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Florida-based GOP donor: Want cash? Support assault weapons ban

Al Hoffman Jr. is hoping the mantra ‘money talks’ holds true for elected Republicans.

The Florida-based political donor and businessman in an email told six top GOP officials — including Gov. Rick Scott and Jeb Bush — that he’d stem campaign contributions to candidates, and their related committees, who do not support a ban on assault weapons.

The email, according to the New York Times, included a promise from Hoffman to not fund future campaigns for Scott, who is expected to announce a U.S. Senate bid, or other Florida Republicans, unless they support the ban.

Hoffman, who championed fundraising efforts for George W. Bush‘s presidential campaigns and was appointed by Bush to serve as the ambassador to Portugal, wrote in the email he’d “not write another check unless they all support a ban on assault weapons. Enough is enough!”

In an interview with the Times, Hoffman said, “For how many years now have we been doing this — having these experiences of terrorism, mass killings — and how many years has it been that nothing’s been done?

“It’s the end of the road for me.”

Hoffman already has involved himself in the Florida gubernatorial race. According to the Florida Division of Elections, he donated $2,700 to Republican candidate Adam Putnam at the end of January.

Whether Hoffman’s threat will result in gun-restricting legislation is unknown — even he is doubtful.

He told the Times that he thought an assault weapons ban is still unlikely. He has donated millions to candidates and interests of the GOP, but said elected officials are too committed to the National Rifle Association to pass the ban.

Although one donor might pale in comparison to the influence of the NRA, Hoffman’s move could pick up traction with other like-minded GOP donors.

Another Florida-based donor, Peter Rummell, already is on board. He told the Times he would only donate to candidates who support an assault weapons ban.

He told Florida Politics that he supports the Second Amendment, but that changes should be made and the nation’s gun laws need reform.

“Now is the time for us to have a debate that is honest, thoughtful and complete, taking into account all the important issues about how we live practically under the Second Amendment, which I fully support,” Rummell said. “The discussion needs to end with real transformation and actionable items that bring about real reform, protections and change.”

Hoffman’s email isn’t the first time he’s advocated for gun control initiatives. In 2013, he penned a letter to then-House Speaker John Boehner urging for more gun control.

At rally, Parkland shooting survivors rail against NRA and Donald Trump

Chants of “Enough is enough!” reverberated down the street as hundreds of people gathered for a gun-control rally on the steps of the federal courthouse in Ft. Lauderdale, in response to a mass shooting at a Broward County high school on Wednesday.

Saturday’s speakers included students and teachers who survived the horrific event at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland — the second-deadliest mass school shooting in the nation’s history — along with state and local elected officials and others.

“I am not here as a candidate for governor, I am here as a mom,” Democratic gubernatorial Gwen Graham said. “And I have had it. I have had it. As a mom I am crushed. Enough. Enough. Enough.”

The League of Women Voters of Florida organized the rally to call for stricter gun control laws after gunman Nikolas Cruz shot dead 17 individuals — including 14 teenagers— using an assault weapon-style rifle.

Cruz, who was expelled from the high school, had such a troubled history that some of those who knew him weren’t surprised by his violent outburst. Authorities have charged the 19-year-old with 17 counts of premeditated murder.

“Sadly, my sister lost four of her friends and so many other friends and parents were lost that day, and it’s a terrible event,” said David Hogg, a student at the Parkland high school. “Now is the time that we say, ‘thank you for your prayers and condolences, but that is not enough.”

On Friday afternoon, the FBI acknowledged that it had failed to act on a tip about Cruz expressing concern about his erratic behavior.

Hogg was among the students and teachers who criticized Florida’s gun laws, questioning how individuals like Cruz are able to purchase semi-automatic weapons despite alerts to the FBI.

“Teachers should not fear for the lives of their children,” said Melissa Falkowski, the school’s journalism teacher who hid students inside a closet during the shooting.

Student Emma Gonzalez said shooting drills at schools could be stopped “when we have had our say with the government.”

“Maybe the adults have gotten used to saying, ‘it is what it is,’ but if us students have learned anything, it’s that if you don’t study, you will fail.  And in this case, if you actively do nothing, people continually will end up dead,” an impassioned Gonzalez said.

Congressman Ted Deutch, whose district includes Parkland, pledged to continue to fight for common-sense gun-control laws in Washington.

