would target Democratic voters on Facebook, statewide, as part of the campaign’s ongoing six-figure online media buy.

The ad shows King, the Winter Park entrepreneur, mentioning his positions on such topics as affordable housing, criminal justice reform, marijuana legalization, wage growth, immigration, and abortion.

“If you want the status quo, I’m not your guy,” King says in one of the debates, as the ad wraps up. “If you want to swing for the fences and dream again, I’m Chris King, and I want to be your governor.”

Anna Eskamani gets primary opponent

Anna Eskamani, campaigning for the Orange County seat opening up in Florida’s House District 47 for more than a year, drew a Democratic primary opponent with the unexpected entry of Ocoee real estate agent Lou Forges, provided he qualifies for the ballot.

The entry came as a surprise to Orange County Democratic Party leadership, leaving the party scrambling, with little success Thursday, to talk with Forges, find out who he is, and why he chose to enter a last-week challenge to a candidate the party has strongly backed.

Orange County Party Chairman Wes Hodge said Forges declined to talk to him about his campaign Thursday, telling the party chair he was waiting until after qualifying. Hodge said he has questions about Forges’ residency, and about his campaign consultants, who’ve previously largely worked on Republican campaigns, including that of state Rep. Mike Miller, the incumbent in the district.

“We have serious concerns,” about his candidacy, Hodge said.

Forges did not return calls Thursday from Orlando-Rising.

Forges, who turns 48 on July 1, filed his paperwork Wednesday.

Eskamani, of Orlando, is aiming for the seat being vacated by Miller, who is running for Congress. Two Republicans, lawyer Mikaela Nix of Orlando and businessman Stockton Reeves VI, also have been campaigning for the seat.

Through early Friday morning, only Eskamani and Nix had qualified for the ballot.

HD 47 covers north and central Orange County, including much of Winter Park and Orlando, including downtown Orlando and its surrounding neighborhoods.

Hodge said the address Forges lists on his voter registration a house in Ocoee, well outside HD 47, which Forges apparently sold 18 months ago. And the address Forges uses for a homestead exemption is in Apopka, also well outside HD 47, Hodge said.

Forges is working with Corridor Consulting Group, an agency that has worked on the campaigns of Republicans Miller, former state Rep. Eric Eisnaugle, Orange County Commissioner Betsy VanderLey, and Orange County Commission candidate Bobby Lance, among others, Hodge said.

Eskamani, an official with Planned Parenthood, has been a grassroots organizer for years, and has a strong ground game to go along with more than $244,000 in campaign money she has raised. At the end of May, she still had more than $178,000 left in the bank. Reeves, who has lent his campaign about $95,000, ended May with about $104,000 in the bank. Nix, who entered the race in January, had about $36,000 going into June.

Donald Trump makes clear his endorsement of Ron DeSantis

No more speculation about whether President Donald Trump‘s kind words Ron DeSantis were just praise for the moment: Trump Friday morning tweeted out a full-throated endorsement of the Republican congressman’s bid in Florida’s gubernatorial election.

“Congressman Ron DeSantis, a top student at Yale and Harvard Law School, is running for Governor of the Great State of Florida. Ron is strong on Borders, tough on Crime & big on Cutting Taxes – Loves our Military & our Vets. He will be a Great Governor & has my full Endorsement!” the president tweeted.

DeSantis, who’s been campaigning largely on FOX News, has been trailing Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam in most polls, including a FOX News poll Thursday that gave Putnam a 15-point lead. Heading toward the August 28 primary, the Trump factor is expected to be significant, as polls have shown overwhelming support from the party. Weekly tracking polls from Gallum has put Republican approval of Trump at 90 percent for the second week of June.

Yet while Putnam, too, has sought to offer support for Trump, DeSantis always portrayed a close and supportive two-way relationship with Trump, and has been one of the most reliable and hardest-hitting members of Congress pushing back on the Russia probes and arguing that the Democrats, not Trump, have done wrong.

Earlier this week DeSantis posted on Facebook that he was “proud to have President Donald Trump’s endorsement.” But until Friday that was a little unclear, as Trump hadn’t actually spoken or written the word endorsement.

Until now.

“We’re proud to have the full support of President Trump.” DeSantis campaign spokesman David Vasquez stated Friday morning. “As a top conservative leader in Florida, taxpayer superhero and an Iraq veteran, Ron DeSantis will make a Great Governor of Florida.”

