Charlie Crist Archives - Florida Politics

Thousands gather in St. Petersburg for Women’s March

Kay Akins is still “pissed off” about Donald Trump‘s election more than a year ago. “It gets worse every day.”

The Naperville, Illinois resident joined thousands of protesters Sunday in what felt like a seismic level of antipathy for the President of the United States, felt in both St. Petersburg and many parts of the country.

A year ago, Akins participated in the massive Women’s March in Washington D.C.  She never felt more solidarity with so many like-minded people in her life, she said.

This time around, Akins found herself in the Tampa Bay area; she drove by herself Sunday to the Women’s March in St. Petersburg’s Williams Park, joined by thousands of similarly like-minded people. Organizers called on them to make their voices heard by voting in this year’s midterm elections.

Unlike last year, when the marches were all held on the day after the president’s inauguration, protestors held rallies over both weekend days this year, with gatherings Sunday in Las Vegas, Miami, Seattle, Phoenix and many other cities around the country.

On Saturday, a reported 120,000 crowded streets in Manhattan for a women’s march, with massive rallies in Chicago, D.C., the San Francisco area and many other locations.

Among organizers, the theme was “Power to the Polls,” featuring a call to have more women participate in elections this November.

But among those in the crowd, the focus was squarely on Trump.

“He awakened the sleeping giant,” said Patti Michaud, who served as co-captain of the Central Gulf Coast Women’s March.

Thousands of women protested Sunday in St. Pete and across the country, most still angry over Donald Trump’s election more than a year ago.

An activist in the 1960s, Michaud said that while things may have become better for women, following Trump’s election, they were now “fighting for the rights we fought for fifty years ago.”

As a result, record numbers of women are running for office this year. At least 79 female candidates are exploring runs for governor, according to the Rutgers University Center for American Women and Politics.

Emily’s List, which recruits and trains pro-choice Democratic women, announced last month that over 25,000 women had contacted the organization about running for office since the 2016 election. Additionally, over 8,000 people have signed up to help women run for office.

Among those locally who are pursuing a run for office for the first time is Tampa resident Kimberly Overman, a Democrat running for the Hillsborough County Commission\. Overman attended last year’s march in Washington, which she called “inspirational” and said it demonstrated the power of women working together to get something done.

“I think that’s one of the values of having women in the process,” she said, “whether it be on the corporate side and corporate boards, whether it be on the government side in terms of serving for office, whether it be in the lobbying world, where women actually can help people find a consensus and find some good solutions.”

Other female candidates in attendance included Democrat Jennifer Webb, who is taking a second shot at the House District 69 seat this year.

Trump’s election was a shock, one that took awhile to get over, said Palm Harbor resident Kim Nymeyer. Like others at the event Sunday, she called her participation in last year’s march a cathartic experience.

It’s different this time around, Nymeyer added. “People are asking: What is the action now?”

Joining Nymeyer was her friend Marlene Witherspoon, who made the trek from Fort Myers to St. Pete. The two sat with beach chairs directly in front of the stage at Williams Park.

Reflecting on the 2016 election, Witherspoon admitted she was restrained in her support for Hillary Clinton, the reason she didn’t campaign for her in the conservative hometown, as she had for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012.

“I wasn’t on board with her,” she recounts. “She was too polarizing for me to risk knocking on doors to people [who] I know are Republicans.”

While Trump’s candidacy brought out conservative voters disaffected from the political process for years, his subsequent election has energized progressives who had been indifferent in the past, such as Lakeland resident Michelle Ploughman.

Wearing an “Elizabeth Warren in 2020″ T-shirt, Ploughman said the opportunity to empower female voices is part of the movement in which she’s taking part. She cited the power of black women in particular for Democrat Doug Jones’ victory over Republican Roy Moore in the Alabama U.S. Senate special election last month.

“That’s what this is all about for me. It’s really just promoting the idea that we all have the chance to make change in whatever area we choose and the best choice at this point is to vote.”

There were dozens (if not hundreds) of signs held up by those in the crowd: “The future is female,” “Vote like a Girl,” “Stop tweeting and read a book,” to name a few.

Scheduled to appear was U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, but events with the government shutdown in Washington precluded his appearance.

