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Monica Russo bows out of run for Florida Democratic Party chair

Even though she was never officially eligible, Monica Russo has been running for the past few weeks to become the next party chair of the Florida Democratic Party — until Wednesday.

In a statement, Russo, the president of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Florida and executive vice president at 1199 SEIU in Miami, said she would not pursue what appeared to be a quixotic attempt to win the election as next party chair.

“As soon as I sought election, I learned that the Democratic Party’s rules and structures are closed and exclusive,” she says. “The rules do not make those who have fought alongside the Democratic Party feel welcome. This holds progress back, and changes are clearly needed.  Though I am not eligible to run for Chair, I still plan on continuing my push for these common-sense reforms.”

Russo is not a local party chair or state committeewoman, which continues to be the only way to become a candidate for FDP Chair. Though there has been talk about reforming that law, it won’t happen before Saturday, when state Democrats will convene in Orlando to elect a new chair.

To become eligible, Russo would have had to move out of Miami-Dade County, a maneuver previous party leaders have used but which Russo rejected. Or Democrats could have changed the rules during Saturday’s meeting, something that would have required a two-thirds vote and which would have been unlikely to succeed.

The race is now officially between three candidates: Hillsborough County State Committeewoman Alma Gonzalez, Palm Beach County Democratic Executive Committee Chair Terrie Rizzo and Brevard County Democratic Executive Chair Stacey Patel.

“We must open up the party so that all Democrats feel welcome and engaged,” Russo said in her statement. “Our power lies in grassroots leaders and we need to welcome new activists and young people into our fold because it is not just about how much money a person can raise or the existing connections a person may have — it is about giving everyone a seat at the table.”

Russo’s critique mirrors that of other activists, including former party Chairwoman Allison Tant, who have called on Democratic leaders to revise the manner in which the party boss is chosen.

The party’s by-laws not only require potential candidates for the chairmanship to be county leaders, but executive-committee votes are based on a complicated formula that takes into account the number of registered voters in each county and how they cast their ballots in the most-recent general election.

Critics complain that the system gives too much power to party “insiders” and to Democratic strongholds in the highly populated Southeast Florida counties of Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach.

“It’s ridiculous,” Tant told The News Service of Florida.

Tant said Barack Obama could have moved to Florida and been ineligible to become the head of the state party.

“It limits our ability to be effective when we can only choose from a small cadre of people,” Tant said.

The fight over a new leader comes at a critical time for Florida Democrats, who were hoping to pick up several legislative seats next year and are facing the likelihood of being outspent in statewide races for governor, state Cabinet and the U.S. Senate.

Party activists were hoping to go into 2018 riding a wave of momentum generated by two critical victories this fall. State Sen. Annette Taddeo won a heated special election in September, recapturing a Miami-Dade County seat long held by Democrats. In St. Petersburg, incumbent Mayor Rick Kriseman, a former Democratic state House member, retained his position after a fierce contest against former Mayor Rick Baker.

But the victory laps were tarnished by separate controversies involving Bittel and former state Sen. Jeff Clemens, who quit his legislative post after admitting he had an extramarital affair with a lobbyist. Clemens was slated to take over as head of the Senate Democrats after next year’s elections.

Now, Democrats — who have long struggled with infighting between factions — face the prospect of attempting to unify behind the second party boss in less than a year.

You can read Russo’s entire statement below:

“For 30 years, I have dedicated my life to empowering working class folks across Florida and the South — from the Maries from Haiti to the Miss Morgans from the South and the Angels from Cuba.

“I put my hat in the ring for Florida Democratic Party Chair to ensure that every day Floridians are front and center in the Party — not lobbyists or big donors.  The Florida Democratic Party needs to step out of the past and rigorously rejuvenate and empower grassroots leaders and give them the tools, support, and recognition they need for their organizing.

“We need to be more intentional about being open, inclusive, and cross-generational, a Party where Floridians from every community in all 67 counties feel like they belong.  We have to take the time to do this and not only listen, but learn.

