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Bryan Nelson’s about-face on red-light cameras

Former Republican Rep. Bryan Nelson has shifted positions on red-light cameras now that he’s running for Apopka mayor, but it’s starting to look like the change wasn’t so much an evolution as it was a total 180.

Nelson was an outspoken champion of red-light cameras when he was in the Legislature, often promoting the controversial devices for improving the “safety” of Florida roads in the face of criticism labeling them as money grabs for local governments.

“Folks that’s safety,” Nelson said in 2010. “That’s what we’re looking for.”

While there wasn’t much research on whether red-light cameras tangibly improved road safety back then, a 2016 study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety provides a heaping helping of vindication for Nelson and the other lawmakers who cast votes in favor of the devices.

That study found cities with the cameras had a 21 percent lower rate of red-light running fatalities than cities without the cameras.

Fast forward to 2018 and Nelson, the one-time staunch backer of red-light cameras, is putting out ads promising to take down every camera in the city if he gets elected.

He makes a couple points. Apopka is a bit out of control when it comes to red-light cameras. From 2012 through 2013 Apopka raked in over $3.6 million from red-light cameras – $200,000 more than the much larger City of Orlando.

And boy does it sting when that $158 ticket shows up in the mail. Maybe that explains why Nelson changed his mind.

So, one red-light camera enough to flip Bryan Nelson’s mind on cameras. A single $158 dollar ticket made him backflip on years of saying red-light cameras were the price to pay for road safety.

There’s also that study — the same one that vindicated Nelson’s 2010 “safety” claim — which shows cities that have cameras but choose to remove them see their red-light running fatalities spike by a third. Is $158 worth more to him than Apopka lives?

Nelson is running against incumbent Mayor Joe Kilsheimer.

The election is March 13.

Amy Mercado, Carlos Smith hear opinions on schools and guns bill

What are progressive Democrats to do when faced with an omnibus school safety and guns bill that has a few things they like but doesn’t have any of the major provisions they’ve insisted on, and also includes something that they worry might be a poison pill?

Democratic state Reps. Carlos Guillermo Smith and Amy Mercado of Orlando laid that out as their dilemma Saturday during a town hall meeting in Orlando. The meeting included high school students, survivors of the 2016 massacre at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub, along with school representatives, teachers, a mental health organization and Orange County School Board Member Daryl Flynn.

Smith and Mercado heard what sounded like universal opposition to provisions in the House school safety and guns bill that would authorize teachers and other school employees to become gun-carrying marshals, a provision that the two lawmakers agreed they could not support.

And the bill doesn’t come anywhere near what Smith and Mercado have been pushing for their two years in the Legislature, bans on the sales of assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines.

Yet there are the provisions, in the current bill, providing funding for mental health services, and for school counselors, as well as the bill’s limited gun reforms, including raising the minimum age for purchases, and the banning of bump stocks.

Is this a take-what-you-can-get and fight for the rest later moment? Smith and Mercado sought constituents thoughts, heading into Monday’s beginning of a hectic final week.

With dozens of amendments already on file on the House side and an uncertain direction for the Senate’s version during Saturday’s special session, Smith and Mercado acknowledged they did not know the language of every amendment. Mercado noted that she has an amendment awaiting the House version to make sure potential school marshals aren’t covered by “Stand Your Ground” protections allowing them to shoot someone just out of fear.

But many of the items in the bills have been sought for years.

“There’s going to be a lot of things in this bill that we don’t like, but there are some things that we do like. Anything that is funding for mental health, as Representative Mercado and I said, there have been a lot of people yelling for that for a long time,” said Eric Welch, executive director of National Alliance on Mental Illness of Greater  Orlando. “So anything that is funding for mental health… that we can get behind is certainly something that the mental health community can get behind.”

Many of the most powerful thoughts came from Pulse survivors talking about what they have suffered and what they have sought since that June 12, 2016, massacre in Orlando, and from students invited into the discussion from Orlando’s University High School, who spoke of how they have been affected by the Feb. 14, 2018, massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

“It should not have to be that when I go to the bathroom in 7th period, and I’m concerned that, what if something happens and I’m in the bathroom? That’s not OK,” said University High student Athena Jain-etienne.

“I will provide in the future for my children so they will not have to have this concern… that they are not coming home,” she added.

Linda Stewart to try again for assault weapons ban

Three Central Florida Democrats will continue their efforts to curb gun violence on Saturday as lawmakers continue to grapple with the post-Parkland political environment.

Linda Stewart will renew her push of an assault weapons ban during a rare Saturday floor session of the Florida Senate, while state Reps. Amy Mercado and Carlos Smith will host a gun safety roundtable with survivors of the 2016 mass shooting at Pulse nightclub.

