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Stephanie Murphy hits $1M-raised milestone in CD 7

Freshman U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy has passed the $1 million mark in fundraising for her re-election campaign in Florida’s 7th Congressional District.

Her campaign touted the fundraising milestone, as well as Murphy’s $310,000 effort in the third quarter in a Thursday email, where spokesman Zachary Poe said the Orlando Democrat is gearing up to counter “partisan attacks” hitting her from the right.

“Stephanie Murphy has a strong record of bipartisan cooperation and delivering results for central Florida, which is why she has strong support from Democrats, Republicans, and independents,” he said. “National Republicans have already started launching negative attacks against Stephanie Murphy after only months in office, so we are raising the resources we need to fight back.”

Murphy’s new report has not been processed yet by the Federal Elections Commission, but at the end of the second quarter she had raised a total of $699,000 and had about $519,000 on hand.

Murphy beat out longtime Republican U.S. Rep. John Mica for the seat, 52-48, last year. Florida courts ordered new district lines ahead of the 2016 elections, making the Central Florida seat much friendlier to Democratic candidates.

At least one of the opponents looking to flip the seat back next year will be Winter Park Republican state Rep. Mike Miller, who announced he would leave HD 47 to run for Murphy’s seat over the summer.

His campaign was barely off the ground before the end of the second quarter, and hasn’t touted Q3 numbers yet, but he’s had a number of big-name Republicans show up to help him on the fundraising trail.

Victor Torres blasts federal response, Donald Trump tweets on Puerto Rico

Declaring that “Americans are dying as we speak,” state Sen. Victor Torres blasted the Puerto Rico federal disaster relief efforts in an impassioned call at the Florida Capitol Thursday.

Torres, an Orlando Democrat who’s been active in the Florida-side of the relief efforts since Hurricane Maria devastated the island three weeks ago, also criticized President Donald Trump‘s Thursday tweet that had declared federal relief agencies cannot stay in Puerto Rico forever.

He joined key members of the Florida House Democratic Caucus including state Reps. John Cortes of Kissimmee and Carlos Guillermo Smith of Orlando.

Torres, a former Marine who is Puerto Rican, blamed a lack of coordination between the U.S. Military, working with FEMA and government officials in Puerto Rico in transporting and delivering the relief supplies, and called the preparation and response to the disaster by the federal government “inadequate.”

“Americans are dying as we speak,” Torres said. “While fellow Americans have generously rallied to donate relief supplies and money to support recovery efforts in Puerto Rico, the federal government has been too slow to respond to this disaster and there is a total failure of coordinated relief efforts to provide supplies and support to the island.

“There are tons of donated supplies like food, water, medicine and other vital resources that are either sitting in warehouses here on the mainland waiting to be sent to Puerto Rico, or even worse, containers of supplies sitting in the seaports and airports on the island that are not being distributed to people who are in desperate need.”

Torres noted that 80 percent of Puerto Rico still is without power and nearly half the island has no drinking water or functioning sewer services.

And then Thursday came Trump’s latest tweets, which also quoted journalist Sharyl Attkisson declaring that Perto Rico survived the Hurricanes and “now a financial crisis looms largely of their own making.”

“A total lack of accountability says the Governor. Electric and all infrastructure were disaster before the hurricanes. Congress to decide how much to spend,” Trump tweeted.

“We cannot keep FEMA, the Military & the First Responders, who have been amazing (under the most difficult circumstances) in P.R. forever!” Trump tweeted.

“Just this morning, the president tweeted that Puerto Ricans cannot expect relief workers to stay there forever,” Torres replied Thursday. “No one expects FEMA to be there indefinitely, but we should all expect and demand them to stay until they complete their job of aiding fellow Americans.”

Aramis Ayala moving on after losing death penalty battle

Eight months after she lit statewide firestorm debates over the death penalty and Florida government separation of powers, and five weeks after she lost those debates in the Florida Supreme Court, Orlando’s State Attorney Aramis Ayala appears at peace.

Speaking with a gathering of journalists Thursday morning, the controversial, still-new state attorney for Florida’s 9th Judicial Circuit, covering Orange and Osceola counties, said she was settling in to pursue her judicial reform agenda, she was pursuing justice, and she was happy.

“I enjoy my office. I enjoy life. Generally, I’m just a happy person. I don’t say that lightly. I enjoy doing what is right,” Ayala said.

Ayala talked Thursday morning at a meeting of the Central Florida chapter of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists. She took questions challenging her now-abandoned opposition in her circuit to death penalty prosecutions, yet largely dismissed any political or personal concerns about where that came from or how much it cost.