As was the case last year, Mayor Rick Kriseman made an appearance, as did Democratic gubernatorial candidate Philip Levine. 

“Are you all ready to get expelled from Trump University?” Levine asked to a roar of approval.

Levine then awkwardly posited that it was time to enroll in a new university: “The university of doing the right thing.”

That’s a mantra heard in his often-aired television commercials touting his candidacy. In a creative bit of outreach, Levine also paid to co-sponsor the event.

In a four-and-a-half minute speech, Levine touted campaign pledges: raising the minimum wage, investing in public education and keeping a strong environment. And he excitedly told the crowd that November’s election in Florida was the most important “in the world.”

“Because so goes this governorship this year, so goes the presidency in 2020,” he said. “Women of Florida, you must vote. We must change our state. We will change our country. We will change the world. It begins right here in St Petersburg. It begins right here in Florida.”

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chris King spoke later in the afternoon as well.

In the audience, St. Petersburg resident Joan Thurmond was wearing a T-shirt touting the candidacy of Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, yet another one of Levine’s opponents in the Democratic race (Gillum and Gwen Graham, the other major Democratic candidate for governor, spoke in Miami on Sunday).

“I think he’s a racist,” Thurmond said of Trump. “A bigot. And I really think that he does not know what running the most powerful country in the world is all about. ”

Thurmond added that she didn’t appreciate his recent comment reportedly disparaging African nations.

“Being African-American, I know what it’s like to be discriminated against.”

Although overwhelmingly female in number, the crowd was diverse regarding race and especially in age, where toddlers to seniors were well represented.

Whether 2018 will be “The Year of the Women” at the ballot box won’t be known until after the November 6 midterms. But to women like Akins, their outlook on politics has been forever changed, no matter what happens this fall.

“My husband always says, ‘you can’t do anything,'” she recounted. “I said, ‘I can be there and give my voice.'”

(Photo credits: Kim DeFalco).

Charlie Crist ‘deeply concerned’ about USF unification bill

The controversial proposal in the Legislature to combine the three campuses of the University of South Florida has drawn the ire of U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist of St. Petersburg.

In a letter to Senate President Joe Negron and House Speaker Richard Corcoran, Crist said he is “deeply concerned” over the bill offered by state Rep. Chris Sprowls, a Palm Harbor Republican. It would bring the campuses in St. Petersburg and Sarasota-Manatee under control of the main USF campus in Tampa.

It also would phase out separate accreditation for each school, which supporters of the St. Petersburg campus argue would reduce that school’s prestige and independence.

“As you know, USFSP worked for many years in its quest for autonomy, achieving this status in 2006. Since that time, USFSP’s enrollment, performance, and fundraising have steadily increased and the institution is on course to become a nationally recognized university in its own right,” Crist wrote. “Further, an independent USFSP is a major point of pride for USFSP alumni, the student body, and the St. Petersburg community.

“I am deeply concerned with the proposal to revoke USFSP’s autonomy. The lack of public input or rigorous study for such a far-reaching, disruptive proposal is also very troubling. At minimum, this issue requires greater analysis, and USFSP students, faculty, administrators and the St. Petersburg community deserve adequate opportunity to have their voices heard on this issue. Unless or until that occurs, I request that further consideration of any proposal affecting USFSP’s autonomy be put on hold.”

In a separate statement, Crist questioned the lack of “appropriate public input” and says the bill is “not in the best interests of the student body.”

Vern Buchanan says CHIP funding enough reason to support short-term spending bill

To garner sufficient support to keep the government from shutting down midnight Friday, House Republican leaders are including funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) to a four-week spending bill.

That’s good enough for Longboat Key Republican Vern Buchanan to get on board in supporting the bill.

“We cannot allow this program to lapse and jeopardize the health of 9 million children nationwide,” Buchanan said Thursday. “I am urging congressional leaders from both parties to work together on a bipartisan basis to reauthorize this critical program for six years.”

However, that plan may have blown up when President Donald Trump tweeted Thursday that “CHIP should be part of a long-term solution, not a 30 Day, or short-term, extension!”