On Friday, Stewart reaffirmed her pledge to push for legislation that bans civilian versions of military-style assault weapons and high capacity magazines.

Stewart was the senate sponsor for bills filed before session that would ban semi-automatic assault rifles (SB 196) and bump stocks (SB 456). Smith filed the House version of the assault weapons ban, while Miami Beach Democrat David Richardson filed the bump stock ban in the House.

None of the bills were heard in committee.

“Floridians overwhelmingly support an assault weapons ban and they want action,” said Stewart. “Our kids have said #NeverAgain. The path to reduce gun violence and prevent these massacres has to include restrictions on assault weapons that only serve the purpose of killing people.”

Stewart will take up the issue when her colleagues debate the Senate’s gun legislation (SB 7026) which establishes the Florida Sheriff’s Marshal Program to arm teachers and faculty.

While the Senate takes up that issue, Mercado and Smith will sit down with survivors and families of victims of the Pulse tragedy, along with parents, students, teachers and advocates to discuss current gun safety proposals introduced by the Legislature.

The roundtable will take place at Acacia Banquet Hall in Orlando. The event begins at 10:00 a.m.

Democrats’ Orlando billboard proclaims ‘Rick Scott did nothing’ after Pulse

Democrats have launched billboards in Orlando and Tallahassee that declare that Gov. Rick Scott did nothing to address gun safety following the June 12, 2016, Pulse nightclub massacre in Orlando.

The Florida Democratic Party has leased two billboards, and the one in Orlando went live Friday. The message charges that the Republican governor’s commitment to addressing gun violence since the Feb. 14 massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School lacked in the days following the Pulse mass shooting.

Specifically, the 612 days that transpired between the two tragedies.

The Democrats’ message is one of several in rotation on that particular digital billboard in Orlando. It cites an editorial published in the Sun-Sentinel of South Florida and presents this message to drivers heading westbound on Colonial Drive toward downtown Orlando:



–The Sun Sentinel”

The billboard faces the route downtown from one of Orlando’s largest Hispanic communities, Azalea Park. Many of the 49 people murdered at Pulse were Hispanic as the mass murder occurred during the popular nightclub’s Latino night. That east-side community was particularly hard hit.

The Tallahassee billboard will go up at Magnolia Road and Mahan Drive, facing inbound traffic, and go live on Sunday.

“Rick Scott’s long record of opposing common-sense gun safety measures shows exactly who he is: a self-serving politician who says one thing and does the opposite — while Floridians pay the price,” Florida Democratic Party Executive Director Juan Penalosa said in a news release announcing the billboards.

“He broke his promise and did nothing to make Floridians safer from gun violence after the Pulse tragedy because he was more concerned about looking out for his political interests and the agenda of his gun lobby backers. Now he’s ignoring the clear calls from Parkland students and gun safety advocates by refusing to back an assault weapons ban.“

The Sun-Sentinel editorial that the billboard cited criticized Scott and President Donald Trump‘s responses to the Parkland shooting, as well as Scott for refusing to consider a ban on assault weapons in the wake of the Pulse shooting.

It didn’t explicitly refer to the period between Pulse and Parkland or enumerate the days.

The editorial stated: “After Sandy Hook, Pulse, the Fort Lauderdale airport shooting or any other mass shooting, Scott did nothing on guns or school safety.”

Scott’s office responded Friday with the following statement: “Following the terrorist attack at the Pulse Nightclub, Governor Scott proposed and took action on ways to make our state safer against threats of terrorism. The Governor proposed and then signed $5.8 million for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to add 46 counterterrorism agents to the Terrorism Task Forces. This year, the Governor also proposed $1.3 million to the FDLE for incident command vehicles and emergency ordinance disposal vehicles to strengthen counterterrorism and intelligence efforts.”

John Boehner brings support, challenge for Scott Sturgill backers in CD 7 race

Republican congressional candidate Scott Sturgill got the backing of former Speaker of the U.S. House John Boehner Thursday night as he offered a challenge to Republicans to go “all in” for the businessman in the contest for Florida’s 7th Congressional District.

Sturgill, a Sanford businessman, hosted Boehner at a Lake Mary fundraising event attended by about 125 on Thursday for his Republican primary race against state Rep. Mike Miller of Winter Park. According to a news release issued by Sturgill’s campaign, the retired Ohio congressman indirectly referenced Miller and a third Republican in the contest, Patrick Weingart of Altamonte Springs, with a call to clear the field for a Sturgill challenge in the fall to Democratic U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy of Winter Park.

In addition to Boehner, the event also drew former U.S. Rep. Sandy Adams of Oviedo, Seminole County Republican State Committeewoman Susie Dolan and businessman and philanthropist David Maus, among others.

