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Hillsborough PTC attorney Cindy Oster named to county court

Cynthia Oster, who has been serving as the in-house attorney for the soon-to-be dismantled Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission, has been named by Gov. Rick Scott to serve as a judge in Hillsborough County Court.

The 47-year-old Oster’s official position, which she has held for the past 17 years, was Senior Assistant County Attorney in Hillsborough. She was previously an assistant state attorney for the Thirteenth Judicial Circuit and an assistant public defender for the Tenth Judicial Circuit.

Oster received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Florida and her law degree from Stetson University College of Law. She will fill the vacancy created by the appointment of Judge Jennifer X. Gabbard to the Thirteenth Judicial Circuit Court.

In recent years with the PTC, Oster was busy with lawsuits between the agency and ride-sharing companies Uber and Lyft, who battled the PTC for more than two years until they came into compliance a year ago.

Legislation passed earlier this year calls for the PTC to be dissolved at the end of this year.

David Jolly, Patrick Murphy to meet again at USF St. Pete

Former Florida Congressmen David Jolly and Patrick Murphy resume their fall college speaking tour in St. Petersburg.

The tour — called “Why Gridlock Rules Washington” — continues Tuesday, Dec. 5 at 7 p.m. on the 2nd floor at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg Student Center. It will be televised live in the Tampa Bay area and Orlando markets.

Over the past couple of months, Jolly and Murphy have been holding public discussions about the state of chaos in Washington D.C., and what can be done to fix politics.

The one-hour event will be broadcast on Bay News 9 in Tampa Bay and Bay News 13 in Orlando, and will be moderated by Bay News 9 anchor Holly Gregory.

The two former lawmakers appeared on the USF Tampa campus last month, where Jolly repeated his comments from a year ago that part of the job as a member of Congress is to spend 20-30 hours a week raising money, and only 10 hours a week doing their actual jobs.

“I truly was taken aback by the fact that consumes every single minute,” the Pinellas Republican said. “If any member tells you that they spend more time on policy than fundraising, they’re lying.”

Attendees are asked to arrive at the ballroom on the 2nd floor of the University Student Center by 6:45 p.m. on December 5th. Those interested in attending must RSVP through Eventbrite.

HD 58 debate scheduled Dec. 4 in Temple Terrace

The four men running in the special election in House District 58 next month will meet up in a candidates’ forum Monday, Dec. 4, in Temple Terrace.

Republican Lawrence McClure, Democrat Jose Vazquez, Libertarian Bryan Zemina and non-party-affiliated Ahmad Saadaldin are running in the election Dec. 19 to select a successor to Republican Dan Raulerson, who stepped down from the seat in August due to health problems.

Last month, McClure defeated Yvonne Fry in the GOP primary and hopes to keep the seat red in the special election.

Vazquez has been unsuccessful in previous bids for office, including against Raulerson back in 2012.

It’s the first run for office for both Zemina and Saadaldin, a member of the Green Party who is running an independent.

The event will be at the Islamic Society of Tampa Bay and will be moderated by representatives of the Hillsborough branch of the League of Women Voters. There will be a straw poll conducted after the forum, with the votes to be counted by the Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections.

The four candidates participated in one previous forum earlier this month in Plant City.

District 58 covers Plant City, Temple Terrace, Dover, Mango, Seffner, Thonotosassa, and parts of Tampa and East Lake-Orient Park.

Margaret Good says she’s the Democrat who can win HD 72 in 2018

Can Florida Democrats pull off an upset and take northern Sarasota County House District 72 early next year?

There’s a lot of time before that special election takes place next year (Feb. 13), but Siesta Key attorney Margaret Good has emerged as a possible contender — if you gauge her fundraising prowess, where she raised nearly $88,000 in the first month of fundraising after entering the contest.

The HD 72 seat is being fought for after Republican incumbent Alex Miller abruptly left last August.

“I wasn’t getting into a race I didn’t think I could win,” Good said. “And one of the ways you win elections is by building coalitions and networks that are going to support you.”

Good has built support by meeting with as many voters as she can since entering the contest in early September.

A Georgia native, she spent her youth growing up there and in South Carolina, where she received an undergraduate degree from the University of South Carolina. It was during her youth when the idea of getting into public service first hit her.