That was followed up shortly by a tweet from Texas Senator John Cornyn, who reminded the president that, “the current house Continuing Resolution package has a six-year extension of CHIP, not a 30 day extension.”

As the clock ticks down toward a potential government shutdown, there remains doubt about whether Congress will support a continuing resolution, the fourth since last October.

If Congress fails to act, funding for the CHIP program is scheduled to expire March 31.  While most members of Congress say they need to reauthorize the program, Democrats, in particular, have said that the issue should be decoupled from the spending bill. CHIP is a bipartisan program that provides health insurance to 9 million children. It’s provided to the children of families who earn too much for Medicaid but do not receive insurance through their employers.

Buchanan says that isn’t the right call.

“We should not be playing politics when the health of our children is at stake,” he said.

Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi is asking Democrats to vote against the continuing resolution Friday, despite the inclusion of CHIP funding. On Wednesday, St. Petersburg Democrat Charlie Crist announced he would not vote for the resolution.

Charlie Crist a ‘no’ vote on bill to avoid government shutdown

While Congress stares at a potential government shutdown Friday, St. Petersburg U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist is one House Democrat who says he won’t vote for another stopgap spending bill to keep the government afloat for another four weeks.

“The House of Representatives is once again being asked to vote on a short-term spending bill that fails to address the many urgent challenges facing our nation. I voted for the last two continuing resolutions to allow more time to negotiate these issues. But ‘time’s up,'” Crist said in a statement Wednesday night.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi is urging Democrats to vote against the latest measure proposed by GOP leaders that would fund the government until February 16.

The continuing resolution, or “CR,” would be the fourth since the fiscal year began on October 1.

“This is no way to run a government. What does kicking the can to mid-February help solve that we can’t hash out this week? The answer: nothing,” a disgusted Crist said.

Democrats are unhappy that the CR currently does not include a plan to deal with the more than 700,000 young undocumented immigrants known as “dreamers.” It does extend the Children’s Health Insurance Program for six years, and delay some Affordable Care Act taxes that also help pay for the health insurance program.

“The American people elected us to solve problems, not play games,” Crist said. “Unless or until we get serious about the fixes and compromises we know we need to make to move our nation forward, I’m a NO on the continuing resolution.”

With a majority in the House of Representatives, the Republicans may not need many Democrats to support the continuing resolution. However, there are a number of members of Freedom Caucus members reportedly unhappy about another short term funding bill as well.

“It’s crisis management at its worst,” Gainesville Rep. Ted Yoho told POLITICO. “Nobody wants to shut down the government, but if they load this up … they’re going to have a fight on this.”

Sean Shaw enters AG race, promises contrast to Pam Bondi

Democratic state Rep. Sean Shaw has made it official: he’s running for Attorney General this year, promising if elected to operate differently from term-limited Pam Bondi.

“The people of our state should be able to count on their Attorney General to protect them and to always enforce the rule of law, not have someone more concerned with how their actions will play during their next Fox News hit,” he told reporters at a news conference outside the Florida Supreme Court in Tallahassee Tuesday morning.

“Soon, they will have one.”

Shaw said if he were elected, he would be an activist-oriented Attorney General to protect the interests of all Floridians. “No longer will unconstitutional laws be defended, costing taxpayers millions,” he said. “And no longer will Florida stand on the sidelines while other states battle to end this horrific opioid epidemic.”s

Shaw is the son of the late Leander J. Shaw Jr., the state’s first black chief justice. He referenced him in his speech.

“He knew, and he imparted to me, that standing up for the rights of our fellow Floridians was an incredible responsibility that could never be taken lightly,” Shaw said. “Because the rule of law should act as the ultimate equalizer for everyone, no matter where you’re from, what God you worship, or who you love.”

Shaw also took a shot at President Donald Trump in his brief speech, saying, “There is a man inhabiting the White House in Washington whose lawlessness and contempt for the norms that have allowed our country to thrive for centuries seem to have no bounds.”

Shaw said that makes it incumbent for attorneys general throughout the nation to be “truly independent” to uphold the rule of law and the U.S. Constitution, “because this movement is not just about what’s happening here in Florida It is about people everywhere who want to know that their families will be kept safe and their rights will be protected.”