“Five years ago, elementary school kids were slaughtered at Sandy Hook, and there is silence out of Washington,” Deutch, a Democrat, said. “After the horrific mass shooting here in our community, that silence will not continue.”

Like others in the crowd, Western High School junior Isabella Wood and Tara Callahan, a teacher at Lyons Creek Middle School, expressed optimism after attending the rally.

But, they said, change needs to occur for schools to feel safe again.

“It makes me sad. I shouldn’t have to come out here today,” Callahan said, holding back tears. “I shouldn’t have to see small children here today. I shouldn’t have had to come here to see teenagers here today who don’t know (if) they’re going to be able to return to their parents.”

Feds announce opening of Florida to offshore oil drilling, but it’s not not as bad as you might think

The federal government on Friday said it was opening Florida’s Gulf Coast to “oil and gas exploration and development.”

A Interior spokesman, however, soon added that the “small slice available (approximately 944,000 acres) … is more than 100 miles offshore Florida.” A spokesman for U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson also said the proposed area is “currently open to drilling and outside the current moratorium.”

“Our staff has spoken with high-level staff at the Department of Interior and they have confirmed that their announcement today does not affect the Secretary’s commitment to not include Florida in any expansion of offshore oil drilling,” said John Tupps, spokesman for Gov. Rick Scott, later Friday.

The initial announcement came in a Department of Interior press release trumpeting President Donald Trump‘s “America-First Offshore Energy Strategy.”

“The Department will offer 77.3 million acres offshore Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida for oil and gas exploration and development,” it said. “The region-wide lease sale, which is the largest in U.S. history, is scheduled for March 21, and will include all available unleased areas in federal waters of the Gulf of Mexico.”

Zinke has promised to Gov. Scott that Florida would not be subject to offshore oil drilling. In January, however, the acting director of the department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management said Florida was still in play.

Walter Cruickshank told the U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources that Zinke’s statement was not a “formal action.”

Scott, asked later about that hearing, said Zinke “is a man of his word. He’s a Navy Seal. He promised me that Florida would be off the table, and I believe Florida is off the table.”

The governor added: “Secretary Zinke has made a commitment and he’ll live up to his commitments.”

Florida’s Secretary of Environmental Protection Noah Valenstein earlier this month sent a letter to the feds in opposition of any exploratory drilling for gas or oil off the state’s coasts.

“Florida’s coastal and offshore areas have high environmental, economic and military value not only for Florida, but also for the nation,” he said. “These areas provide great economic impact for our citizens and provide each resident with recreational opportunities that are unique to Florida.

“(W)e’ve remained concerned by the potential impacts of oil and gas activities on marine and coastal environments and the biological resources and critical habitats associated with them, as well as the military activities critical to our nation’s security,” Valenstein added.

The lease sale terms “include stipulations to protect biologically sensitive resources, mitigate potential adverse effects on protected species, and avoid potential conflicts associated with oil and gas development in the region,” the press release said.

The feds estimate that the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) “contains about 90 billion barrels of undiscovered technically recoverable oil and 327 trillion cubic feet of undiscovered technically recoverable gas. The Gulf of Mexico OCS, covering about 160 million acres, has technically recoverable resources of over 48 billion barrels of oil and 141 trillion cubic feet of gas.”

On Friday, Deputy Interior Secretary David Bernhardt said “responsibly developing our offshore energy resources is a major pillar of President Trump’s American Energy Dominance strategy.”

“A strong offshore energy program supports tens of thousands good paying jobs and provides the affordable and reliable energy we need to heat homes, fuel our cars, and power our economy,” he said in a statement.

“We have the strongest safety regulations in the world and today’s technology is making the responsible development of our resources even safer. We look forward to this important sale and continuing to raise energy revenues, which fund efforts to help safeguard our natural areas, water resources and cultural heritage, and to provide recreation opportunities to all Americans.”

Nonetheless, reaction from Democratic candidates for governor was swift.

“Trump and Zinke may have forgotten about the BP oil spill but Florida families haven’t,” Chris King said. “Increased offshore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico is a risk that Florida’s economy and environment can’t afford.”

Added Philip Levine: “Floridians will not be fooled by the Trump administration’s relentless efforts to drill off our coast. As I’ve said, we are prepared to take on anyone, and I mean anyone, who threatens Florida’s coasts.”

Peter Schorsch, A.G. Gancarski, and Mitch Perry of Florida Politics contributed reporting or background.