“This impacts the race because we are the campaign with the momentum right now and leaders and Republicans in the 7th District know that,” said Frank Torres, a campaign consultant and former local political journalist recently hired as campaign communications director by Sturgill. “The speaker is just the beginning of a list of leaders from Washington and here in Central Florida that will be publicly supporting our campaign. We’re out of the gate and picking up speed. The other candidates in this primary can’t say that right now. You’re not going to win in November if it’s March and your campaign hasn’t gotten out of bed yet.”

The district covers Seminole County and north-central Orange County. Nationally, Republicans are targeting the seat as one they hope to win back this November.

David Smith picks up more local officials’ endorsements in HD 28 contest

Republican House District 28 candidate David Smith has picked up several more endorsement from local officials in Seminole County including County Tax Collector Joel Greenberg, and officials who praised his education and environmental views.

In addition to Greenberg, Smith’s campaign announced the new backings of Seminole County School Board Member Abby Sanchez and Seminole County Soil and Water District Vice Chairman David Mahnken on Thursday.

“He is a true patriot and will serve House District 28 well and faithfully,” Greenberg said of the retired U.S. Marines colonel, in a news release issued by Smith’s campaign.

“He is a proven leader and I’m confident that education will always be a priority for him,” Sanchez stated.

“His working knowledge and understanding of the environmental changes facing Florida comes from his willingness to listen and learn,” Mahnken said.

Smith, of Winter Springs, faces Democrat Lee Mangold of Casselberry in the contest seeking to succeed Republican state Rep. Jason Brodeur in the eastern Seminole County HD 28.

In addition to announcing the new endorsements, Smith’s campaign also announced a new fundraiser to be hosted by Seminole County Sheriff Dennis Lemma on the evening of March 12 at the Cork & Olive restaurant in Lake Mary.

“I’m very pleased to have the full support of School Board Member Abby Sanchez, Vice Chair David Mahnken and Tax Collector Joel Greenberg” Smith stated in the release. “They are all principled leaders in their respective roles, serving our community to make it a better place for our residents, students and businesses. Their support is greatly appreciated.”

Anna Eskamani draws backing from National Iranian American Council

Democratic House District 47 candidate Anna Eskamani, an Orlando native born of Iranian immigrants, has garnered the national endorsement of the National Iranian American Council Action, her campaign announced Tuesday.

Eskamani is just the second candidate the organization has endorsed this cycle, after a congressional candidate in California. NAIC Action is a political action organization related to the National Iranian American Council, and committed to “advancing peace and championing the priorities of the Iranian-American community” and to “maximize the political influence of Iranian Americans and the pro-peace community.”

Eskamani is seeking election to what is expected to be an open seat in HD 47, with Republican incumbent state Rep. Mike Miller running for Congress. Two Republicans are running for the seat, Stockton Reeves VI of Winter Park and Mikeala Nix of Orlando.

“We’re excited to announce our endorsement of Anna Eskamani, who is running for the Florida House in District 47,” Jamal Abadi, executive director of NIAC Action, stated in an email blast. “Her connections to the Iranian-American community, and the issues that affect us, run deep – she has organized activists locally against [President Donald] Trump’s Muslim ban and would become the first Iranian American ever elected to the Florida legislature!”

Eskamani, whose mother was born in Tehran and father in Tabriz, before they each immigrated to the United States and eventually met in Orlando, added the following statement in the news release:

“We are a nation of immigrants, and my story is not unlike that of many other fellow Americans, or of those who aspire to become American citizens one day. My personal identity and experiences compel me to be a passionate advocate for all people, and to push back against political agendas that marginalize and attack people because of how they look, talk, or who they worship. I will always stand up to bigotry and hate, and thank NIAC Action for bringing a national spotlight to our campaign and movement.”

‘Brazil is back!’ declares Orlando airport director

In an economic wave sure to splash throughout the tourism economies of Orlando and Florida, projections and airline activity indicate that a rebounding Brazilian economy is expected to show up big at Orlando International Airport this year, officials said Tuesday.

“Brazil is back! And this resurgence from our third largest international market brings a welcomed boost to the local economy,” Phil Brown, CEO of the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority, said in a news release Tuesday.

Brown’s declaration comes after news of economic projections showing a strong rebound in Brazil this year from an economic recession, along with news of airline seat statistics indicating that Brazilian visitation is on track to shatter record numbers.

Brazil long has been the third biggest market for international tourists coming to Orlando, behind Great Britain and Canada. But Brazilians’ visitation dropped sharply in recent years because of that country’s economic woes. And the loss of many Brazilian tourists has been a weight on the rising Orlando and Florida tourism industry.