Although he’s only serving in his second Session as a member of the Florida Legislature, Shaw is well-versed in Tallahassee and state government. He grew up in the capital city, and after attending college at Princeton University and getting his law degree from the University of Florida, returned to run for a House seat in 2008, but lost to Alan Williams.

Shortly after, he was picked by former Gov. Charlie Crist to serve as the state’s Insurance Consumer Advocate from November 2008 through September 2010. He is also the founder of Policyholders of Florida, a group focused on campaigning against unfair property insurance increases on Florida families.

Shaw moved to Tampa and ran for the House District 61 seat in 2014, but lost to Ed Narain in the primary. He subsequently won the seat in 2016 against fellow Democrats Dianne Hart and Walter Smith.

The only other Democrat in the Attorney General race is fellow Hillsborough County resident Ryan Torrens, an attorney. In a statement, Torrens said he welcomed Shaw’s entry into the race.

“Now Floridians will be able to determine for themselves which candidate will be the steady, crusading attorney general that Florida’s Democratic leaders have long been saying Floridians need and deserve, now more than ever,” Torrens said.

The Republican field includes former Hillsborough County Circuit Court Judge Ashley Moody and state House Republicans Ross Spano from Dover, Jay Fant from Jacksonville and Frank White from Pensacola, all of whom have raised nearly $1 million already.

“Florida’s a big state, and we’ve got to raise substantial resources, but I’m confident that we’ll be able to do that,” Shaw said when asked by reporters about how much he’d be able to raise for his campaign. When asked if it would be $4 million, he said it would be more than that.

The Republican Attorneys General Association blasted Shaw in an announcement, calling him an “extreme liberal who would put his personal political agenda ahead of anything else — including the law.”

“There should be no doubt, Shaw would join progressive Democrats across America as an activist attorney general — legislating through the court at every turn,” said RAGA executive director Scott Will. “This is an affront to our system of government and speaks volumes about Shaw’s disrespect for Floridians. Florida deserves an attorney general who defends the rule of law, protects its citizens and champions opportunity for every person.”

New crop of not-ready-for-primetimers launch congressional campaigns

There’s more than a few key races heating up among Florida’s congressional seats, but for every true competitor in a 2018 battleground district there are a dozen head-scratchers who’ve mounted hopeless House campaigns.

No, none of these candidates have sacrificed a goat as part of a pagan ritual, but it likely wouldn’t make their long-shot odds any worse if they had.

In Florida’s 3rd Congressional District, there’s Republican Judson Sapp who billed himself as a “New Republican” when he announced Friday he would challenge incumbent Ted Yoho for the Gainesville-based seat.

“He represents a bold, new path forward and a rebirth of the Republican Party as one that represents all people – not just special interests or the elites,” his campaign said in an email.

That bold new path?

He wants “to end bipartisan obstructionism and to bring integrity and accountability back to our government.”

So far, so good. How does he plan to do it?

“He plans to use his business experience to make deals…”

Next!

The race for Florida’s 7th Congressional District might actually be competitive this year.

In 2016, Democratic U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy scored a 3-point win over longtime Republican lawmaker John Mica, and the GOP is looking to win it back even if new district lines make that somewhat of an uphill battle.

Enter Vennia Francois, an Orlando Republican who announced last week she would run against state Rep. Mike Miller, businessman Scott Sturgil and a couple others in the Republican Primary for the seat.

She’s got some political experience, having worked for former Sens. Mel Martinez and George LeMieux, but man if her message isn’t a bit dusty.

“I believe in the American Dream because I have seen so many achieve it, both in my immediate family and all across Central Florida,” she said. “But there’s much more we need to do to ensure its legacy, especially for those still struggling in the wake of the Recession of 2008-2009, and I want to lead those efforts,” Francois said in her campaign’s opening message.

If Francois wants to lead the post-recession recovery, she might need to grab a time machine and head back a decade.

Moving on to her actual policy positions, she wants spearhead efforts to close tax loopholes and enact economic policies that help small businesses create even more jobs.

Oh my.

Actually, forget going back a decade. She needs to figure out who traveled to the future and stole her idea for the Republican tax plan.