“As soon as I sought election, I learned that the Democratic Party’s rules and structures are closed and exclusive. The rules do not make those who have fought alongside the Democratic Party feel welcome. This holds progress back, and changes are clearly needed.  Though I am not eligible to run for Chair, I still plan on continuing my push for these common-sense reforms.

“First on the list: we must open up the party so that all Democrats feel welcome and engaged.  Our power lies in grassroots leaders and we need to welcome new activists and young people into our fold because it is not just about how much money a person can raise or the existing connections a person may have — it is about giving everyone a seat at the table.

“We need to make sure that the Party’s investments go into building a permanent field infrastructure — including recruiting, training, and cultivating new leaders in all 67 counties, specifically in communities that don’t currently feel served by Democrats.

“We need to clearly show that we are on the side of everyday Floridians, including those who can’t afford health care and child care, those who are forced to make the decision between paying the rent or putting food on their table, or have kids pushed out of school and into prison — a hyper-majority of whom are from communities of color.

“Twenty years of Republican leadership has left Florida near the bottom in national rankings around affordable housing, access to health care, education, and more.

“And twenty years of the current Democratic strategy has been ineffective and has not brought Floridians together.  Too many people believe that the Democratic Party is out of touch with their everyday concerns.  We need to build a party that focuses on creating an economy that works for everyone, including a $15 minimum wage, expanding Medicaid, winning health care for all, free education, affordable housing, and strong unions so that workers have a voice in building their future.

“I do not need to be the Chair of the Democratic Party to continue the labor of love to which I have dedicated my work and my life.

“I look forward to working with the next Florida Democratic Party Chair on this and other ways we can ensure all Floridians win and more importantly thrive in 2018 and beyond.”

The News Service of Florida contributed to this report

Rick Scott, Marco Rubio back Donald Trump’s embassy move to Jerusalem

While the pundit class may gnash its teeth over President Donald Trump announcing a move of the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, Gov. Rick Scott stands with his “partner in the White House.”

In a video released Wednesday, Scott made comments at the Western Wall.

“This is a great day,” Scott said. “President Trump is going to declare that the capital of Israel will be Jerusalem, and commit to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem. I stand with Israel. I stand with all the citizens of Israel. The state of Florida stands with all the citizens of Israel. This is an outstanding day.”

Scott, currently on a trade mission to Israel, indicated support before leaving the state.

“As we prepare for this important trade mission, it is clear that our entire nation must also continue to strengthen this partnership with Israel. I strongly believe that the U.S. Embassy belongs in Jerusalem and I am hopeful that a decision will be made to finally move the embassy to the its rightful destination in Israel’s capital city,” Scott said in a press release.

Sen. Marco Rubio likewise backed the move.

“I commend President Trump for following U.S. law and recognizing Jerusalem as the eternal capital of the Jewish state of Israel. The Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995, which Congress passed during the Clinton administration, requires the United States not only to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, but also to eventually move the American embassy to Jerusalem,” Rubio said.

“Today’s announcement is an important step in the right direction. Unequivocal recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital will be complete when the U.S. embassy is officially relocated there,” Rubio added.

Some South Florida Democrats joined with Republican members of Florida’s congressional delegation in also calling for the move. Democratic U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch of Boca Raton went so far as to issue a joint press release with Republican U.S. Rep. Illeana Ros-Lehtinen of Miami.

“The President’s decision today is a recognition of existing U.S. law that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel and that the U.S. embassy should ultimately be located in the capital,” Deutch and Ros-Lehtinen stated in their release. “There is no debate that the Jewish people have a deep-rooted religious, cultural and historic tie to Jerusalem, and today’s decision reaffirms that connection. The fact is that Jerusalem – an ancient and holy city to all three monotheistic faiths – will remain the capital of the Jewish state in any iteration of a negotiated two-state solution. Today’s decision does not preclude our shared goal of two states for two peoples to be negotiated between the parties themselves. Now is the time for urgent progress towards the President’s stated objective of achieving a real and lasting peace.”