According to the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority, scheduled airline seats from Brazil to Orlando this year now number 486,000. That’s more than 30 percent above the record of 361,000 set in 2016. GOAA also cited a Reuters report forecasting that Brazil’s GDP would increase 2.3 percent in 2018, compared with 0.7 percent in 2017, citing growth in local demand, continuing improvement in household spending and increases in investments and capital expenditure.

Part of the anticipated visitation increase also is supported by, an increase in the numbers of airlines flying between Orlando and Brazil, and an increase in the number of Brazilian cities to which they will connect. GOL Airlines is coming to Orlando this year, connecting with the new Brazilian destinations of the capital Brasilia and the historic north coast city of Fortaleza. LATAM airlines also is adding service to Fortaleza this year. LATAM, Azul, and Delta already provide service between Orlando and Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo, Recife, and Belo Horizonte.

“With the recent additional seats from Brazil, the projected economic impact for 2018 is nearly $1 billion, up 111% from 2013,” Brown added.

Democrat Joy Goff-Marcil enters HD 30 race

Democrat Joy Goff-Marcil, a lawyer who is on the Maitland City Council and serves as vice mayor, has entered the contest to run for Florida House District 30.

Goff-Marcil is the second Democrat in the race, joining Clark Anderson of Winter Park, seeking to take on Republican state Rep. Bob Cortes of Altamonte Springs this year.

A lawyer working primarily in probate law, she’s been a Maitland resident since childhood. She was first elected to the Maitland City Council in 2013, and re-elected in 2016 without opposition. Prior to running for office, she’d been a longtime advocate for school and health care issues in the area. She served as regional coordinator for the Florida Department of Health’s “Communities Putting Prevention to Work” program.

Goff-Marcil, 49, attended Maitland Middle School, graduated from Winter Park High School, earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from Florida State University, and a law degree from Stetson University, according to her Maitland City Council biography. She and her husband Rich Marcil have three children.

She filed her candidacy papers on Feb. 16.

District 30 covers south-central Seminole County and north-central Orange County.

Orange County voters might not see a Democrat for Sheriff on 2018 ballot

Orange County voters might not have the choice to vote for a Democrat for the position of sheriff this year even though it is a partisan office and Democrats dominate the county’s voter rolls.

There are two registered Democrats, Orlando Police Chief John Mina and retired Florida Highway Patrol Maj. Jose “Joe” Lopez, running for sheriff in Orange County. But neither will appear on November’s ballot as a Democrat. Mina already is running as an independent, and Lopez would have to change to independent status to stay in the race this year.

They both used to be Republicans. And they both switched and joined the Democratic Party last year — too late to be able to qualify to run this year as Democrats.

Officially, the office doesn’t come up again for re-election until 2020, so both Mina and Lopez would be OK if that’s when the election took place. Demings, who was just re-elected in 2016, is running for Orange County mayor this year. He is expected to stay in that race [for which he’s the early favorite] and therefore submit his resignation by June 8, to take effect in December. That would open up his sheriff’s office to special elections this year for a two-year term, with partisan primaries set for August 28 and a general election for Nov. 6.

Florida law says a candidate has to wait 365 days to run as a partisan after joining a party.

Mina switched his party affiliation on Sept. 1, 2017, becoming a Democrat four days too late to be able to run in the 2018 Democratic primary. Two weeks ago, he filed to run for sheriff as an independent candidate.

Lopez switched his party affiliation on Dec. 19, 2017, becoming a Democrat months too late to run under the party. Nonetheless, on Feb. 1 he filed to run for sheriff as a Democrat. He would have to switch to independent status by the June qualifying period to be on a ballot this year, Orange County Supervisor of Elections Bill Cowles said.

Lopez said on Monday he was considering an independent run. But he also held out the prospect that Demings might change his mind. So, Lopez said he is considering not officially revising his status unless and until he officially has to, and that would not be until Demings submits his resignation.

That’s not a problem for the third candidate in the contest. Retired Orange County Sheriff’s Capt. Thomas Stroup has been a Republican at least since 1994, which is how far back the county’s electronic records go.

If any other Republicans enter the race, there would be an August 28 primary, and Stroup would be in it. If not, or if he wins such a primary, he can appear on the Nov. 6 ballot as a Republican.

Meanwhile, if any other Democrats decide to get into the race, they could grab the Democrats’ track onto a November ballot that also could feature Republican Stroup and independents Mina and Lopez.

Normally, Democrats can expect a huge advantage in Orange County. Party members currently hold all county constitutional offices: sheriff, supervisor of elections, clerk of courts, tax collector, comptroller and property appraiser. Forty-two percent of the county’s voters are registered as Democrats, and 27 percent as Republicans. Independent voters make up 31 percent of the Orange County electorate.

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