If she had any regrets about the consternation her previous position or her six-month battle with Gov. Rick Scott and others had caused for anyone, including the families of murder victims, she wasn’t sharing them. Over café con leche at the Melao Bakery in Orlando.

Ayala, who was elected last year, presented herself as a public official who took a stand based on her interpretation of the law, lost, and has since moved on. She characterized the debate as something that had to happen, it did, and now it’s over.

“I had an interesting start,” she said. “The day I took office we were dealing with the death penalty. And unfortunately, a lot of people only know me for that. But there certainly is more to me as a person, as a lawyer, as prosecutor that deals with that,” Ayala said. “But when I took office, the first conversations I had with prosecutors across the state was dealing with the death penalty. We had a statute that had been ruled unconstitutional two times in less than two years, so we knew there was a problem. That was the first week of me taking office. Then we had the deaths locally of two police officers that we had to deal with. We had internal issues with employees, and ultimately we had retaliatory budget cuts.”

Ayala said she supposed her contentedness came from being a cancer survivor, someone who nearly died from lymphoma as a young woman in law school, and then struggled with avascular necrosis. She said that life experience also taught her “the level of accountability. It teaches you that one day we all have to answer and respond to the right that we lived. And I’ve committed to that.”

On Thursday she sought to turn the focus to initiatives she campaigned on – as opposed to the death penalty, which she did not. Those include creation of aggressive teams of prosecutors to deal with domestic violence and human trafficking. Ayala said that she has gotten those promised units up, operating and prosecuting, and getting convictions, despite state budget cuts of $1.3 million for her office, which for all practical purposes eliminated previous domestic violence money, forcing her to redirect funds from elsewhere.

“I’m… looking at the numbers of homicides in our community that are based upon domestic violence,” she said. “I look at the younger the girls are getting, the more they’re being impacted by domestic violence. I’m looking at how domestic violence can tear up an entire community. And we get a lot of it.”

She said her office also moved forward with other reforms, notably a program in which prosecutors get involved with communities, and her juvenile justice “Project No No,” creating new opportunities for young offenders to go through diversion programs without getting criminal records. She said she has recently hired 20 new assistant prosecutors fresh out of law school.

Pete Clarke looking to tap civic groups, neighborhoods as Orange County mayor

As Orange County Commissioner Pete Clarke looks back on his long and deep involvement in civic organizations leading to election to the commission, and now to a run for mayor, he’s not quite sure how he ever got so involved, but he can’t imagine not having been so active.

With a profession in health care management, Clarke first got pulled into civic involvement when he was running a facility for abused and neglected children, and the experience led to further interests in dealing, through private and non-profit groups, to solve a variety of social ills. It’s who he is as he runs for mayor, Clarke said.

“I’ve been a community person through a variety of organizations. I have abilities and talents I think that will certainly play a role in the next four to eight years to the challenges I see coming,” he said, sitting down this week with Orlando-Rising.

Clarke, in his second term on the commission, filed Tuesday to run for Orange County mayor in 2018. That put him into a rapidly-growing field that includes Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings, Orange County School Board Chairman Bill Sublette, and Orlando regional chamber of commerce president Rob Panepinto.

The election is non-partisan but the parties are fighting for it. Mayor Teresa Jacobs, who is leaving due to term limits, Clarke, Sublette and Panapinto are Republicans; Demings, a Democrat.

Clarke has positioned himself as a small-government advocate who believes the county’s most important role may be as a facilitator, bringing public and private interests together to tackle issues ranging from chronic poverty to the current anticipated influx of Puerto Ricans to Orlando.

Clarke talks about government’s need to stay out of the way of business. Still, he’s cautious about the county allowing development beyond its 1998 service boundaries and voted against the controversial developments planned east of the Econlockhatchee River last year. Instead he said the county needs to follow the model set by Mayor Richard Crotty more than a decade ago in planning the road network, then inviting in development, for what became the Innovation Way corridor in southeast Orange.

He’s concerned about protecting water sources, which he calls a “fragile” resource, adjusting to potential tax revenue losses from the homestead exemption law changes, and the expected migration of tens of thousands, perhaps more, Hurricane Maria-displaced people from Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. Clarke, whose District 3 includes a very large Puerto Rican community, has been highly-active in relief efforts, in his typically low-key way, and also critical of Jacobs’ reluctance to get the county more involved in coordinating those efforts.

He’s convinced the key to raising neighborhoods out of chronic poverty and crime is to get them to feel and function more like neighborhoods, with clean streets, street lighting that works, and community partnerships that make people like living there.

