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With one state to go, Linda Stewart calls on Florida to pass ERA

Democratic state Sen. Linda Stewart said Friday there will be a big push in the next Legislative Session to pass a bill ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution now that Illinois has approved it, leaving just one more state needed for adoption.

“We only need one more state. There’s 13,” that have not ratified what could become the 28th Amendment, Stewart said Friday. “I want us to be the one that clinches it…. This is the year. This is it. It’s gotta get done.”

On Thursday the Illinois House of Representatives voted to approve a bill ratifying the amendment in that state, making Illinois the 37th state to approve it. Thirty-eight are needed to enshrine it in the U.S. Constitution.

Bills to ratify the ERA in Florida are introduced every year in the Florida Legislature, last year by state Sen. Audrey Gibson, the Jacksonville Democrat. That bill was never heard in a committee, like previous efforts.

Stewart said she and other ERA backers are counting on several factors: more women getting elected to the Florida Senate, increasing interest in the amendment because of the #MeToo movement [which was cited as a major factor in Illinois,] and that the next state to say yes gets to be the one that gets credit for enshrining it in the Constitution, if that happens.

“Our state can be the one to finally declare that in this nation, no matter where a woman lives or works, her rights under the law are fully protected,”  the Orlando Democrat stated in a news release.

The Equal Rights Amendment states simply that, “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.”  Congress approved it and it was sent to the states for consideration of ratification in 1972. There is some legal dispute over whether the amendment can now be considered adopted with 38 states, since a time limit expired.

The states that have not ratified it are Utah, Arizona and a block of 11 mostly southern states: Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, Missouri, and Oklahoma.

“Surely, with the dawn of the #MeToo movement and the reckoning many powerful men have been forced to confront, Florida can join the 21st century to finally ratify the ERA and stop sexual discrimination and harassment in American culture,” Stewart added. “For too many years, legislation has been filed, and it has yet to be heard. This is our year to put the ratification into Florida law and no longer be one of a handful of antiquated nay-sayers.”

Darren Soto blasts deportation child-separation policy as ‘deeply immoral’

Democratic U.S. Rep. Darren Soto Thursday morning blasted the federal deportation and political asylum policy to separate children from their families who have crossed the American border without documentation, calling the policy “cruel” and “deeply immoral.”

Soto, joined by Democratic state Rep. John Cortes of Kissimmee at Soto’s Kissimmee congressional district office, Soto described the policy as a change undertaken by the Donald Trump administration and called on the president to immediately reverse it.

“We are gathered here to participate in a nationwide protest of the cruel and terrible change in policy by the Trump administration to deliberately separate immigrant families going through the deportation process or the political asylum process as part of their official policy,” Soto said.

“We have also seen over the last couple days in Washington an admission by [The Department of Homeland Security] that nearly 1,500 children have been lost, misplaced,” Soto continued. “And so we’re here today to discuss the effects of this cruel policy and to call upon the Trump administration to change their ways with regards to separating families.

He argued that children not only lose the representation of their parents in the process but many become wards of the state for months or years.

“But there’s something deeper than that. There’s just something deeply cruel, something deeply immoral about separating children as young as infants from their parents,” he said.

The news conference Thursday was part of a nationwide protest. In Kissimmee, Soto also was joined by families who have been affected by the policy and by representatives of the advocacy groups Mi Familia Vota, Young American Dreamers, and other organizations.

“In the most powerful free country in the world, we have had a history of immigrants coming from all over the world> there are few people other than Native Americans who can claim this place originally as their own. In this country, we should be uniting families, not dividing them. We should be encouraging families to stay together, not ripping them apart,” Soto concluded.

Mike Miller fundraising effort calls for ending ‘so-called Russia investigation’

Republican congressional candidate state Rep. Mike Miller is fundraising with a letter declaring “it’s time to end the so-called Russia investigation.”

In the campaign fundraising letter distributed Thursday by email, Miller is borrowing the language and position President Donald Trump is using to try to discredit the investigation into potential Russian meddling in U.S. elections, calling it a “witch hunt,” and tying frustration with the investigation to Democratic U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy, the incumbent in Florida’s 7th Congressional District.

Before Miller could meet Murphy in the November election for CD 7, he first must vanquish Scott Sturgill and Vennia Francois in the August 28 Republican primary. For potential Republican voters, the fundraising letter places Miller firmly with Trump in views of the Russian investigation, though the letter does not actually name Trump or pledge any support to him.