Putnam’s campaign responded with this:

“Floridians know that Adam Putnam will always put Florida First. As the FOX News poll indicates, grassroots momentum behind Adam Putnam’s Florida First vision continues to grow. Adam looks forward to working with President Trump as Florida’s next governor to keep our economy thriving, taxes low and our borders secure.”

Space Coast Business Force endorses Rene Plasencia, Thad Altman, Dorothy Hukill

Business Voice of Florida’s Space Coast has endorsed the re-elections of state Sen. Dorothy Hukill and state Reps. Rene Plasencia and Thad Altman in Brevard County districts, the organization announced.

Those endorsements are in addition to the previously announced nod toward Tyler Sirois for the open seat for House District 51.

All four are Republicans and all of them except Hukill have Republican primary challenges on August 28.

The organization, established to be the political voice for the Space Coast business community, also made endorsements of Chuck Nelson and Curt Smith in the Brevard County Commission District 2 and 4 elections, respectively; and Misty Belford and Andy Ziegler in the Brevard County School Board District 1 and 5 races, respectively.

“The state legislature, the county commission and our local school board have an incredible impact on the local economy,” said Kathryn Rudloff, executive director for the group, in a news release. “Ensuring the Space Coast remains a great place to live, work and do business is our priority. That is why local job creators are excited to support these proven leaders who are committed to the long-term health and sustainability of our diverse regional economy.”

Hukill is clear until November when she faces the winner of the Democratic primary, either Brandon Maggard or Mel Martin, for Senate District 14.

Plasencia faces George Collins in a Republican primary for House District 50, while Altman faces Matt Nye in the primary for House District 52. Democrats will be awaiting the winners in November.

“These candidates are asking the voting public for a job. The business community takes very seriously the opportunity to interview candidates and consider their qualifications for the office they seek,” Rudloff added.

Poll: Philip Levine and Gwen Graham tight, Chris King in third

A new poll from RABA Research is finding similar results from one disclosed earlier this week that the Florida Democratic primary race for the governor’s election is close to a dead heat between former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine and former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham.

The poll, using random digit dialing and excluding cell phones, surveyed of 660 Florida Democrats last Friday and Saturday, found Levine’s support at 27 percent, Graham’s at 26 percent, Winter Park businessman Chris King at 15 percent, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum at 8 percent, and Palm Beach businessman Jeff Greene at 3 percent.

Just 21 percent of those surveyed said they did not know, or that they wanted someone else.

“The race is a coming down to the wire. Phillip Levine and Gwen Graham lead the field with Chris King coming in a strong third,” John Davis of RABA Research said in a news release. “The coming weeks will be critical in determining whom Democrats put up as their nominee.”

RABA is a reasonably new polling outfit claiming bipartisan roots, founded in 2016 by Republican media strategist Kim Alfano and Democratic campaign consultant Brad Anderson, among others. Their polls have been cited by FiveThirtyEight, Politico and NBC News, among others, though their record is slim thus far. FiveThirtyEight has assessed just two of their polls, giving them only a C rating, and a very slight Democratic lean.

This survey does not take the usual “likely voters” track for Democrats; instead, it redistributes weight between super voters and new voters, with those who indicated the potential to vote in the August 28 primary. Among those surveyed, 79 percent they were almost certain they would vote, 10 percent said probably, and 11 percent said there was a 50-50 chance.

RABA reported a margin of error of 3.8 percent for overall results.

Two things this poll has in common with one conducted by the Republican-leaning political research organization Let’s Preserve The American Dream earlier this month while differing from many other polls: the overall conclusion that Levine and Graham are in front, in a very tight race; and a survey sample that took in a large percentage of female voters – 59 percent in the RABA survey. That’s reflective of the past two Democratic primaries in Florida, in which women made up 60 percent of the turnout.

Levine’s been running TV commercials almost all year; Graham started hers, only in the I-4 corridor, early this month; and King launched his statewide in April. Greene launched a huge ad buy this week, after the survey.

Among other findings:

— Graham was the only Democrat that had a majority of respondents having formed an opinion about her, but just barely — 52 percent.