Democratic U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Weston declared, “My longstanding view is that Jerusalem is and will remain the undivided capital of Israel, and it should remain a city accessible to people of all faiths. I strongly believe that we must continue to work toward a two state solution that achieves two states for two peoples. We must work toward a day where the entire world recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and that can be achieved through final status negotiations. I remain as committed as ever to safeguarding Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state, at peace with its neighbors, with Jerusalem as its undisputed capital.”

Republican U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz of Fort Walton Beach stated, “Our nation’s embassy is currently in Tel Aviv, which is disrespectful, dismissive, and wrong. Moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem will send the Palestinian Authority a message that their days of denying Israel’s existence are over, and that they must become an honest partner in peace. I commend President Trump today for honoring our friend and ally Israel and moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem — the eternal, undivided capital of Israel.”

Women’s March Florida plans statewide events in January

Organizers behind this past January’s enormously successful women’s marches across Florida say they’re coming back for more in 2018.

Women’s March Florida is calling for a “Day of Action” on January 21, 2018, the anniversary of what has been called the largest political protest in recent U.S. history.

Protests will take place in Miami, Orlando, St. Petersburg, and Jacksonville.

Organizers say they intend to bring “awareness, support and donations” to areas affected by the hurricanes this past year in Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the Florida Keys. The event will also focus on expanding voter access and registration.

The Women’s March in Washington this past January has been called likely the largest single-day demonstration in recorded U.S. history, with estimated ranging from 500,000 to 3 million people attending.

The largest rallies in Florida included more than 20,000 in St. Petersburg, 14,000 in Tallahassee and more than 10,000 in Miami.

Similar rallies to take place on January 21, 2018, are also being planned around the country.

Details of generator rules draw criticism

Emergency management officials, engineers and long-term care providers flagged problems Tuesday with a pair of proposed rules that require nursing homes and assisted living facilities to install generators and have 96 hours of fuel and also took aim at state agencies that drafted the rules for not being more collaborative.

Walton County Emergency Management Director Jeff Goldberg, who traveled to Tallahassee to testify at a hearing about the proposed rules, said he was “disappointed” that the state had largely ignored comments he made about the proposals at a public meeting last month.

“We want to work with you. We want to meet with you, we want to make a good rule, have a good product and something that makes sense. But without a two-way conversation, with us just talking and weeks later getting a draft rule pushed down to us, doesn’t facilitate good cooperation in my opinion,” Goldberg said.

Goldberg said the proposed rules require local emergency-management officials to review plans that detail how facilities are going to meet backup power requirements and to ensure that the facilities are in compliance with the rules. However, local emergency management officials don’t have authority to review the power plans, he said.

Additionally, the rules require emergency management officials to post approved plans on their websites. But Goldberg said he and other local officials are being advised by county attorneys that they can’t post the plans because the plans belong to the providers and not the government.

Gov. Rick Scott‘s administration in September issued emergency rules requiring nursing homes and assisted living facilities to have generators and 96 hours of fuel to keep the buildings cool. The emergency rules were issued after the deaths of eight residents of The Rehabilitation Center of Hollywood Hills following Hurricane Irma, which knocked out the Broward County facility’s air conditioning system.

The emergency rules were invalidated in October by an administrative law judge who found no emergency situation existed.

The proposed rules under consideration Tuesday are meant to replace the emergency rules. Testimony was provided at two separate public meetings on the proposals, one hosted by Agency for Health Care Administration, which licenses nursing homes, the other by the Florida Department of Elder Affairs, which has regulatory authority over assisted living facilities.

Neither agency indicated Tuesday whether the proposed rules would be changed to address concerns raised at the meetings.

To come into compliance with the requirements will cost the nursing-home industry more than $186 million, state estimates show. Nursing homes are asking the state to help offset those costs with Medicaid funding. Estimates show that it will cost assisted living facilities more than $280 million to comply with the requirements. The steep price tags mean that the Legislature will have to ratify the rules before they can take effect.