She then attended law school at the University of Florida, where she edited the Florida Law Review. Good currently works at the Sarasota-based law firm of Matthews Eastmoore.

“When I moved to Sarasota, I started thinking more seriously about it, because I knew this was going to be the place I called home for the rest of my of my life,” she said.

Last year’s election results inspired Good to look seriously at pursuing such an opportunity.

Earlier this year she helped her friend, attorney Hagen Brody, get elected to the Sarasota City Commission. When Miller announced she wanted out in late August, Good pounced.

“I thought it was a really great opportunity for the Democrats to win a Florida House seat, and decided that this was the time to step up and serve my community.”

Good is running against businesswoman Ruta Jouniari in the Democratic primary scheduled for Dec. 5.

Ruth’s List and the Sierra Club have endorsed Good, but a co-endorsement from the Democratic Progressive Caucus of Florida was rescinded earlier this month after the group incorrectly said both Democrats support raising the minimum wage from $8.10 to $15 an hour.

“I’m for any increase that we can actually get passed in the state Legislature, but I do think we need to take an incremental approach,” Good says, refusing to define a specific hourly wage.

(Three years ago, South Florida Democratic state Sen. Dwight Bullard pushed legislation that would have raised the state’s minimum wage to $10.10 an hour. In 2015, Democrats, fueled by the Fight for $15! movement, then began raising that proposal to $15. In both cases, those plans have gone nowhere in the GOP-led Legislature).

It’s been reported that the two Democrats also differ when it comes to legalizing marijuana, with Jouniari supporting the idea and Good opposed, but Good says she’s “open to the idea of it.”

“The voters in Florida passed a constitutional amendment to legalize medical marijuana, and the implementation has, in my opinion not gone particularly well. I don’t think the Legislature has done a very good job in creating the laws implementing it,” she said, adding, “I think we need to get that off the ground first, and then look and see where we go from there.”

If elected, Good thinks she can work with Republicans on environmental issues, such as a fracking ban (sponsoring a proposal to do that in 2018 are Republicans Dana Young of Tampa in the Senate and Kathleen Peters of South Pasadena in the House).

Much of the Florida Democratic establishment believes in Good and support her campaign. That includes Florida House Victory and Christine Jennings, the former Sarasota County Democratic Executive Committee Chair who calls her a “dream candidate.”

In less than two weeks, HD 72 Democratic voters will make their choice.

Terry Power will challenge Jamie Grant in HD 64 primary

Terrance “Terry” Power, a 59-year-old Oldsmar-based certified financial planner, is launching a 2018 primary challenge against House District 64 incumbent Jamie Grant.

“I’m running for the Florida House because I am the best candidate in the race to serve the residents of our District,” the Republican said in a statement released Sunday.

“I’ll let the voters decide how corrupt, unethical, and ineffective my primary opponent is as a legislator and whether he needs to be find another line of work outside of Tallahassee. I’ve made up my mind. That’s why I’m in.”

Grant was cleared in 2014 of ethics violations regarding his involvement in a project to bring high-tech jobs to a rural Florida county. 

Power announced on his Facebook page that if elected, he would donate 100 percent of his salary to charities located in the district. State lawmakers earn $29,697 annually.

District 64 encompasses northwest Tampa, including Westchase, Northdale, and Carrollwood and northeast Pinellas County including Oldsmar, Safety Harbor, and eastern Palm Harbor (East Lake area).

The 35-year-old Grant was first elected in 2010, and was easily re-elected in 2012 and 2014. However, a dispute over the voting process led to a rejection of the 2014 result, leaving the seat vacant until Grant won a special election in early 2015.

Under the state Constitution, a candidate is eligible to run for a legislative seat until he has held that office for “eight consecutive years.” Because of that break between the November 2014 election and the special election, Grant’s win in 2016 ‘reset the clock’ for his time in office, giving him the potential to serve eight more years in the House.

Grant had aspirations of becoming House Speaker, but his bid for that position in 2022 fell short to Palm Coast Republican Paul Renner.

The 

Hillsborough’s Alma Gonzalez to run for FDP Chair

Alma Gonzalez, a member of the Democratic National Committee and a Hillsborough County committeewoman, announced Tuesday her bid for Florida Democratic Party chair.