— She also had the best favorable/unfavorable ratio in the pack, with 43 percent saying they had a favorable opinion of her, and 9 percent an unfavorable opinion. Levine’s ratio was 36 to 13 percent; King was 29 to 11 percent; Gillum was 26 to 10 percent. Greene, who might have been remembered by respondents at that point last week only for his failed 2010 U.S. Senate campaign in which he found himself fighting off several negative stories, registered 11 percent favorable, 21 percent unfavorable, with a huge 68 percent saying they are not sure.

— Just 29 percent said Florida was heading in the right direction, 48 percent in the wrong direction, and 23 percent said they were not sure.

— The cross-tab breakouts showed standings in all 10 Florida media markets, with Levine doing well in most of South Florida; Graham in Orlando and much of the Panhandle; Levine leading Graham comfortably in Tampa; Gillum holding down Tallahassee; and King with sizable advantages in Jacksonville and Gainesville, while also slightly leading Levine in West Palm Beach, Greene’s home turf.

Bill Nelson goes after Rick Scott as ‘Oil Slick Rick’ in digital ad

Earlier in the week, the U.S. Senate campaign of Republican Gov. Rick Scott launched a new TV commercial accusing Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson of going negative, even though Nelson hadn’t actually done that, yet.

Now he has.

Nelson is releasing a one-minute digital ad Thursday called “Oil Slick,” dubbing the governor “Oil Slick Rick” while accusing him of having supported offshore drilling around Florida until he only recently changed his mind as a political stunt as he prepared to run for the Senate.

This is only Nelson’s second digital ad of his re-election campaign and he has yet to launch a television commercial, battling against Scott who has put up a half-dozen statewide television commercials, including the one accusing Nelson of having gone negative.

Rick Scott‘s campaign responded by disputing Nelson’s claims that he sponsored the moratorium on off-shore drilling, or that he was even intimately familiar with it while it was moving. Scott’s campaign Press Secretary Lauren Schenone charged that Nelson distorted the facts, and that it was Scott who got drilling off the table [a status that Nelson’s people have insisted remains uncertain.]

The Nelson campaign did not provide any details about the ad buy behind the video.

Nelson’s first ad was almost entirely biographical, making no mention of Scott.

The new one stars Scott.

In addition to the digital ad, Nelson’s campaign also launched some other internet properties including “Scott Is Not For Florida” accounts on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram that feature a logo that mimics Scott’s official U.S. Senate election campaign logo.

In Nelson’s new digital ad, there is almost no audio, other than plucky background music that plays as video provides shots of Scott, offshore drilling, animation of an oil spill, and the Deep Water Horizon/BP disaster of 2010. Meanwhile, text declares:

“Oil companies have Florida in their sights. Scott supported offshore drilling. Even after the BP Oil Spill.”

Then a brief audio-video clip, the only one in the spot, from an undated event, shows Scott saying, “Offshore drilling is an option.”

Return to plucky music. “Now in this election year, ‘Oil Slick’ Rick pretended to be a hero,” the text picks up. “But the media uncovered the real story. It was a political stunt.”

The ad cuts to a photograph of Scott mugging with President Donald Trump, heads together, smiling, and then to a quote from the South Florida Sun-Sentinel: “If you think President Trump and Gov. Scott are playing election-year politics with drilling, you’re right.”

The text then states: “Bill Nelson actually wrote the bipartisan law that makes it illegal to drill off of Florida’s coast,” and then goes back to the Sun Sentinel’s statement, “On offshore drilling, only Bill Nelson has earned Floridians’ trust.”

Finally, comes the tagline that might emerge as the slogan for Nelson’s re-election campaign — “Bill Nelson puts Florida first, always has, always will.”

“The only way for Bill Nelson to present himself as a lifelong advocate against offshore oil drilling is to distort the facts, and the fact is that Bill Nelson not only didn’t write the bill that created the moratorium, he was the only Gulf Coast senator to not co-sponsor it,” Schenone responded in a written statement. “It’s also a fact that when Obama needed the support, it was Bill Nelson who was willing to put partisan politics first and change his position to support oil drilling closer to Florida’s shores. Now, because of Gov. Scott’s efforts, offshore drilling is off the table, but Bill Nelson refuses to celebrate, or even accept, this reality. While Bill Nelson continues to grandstand and distract from the truth, Gov. Scott will stay focused on securing real solutions to protect our environment.”

Darryl Block wins AFL-CIO endorsement in HD 29 race

Florida House candidate Darryl Block has received the endorsement of the Florida AFL-CIO heading toward the Democratic Democratic primary to run in House District 29.