Tallahassee health care consultant Skip Gregory criticized the Agency for Health Care Administration and the Department of Elder Affairs for not being inclusive or reaching out to experts who, he said, could help them draft rules.

Gregory is an engineer who headed the Office of Plans and Construction at AHCA for 22 years but now is a consultant who has worked for the Florida Health Care Association, a nursing-home group. He rolled through a number of concerns he has with the proposed rules, including the fact that they set a maximum temperature of 81 degrees Fahrenheit but don’t mandate a minimum temperature.

“When a nursing home loses power, doesn’t the agency care how cold it gets inside the nursing home?” he asked, noting that temperatures drop below freezing in the Panhandle.

Gregory also said the rules are too vague. For instance, the nursing home rule makes clear that the required temperature must be met in an area the facility determines is sufficient to maintain all residents “comfortably at all times and is appropriate for the care needs and life safety requirements.” But the rule doesn’t make clear whether that area needs to be equipped with toilets for the patients or whether the area needs to offer privacy to patients.

And while the rule says that, for planning purposes, nursing homes must have no less than 50 net square feet per resident cooled, it doesn’t define what “net” means.

“It’s not a statute, it’s a rule and it needs to have specificity to it,” he said. “The way we write rules, how we always wrote rules, is to get a group together and sit down and try to hash this out.”

The rules also require the state fire marshal to inspect facilities to ensure compliance with the rules. Gregory noted, though, that the Agency for Health Care Administration and the Department of Elder Affairs don’t have the authority to direct the fire marshal.

The generator and fuel requirements only apply to assisted living facilities and nursing homes, and Gregory said other providers, such as hospitals, family care homes, hospices and intermediate care facilities for the developmentally disabled, aren’t required to have generators and 96 hours of backup fuel.

“There are 80,642 souls who are not going to be impacted by this rule,” he said.

Republished with permission of the News Service of Florida.

Alma Gonzalez gets key support for Florida Democratic chair, but not from all progressives

The race for the next Florida Democratic Party chair is not quite a done deal.

In a statement Tuesday, Terrie Rizzo said she has 70 percent of the 182 votes needed to win the nomination. However, Hillsborough County’s Alma Gonzalez is touting new endorsements from the state’s Democratic black, Hispanic and Caribbean caucuses. And Brevard County’s Stacey Patel is getting some love from progressives in Gonzalez’ home territory.

The three women are all in the running to lead the party in an election scheduled to take place Saturday in Orlando. The SEIU’s Monica Russo is technically not eligible to compete for the seat, but she is hoping for a change in the bylaws to become the fourth official candidate in the race.

Rizzo, the Palm Beach Democratic DEC Chair, announced new endorsements that she says proves that she is getting closer to having the votes to win the nomination, but Gonzalez says the race is extremely fluid and that she’s seen far too many FDP elections to know that commitments made before the election can change by the time the votes begin to get counted. And she says that the groups whose caucuses backed her today make up well over half the voters who vote in primary elections in Florida, making her “super excited.”

“I am deeply honored to have the support of these caucuses and the Democrats that they represent,” said Gonzalez. “They represent the New American Majority and their voices, issues and leadership will have prominent seats at the table if I am elected chair.”

However, several members of the Tampa Bay Progressive Coalition told Florida Politics that they’re backing Patel, the Bernie Sanders-supporting Brevard chair who is the insurgent candidate in the campaign.

Susan Smith, Jessica Vaughn, Scott Shoup, Beth Shoup, Michael Deloach, Jennifer Hart, Emily Bur, Marcus Klebe, Russell Giambrone, Jackie Simpson, Becca Fiore, Russell Hires, Beau Robichaux and Nina Tatlock all say that they are supporting Patel.

“The great thing about being a Democrat is that we all get to be who we want to be,” Gonzalez responded. “There are going to be individuals who support somebody else’s candidate, and that’s what the beauty of democracy is.”