The party is in crisis mode following the developments over the past few days. On Friday, now former Chair Stephen Bittel announced he would be resigning following a POLITICO Florida report that he had a history of making demeaning remarks toward women.

Florida Democratic Party President Sally Boynton Brown later announced her resignation after she wrote a letter defending Bittel.

“This is our moment,” Gonzalez said in a phone conversation with Florida Politics. “I am prepared to do whatever it takes to make sure we don’t lose our way as a result of what I think is a cathartic moment in our society.”

Gonzalez becomes the second official candidate to announce her candidacy for FDP chair, following Palm Beach County Democratic official Terrie Rizzo‘s announcement Monday.

Gonzalez said she believes she is best-fit to respond to the crisis.

She’s been a longtime Democratic Party official, a tenure that has included a stint as treasurer of the state party. She spent 30 years in Tallahassee before moving to Hillsborough in the last decade, working as a legal counsel for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) and also as the legislative director for finance and tax at the Florida Association of Counties.

“I have worked in the trenches with (Democrats), precinct canvassing to working the Legislature, to walking picket lines, to making phone calls to dealing with our friends in Washington D.C., being part of international delegations promoting democracy around the world,” Gonzalez said.

Florida Democrats had been on a roll this fall, winning a special state Senate race in Miami-Dade County and a fierce mayoral contest in St. Petersburg.

Gonzalez said the party has the “wind in our sails,” but added that sexual harassment in the country and within the party is extremely serious.

“We need to take seriously what happened here,” she said regarding the events leading to Bittel and Boynton Brown’s resignations. “It’s an opportunity to do some of our own soul-searching and to make sure that we are not just talking the talk but walking the walk and allowing people to speak truth to power without having any retribution for that, and making sure to address any deficiencies that brought us to this moment.”

The election takes place Dec. 9.

Tampa Bay sees protest of GOP tax proposals

Chanting “tax cuts will destroy us,” a group of citizens marched a block from MacDill Park to a Wells Fargo bank in downtown Tampa on Tuesday to protest the recently passed tax reform plan in the House and warn against approval of the Republican Senate’s tax reform plan that could be voted on next week.

While Democrats have criticized the proposals on a number of fronts, citizens who gathered in the protest held by Organize Now, a liberal group, focused on the potential deleterious effects in health care should the proposals come to fruition.

“I want to see tax fairness,” said Organize Now’s Debbie King. “I want to make sure that we don’t take tax breaks for corporations and pay for them with cuts to Medicaid, Medicare and other programs that regular everyday people rely on.”

The Senate Republican tax bill would force $25 billion in immediate cuts to Medicare, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

That’s a move that can only be stopped with a bipartisan vote.

Republicans are working to get the bare minimum of 51 senators to pass the bill, perhaps as early as next week.

Speakers at the rally also said the tax bills could cut Medicaid, an argument that congressional Republicans insist is not the case.

“This plan is going to sacrifice retiree benefits and that money will go to the GOP tax cuts,” said Marina Welch, a former nurse. “Middle Class Americans rely on Medicaid for longterm services and support. Medicaid provides home and community based services that allow seniors to stay in their homes.”

The dispute about whether Medicaid is cut is contingent on whether the individual mandate to sign up for the Affordable Care Act is removed from the Senate tax bill.

Democrats say repealing the individual mandate would lower Medicaid spending. That’s because fewer people would sign up for insurance, according to the CBO. The change also would reduce spending on health-insurance subsidies.

“Where do you think the $300 billion is coming from?” said Missouri Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill, according to the Wall Street Journal. “Is there a fairy that’s dropping it on the Senate?”

“There are no cuts to Medicaid,” replied Pennsylvania GOP Sen. Pat Toomey. “There are no cuts to Medicare. Nobody is disqualified from insurance.”

At times the rally paralleled those from the past year defending the Affordable Care Act from being repealed by congressional Republicans.

Darlene Goodfellow, a self-employed real estate broker from Valrico, said while she made “significant investments” in health insurance over her life, she never filed a claim because the deductible made it partially useless. She ultimately went 21 years without seeing a doctor.

After recently signing up for Obamacare, she was diagnosed with glaucoma, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and type II diabetes. She said the most recent labs from her doctor now show that her health issues combined are “considered normal.”