Also in Central Florida, CD 10 Democratic Rep. Val Demings picked up a primary challenger this week in Wade Darius, a 36-year-old Haitian-born businessman.

Darius runs his own company, TD Homes Marketing, and claims to have helped more than 200 people get down-payment assistance for homes last year. Citing the district’s large immigrant population, the he  said his primary goal as a congressman would be helping reshape U.S. immigration policy.

Not a bad start.

Still, he managed to hamstring himself in record time by saying he wouldn’t take corporate campaign contributions and by bashing Demings’ record on police brutality. Maybe he should have asked Bob Poe how that one played out for him in 2016.

The answer: 57-17.

Then there’s Florida’s 13th Congressional District, where freshman Democratic U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist was running unopposed until Wednesday, when Republican George Buck declared for the seat.

“George Buck, is a father of two; a son who is a professional firefighter, and daughter-in law who is a nurse. His daughter is currently studying to be a middle school math teacher at USFSP. George is a Veteran (Four years active duty and Florida National Guard), Firefighter (Ret), Professor/Author.”

Thank you for your service, George, and don’t take this the wrong way, but you or somebody close to you needs to pick up a copy of When Words Collide. There’s an impressive resume somewhere under that punctuation soup, especially when looking past the ambiguity on whether the daughter and daughter-in-law are the same person,

Also, maybe take a long, hard look at whether CD 13 is the place to run. Even well-liked former U.S. Rep. David Jolly is having a hard time seeing a path to victory for a Republican in the Pinellas-based seat.

Bill Nelson has $8M cash-on-hand for re-election campaign

Bill Nelson‘s campaign says the senator will report raising just over $2.4 million in the final three months of 2017. That brings him to more than $8 million cash-on-hand heading into this election year.

Nelson has represented Florida in the Senate since 2000. It’s widely expected that he’ll be challenged in his reelection bid this fall by Gov. Rick Scott, who has yet to declare his candidacy, but is expected to announce this spring ahead of the early May deadline.

Nelson received more than 30,600 contributions from more than 21,500 individual donors during last year’s final fundraising quarter.

The Florida Senator spent the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday participating in events in St. Petersburg, part of the Tampa Bay area media market, the biggest in Florida.

After defeating Republican Bill McCollum for an open seat in 2000, Nelson has been blessed with less than formidable opponents in his reelection bids in 2006 (Katherine Harris) and 2012 (Connie Mack IV).

But that won’t be the case if Scott is the GOP nominee. The former health care executive has shown that he is willing to spend big on his campaigns.

Scott raised more than $70 million in his victory for governor over Democrat Alex Sink in 2010, and another $12 million against Charlie Crist in 2014, both narrow victories.

Wengay Newton continues to increase fundraising advantage in HD 70 race

St. Petersburg House District 70 Democrat Wengay Newton now has two opponents going after him as he attempts to win reelection this summer, but at least at this early junction, he’s not being challenged seriously when it comes to fundraising.

Newton raised $1,000 in December, and has now raised $17,370 overall for the seat with a little over $15,000 of that money on hand.

Vito Sheeley, a former congressional aide to both Kathy Castor and Charlie Crist, raised just $200 last month, and has brought in $4,922 since announcing his candidacy over the summer. He had about $2,000 in the bank at the start of 2018.

Sheeley was endorsed earlier this week by a number of high profile St. Petersburg Democrats, indicating that Newton could be vulnerable in the August 28 Democratic Primary, but if so, it has yet to translate into campaign dollars.

St. Petersburg attorney and civic activist Keisha Bell announced last week that she would soon officially enter the HD 70 Democratic race, but hasn’t done so yet.

Sheely and Bell, if she makes it official, will have a chance to catch up to Newton over the next several weeks as lawmakers are not allowed to raise money while the Legislature is in session. That means Newton will post a goose egg in February and depending on how well his pre-Session fundraiser went in St. Petersburg, he may even do a bit of a backslide in January.

Newton put out the call to his supporters in the fundraising invite, asking them to “consider supporting the campaign early” due to the primary threat.

HD 70 is a Democratic stronghold and the winner of the 2018 race will certainly come out of the Democratic Primary. The minority access seat covers parts of Hillsborough, Manatee, Pinellas and Sarasota counties. About 45 percent of the population is black, and 15 percent is Hispanic.