Gonzalez serves as a Committeewoman for the Hillsborough DEC, but one member of the local Progressive Coalition expressed frustration with her role there, saying she didn’t represent the entire DEC’s stance on some issues, such as the “one party, one vote issue.”

Florida is the only state in the nation whose votes are weighted in state party elections for the chair, meaning not a one man/woman one vote. Advocates say that is in direct violation of Democratic National Committee rules.

When asked about this, Gonzalez admits that it was an issue between her and many Hillsborough DEC members.

“I said to folks I think that we need to have a full debate, and I am not prepared to take a definitive stance in favor of something that I don’t understand,” she says. “I will not push forward on something until I get it. I’m really fortunate because as I’ve said that, openly and transparently and as clearly as I could, lots of folks said, this is what we need, and this is what’s important to us, and I’m so grateful to them for sharing that with me openly.”

It’s not the first time that Hillsborough Dems haven’t back one of their own for party chair. A dispute about the local bylaws of the Hillsborough DEC thwarted Alan Clendenin from winning the race for state committeeman a year ago, leading him to temporarily move to a far distant northeastern small county to make himself eligible for the party chair election.

Clendenin finished second to Miami-Dade’s Stephen Bittel, who resigned last month after it was reported that he had made demeaning comments to women. His resignation triggered the election.

Republican Jennifer Spath enters HD 39 special election race

Former prosecutor Jennifer Spath has filed to run for the special election in House District 39, seeking to replace form state Rep. Neil Combee, who resigned last month to take a federal job.

Spath, a Republican from Bartow, is a fourth generation Floridian who said she’ll be running on conservative principles, including support for gun rights, low taxes, and fiscal transparency, and opposition to abortion and sanctuary cities. She is a fourth-generation Floridian.

“To truly understand the challenges and needs of District 39, it’s important that the future representative has lived, paid taxes, and owned a home within the district,” Spath stated in a press release issued by her new campaign.

Republican Josie Tomkow of Polk City also has entered the race, and already has raised $50,000 in three weeks, which is headed toward a February 20 special primary election, and a May 1 special general election if any non-Republicans get into the field.

House District 39 covers Polk County and part of western Osceola County.

“I spent several years at the State Attorney’s Office successfully prosecuting criminals to ensure that the people of Polk County were safe,” Spath stated. “Sanctuary cities pose a great threat to the safety and security of Floridians. It’s time for the legislature to step up and put a ban into effect.”

Spath is the public affairs manager for Community Based Care of Central Florida, developing policy and advocacy messages relating to foster children.

She previously served as assistant state attorney for the 10th Judicial Circuit in Polk County trying more than 50 jury trials to completion. During her time as a prosecutor, her cases ranged from domestic violence, battery, and drug trafficking, to DUI manslaughter and attempted murder.

“My experience as a prosecutor coupled with my role as public affairs manager has helped mold me into a fierce advocate, a trait which I will take to Tallahassee to fight for the well-being of the constituents of District 39 and the great state of Florida,” Spath stated.

Spath currently serves as the president of the Polk Association of Women Lawyers. She is a member of the Suburban Republican Women’s Club and the Florida Bar Young Lawyers Division. She attended the Political Leadership Institute.

She holds a law degree from Stetson University College of Law and a bachelor’s  degree in political science from the University of Florida. She lives in Bartow with her husband, Chris, and their daughter.

HD 39 candidate Josie Tomkow raises $50K in first three weeks on campaign trail

Republican Josie Tomkow is currently running solo in the special election for House District 39, but that hasn’t stopped her from raising plenty of money for her campaign.

Though Tomkow has not yet filed her November campaign finance report, her campaign announced the first-time politician brought in more than $50,000 last month. The campaign news release did not mention how much money Tomkow’s campaign spent during her first few weeks in the race.

“We have a remarkable team.  The outpouring of support from my friends and family humbles me.  No one will work harder than I will to earn the trust and support of the people who live and work in District 39,” Tomkow said in a news release.