Rick Scott

Gov. Rick Scott calls on FBI director to resign

Gov. Rick Scott on Friday called on FBI Director Christopher Wray to resign after the agency admitted to mishandling a January tip that the 19-year-old accused of gunning down 17 people in Parkland was potentially planning a school shooting.

“Seventeen innocent people are dead and acknowledging a mistake isn’t going to cut it,” Scott said. “An apology will never bring these 17 Floridians back to life or comfort the families who are in pain.”

The FBI received the tip on Jan. 5. It said the accused gunman, Nikolas Cruz, had a gun and wanted to kill people. The person also cited his erratic behavior, disturbing social media posts and signs that he may be plotting a school shooting, the FBI said in a statement.

The FBI acknowledged it got the tip but agents failed to connect it to Cruz, who police say has confessed to the massacre.

“The families will spend a lifetime wondering how this could happen, and an apology will never give them the answers they desperately need,” Scott said.

“We constantly promote ‘see something, say something,’ and a courageous person did just that to the FBI. And the FBI failed to act. ‘See something, say something’ is an incredibly important tool and people must have confidence in the follow through from law enforcement. The FBI Director needs to resign.”

House Speaker Richard Corcoran piggybacked on Scott’s call for Wray — a President Donald Trump nominee — to resign.

“@FlGovScott is right, the FBI Director should resign immediately. 17 innocent lives were lost because the agency failed to follow protocol — that’s unacceptable,” Corcoran tweeted.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions said the tip falling through the crack is “more than just an error review,” but also about how federal investigation authorities respond to tips. Sessions ordered an “immediate review” on the Department of Justice and FBI tip process.

“We will make this a top priority,” Sessions said, “it has never been more important to encourage every person in every community to spot the warning signs and alert law enforcement.”

“Do not assume someone else will step up — all of us must be vigilant. Our children’s lives depend on it.”

Florida game warden recounts exciting tales of bad guys, boat chases

Mention of a wildlife officer in Florida, and many think of someone who checks your fishing license.

But the protection and dangers of the job are far beyond that, former game warden Bob H. Lee told a packed auditorium Thursday at Florida Southern College in Lakeland.

Lee is the author of “Bad Guys, Bullets and Boat Chases — True Stories of Florida Game Wardens.” It is a book of the stories of wildlife officers and their duties ranging from high-speed boat chases to gunfights and poaching.

“There are over 1 million city, state and federal law enforcement officers in the United States. There are only 6,000 wildlife officers, often working alone in remote areas without backup,” Lee said.

His appearance was part of the lecture series of the Lawton Chiles Center for Florida History.

It was the public’s general lack of understanding of these special law enforcement officers that prompted Lee to write his first book, “Backcountry Lawman.”

His first memorable episode in his career, Lee told his audience, was as an eighth month rookie on patrol alone at midnight on the Ocklawaha River when his boat sank. Grabbing a fuel can he began floating in the direction of a landing in the river.

“Now this was in 1978 after 25 years of a ban on alligator hunting. The river was full of gators,” he said.

During a two-mile or more float toward the landing, a bull gator jumped into the water so close it rattled the gas can. He arrived at the landing where four men were drinking around a campfire. Lee ended up driving his “rescuers” the next morning because they were too intoxicated to drive.

“That story had many layers to it. I like to write stories in layers,” he said.

But threats to wildlife officers are from more than animals.

He recalled two officers in a helicopter chasing two suspected deer poachers who were in a Piper Cub. The plane charged at the helicopter trying to crash it. The officer piloting the helicopter, a former pilot in Vietnam, maneuvered under the plane stealing its wind, Lee said, causing it to drop to the ground where arrests were made.

Poaching of baby alligators and passing them through licensed alligator farms is a major issue. Lee noted that several years ago a bust was made on poachers who captured 17,000 baby alligators to be sold for $8 apiece.

“It is now $28 a piece,” he said.

Baby alligators hatched in licensed farms can be sold legally, so poachers have found some perhaps less than honest gator farmers who mix in the poached baby gators. But high technology is now used by the Florida Wildlife Commission: DNA testing.

Technology also shows the worsening problem of the Burmese Pythons in the Everglades, Lee said in answer to a questioner from the audience. Pythons released either accidentally or on purpose are a growing problem to the ecosystem of South Florida, so much so that they will never be eradicated.