Newton won his first term last year, when he replaced now-Sen. Darryl Rouson in the district. In that race, he defeated his Republican opponent, Cori Fournier, with 76 percent of the vote on Election Day.

Most of Florida congressional delegation protests lifting oil rig safety rules

A bipartisan group from Florida’s congressional delegation sent a letter to the Donald Trump administration opposing any rollback of safety regulations adopted after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster.

In a letter to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, the group of 20 lawmakers — both Democrats and Republicans — warned that “an oil spill can devastate a regional economy and inflict long-term environmental damage” and asked the secretary to “reject any proposals to roll back regulations that were specifically adopted to address systemic safety failures that led to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill.”

The Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement announced last week that some of the regulations adopted in response to the tragedy created “potentially unduly burdensome requirements” on oil and gas operators. The proposal to roll back safety rules was published in the Federal Register at the end of 2017.

Proposals to weaken safety requirements reportedly under consideration include:

Reversing a rule that called for more frequent testing of blowout preventers — the same device that failed in the Deepwater Horizon spill, which is intended to serve as a fail-safe against explosions in undersea oil and gas wells.

No longer requiring independent auditors to certify that safety and pollution prevention equipment works under extreme conditions. This would remove any federal requirement and instead allow [the] industry to adopt their own set of standards, the guideline industry utilized prior to the Deepwater Horizon spill.

Scrapping the requirement that an investigation into equipment failure be completed within 120 days. This would enable oil companies to delay indefinitely with no required date of completion.

Removing the federal government’s authority to regulate maximum or minimum drilling pressures at new sites. This important provision maintains a safe pressure for drilling that prevents surges and potential blowouts similar to what occurred in the Deepwater Horizon spill.

The letter was led by Republican Vern Buchanan from Longboat Key and Democrat Alcee Hastings from Delray Beach. It was signed by GOP Reps. Gus Bilirakis, Carlos Curbelo, Bill Posey, Dennis Ross, Brian Mast Frances Rooney, John Rutherford and Illeana Ros-Lehtinen. Democrats who signed on included Kathy Castor, Charlie Crist, Val Demings, Ted Deutch, Lois Frankel, Al Lawson, Stephanie Murphy, Darren Soto, Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Frederica Wilson.

The Florida members of Congress said, “It would be a huge mistake to weaken these safety regulations and risk not only lives, but catastrophic consequences to our environment. Florida’s coastal communities depend on a clean and healthy ocean and we should not jeopardize the state’s economy or environment by gambling on operations that lack adequate safeguards.”

You can read the entire letter below:

The Honorable Ryan Zinke

Secretary, U.S. Department of the Interior

1849 C Street, NW

Washington, D.C. 20240

Dear Secretary Zinke,

We are writing to convey our strong opposition to any attempts by the U.S. Department of the Interior to weaken critical oil drilling safety rules adopted in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon tragedy. As Floridians know all too well, an oil spill can devastate a regional economy and inflict long-term environmental damage.

That is why we are asking you to reject any proposals to roll back regulations that were specifically adopted to address systemic safety failures that led to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill. Recently, a division of your agency, the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) stated some of the regulations adopted since the spill created “potentially unduly burdensome requirements” on oil and gas operators.

In 2010, the Deepwater Horizon spill spewed more than 4 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, claimed the lives of 11 workers, decimated the region’s iconic wildlife and severely damaged our fishing and tourism industries.

It would be a huge mistake to weaken these safety regulations and risk not only lives, but catastrophic consequences to our environment. Florida’s coastal communities depend on a clean and healthy ocean and we should not jeopardize the state’s economy or environment by gambling on operations that lack adequate safeguards.

As you are undoubtedly aware, BSEE adopted these regulations over the course of several years and after significant input and engagement with the public, federal policymakers, and industry stakeholders in order to enhance the safety of offshore oil and gas drilling.

Some of the most noteworthy and egregious proposals under consideration would:

Reverse a rule that called for more frequent testing of blowout preventers — the same device that failed in the Deepwater Horizon spill, which is intended to serve as a fail-safe against explosions in undersea oil and gas wells.