Tomkow is running to replace former Rep. Neil Combee, who left the seat on Nov. 24 to start a new job as Florida’s State Director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency.

Combee endorsed Tomkow before exiting the House, even over another potential Republican candidate, Polk County Commissioner John Hall, who expressed interest in running.

“Josie is ready and prepared for this next step in her public service.  She will represent our area well and continue the fight for conservative values in the halls of the Florida capitol,” he said shortly after she filed.

The Auburndale Republican reiterated his support of Tomkow, 22, after some reports questioned whether she was too young for the job.

“Although I am aware she is young by time’s standard, I don’t think age should ever preclude someone from entering public service,” he wrote. “You can never be too old, or too young to want to give back to your community and help your neighbors.”

Gov. Rick Scott last week set the special primary election, which may not be needed, for Feb. 20, while the special general election is May 1.

On Tuesday, a second Republican candidate opened a campaign account to run in the special election. Bartow Republican Jennifer Higley Spath opened an account Tuesday in House District 39.

HD 39 covers parts of Osceola and Polk counties, including Polk City, Auburndale, and the outskirts of Kissimmee at its eastern border and northern Lakeland along the district’s southwestern edge. It has a strong Republican lean.

As FDP Chair election nears, Terrie Rizzo announces more endorsements

Ahead of the Florida Democratic Party Chair election this Saturday, where 182 electors will cast their vote, Palm Beach County Chair Terrie Rizzo said Monday she has secured the endorsements of 51 of them.

Under the weighted system, there are a total of 1,237 possible votes to be distributed among the three eligible candidates: Rizzo, Hillsborough County State Committeewoman Alma Gonzalez and Brevard County Democratic Executive Committee Chair Stacey Patel.

While Monica Russo, the current president of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), has announced her bid to be the next party leader, she is not eligible to run, under current party rules. However, rumors have swirled among party members on her attempts to circumvent those rules ahead of the election.

So far, in the all-female chair race, Rizzo holds the lead.

“We have 70 percent of the votes needed to win the nomination based on the numbers of votes held by endorsements committed to use divided by the total votes available,” Rizzo said.

But Juan Cuba, the chairman of the Miami-Dade Democrats, said it’s early to tell who the projected winner will be.

“It’s a Byzantine process,” he said.

Cuba will cast the 62 votes of ousted party chair, Stephen Bittel — the most of any other party member other than Miami-Dade State Chairwoman Francesca Menes, who also has 62 votes. While Bittel is out as party chair, he has not yet stepped down from his committeeman post. He will do so once his successor is elected, Cuba said.

Cuba has asked members to vote their preference electronically on Friday, a day ahead of the election. And based on what the majority of the membership wants, he says he will cast his votes.

Here is a list of the new endorsers:

Orange County State Committeewoman, Lorraine Tuliano

Manatee State Committeewoman, Cornelle Maxfield

LGBTA Caucus President, Terry Fleming

Pasco State Committeewoman, Jocelyn Dickman

Veterans Caucus President, Philip Giorno

Glades County Committeewoman, Mary Giddens

Glades County Committeeman, John Capece

Hernando County State Committeewoman, Rebecca Fones

Hernando County State Committeeman, Raymond Fones

Citrus County State Committeewoman, Susan Reeder

Citrus County State Committeeman, Joseph Adams

Okeechobee State Committeeman, Weston Harvey

Hamilton State Committeewoman, Shauna Adams-Farries

Clubs, Orgs and Caucuses Chair, Beth McMillen

Broward County DEC Chair, Cynthia Busch

Washington County State Committeeman, Dale Metcalf

Nassau County State Committeeman, Phil Morton

Washington County State Committeewoman, Gina Metcalf

Prior endorsements include:

Congressman Alcee Hastings

Congresswoman Lois Frankel

Congressman Ted Deutch

St. Lucie County State Committeewoman, Margaret Benton

Volusia County DEC Chair, Jewel Dickson

Holmes County State Committeeman, Charles Smith

Hendry County State Committeeman, Ramon Rodriguez

Hendry County State Committeewoman, Sofia Rodriguez

Sarasota County DEC Chair, JoAnne DeVries

Senior Caucus President, Travis Bridges

Sumter County State Committeewoman, Ellen Cris Anderson 

American Muslim Democratic Caucus, Junaid Akther 

Seminole County Chair, Rob Bial 

Martin County State Committeewoman, Cristina De La Vega

Clay County State Committeeman, Bobby Poole

Hillsborough County State Committeeman, Russ Patterson

Hillsborough County DEC Chair, Ione Townsend

Student Caucus, Justin Atkins

Orange County State Committeeman, Doug Head

Osceola County State Committeeman, Casmore Shaw

Palm Beach County State Committeewoman, Deidre Newton

Palm Beach County State Committeeman, John Ramos

Pasco County State Committeeman, John Ford

Polk County DEC Chair, Shawn Kinsey

Charlotte County State Committeewoman, Lucy Garner

Charlotte County State Committeeman, Tom Garner

Collier County Chair, Yudy Barbera

Marion County State Committeewoman, Joyce Blake

Marion County State Committeeman, Marc Bruzdziak

Escambia County State Committeeman, Keith Hardy

Escambia County State Committeewoman, Dianne Krumel

Martin County State Committeeman, David Dew

Disability Caucus Chair, Bill Rettinger

Jewish Caucus Chair, Mark Winer

Small County Coalition Chair, Wendy Williams

Hmmm … poll shows Rick Scott with 10-point lead over Bill Nelson for U.S. Senate seat

A new poll from St. Leo University found Gov. Rick Scott has surpassed U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson in a hypothetical head-to-head matchup in for Nelson’s seat in 2018.

The poll, conducted online between Nov. 19 and Nov. 24, showed Scott with a double-digit lead over Nelson in the matchup, 42-32, with 8 percent preferring another candidate and 18 percent undecided.

Eight months ago Nelson held a 5-point lead over Scott, 39-34, and in September the Scott took a slim 35-33 lead.

Scott, a Republican, has not formally entered the race for U.S. Senate, but he is termed-out as governor and is almost sure to challenge Nelson, a Democrat, in his campaign for a fourth term next year.

“We’re still almost a year out from the 2018 elections, but Rick Scott is in the best position he’s been in yet against incumbent Bill Nelson,” said polling institute director Frank Orlando. “It will be interesting to see if he can maintain this support while his party is hurting electorally throughout the country.”

Scott has also made considerable strides over the last two months when it comes to voters’ perception of his job performance.

Back in March, about 56 percent of Florida voters said they had a “very favorable” or “somewhat favorable” view of the second-term governor, while about 39 percent said they viewed Scott, a Republican, in a “somewhat unfavorable” or “not at all favorable” light.

Last month, the positive view climbed to about 61 percent while the negatives had dwindled to about 31 percent. The other 8 percent said they were unsure how they felt about Scott.

The poll also touched on the leading candidates to replace Scott in the governor’s mansion, though the bulk of the survey was conducted when Orlando attorney John Morgan was still considering a run in the Democratic Primary.

Morgan, who said the day after Thanksgiving he would not run for governor as a Democrat, had the most support among Dems at about 13 percent, followed by former congresswoman Gwen Graham at 9.4 percent.

Among all voters lumped together — Republicans, Democrats and independents — Morgan again came out on top with 24 percent support, followed by Ag Commissioner Adam Putnam at just under 19 percent.

About 53 percent of Democratic voters said they were unsure, leaving the race wide open for fellow Democratic candidates Andrew Gillum (6 percent), Orlando-area businessman Chris King (3 percent) and Miami Beach Mayor Phil Levine (2 percent).

“No one has been able to rally establishment support and win the invisible primary. With some uncertainty removed as Morgan took himself out of contention, the process of winnowing the field might finally begin in earnest,” Orlando said.