By tracing a pathogen carried by cotton rats found in captured Pythons, researchers are finding more and more being eaten by the snakes indicating that they may have greatly diminished the population of other native animals in the Everglades.

“That is the one animal where there is no license requirement,” he said of pythons.

The state even sponsors an annual python hunt, although anyone can hunt pythons any day of the year.

“Anyone who wants an Indiana Jones moment can hunt them,” he said.

But it is all for control. There are now too many for eradication.

Florida’s has a proper amount of game wardens. With somewhere a little over 800 members, it is the state with the most conservation law enforcement officers. Even larger than Texas and California wardens, Lee said.

The problem, he said, is the lack of experience due to retirements under the DROP Program. When signing up for the program, employees must leave after five more years of service

“There are fewer experienced officers because of DROP,” he said.

Gwen Graham: Rick Scott should address AR-15s or his legacy ‘will forever be covered in blood’

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gwen Graham has expanded her response to Wednesday’s high school massacre from vowing to ban assault weapons if she is elected to calling on current Gov. Rick Scott to immediately suspend their sales.

She also declared that Scott’s “legacy will forever be covered in blood” if he and the Legislature do not confront gun violence.

“The time for talk was before the shooting — we need immediate actions to stem the tide of violence and mass shootings being inflicted upon our state. Listen to the children who survived this shooting and the mothers who lost their kids. I stand with them in demanding our leaders take action now,” Graham stated Friday in a news release issued by her campaign.

This release is her second response to the mass shooting that took the lives of 17 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. On Thursday Graham declared her platform as governor would include seeking a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines, as well as addressing background checks, domestic violence and mental health issues.

On Friday, following similar platform declarations by her Democratic gubernatorial primary opponent the high school from Andrew Gillum, Philip Levine, and Chris King, Graham turned to the immediate moment.  She called on Scott to issue an executive order suspending the permitting and sales of AR-15s and guns like it.

“Governor Rick Scott should immediately suspend the permitting and sale of the AR-15s and assault weapons that have killed 17 children Wednesday. These are weapons of war that have murdered countless Floridians and continue to threaten our communities every day that they are sold,” Graham stated.

She noted that the semiautomatic AR-15 assault rifle used at the high school is the same kind of weapon used at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando and the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

“It is disgraceful that a troubled 18-year-old can purchase a weapon of war at all. It’s even more shameful that he can purchase one faster and easier than a handgun,” Graham said. “Instead of taking action, the legislature is taking a four-day weekend. They should work every remaining day of this session and for as long as it takes to address the crisis of violence we face.”

“After the largest mass shooting in modern American history, Rick Scott sat on his hands. After 13 school shootings, Rick Scott looked the other way. After the massacre of children, Rick Scott won’t even say the words common sense gun safety laws,” Graham said. “If Rick Scott and Republicans in Tallahassee won’t even confront the problem we face, how can we expect it to ever stop? Rick Scott’s legacy will forever be covered in blood.”

 

FPL power plant proposal gets boost

The state Public Service Commission should give a key approval to a plan by Florida Power & Light to build a power plant in Broward County, the commission’s staff recommended Friday.

The commission is scheduled March 1 to decide whether to grant what is known as a “determination of need” for the proposed $888 million project in Dania Beach. The 1,163-megawatt natural gas plant would replace two old generating units at the Dania Beach site and begin operating in 2022.

But it has drawn objections from the Sierra Club and the state Office of Public Counsel, which represents consumers in utility issues. They contend FPL has not shown the new plant is needed to meet customers’ projected energy usage in 2022.

The Public Service Commission staff, in a 25-page recommendation, said the parties agreed about the need to retire the older generating units in 2018 and said the primary issue in the case is about timing of a new plant.

The staff recommendation said the proposal would help ensure the reliability of the power system in Southeast Florida.

“FPL’ s decision to retire the (old) units in 2018 results in a significant impact on the Southeastern Florida region’s reliability, and FPL is responsible for ensuring that the reliability and integrity of Southeastern Florida is maintained,” part of the recommendation said. “Once completed, the proposed (plant) will enhance FPL’s system reliability.”

Chris King releases post-Parkland proposal to address mental illness, ban guns

Declaring that Republican leadership in Tallahassee has “transformed Florida into a petri dish of experimentation for the NRA” and “utterly failed to address public health and mental health care,” Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chris King said Friday he would fight the gun lobby, veto their bills, and seek to expand coverage and ban assault weapons.