No longer require independent auditors to certify that safety and pollution prevention equipment works under extreme conditions. This would remove any federal requirement and instead allow [the] industry to adopt their own set of standards, the guideline industry utilized prior to the Deepwater Horizon spill.

Scrap the requirement that an investigation into equipment failure be completed within 120 days. This would enable oil companies to delay indefinitely with no required date of completion.

Remove the federal government’s authority to regulate maximum or minimum drilling pressures at new sites. This important provision maintains a safe pressure for drilling that prevents surges and potential blowouts similar to what occurred in the Deepwater Horizon spill.

Our constituents, which were severely impacted by the Deepwater Horizon spill, vehemently oppose any effort to weaken these common-sense regulations, and increase the likelihood of another oil spill off the coast of Florida. We urge you to reject these ill-advised proposals.  Thank you for your time and consideration, and we look forward to your prompt response on this critically important matter.

Sincerely,

High-profile St. Pete Democrats now backing Vito Sheeley in contentious HD 70 primary

Wengay Newton received a rebuke Monday when several high-profile St. Petersburg Democrats announced their support of Vito Sheeley, the political operative challenging the incumbent in the overwhelmingly Democratic House District 70 this year.

In a joint statement, Pinellas County School Board Chair Rene Flowers, Pinellas County Commission Chair Ken Welch, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman and City Council Chair Lisa Wheeler-Bowman said they were backing Sheeley’s bid to unseat Newton.

Sheeley is a former district aide to both U.S. Reps. Kathy Castor and Charlie Crist, and spent some time this year in an unusual alliance with former U.S. Rep. David Jolly, the Republican who Crist defeated last November.

Kriseman’s endorsement of Sheeley shouldn’t be a complete surprise. Newton alienated several Democratic activists in St. Pete last year after endorsing Republican Rick Baker over Kriseman in the hyper-intense mayoral contest.

“Vito’s track record speaks for itself,” Kriseman said in a statement. “I’ve known Vito for years, and know his heart and how hard he will work on behalf of the people of his District and this community. We need Vito’s leadership in District 70.”

 In the 2016 Democratic primary for HD 70, Kriseman endorsed Dan Fiorini, one of Newton’s opponents.

“I went to Kriseman for support in my House race. He told me to pound sand,” Newton said last year when asked about supporting Baker. But Newton insisted that backing Baker had nothing to do with that snub, saying that the former two-term mayor was the best man to lead St. Petersburg in the future.

“Rick Baker is my friend for over ten years. It’s a shame that in the areas of greatest need, they’re still talking about that here in 2017,” Newton said about the economic conditions in South St. Pete.

Welch, Wheeler-Bowman and Flowers were also strong Kriseman supporters in the 2017 mayoral race.

“Vito brings people together to listen to stakeholders, work as a team, solve problems and uplift our community — that’s something we desperately need in Tallahassee,” Welch said Monday. “I know that Vito will continue his service to our community and bring common sense solutions to the capital.

“The continued attacks aimed at diminishing our education system is besieged with unfunded mandates, and any sense of integrity has eroded daily, we need representation in line and in tune with the needs of District 70,” Flowers said. “For a strong leader aligned with our values and ideals, Vito Sheeley receives my endorsement as the next member of the House of Representatives, District 70.”

“Vito has the skills, the temperament, and the drive to represent our community successfully,” added Wheeler-Bowman, who was officially elected to chair the St. Pete City Council this year last week. “South St. Pete needs a strong voice who can go to Tallahassee, work constructively, and bring home results.”

“Simply put, Vito is the right person for the job.”

Newton held a campaign kickoff barbecue at Dell Holmes Park in South St. Pete on Saturday. He has raised $17,370 in the race. Sheeley has raised just $4,722, though his numbers for December have yet to be reported.

Sheeley said he was “humbled” by the support.

“They know me as an advocate who will always put my constituents above the broken politics we’ve had to endure for too long. I look forward to continuing that work representing District 70.”

Newton did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

St. Petersburg attorney and civic activist Keisha Bell announced last week that she would soon officially enter the HD 70 Democratic race.

HD 70 covers parts of Hillsborough, Manatee, Pinellas and Sarasota counties.

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