Putnam, who has gone gangbusters on the fundraising trail, leads the Republican field with 15 percent support, though nearly 63 percent of GOP respondents were unsure.

U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, not yet a candidate, was second-place among named options at 4.8 percent, followed by House Speaker Richard Corcoran and embroiled Clearwater Sen. Jack Latvala, both with under 3 percent support.

“Adam Putnam isn’t in an insurmountable position, but he’s at least the leader in the clubhouse,” Orlando said. “Other prominent GOPers are busy fulfilling the duties of their office or in the news for the wrong reasons. It’s difficult to compare Putnam against Morgan at this point, as our results show that voters would still prefer someone else in the governor’s mansion.”

The poll took in responses from 500 Florida voters — including 181 Democrats and 166 Republicans — and has a 4.5 percent margin of error at a 95 percent confidence level. More detailed information on the poll’s methodology and findings can be found on the St. Leo University polling website.

Florida takes No. 1 spot on ‘Judicial Hellholes’ list

Florida takes the top spot among the states in more than a few lists, but it earned a “distinction” from the American Tort Reform Association which said the Sunshine State was the No. 1 “Judicial Hellhole” in the country.

Florida was one of eight states or judicial districts getting a write up in 2017-2018 Judicial Hellholes, earning the top spot in the ring of dishonor alongside courts in California, St. Louis, New York City, Philadelphia, New Jersey, Illinois and Louisiana.

“The Florida Supreme Court’s liability-expanding decisions and barely contained contempt for the lawmaking authority of legislators and the governor has repeatedly led to its inclusion in this report. And though the high court’s plaintiff-friendly majority this year shrunk from 5-2 to 4-3, a hushed discus­sion between two majority justices recently caught by an open microphone suggests that this majority is as partisan as ever and brazenly determined to influence the judicial selection process as three like-minded col­leagues face mandatory retirement in early 2019,” the report said.

“Meanwhile, an aggressive personal injury bar’s fraudulent and abusive practices in South Florida and elsewhere have also tarnished the state’s reputation. Encouragingly, at least some plaintiffs’ lawyers who’ve crossed the line are being held accountable, either with stiff court sanctions or criminal prosecutions. But with the help of some lawmakers, too many are still get­ting away with too much, and for the first time in this report’s 16-year history, enough shade has been cast on the Sunshine State to rank it as the nation’s worst Judicial Hellhole.”

The 2017-2018 report is the first in the 16-year history of the “Judicial Hellholes” series to name Florida the worst.

The report cites Justice C. Alan Lawson replacing retired Justice James E.C. Perry as a move in the right direction, but the report blasted the court for allowing Perry to help decide cases he had started to hear before his retirement date.

The ATRA cited a memo from Edward Whelan of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in calling that practice “contrary to the Florida Constitution.”

“It’s one thing to decide already-argued cases without the new member. It’s quite another thing to allow the retired justice to displace the new member in those cases. This elementary distinction seems to have escaped the Florida Supreme Court,” the snippet from Whelan said.

The report also blasted Florida Supreme Court rulings in medical liability cases that it said are detrimental to both patients and healthcare providers, while also making it more difficult to solve disputes disputes without litigation. It also warned that Florida attorneys are bracing for the court’s anticipated rejection of higher standards for expert testimony used in all federal and most state courts.

The Florida Chamber of Commerce pointed to the report as vindication for what it has been saying all along – that Florida’s legal system is one of the worst out there.

“Lawsuit abuse in Florida is an increasingly serious and expensive problem, and it just keeps getting worse. On average, it translates into a $3,400 ‘tax’ for Florida’s families each year, due to increased lawsuit abuse costs,” said Florida Chamber President and CEO Mark Wilson.

“There have been five Wall Street Journal articles this year alone talking about Florida’s horrendous lawsuit abuse, the national Institute for Legal Reform named Florida the fifth worst state for legal climate, and now the American Tort Reform Association ranks Florida as the worst Judicial Hellhole, how much more evidence do lawmakers need to take action,” Wilson continued.

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