The consensus of public opinion polling finds a majority, albeit a shrinking one, of American voters want the investigation to continue; but the opinion divide is extremely partisan, with Republicans virtually united in opposing the investigation. A recent Monmouth University poll, for example, found just 18 percent of Republicans want the investigation to continue, while 54 percent of independents do, and 82 percent of Democrats do. Other polls have found similar results.

The voter base in CD 7, which covers Seminole County and north and central Orange County, is about 35 percent Republican, 36 percent Democrat and 29 percent independent.

“Let’s be frank—it’s time to end the so-called Russia investigation,” Miller’s fundraising pitch begins.

“The witch hunt has gone on now for more than a year and Washington needs to focus on real issues of concern, like the economy, healthcare, immigration and national security.

“To the liberals in Washington—and particularly the media—Russia is ALL they really want to talk about… but like you, I want action on all the important issues facing Central Florida families—not political gamesmanship.”

Miller then warns that if Democrats regain control of the U.S. House in the November elections and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi regains control, “we’ll have ANOTHER two years of pointless ‘Russian Collusion’ type inquiries. And no telling what will be next!”

Keep your eye on this race: Elizabeth Fetterhoff challenging Patrick Henry in HD 26

Daytona Beach Democratic Rep. Patrick Henry picked up another challenger in his bid for a second term in Volusia County-based House District 26.

DeLand Republican Elizabeth Fetterhoff opened her campaign account Tuesday, joining Michael Cantu in the GOP primary for the Democratic-leaning district.

Fetterhoff spent more than four years working as the legislative assistant to Republican Sen. Dorothy Hukill, whose SD 14 seat covers parts of Volusia and Brevard counties. Since leaving that position in August, Fetterhoff has worked as the government affairs director for the New Smyrna Beach Board of Realtors.

The Florida State University alumna is said to be a favorite of Republican leadership in the House and is likely to come out swinging on the fundraising trail, although she wouldn’t have to bring in all that much to surge past Henry’s as yet uninspiring finance reports.

As of April 30, the freshman Democrat had raised just $15,500 for his re-election bid with $8,685 in the bank heading into May. That’s only a tad more than his primary challenger, Percy Lee Williamson, who raised $5,230 during the two weeks he was a candidate in April. He has nearly $5,000 of that money on hand.

Cantu, the Republican nominee in the district in 2014 and 2016, has only raised $505 for his campaign since filing a year ago. He had $277 in his account heading into May.

Henry beat Cantu by about 5 points in the 2016 cycle. Prior to his election the seat was held by former Democratic Rep. Dwayne Taylor, who went unopposed when the seat was redrawn in 2012 and scored his own 5-point win over Cantu in the 2014 cycle.

The seat was also carried by Hillary Clinton in 2016, though by only a fraction of a point.

Anna Eskamani gains backing of national Iranian-American group

Democrat Anna Eskamani, a proud daughter of Iranian immigrants, has received the backing of the national Iranian-American Political Action Committee in her quest for the Florida House District 47 seat, her campaign announced Wednesday.

The PAC is the political action arm of the Public Affairs Alliance of Iranian-Americans, and promotes and contributes to the elections of candidates “who work to foster greater understanding between the people of Iran and the United States.”

“A daughter of immigrants from Iran, Anna’s life story epitomizes American principles and values of hard work, perseverance, equality, and commitment to family,” IAPAC Political Director Morad Ghorban stated in a news release issued by Eskamani’s campaign. “A proven leader and advocate, she has worked tirelessly to help people in her community. We have full confidence that Anna’s passion for public service, commitment to understanding the issues, and finding common ground will get results for the state of Florida. As an organization that encourages Iranian Americans to actively participate in the democratic process and to give back to America as it has given to us, we are extremely proud to endorse Anna Eskamani for Florida House District 47.”

Eskamani will face the winner of the August 28 Republican primary, Orlando lawyer Mikaela Nix or Winter Park businessman Stockton Reeves VI, in the November election for HD 47, which covers north and central Orange County. They seek to succeed state Rep. Mike Miller, who is running for Congress.

Eskamani’s mother was born in Tehran, Iran, and her father in Tabriz, Iran. They came to the United States separately and met in Orlando.

The news release said she still has “a great deal of family still in Iran, family who have been impacted directly by [President Donald] Trump’s Muslim [immigration] ban.”