It’s the second endorsement Block recently has picked up, following the blessing he received from Democratic state Sen. Victor Torres of Orlando.

Block, a Lake Mary lawyer, social worker and mediator, is battling with Longwood lawyers Tracey Kagan and Patrick Brandt for the August 28 Democratic primary nomination. The prize is the task of facing longtime Republican incumbent state Rep. Scott Plakon in the general election.

In a news release issued by his campaign, Block said he was thrilled to receive the backing of the labor union with more than 1 million members, retirees and their families. Block expressed his commitment to serve working families and veterans and be a strong advocate of employee rights, pay equality, environmental protection, public schools and sensible gun-control legislation, and to advocate for Puerto Ricans in Central Florida.

Block also slammed Plakon for his bill last winter setting new regulations on teachers unions and other public employee unions.

“The action taken this week by the AFL-CIO is just the beginning of our battle to bring fairness and equity to Florida workers, who have been ignored for far too long by a hostile Legislature,” Block stated in the release. “I look forward to joining my fellow progressives in championing workers’ rights in Tallahassee.”

Florida Family Action backs Adam Putnam

Republican Adam Putnam received the backing of John Stemberger‘s staunchly-Christian-conservative Florida Family Action as a “distinct honor and privilege” and spoke at least generally about supporting the group’s hardline anti-abortion positions.

At a news conference with board leaders of Florida Family Action and others at Stemberger’s office in Orlando Wednesday, Putnam also stressed his support for the group’s efforts to address human trafficking, children “orphaned” by opioid abuse, and caring for children and families. Putnam also spoke strongly about values, saying “Florida has to be strong inside and out,” and the state needs to “envoke the partnership and leverage the power of the faith-based community.”

For that, he repeated a proposal he made in May to create an “Office of Faith-Based and Community-Based Initiatives” within the governor’s office to work with churches and other faith-based groups on matters ranging from caring for the homeless to storm relief efforts.

Putnam’s proposal was one of the cornerstones of the “First Families Agenda” platform he introduced at the time.

Putnam declined to directly answer questions about whether his positions align with Florida Family Action, and it’s parent organization, the Florida Family Policy Council, on gay rights, a topic that has seen the organizations taking staunch opposition stances against what it calls the “homosexual agenda.” He replied by speaking of the need to defend religious rights, but neither offered support nor opposition to gay marriage or other rights earned or sought by the LGBTQ community and opposed by Florida Family Action.

That organization is the political arm of Stemberger’s Florida Family Policy Council, arguably the state’s leading Christian-conservative political organization.

Putnam claims a lifetime 100 percent National Right to Life rating and a 98 percent Family Research Council rating.

“I believe that we do have to defend and protect life in the state of Florida,” he said.

Stemberger, who also announced his personal endorsement of Putnam, said that was his organization’s impression as well, saying, “We believe he will fight to protect human life at every stage.”

Putnam got the endorsement over his Republican rival U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis after both made presentations in May at the group’s annual gala.

“It’s become clear to us that Adam Putnam is the clear choice for Florida’s future,” Stemberger said. “The next Governor of Florida needs to be a proven leader who knows Florida. No one knows Florida backwards and forwards, policy, people, demographics more than Adam Putnam.”

From the two organizations, Stemberger pledged to aid Putnam with broad support, with help from “thousands, hundreds of thousands of our volunteers statewide, from Pensacola to Miami, to educate and mobilize millions of Christian voters.”

Stembeger added: “He shares our faith and he shares our values, but, just as important, he would respect the right of those that don’t share our faith, and don’t share our values.”

A gay rights question followed, asking Putnam to clarify if his values and positions align with those of Florida Family Action.

“We have to build a state with strong families. It begins with defending life, defending marriage, and supporting the very pillars of our community and our society that allow our community to flourish,” Putnam replied. “That means discrimination ought not to be tolerated, and that includes discrimination toward the pulpit, and towards religious freedom, and religious liberty. And we strive to make sure that no one including our churches are discriminated against.”

Next, Putnam asked if he would support the anti-discrimination against gays bills that have been introduced in the Florida Legislature in recent years, and he replied, “I think it’s important to see what that looks like when it hits the desk. But we, I, am focused on making sure that we protect the balance that doesn’t include discrimination including discrimination against religious liberty.”

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