Such socially-focused issues, from improving impoverished, high-crime neighborhoods to helping children, are his bailiwick, his passion, and his priority. That’s where government needs to leverage the brand names and infrastructures of non-profits and businesses, who he said can tackle problems far more efficiently than direct government services.

“Government should be a facilitator. You can see it from the community, and my experience with not-for-profits, how we created the created the Primary Care Access Network, how we dealt with after-school zones with the YMCA and the Boys and Girls Clubs, the central receiving center through Aspire, the juvenile assessment center through HSA. Really we always turn to the private sector because they can do it quicker,” Clarke said. “These are programs that give great results.”

And they improve the community, he said, not just for the affected residents, but overall, he insisted; and that attracts businesses, especially the big corporations.

“You look at all these issues and what we try to do to attack them, I think it makes us a much more attractive community for them to come to. Because corporations today are looking for communities that are not afraid to invest social capital, to tackle social issues,” Clarke said.

“So I think how we do that makes us more attractive to these big-paying companies. That’s another thing we can put out there, that we are attacking these issues. It really is, it’s kind of underneath the veneer. Underneath the veneer is how friendly are you? How do you value education? How do you value different opinions? How do you bring people to the table to address questions? And how do you address newcomers?” he added.

Bobby Olszewski wins HD 44 special election

Robert “Bobby O” Olszewski  rode a grueling Republican primary campaign ending in August to a solid victory Tuesday to win the open seat for Florida’s 44th House District in a special election.

Olszewski, of Winter Garden, won by a 56-44 margin over the Democrats late-entry replacement candidate, businessman Eddy Dominguez of Dr. Phillips, in the special election to replace Republican state Rep. Eric Eisnaugle of Windermere.

“The voters said that Bobby Olszewski is the best representative to represent our hometown community here in District 44. And I couldn’t be more honored and excited to serve them up in Tallahassee,” Olszewski said.

That service will begin immediately. Olszewski got sworn in Tuesday night and said he would immediately depart for Tallahassee, where he expects to begin participating in committee action representing HD 44 starting Wednesday.

Yet the vote tally was far closer than many had expected, especially in a district that Democrats haven’t seriously competed in for more than a decade, and because Dominguez only campaigned for three weeks.

For Olszewski the victory is vindication for an anti-cronyism, conservative economics platform he has been running on for years, first as a Winter Garden city commissioner, then last year as a failed candidate for the Orange County Commission. It’s a platform that has allied him with Florida Speaker of the House Richard Corcoran.

Olszewski entered the race in April, even before Eisnaugle resigned, and has campaigned hard for four months in a district that is very similar to the Orange County Commission district he campaigned in last year, and includes most of the Winter Garden city district that elected him earlier.

“I have absolutely put my entire heart and soul into serving my hometown community. I could not do it without my wife Allison and my daughter Reagan supporting me every step of the way,” Olzewski said.

For Dominguez, the loss nonetheless reflects an impressive start for a first-timer who had barely three weeks to campaign after being appointed to replace the original Democratic nominee, Paul Chandler, who withdrew in mid-September.

Dominguez already is committing to seeking a rematch with Olszewski in the 2018 election, when Olszewski will be seeking a full term.

“We are very proud of what we were able to accomplish in barely three weeks,” Dominguez said. “We won the last day of early voting. We won election day by 4 points. I am especially proud of all the staff, the party, everyone who supported the campaign.

“I think we set the tone for 2018,” he added.

Chandler’s name – not Dominguez’s – appeared on all the ballots, and voters were advised that a vote for Chandler would be counted as a vote for Dominguez. With little money and name recognition he nonetheless took a bigger percentage of votes than any Democratic challenger has managed in a decade.

Just 12,477 votes were cast in the district, representing 10 percent of the voters in a district spanning much of southwest Orange County, including the city of Windermere, the large unincorporated communities of Dr. Phillips and Hunters Creek, parts of the cities of Ocoee and Winter Garden, and almost all of Orlando’s tourism corridor, including the parks and areas around Walt Disney World, Universal Orlando, SeaWorld Orlando and the International Drive corridor.


Pete Clarke to file to run for Orange County mayor

Orange County Commissioner Pete Clarke is planning to file today to run for Orange County mayor.

Clarke advised his friends and supporters last night of his plans, as he prepares to become the third major candidate to file in a little more than a week, and the fourth major candidate to enter the race to succeed term-limited Mayor Teresa Jacobs in the 2018 election.

“Just a quick note to let you know that tomorrow I will file to run for Orange County Mayor,” Clarke stated in a text message he sent out Monday evening. “This is a decision I reached in discussion with my wife, cathie, family, friends and my pastor and in many cases you! Together we can continue to create an inclusive community designed to keep our best and brightest to secure a future of prosperity for all.”