Repealing the individual mandate from the ACA as part of the Senate tax plan would leave 13 million fewer Americans having health insurance. But it would save the federal government $338 billion in the next 10 years, according to the CBO.

The House tax bill does repeal the student loan interest deduction.

“The bill would also increase taxes on graduate students by roughly 400 percent under the GOP house plan,” said Isabel Hall, a 17-year-old senior at Hillsborough High School in Tampa. “Tuition labor that allows grad students to attend their college tuition free in exchange for working at that university will be taxed as employees. This kind of tax increase could make it financially impossible to earn a Ph.D in the U.S.”

The Senate may vote on its tax reform bill upon its return to Washington next week.

Hillsborough Democrats rally behind Jose Vazquez in HD 58 special election

Over the years, Democrat Jose Vazquez ran (and lost) several local elections, mostly without any organized support from the Hillsborough County Party.

But that is starting to change, as the Party is more energized than ever after Donald Trump‘s stunning election a year ago,

Local Democrats are now hoping to replicate the success they found in the Senate District 40 and St. Petersburg mayoral races this fall in the upcoming House District 58 special election.

Vazquez hasn’t always been an easy candidate to embrace. A Puerto Rican native with a thick English accent, he has an extensive criminal background history, including an infamous run for office as a write-in candidate in 2008 against Democratic incumbent Michael Scionti in the House District 48 race  — while still serving time in prison for a felony conviction of driving with a revoked or suspended license in May 2007.

Now on the campaign trail, Vazquez speaks about his arrest record, pivoting to use his past as a strong talking point for his support for restoring ex-felons voting rights, and the plight of poor and minorities in the criminal justice system.

“How many of you have been stopped for a bad light on your car or a cracked windshield? Or some other offense? Did you get a ticket? We’re you able to pay the fine?” Vazquez asked a crowd of fellow Democrats gathered at the Hillsborough County Children’s Board in Ybor City for the county’s Democratic Executive Committee meeting Monday night.

Vazquez explained that just two months after arriving in the U.S. from Puerto Rico in 1999, he was ticketed for a non-moving vehicle violation. He couldn’t afford to pay the fine (he was making just $7.25 an hour while working at Tampa International Airport).

Also, Vazquez was homeless at the time and thus never received notice that his license was suspended for nonpayment of the fine.

Although he received several other moving violations, Vazquez says he never received notices since he was homeless, and thus labeled a habitual traffic offender. His driver’s license was then suspended for five years, and Vazquez started using a scooter for his transportation. But even that went sour after he was arrested for a law (since rescinded) that all vehicles powered with gasoline required a driver’s license to operate.

“I have been a victim of a system that was and is still today stacked against minorities,” he said. “People who have limited financial resources and often have to make tough choices between paying fines, paying rent, putting food on the table, paying an electric bill, or hiring an attorney.”

He also told the room full of Democrats that while he was also arrested on a domestic violence charge, a charge ultimately dismissed.

Party regulars certainly accept his story — some even say that they are embarrassed over earlier failures to support him in previous races. In 2012, Vazquez ran against Republican Dan Raulerson in HD 58 without any support from the Hillsborough DEC.

In fact, the HCDEC removed any mention of Vasquez from its website in the lead-up to that election, prompting Vazquez to call on then-Party chair Chris Mitchell to resign (he didn’t).

Despite that, Vazquez still took 42 percent of the vote in losing to Raulerson, whose resignation from that same seat this summer (due to health issues) has created the need for this special election, scheduled Dec. 19.

“This is a man who was beat down by the Democratic Party,” said Hillsborough County state committeeman Ross Patterson. “He has worked and worked and worked for our party, even though we didn’t work for him.”

As a write-in candidate, Vazquez then took on Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn as his only opposition in what was otherwise a coronation for the Tampa leader, who garnered 96 percent in his re-election back in March 2015.

Vazquez, 43, is the father of six children, one with a disability. In his speech Monday night, he talked about defending the disabled, the LGBTA community, expanding Medicaid and working on improving public education.

“Unlike most of our nation’s elected officials, I’m familiar with what it is like to struggle, what it’s like to live on the margins, paycheck to paycheck, day-to-day,” he said. “Too often we elect officials who have no real understanding on what life is like across the tracks, what life is like on ‘the other side of town.'”