“Both of my parents were born in Iran, but they made Orlando their home. We are a nation of immigrants, and my family’s story is not unlike those of other Americans. My personal identity coupled with my lived experiences compel me to care deeply about others, and to push back against political agendas that marginalize and attack members of our community because of how they look, talk, or who they worship. I am committed to finding peace through policy, and will fight to protect all Floridians,” she stated in the release.

Darren Soto gets Joe Biden’s backing in CD 9 race

Former Vice President Joe Biden has endorsed Democratic U.S. Rep. Darren Soto in his re-election campaign, giving the freshman congressman another big backer from the Democratic establishment for his primary fight with his predecessor, former U.S. Alan Grayson.

In a statement released by Soto’s re-election campaign Tuesday, Biden, the presumed front-runner among Democrats considering running for president in 2020, praised Soto’s legislative efforts but also compared him with himself, reflecting on his image as a former working-class guy who never forgot his roots.

“Darren grew up in a neighborhood like I did, where a job was about a lot more than a paycheck,” Biden stated in the news release. “He knows that to have a strong economy we must strengthen and grow the middle class and that is why I am a proud to support Darren Soto, a proven progressive, for re-election.”

Soto grew in a small town in New Jersey as his father worked and went to night school. Grayson also emerged from a working class background.

Soto faces Grayson, who held the seat from 2013-’16, in the August 28 Democratic primary. The winner takes on Saint Cloud businessman Wayne Liebnitzky in November. They’re all running in Florida’s 9th Congressional District, covering southern Orange County, Osceola County, and eastern Polk County.

“Darren Soto is a highly effective legislator who keeps his head down, works hard, and delivers for his constituents. Central Floridians couldn’t have a better person representing them in Congress,” Biden stated. “Darren helped President [Barack] Obama and I get elected twice and now he is working to protect the progress we made and help build upon it. We need Darren in Congress to keep our kids safe from guns; defend Social Security, Medicare, and Obamacare; protect our environment; and fight for our values.

“Darren grew up in a neighborhood like I did, where a job was about a lot more than a paycheck. He knows that to have a strong economy we must strengthen and grow the middle class and that is why I am a proud to support Darren Soto, a proven progressive, for re-election,” Biden added.

Three Central Florida congressional candidates top $1 million in net worths

The latest personal finance reports for candidates running for Congress in Central Florida find the Florida’s 7th Congressional District race includes two candidates with net worths of more than $1 million, incumbent Democrat U.S Rep. Stephanie Murphy of Winter Park and Republican challenger Scott Sturgill of Sanford.

They and Democratic former U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, who this year is seeking to win back his seat in Florida’s 9th Congressional District, are the only clear millionaires among the dozen candidates running in Orlando’s four congressional races, according to personal financial disclosures on file at the U.S. House of Representatives Clerk’s office.

Incumbent U.S. Reps. Val Demings and Darren Soto, both Orlando Democrats, have filed for deadline extensions and have not yet filed their financial disclosures. U.S. Rep. Bill Posey, a Rockledge Republican, has filed but his report has not yet been posted. Likewise, Republican CD 7 candidate Vennia Francois sought an extension, while Republican CD 9 candidate Wayne Liebnitzky filed a waiver, indicating he has not yet crossed the campaign finance threshold that would require a personal financial disclosure report. None of them had reported topping $1 million in minimum net worth in previous years.

Murphy, including assets and income from her husband, Winter Park businessman Sean Murphy, reported the net worth for the couple at between $2.2 million and $6.6 million.

Sturgill reported assets of between $1.6 million and $6.4 million and did not report any liabilities.

State Rep. Mike Miller, battling Sturgill and Francois for the August 28 Republican primary nomination in CD 7, covering Seminole County and north and central Orange County, reported a net worth that could be as high as $1 million, but that would assume almost all of his assets at maximum levels and liabilities at minimum levels.

Congressional financial disclosure reports require candidates and members to provide only ballpark ranges on the values of their assets and liabilities, and of earned income. The official forms offer check boxes for such ranges as $50,001-through-$100,000, $100,001-through-$250,000, etc. While sometimes the candidates volunteer more specific figures, usually their net worths can only be estimated as somewhere within broad ranges, based on those reports.

U.S. Rep. Murphy’s and husband Sean Murphy’s income last year was anywhere from $644,000 to $4.3 million, based on the ranges in the boxes she checked, and including her $174,000 salary as a member of Congress.