Clarke, a Republican who represents south-central Orange County, has long been plugged into civic organizations and won an upset victory to the commission in 2012, and was easily elected to a second term last year year. An affable commissioner with a professional background in health-care management, Clarke often has used humor to ease tense situations at the commission.

Clarke, who lives in the Conway area of Orange County, enters a race that already has Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings, a Democrat from Windermere; Orange County School Board Chairman Bill Sublette, a Republican from Orlando; and Orlando Chamber of Commerce President Rob Panepinto, a Republican from Winter Park.


Bill Sublette calls for continuing Teresa Jacobs’ legacy in Orange County mayors race

Orange County mayoral candidate Bill Sublette called Monday for the next mayor to be someone who can continue Mayor Teresa Jacobs‘ legacy of open government and offer a proven track record for being tough, and then offered what he called “a very aggressive agenda” involving growth, bikes, buses, education, the environment, and crusading for consumers.

Sublette, chairman of the Orange County School Board for the past seven years, offered himself as heir to Jacobs’ legacy, and touted a record of fighting hard during his time in the Florida House of Representatives and leading the school board for what he thought was right. And then he explored a wide range of issues including some that Jacobs and her predecessors all had discussed but struggled to forward, such as expanding Lynx bus service and linking the county’s bike paths for a countyline-to-countyline network.

After he gave a 14-minute speech introducing his campaign, Sublette explained the Lynx bus service expansion by offering a commitment to something the region’s public bus authority has been wishing for for many years: a permanent, dedicated source of tax money.

Sublette, a Republican lawyer from Orlando, faces Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings, a Democrat from Windermere, and Orlando regional chamber of commerce President Rob Panepinto, a Republican from Winter Park, in seeking to succeed Jacobs next year. Orange County Commissioner Pete Clarke, also a Republican, is expected to file soon to run. Jacobs is leaving office due to term limits.

“We need proven leadership at the helm of county government,” Sublette said. “We need leadership with a track record. We need leadership that understands sometimes you have to fight for what is right. I’m perhaps proudest of my role as school board chair that we’ve shown the willingness to fight when necessary.”

He vowed a “very aggressive agenda,” though many of his ideas have been pursued by past mayors, though perhaps not all with with vigor. The dedicated funding for buses issue is different. For decades, the Central Florida Regional Transportation Authority has run its bus system primarily with whatever money its funding partners, Orange, Osceola and Seminole counties, plus the City of Orlando, have been willing to give it each year. With no tax source of its own, it has never been able to envision, much less enact any major expansions of the the bus network serving Central Florida.

Sublette said later he does not know what dedicated tax source Orange County might recommend, but said there are five or six potential options and it is time the county seriously considered them.

‘I know we need it. And I intend for us to tackle that. I think you tackle that by creating a task force to examine the dedicated funding sources that are out there,” Sublette said.

For those who expect task forces to be roads to non-action, Sublette earlier proudly pointed to two he chaired in the early 2000s, one to deal with jail overcrowding, and one, before he was on the school board, to deal with the crisis of confidence in Orange County Public Schools. Both task forces made numerous reform recommendations he said were enacted and led to dramatic improvements in both.

Among other items in his agenda:

– Continued emphasis on fighting crime. “We are the premier tourist destination in the country if not the world, but crime is still a driving concern of those in our neighborhood, and those in our tourist corridor.”

– Balancing growth which he called inevitable with management of growth, only allowing growth “where we have an established infrastructure. We need to make sure we protect and cherish our natural resources, and we need to have lines in the sand beyond which we will not allow growth.”

– Expansion of bike paths, walkways and sidewalks throughout the county. Sublette is an avid bicyclist himself. “There’s no reason somebody shouldn’t be able to get on a bike in our community and bike all the from the East Orange Trail to the West Orange Trail without ever leaving a dedicated bike path.”

– Addressing traffic and gridlock with better systems of timing our traffic signals and planning for our road networks.

– Tackling “multi-generational poverty” by going after jobs for the working poor, and a transportation network with “frequent, regular bus service, so our working poor can get on buses and get to those jobs.”

– Hardening of power utility infrastructure, bury power lines, do better jobs with drainage systems and retention ponds. “We need to understand that we are going to continue to get hit with hurricanes.”

Parties ante-up in HD 44 special election

The Florida Democratic Party has come to the late aid of its replacement nominee Eddy Dominguez in the House District 44 special election to be decided Tuesday, but the Republican Party of Florida also came through for its nominee Bobby Olszewski.