The crowd bought into his message — literally.

Former DEC Chair Michael Steinberg introduced Vazquez to the crowd by saying that if everyone in attendance (about 100 people) contributed $5 to his campaign, he would match that to get Vazquez $1,000 out of the evening.

He later announced Vazquez had raised $1,015.

Donna Fore, head of the East Hillsborough County Democratic Club, said her group had recently donated $500 to Vazquez campaign, and she encouraged other clubs to follow suit.

Patterson reminded the crowd that there are actually more registered Democrats in HD 58 than Republicans, even though the GOP had dominated control of the seat for several years.

Dover businessman Lawrence McClure is the Republican candidate, and there are two other players in the mix: Libertarian Bryan Zemina and Ahmed Saadaldin, who is with the Green Party (but officially non-party-affiliated) and is, by far, the most progressive candidate in the race.

Nat’l Republicans take another whack at Charlie Crist over tax reform bill

Like most House Democrats, St. Petersburg Congressman Charlie Crist voted against the GOP tax reform bill that passed last Thursday.

The House’s tax overhaul reduces the number of individual tax brackets, cuts the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 20 percent and curbs other tax breaks and deductions.

The plan, in total, would lower taxes on all income groups on average in 2019, but the Joint Committee on Taxation estimated that some Americans would eventually see tax increases.

Democrats are depicting the bill as a tax cut for wealthy Americans and corporations, with middle-class families footing the bill — an issue they say they’ll be happy to run against Republicans next year.

The National Republican Congressional Committee thinks the public will side with Republicans, and they’re targeting 25 Democrats who they believe are in vulnerable districts in new 15-second digital ads that are running on Facebook.

Crist defeated Republican David Jolly by 3.8 points in 2016. Jolly says he’ll decide by January if he’ll challenge Crist again in 2018.

A new digital ad that began airing Friday depicts the former Florida governor as out of touch with his voters.

A similar ad is being run against Orlando area Democrat Stephanie Murphy.

“If anyone is looking for Stephanie Murphy or Charlie Crist — they were last seen bowing to their party bosses instead of providing essential tax relief for the people who need it most: the middle-class,” said NRCC spokesperson Maddie Anderson. “It’s a shame Stephanie Murphy and Charlie Crist couldn’t be a part of historic tax reform simply because of their unwavering allegiance to Nancy Pelosi.”

Ross Spano backs Joe Wicker as his successor in House District 59

Less than a week after declaring a run for Attorney General next year, Dover Republican Ross Spano has already selected the man he hopes will succeed him in Florida’s House District 59.

It’s Joe Wicker, the Brandon businessman and Iraq War veteran who finished a close second to Spano for the seat in the 2012 GOP primary in HD 59.

“I’ve had the pleasure to represent District 59 for three terms and I can think of no better candidate to serve our community next than Joe Wicker. Joe is a common-sense conservative and patriot to our nation,” said Spano. “As a small-business owner, Joe knows exactly how we can grow Florida’s economy and provide prosperity for all. As a combat veteran, Joe will continue the work of previous legislators in making Florida the most veteran-friendly state in the country. I am proud to endorse my friend, Joe Wicker, for State Representative and he has my full support.”

“My wife and I are blessed to call Representative Spano and his wife friends. They are truly committed to serving our community and have dedicated themselves to public service,” Wicker said. “During his time in the legislature, Representative Spano has tackled big issues that will have a positive, lasting impact on our state for decades to come. He leaves very big shoes to fill, but I am honored by his support and trust and look forward the work ahead in this campaign.”

Speaking Sunday at the Hillsborough County Republican Party Lincoln Day BBQ, Wicker warned of a Democratic Party takeover of the Brandon area in 2018, saying it was important to keep the HD 59 seat conservative.

“A lot of people are moving here and that’s great,” Wicker said. “A lot of people, we don’t want their politics. There’s a lot of leftists that are moving to town. It’s changing the district.”

Wicker announced his candidacy Friday, becoming the first member of either major party to declare their candidacy for the seat, which encompasses most Brandon, as well as Valrico, Dover, Seffner, Riverview, Palm River and Clair-Mel City.

 

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