Much of the Murphys’ income derives from real estate development investments that appear, based on the projects’ names, to be located in the rapidly-growing northeast corridor of the San Antonio, Texas, metropolitan area. She reported at least $300,000 in income, and as much as $3 million, from those investments last year, all in her husband’s name. She also reported additional real estate development investments that appear to be in other parts of Texas and in the Waterford area of Orlando, though they’re generating far less income.

She also reported his receipt of at least $100,000 from a holding company associated with his family’s investments in the Full Sail University family of companies in Orlando.

Sturgill’s primary assets and sources of income are in his companies, the Barfield-Sturgill Ventures Inc., a holding company for his first-responders’ equipment company Durable Safety Products; and the DSP Partners LLC holding company. His assets in the former are worth between $1 million and $5 million; in the latter, $500,001 to $1 million.

Those two companies and his wife’s salary combined to provide the Sturgills with about $300,000 in income last year.

Miller’s reported assets, ranging between $318,000 and $1.3 million total, were all in various investment funds. He also reported a mortgage, a car loan, and a student loan as liabilities.

CD 7 Democratic challenger Chardo Richardson listed less than $18,000 in assets, student loans as his only liabilities, and an income of $33,750.

Grayson, who is running against Soto in the Democratic primary for CD 9, covering south Orange County, Osceola County, and east Polk County, reported a net worth that appears far lower than what had been reported in previous financial disclosures. His 2018 report shows his net worth ranging from $3.8 million to $13.9 million. Previous campaign finance reports had shown his net worth with a minimum of $13.9 million as recently as 2014.

Most of Grayson’s money was reported invested in various investment funds, including as much as $1.1 million combined in three of the Sibylline Funds that he had founded. He originally had named those funds after himself, a matter which had led to controversy during his 2016 failed run for the U.S. Senate, and which forced him to rename them after the mythological Greek profit Sibyl.

Grayson reported an income last year of between $1 million and $2 million from wife Dena Grayson’s pharmaceutical research firm MedExpert Consulting, and Velocity Daily Inv ETF.

Wade Darius, a Democrat challenging Demings in the Democratic primary in Florida’s 10th Congressional District, covering west Orange County, reported only a small balance in a 401K program as an asset, and student loans as his only liabilities.

He listed a combined income of about $190,000 from his salary with SunTrust Mortgage, earned income from his Team Darius Homes, and business income from E-Source Tax Express.

Democrat Sanjay Patel, who is running against Posey in Florida’s 8th Congressional District, covering the Space Coast and east Orange County, reported assets between $348,000 and $896,000, including investments in NetFlix and Starbucks, and money held by various investment funds. The only liability he reported was a student loan, of as much as $50,000. He reported income, derived from early distributions from his investments, of about $55,000 last year.

Darren Soto, Hispanic caucus renew push against Census citizenship question

Orlando’s Democratic U.S. Rep. Darren Soto and 20 other Hispanic Democrats in Congress have renewed their plea that the U.S. Census abandon its plans to ask people if they are American citizens during the 2020 headcount.

Soto was one of the lead signatories on a letter sent earlier this week to U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross contending that if the citizenship question is asked it will lead noncitizens not to participate, jeopardizing the accuracy of the count, especially in states such as Florida with high Hispanic populations. And that could potentially take “billions of dollars in federal funds and accurate congressional representation from communities across the country. “

In addition to Soto, the letter was fronted by U.S. Rep. Lou Correa, a California Democrat. Correa is chair of the all-Democrat Congressional Hispanic Caucus, and Soto is the chairman of the caucus’s Civil Rights and voting rights task force. Nineteen other members of the task force signed the letter.

“The census questionnaire is vital to ensure accurate representation and allocation of resources in our communities for the next decade,” the Members wrote.

They continued: “Census data is used to reapportion seats in the House of Representatives, to realign congressional districts, and is a factor in the formulas that are used to distribute hundreds of billions of dollars in federal funds each year to state and local communities. Additionally, businesses and organizations base their financial decisions on census data.”

Darren Soto picks up Emgage Muslim group endorsement in CD9 race

Orlando U.S. Rep. Darren Soto has picked up the endorsement of a national Muslim civil rights group in his quest for re-election, announcing Thursday that the Emgage PAC is backing him because of his efforts on behalf of Muslims caught up in the White House’s Muslim policies.

“On the first day of President [Donald] Trump’s hateful, useless Muslim ban, friends and family of Muslims in Central Florida called Congressman Soto because their loved ones were being held at the Orlando Airport. Soto rushed down there and was able to help them re-enter our country even as others were being turned away at airports around the country,” his campaign stated in a news release. “Since then, Soto has worked with Emgage to fight the Muslim ban and other discrimination and helped gain approval to build a Muslim American Community Center in Orlando.”