The pledges are not new to King or to Democrats in general, though King, a Winter Park businessman, offered them as his call to action following the horrific mass murder at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Wednesday. He also urged support for House Bill 219 and Senate Bill 196, two bills to ban assault weapons, sponsored by state Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith and state Sen. Linda Stewart, both Orlando Democrats.

“The next governor must have the courage to stand up and say that we will not allow weapons designed for the killing fields to be sold in our state,” King said in a statement that also was included in a video message posted to his campaign’s Facebook page.

Specifically, King vowed that he would oppose and veto bills he said make Florida “less safe,” such as a provision to Senate Bill  740 that would expand concealed weapons permits availability; expand mental health coverage availability by expanding Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act in Florida; and push to ban assault weapons.

“The shooter at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School chose an AR-15 semi-automatic assault weapon. These types of weapons have been used again and again in mass shootings across the country: Aurora, Newtown, San Bernardino, Orlando, Sutherland Springs, Las Vegas, and now Parkland,” King said “These shootings should be reason enough that weapons designed for war should not be in our neighborhoods. One individual with a weapon like this can do unspeakable damage in a matter of seconds and no cavalry of well-armed law enforcement or good samaritans can move quickly enough to stop it.”

King, who attended Thursday’s vigil in Parkland, specifically criticized Republican gubernatorial candidate and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam for supporting the concealed weapons provision in SB 740, and indirectly criticized him by declaring that “Florida’s leaders call themselves ‘proud NRA sellouts.'”

“We have seen how effective the NRA and the gun lobby are in moments like these,” King said. “The gun lobby muddies the waters and delays any discussion on guns until the news vans and camera crews have gone home and most Americans have moved on. But we are stronger. We owe it to the victims and to our children to draw a line in the sand. We can’t just talk about guns, we must put our best ideas forward. We must not stop until we achieve change that will make us all safer. This is how we honor the victims of such unspeakable tragedies — with action.”

Law enforcement says no known ties between Parkland shooter, white supremacist group

A law enforcement official says he knows of “no known ties” between the suspect who confessed to a deadly mass shooting at a Florida high school and a white supremacist group.

Lt. Grady Jordan is a spokesman for the Leon County Sheriff’s Office in Tallahassee, where the white nationalist militia known as the Republic of Florida is based. Jordan said Thursday that his office has arrested militia leader Jordan Jereb at least four times since January 2014 and has been monitoring the group’s membership.

He says his office has “very solid” information on the group and “there’s no known ties that we have that we can connect” 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz with the group.

Jereb told The Associated Press earlier Thursday that Cruz was a member and participated in paramilitary drills in Tallahassee.

Jereb said he didn’t know Cruz personally and that “he acted on his own behalf of what he just did and he’s solely responsible for what he just did.”

Material from The Associated Press, The Daily Beast, and WTXL ABC 27 was used in this post.

Philip Levine wants ‘immediate policy changes’ on gun laws

Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine wrote Speaker of the House Richard Corcoran and Senate President Joe Negron on Thursday, urging a commitment to gun control measures in the wake of the Parkland massacre Wednesday.

“We need more than thoughts and prayers — we need immediate policy changes that can have an immediate deterrence of these tragic incidents,” Levine wrote.

Levine, a candidate for the Democratic nomination for Governor, saw a primary opponent (Gwen Graham) issue her own calls for gun control measures.

Levine goes farther in terms of policy recommendations than Graham does.

He calls for a reversal of state laws pre-empting local gun bans, a ban on semi-automatic and assault rifles, fast background checks, and a review of mental health funding.

Levine’s letter references a 2016 resolution passed by Miami Beach that calls for a statewide assault weapons ban, while also calling for the end of pre-emption of local gun bans.

The “Legislature’s endless obsession with pre-empting local mayors and city commissioners from enacting sensible policies in their local communities has tied the hands of those who are closest to the people,” Levine writes.

Levine also references “legislation making its way through our legislative session that would weaken background checks, allow guns on college campuses and efforts to weaponize our schools. These policies are simply disgusting and only serve to undermine our public safety.”

“I urge you to immediately suspend the above-referenced legislation from moving forward in Tallahassee and redirect efforts to swiftly enact sensible and responsible gun reforms this year,” Levine writes.

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