The latest campaign finance reports, the first reflecting Dominguez’ late entry and the last to be filed before tomorrow’s general election vote, show that Democrats, both state and Orange County parties, provided Dominguez with $7,600 worth of in-kind campaign help last week, a couple weeks after he was nominated.

That marked delivery on a promise from the party to help out, a promise Dominguez’s predecessor, Paul Chandler, complained was going unfulfilled when he withdrew last month. The party also helped arrange a get-out-the-vote effort Saturday, the last day of early voting. Republicans crushed Democrats overall in eight days of early-voting for the special election, but on Saturday Democrats had a big day, turning out 225 voters, to the Republicans’ 190.

Dominguez also reported $7,000 in in-kind staff and consulting from various Democratic-oriented consultants and workers.

Still, Republicans did better, at least directly from the party. They provided Olszewski with $9,500 worth of in-kind support, with $7,500 of that coming last week.

That’s in addition to the $23,000 worth of polling the party sponsored for Olszewski’s campaign in August and early September, before Dominguez entered the race.

Chandler resigned Sept. 13, and the Orange County Republican Party appointed Dominguez to replace him Sept. 18.

The latest finance reports were through last Thursday and were posted Monday morning by the Florida Division of Elections.

Dominguez was able to raise $6,507 in cash, including $2,000 from himself and his wife. He went into the weekend with $3,600 left to spend.

Olszewski raised $21,200 cash in the four-week period ending last Thursday and went into the homestretch with more than $30,000 left to spend. Overall, Olszewski raised more than $127,000 and spent more than $93,000 since entering the race in April. Much of that money was raised and spent to win what turned into a bruising Aug. 15 primary against three other Republican candidates.

Anna Eskamani announces Dick Batchelor’s endorsement in HD 47

Longtime Orlando civic fixture Dick Batchelor is endorsing Democrat Anna Eskamani in the House District 47 race, her campaign announced Monday.

Batchelor served in the Florida House of Representatives in the 1970s and ’80s and since has been both a consultant and lobbyist professionally and an appointee, by both Democrats and Republicans, to numerous civic boards and commissions throughout Central Florida.

“I have known Anna for years, and have always respected her hard work and tenacity. She is a fearless leader who cares deeply about our community,” he said in a news release issued by Eskamani’s campaign. “As a former state legislator, I cannot think of someone better to represent us. I am proud to endorse Anna V. Eskamani for Florida House District 47 and will do my part to help her win.”

Eskamani, an Orlando-based executive with Planned Parenthood and community activist, faces Republican Stockton Reeves, a Winter Park businessman and longtime Republican supporter.

The district covers much of north and central Orange County including downtown Orlando. Republican incumbent state Rep. Mike Miller is running for Congress, rather than for re-election.

“Both Dick and his wife Andrea have played pivotal roles in shaping and serving Central Florida. Dick’s support of my candidacy speaks to the intergenerational movement we are building and I am honored to have him standing by my side as we pave our path to victory in November 2018,” Eskamani said in the news release. “As Democrats we must unite our voices and say enough is enough. We will stand together — say what needs to be said and we will do what needs to be done. And we will not stop until we have secured the promise of freedom for everyone.”

Republicans dominated early, mail-in voting in HD 44 special election

Republican voters swamped Democratic voters in early and mail-in voting for the House District 44 special election, possibly signaling an easy victory Tuesday for Republican Bobby Olszewski over Democratic replacement candidate Eddy Dominguez.

Early voting ended Saturday night, and 1,114 Republicans showed up at early-voting locations during the eight-day period, while 708 Democrats voted there, despite a big late Saturday push.

There also were 295 votes cast by independent voters and minor party members.

With that, Republicans accounted for 53 percent of the early voters, in a portion of election voting polling that Democrats most-commonly win. Democrats accounted for just 33 percent.

The advantage was similar for mail-in votes, though those are still coming in. Most commonly, Republicans lead in that segment of voting.

Of the 5,505 mail-in votes had been counted through Sunday night, 2,845 came from registered Republicans, and 1,717 from registered Democrats, plus another 943 from independents and members of minor parties.

That means Republicans provided 52 percent of the mail-in votes, and Democrats, 31 percent.

The overall voter turnout through Sunday night was 6.1 percent.

Polls open throughout HD 44 at 7 a.m. Tuesday morning for the general election voting.

Dominguez, of Dr. Phillips, was a late addition, and his name does not actually appear on the ballot. Paul Chandler was the Democrats initial nominee, but he withdrew in September, and Dominguez was selected to replace him. A vote for Chandler is counted as a vote for Dominguez.

Olszewski, of Winter Garden, won a bruising Republican primary on Aug. 15 against three other candidates. He’s a former Winter Garden commissioner.

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