Emgage (formerly EmergeUSA) is a national organization, which Soto’s campaign says has a strong Central Florida presence, dedicated to increasing the civic engagement of Muslim Americans. The organization strives to “build the political awareness and capacity of Muslim Americans to engage on key policy issues,” according to its website.

The endorsement continues the Soto campaign’s efforts to build up backing from progressive and Civil Rights leaders, including that last week of U.S. Rep. John Lewis, as a potential political firewall against the Democratic primary challenge being brought by his predecessor, former U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, who has some national backing as a progressive bulldog.

The winner of the August 28 Democratic primary will face Saint Cloud businessman Wayne Liebnitzky.

“Soto is proud to stand with Muslim Americans, and all Americans who believe that a welcoming, inclusive culture is what truly makes America great,” the Soto campaign release stated.

Geraldine Thompson says relationships she built would make difference in HD 44

Flanked by her successor in the Florida Senate, Democratic state Sen. Randolph Bracy, Republican former Orange County Commissioner Scott Boyd, and others, Democratic House candidate Geraldine Thompson vowed she’s the Democrat who can flip a district forever held by Republicans.

Thompson, a state senator for four years and state representative for eight years in a previous tenure in another district, argued that she “knows the ropes” and, a point she stressed repeatedly, has established relationships with many current lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.

Thompson faces three Democrats in the August 28 primary in House District 44, covering southwest Orange County, Eddy Dominguez, Margaret Melanie Gold, and Matthew Matin. All of them want a shot at Republican state Rep. Bobby Olszewski next fall, in a district that in previous elections Democrats didn’t bother to put up any candidates.

Those points and her name recognition, as someone who has been elected to represent the HD 44 voters when she was in the Senate, led her to express confidence that she would be the first non-Republican to win.

“Of the four individuals I am the only one who has run a campaign, who has been elected to office. Oakland is a community I served when I was the senator who represented District 12,” Thompson said. “I have a proven track record of getting things done. You might speculate, you might surmise what other individuals might don But you can look at my track record to see the kinds of things I have been capable of doing to do in the past. To look at what a person has done gives you an indication of what they will do.”

She charged that prior to the last redistricting the area was gerrymandered to the point that it was impossible for Democrats, but now she judged the district to be about even, with roughly 45,000 Republican registered voters, 41,000 Democratic registered voters, and 40,000 independent voters.

Bracy, who has been friends with Olszewski since high school and once endorsed him in a failed Orange County Commission run, said Thompson has been a family friend for decades, and that he watched and learned from her when he first came to the Florida House.

“She has always been a tireless advocate for the Central Florida region. She’s always been an excellent legislator. She’s always knowledgable about every bill being debated and passionate in her progressive stance on issues of importance,” said Bracy. “She is still well respected amongst lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, for her fierce advocacy, her solution-oriented approach to matters important to our state, but also for her work back home in west Orange County.”

Boyd, who is a Republican political rival of Olszewski’s who has twice previously endorsed his opponents, spared no enthusiasm in extolling Thompson.

“We are in need of great leadership here in House District 44 and you are absolutely the candidate that will take that to the next level,” Boyd said. “I know first hand, I’ve seen her ability to work across party lines. I’ve seen how she has worked with our municipalities within the district she has represented, and the hard work she will represent for us…. I think she is the most absolute, most well-equipped individual that we will have for House District 44 and I am 150 percent standing behind her bid.”

At an event on the front steps of the Oakland Town Hall joined by Oakland Mayor Kathy Stark and Oakland Town Commissioners Joseph McMullen and Rick Polland, Thompson and her supporters characterized her as someone who delivered state resources to Oakland and other parts of west Orange County she has previously represented.

The event was arranged to roll out their endorsements, along with those of Bracy, Boyd, and others who did not attend, including Democratic state Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith and Orange County Clerk of Courts Tiffany Moore Russell.

“She has been a champion of the town of Oakland during her time previously in Tallahassee,” Stark said, crediting her with bringing the state funding necessary to bring sewer service to the town, among others.

“I waged this kind of fight for Oakland, for Winter Garden, for Apopka, because west Orange County is the center of growth. This is where the growth is going to be. We see with with Horizons West there are going to be thousands of new people in west Orange County, and want to support economic development in west Orange County,” Thompson said.

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